If you're deciding when it's best for you to claim Social Security, and you're struggling to figure out the best age, you're not alone. Millions of baby boomers are fast approaching retirement, and most of them are in the same boat as you. Claim your benefit early, and you'll get a smaller Social Security check. Wait to claim your benefit, and you'll get a bigger payout, but you'll also run the risk of collecting less over your lifetime if you pass away sooner than you hope.

Choosing when to claim your Social Security is a personal decision, but it can help to know exactly how much money you can get if you wait to claim. Read on to discover how waiting boosts your benefit, how much the average 70-year-old collects in Social Security, and why waiting might not be your best bet.

An older businessman sits against a wall with money falling down around him.


How much can you get?

In December, the average 70-year-old retired worker collected $1,482.40 in monthly Social Security income, or 38% more than the average 62-year-old got that month. Why did older recipients get a bigger payment? Because Social Security rewards retired workers who delay their benefits with delayed-retirement credits that increase their payment by 8% per year.

Delayed-retirement credits can significantly boost your Social Security income, but the amount that you receive because of them may differ significantly from the averages.

Because your Social Security amount is based on your own specific work history, figuring out how much you can collect at age 70 requires doing some math. First, you'll need to calculate how much you can receive in monthly benefits at your full retirement age, then you'll have to adjust that figure upward to reflect the credits.

As a reminder, your full retirement age is the age at which you qualify for your "primary insurance amount," and it depends on the year in which you were born. You can find out your full retirement age here.

Your primary insurance amount (PIA) is based on your average monthly inflation-adjusted income over your 35 highest-earning years. That average indexed monthly earnings, or AIME, is then plugged into a calculation to come up with your PIA. Any delayed-retirement credits -- or early-retirement reductions -- will be a percentage of your PIA.

If all this sounds a bit complex, don't worry. You don't have to run the numbers yourself to figure out how big your benefits will be depending on when you claim Social Security. Instead, you can use this online calculator to get a rough estimate of what you may receive in benefits at different ages, or you can create an online user ID to view exactly how much you'll receive.

Is it worth it to wait?

Undeniably, a bigger payment in retirement can make a big difference in your financial security, especially if you're falling short in saving for retirement. However, if your savings are on track, and you don't need the larger monthly payments to live on, then breakeven analysis suggests that claiming early might be smarter than claiming later, depending on your life expectancy.

The following chart shows the total amount received in Social Security income if your primary insurance amount is $1,000 and you claim at either age 66 or age 70. As you can see, it's not until your 80s that the lifetime benefits collected by claiming at 70 eclipse the amount collected by claiming at 66.

A chart showing that the break even age for claiming benefits at age 66 or age 70 is  in a person's 80s.

Data: Social Security Administration. Author's chart.

Conceivably, that breakeven point can be pushed back even further if you invest some of your Social Security income in a Roth IRA, or another investment vehicle, and earn a return.

Thinking ahead

There are plenty of reasons to claim early or to wait, but in either case, having the financial flexibility to choose is far better than being forced to claim at a specific age because you've fallen short in your savings plan.

If you're retirement savings are running shy of your target, you're in good company. However, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't take action to get back on track. Now may be the perfect time to sit down with your human resources rep and bump up your contributions to your workplace retirement plan. In 2017, you can set aside up to $18,000 in earnings in 401(k) or 403(b) plans, plus you can contribute an additional $6,000 if you're aged 50 or older. Although most people won't be able to contribute the maximum that's allowed, increasing your contribution rate by even 1% or 2% per year can add up over time.