Tens of millions of people rely on Social Security in order to get the income they need to pay their living expenses in retirement. For many, the chance to collect Social Security benefits can't come soon enough, especially for those who've been forced into early retirement and are struggling to make ends meet.

Social Security gives workers the option to take benefits anytime between age 62 and 70, and it offers some incentives to those who are willing to wait. While those who claim benefits earlier than their official full retirement age will have to accept smaller monthly benefit payments, those who wait beyond their full retirement age can get additional money above and beyond what they'd normally get.

Yet despite the prospects of getting larger payments from Social Security, 62 is still by far the most popular age for people to claim their Social Security, according to the government's most recent data.

Pie chart showing claiming age for Social Security.

Data source: Social Security Administration. Chart by author.

Fully 57% of Social Security recipients take their benefits before reaching full retirement age. That compares to just 10% waiting beyond full retirement age. A substantial portion of those who claim at full retirement age -- which is currently somewhere between 66 and 67 for those approaching retirement age today -- were already receiving disability benefits that automatically convert to retirement benefits at that point.

Waiting eight years to claim Social Security at 70 instead of 62 can boost your monthly payments by more than 75% -- but at the cost of missing out on those eight years' worth of benefits. Most retirees either can't afford to wait or don't think the trade-off is worth it, despite some of the advantages of ensuring as large a reliable monthly benefit that will adjust higher in line with the cost of living every year.

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