They say that age 40 is the new 30. By that logic, 60 must be the new 50. (Don't ask me what the fashion world has decided will be the new black this year.)

Some recent news, therefore, may come as a shock to baby boomers, many of whom were probably quite surprised to notice their first gray hairs appear and see AARP literature arrive in their mailboxes.

Because time and tide wait for no man, the oldest of the baby boomers will turn 62 next year and become eligible to collect Social Security retirement benefits.

According to a government survey, few among that generation born between 1946 and 1964 plan to start collecting those benefits right away. A Treasury Department and Federal Reserve poll found that 16% of unretired boomers plan to start collecting Social Security as soon as they are eligible. That's less than half the number among current retirees, according to an Associated Press report.

That may, in part, stem from the fact that the first wave of boomers want to stick around their jobs longer than previous retirees. They also will not reach full retirement age and become eligible to receive their full Social Security benefits until they turn 66 years old. For younger boomers, full retirement age gradually creeps up until reaching 67 years old for those born in 1960 and later. (You can find the details for your specific age here.)

For any baby boomers who plan to start collecting Social Security when they turn 62 years old next year, they can expect to get 75% of the amount of their full retirement benefits. That's a permanent reduction in the monthly check, reflecting the fact that they would be collecting their money over a longer time span than retirees who wait until they reach their full retirement age.

You can find more detailed information about your personal Social Security situation on your annual statement. You can request one from the Social Security Administration, or use one of their three calculators to create your own estimate of benefits.

Whether to take your payments early or hold out for the full retirement benefit depends on a host of variables in your personal situation.

You'll need to answer a lot of questions, first among them whether you need that money when you turn age 62. That, alone, may make the decision for you. Even if you'd feel a little more flush having that check early, ask yourself whether you may later regret opting for a permanently smaller payment. Think, too, about your health and your family's average life expectancy.

Obviously, the state of your personal retirement savings will be central to answering some of these questions. If you have any doubt that you might outlive your other retirement assets, you might decide to put off collecting your government benefit until you reach your full retirement age.

A few other factors to keep in mind:

  • Social Security was intended to be a social insurance program, not an executive-style pension. As you probably know already, you can't to live a lavish retirement on those checks alone. Tour the Retirement Center or take a 30-day free spin through the Rule Your Retirement newsletter to get a better sense of how much money you'll need.
  • If you want to keep working while receiving benefits before full retirement age, your checks will be reduced. You can use this calculator to find out how much you can earn and still receive Social Security.
  • Your Social Security benefits may be taxed if your income exceeds a certain amount.

As if that wasn't enough, I'm sure your accountant cousin or tax lawyer nephew or know-it-all neighbor can think up a dozen more variables to add to the list. Start sifting through these questions with the bevy of retirement calculators right here at The Motley Fool.

You might also want to take a look at these related Social Security articles:

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Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple welcomes your feedback.