You pass many milestones on the road to retirement, starting with 59 1/2 -- the age you can begin to take withdrawals from your retirement accounts without penalty. Next comes 62 -- the age you can start taking Social Security. Then there's 65 -- the age that you qualify for Medicare. And then there's your full retirement age (FRA).

No, this is not the age that you choose to retire at. It's the age that you become eligible for your full Social Security benefit, and it depends on the year you were born. While you don't have to wait until then to begin taking Social Security, you'll undoubtedly be happier with your checks if you do. Here's a brief overview of full retirement age and how it affects your benefits.

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What is my full retirement age?

When the Social Security act was signed into law in 1935, the full retirement age was 65. But as funding for Social Security dwindled and the population drawing on it increased, the government moved the goalposts. For those born after 1937, the full retirement age gradually increased until today, where it now sits between 66 and 67, depending on the year you were born. Here's a chart to help you figure out your full retirement age:

Birth Year

Full Retirement Age

1943-1954

66

1955

66 and 2 months

1956

66 and 4 months

1957

66 and 6 months

1958

66 and 8 months

1959

66 and 10 months

1960 and later

67

Data source: Social Security Administration.

How does my full retirement age affect my Social Security benefits?

If you want to receive the full Social Security retirement benefit you are entitled to, you must wait to begin drawing upon it until you reach that age. If you begin taking Social Security early, you will receive less money per check, though the exact amount of the decrease will depend on your full retirement age.

Adults with a full retirement age of 66 who begin taking retirement benefits at age 62 will only receive 75% of their scheduled benefit per check. That means if you were supposed to get a $1,000 check each month at your full retirement age, you will only receive $750 per month from now until your death. Adults with a full retirement age of 67 will only receive 70% of their scheduled benefits per check if they start taking Social Security at 62.

For every month you delay taking Social Security, your benefit amount will increase until you become eligible for 100% of your benefits at your full retirement age. But you don't have to stop there. You can continue delaying your retirement benefits and your checks will continue to increase until you reach the maximum benefit at age 70. Those with a full retirement age of 66 will receive 132% of their scheduled benefit and those with a full retirement age of 67 will receive 124%. Here's a breakdown of how much you can receive at each age:

Age

Retirement Benefit Amount for FRA of 66

Retirement Benefit Amount for FRA of 67

62

75%

70%

63

80%

75%

64

86.7%

80%

65

93.3%

86.7%

66

100%

93.3%

67

108%

100%

68

116%

108%

69

124%

116%

70

132%

124%

Data source: Social Security Administration.

It's up to you to decide when you want to begin taking your Social Security retirement benefits, but it's to your advantage to wait as long as you can. The larger Social Security checks you'll receive will go further in retirement and can ease the strain on your personal retirement accounts.

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