There's never a good time to lose your job, but your 60s are a tough age to find yourself out of work. That's because folks that age are statistically less likely than their younger counterparts to find new work quickly.
If you happen to lose your job at age 62 or later, the good news (if we want to call it that) is that you're eligible to file for Social Security and can use those benefits to make up for your lack of income. There's just one problem with going that route: If you haven't yet reached full retirement age, you'll lower your monthly benefits, and that reduction might then remain in effect for the rest of your life. (In fact, it will remain in effect permanently unless you withdraw your benefits claim within a year and pay back every cent you collected to the Social Security Administration, which is easier said than done.)
What sort of reduction might you be looking at? Say your full retirement age is 67, but you lose your job at 62 and file for benefits then. At that point, you're looking at a 30% reduction, which means that if your full monthly benefit would've otherwise totaled $1,500, you'll start collecting just $1,050 a month instead, and quite possibly for life.
And that's why filing for Social Security early, though sometimes necessary, often isn't ideal. So if you'd rather not risk a permanent reduction in your benefits, here's what you can do instead:
1. File for unemployment
As long as you held your job for a certain period of time, weren't let go for cause, and worked for a large enough employer, you should be eligible for unemployment benefits through the state where you worked. Once you lose your job, it pays to file an unemployment claim immediately, because the sooner you do, the sooner you'll start getting benefits. Of course, those benefits won't replace your earnings entirely -- not even close. But they will serve as an income source just like Social Security would. And if you can get by on them by cutting corners in your budget, you might manage to avoid claiming Social Security early.
2. Network extensively
They say it's not what you know, but who you know, that can make a difference in a job search. If you're eager to get back into the workforce so you can avoid claiming Social Security early, reach out to pretty much everyone you know who might be in a position to help. You have a much better chance of getting in the door somewhere if a person on the inside recommends you. So while you should most certainly spend time combing through job boards, devote just as much time (if not more) to an aggressive networking spree.
3. String together a series of part-time gigs
Maybe you're having trouble finding a new full-time job, especially given employers' general reluctance to hire older workers. But that doesn't mean you can't try scoring a bunch of part-time gigs. You might, for example, try consulting in your former field while taking a twice-a-week office job to help pay the bills. If you manage to scrounge up enough earnings to get by, you can hold off on Social Security and avoid losing out on a chunk of your benefits.
4. Tap your nest egg
Once you remove money from your retirement savings account, it will no longer continue to grow. At the same time, as long as you're in your 60s, you won't be penalized for tapping your IRA or 401(k). So if doing that allows you to hold off on filing for Social Security for a few more years, you might think about using your savings to make up for your absent income.
One thing to keep in mind is that you'll lose about 6.67% of your Social Security benefits for each of the first three years you file early, and then 5% of your benefits for each year after that. That's why filing at 62 when your full retirement age is 67 results in a 30% reduction. However, if the investments in your retirement portfolio are performing exceptionally well, you might consider leaving them in place and turning to Social Security instead.
That said, by the time you reach your 60s, there's a good chance you'll have scaled back on your stock holdings in favor of safer investments, which means your savings may not be generating all that much growth. If that's the case, then you might consider withdrawing from your IRA or 401(k) before you take that hit on Social Security. There's always the option to replenish your savings later on if you find another job with a salary that allows you to start making contributions.
Losing your job later in life can be a harsh financial blow. But before you rush to claim Social Security, consider the other options that may be available to you. This way, you won't risk lowering what could easily come to be your single largest source of income during your golden years.