Most Americans eventually count on Social Security for at least a part of their financial support in retirement. For many, the day on which they can start collecting benefits can't come soon enough. Given how popular early Social Security benefits are, it's reasonable to wonder just how early you might be able to claim your monthly payments when the time comes. Below, we'll take a closer look at the factors involved in determining your minimum Social Security age so that you can plan accordingly.

For most retired workers: when you turn 62

The earliest that you can claim retirement benefits based on your own work history is age 62. That was true when the full retirement age was 65, and it has continued to be the case even as full retirement has risen above age 66 toward its eventual endpoint of 67. Claiming at the earliest possible moment will cut your monthly payment by 25% to 30% from what you'd get if you waited until full retirement age.

One Social Security card folded into a spread-out pile of money.

Image source: Getty Images.

For those getting spousal benefits: 62, with exceptions on both sides

The same rule applies to those who receive spousal benefits based on their spouse's work history. Age 62 is the earliest to claim spousal benefits, with monthly payments taking a 30% to 35% haircut depending on full retirement age.

However, there's a twist to spousal benefits: you can't claim them until your spouse claims retirement benefits. That could force some recipients to wait until after age 62 to claim early spousal benefits, as the decision of the spouse whose work history determines the benefit amount is paramount. For instance, if you're 62 and want to claim spousal benefits but your spouse is only 60, then you'll have to wait until you're at least 64 before even having the opportunity to consider claiming benefits.

At the other end of the spectrum, if you're married to someone who collects Social Security retirement benefits and you're caring for a minor child who's under age 16 or disabled and collecting children's benefits, then you can collect spousal benefits regardless of age. However, those benefits go away when the child gets old enough not to qualify any longer.

For survivors: 60 or earlier

Social Security allows surviving spouses to claim benefits earlier than they were able to while their spouses were still alive. You only have to wait until turning 60 before claiming survivor benefits on a deceased spouse's work history, although the reduction in benefits from doing so is more extensive than the 62-year-old limit mentioned above. You'll receive 71.5% of your regular full-retirement survivor benefit amount if you claim at 60.

Some surviving spouses can claim even sooner. If you're disabled, then the 60-year-old limit drops to age 50.

However, it's important to note that getting remarried after your spouse's death can take away survivor benefits. Those who remarry before age 60 lose their survivor benefits, but those who wait until 60 or later to remarry can do so without losing benefits based on their deceased former spouse's work history.

Think twice about early Social Security

Just because you can get Social Security early doesn't mean that you necessarily should. The longer you wait, the larger your monthly payments will get, and for many, waiting until full retirement age can provide a much greater chance of receiving enough extra money to make it easier to survive financially. Nevertheless, in order to assess all of your options, it's essential to understand the rules governing just how early you can claim your benefits and what impact early claiming will have on the size of your payments for the rest of your lifetime.

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