Whether you'll eventually start relying on Social Security to fund a large chunk of your retirement expenses or a smaller share, there's a good chance those benefits will end up playing an important role in your golden years. This especially holds true if your retirement savings aren't particularly strong, and you don't have a huge opportunity to make up for lost time.
The good news, however, is that there's one move you can make that will guarantee a boost in Social Security income. All you need to do is postpone your benefits past full retirement age, and you'll boost them by 8% a year in the process. It's that simple. Yet only 3% of Social Security recipients snag the maximum boost by filing for benefits at age 70, which means the overwhelming majority of beneficiaries are passing up free money.
If you'll be dependent on Social Security during retirement, whether for bill-paying purposes or to have more money for leisure, then it pays to consider filing as late as possible and snagging higher benefits for life. File earlier than that, and you might regret the decision for many years to come.
Social Security: It pays to wait
Your Social Security benefits are calculated based on how much you were paid during your 35 highest years of earnings. That number, however, has the ability to go up, go down, or stay the same depending on when you claim benefits.
If you file at full retirement age -- which, depending on the year you were born, is either 66, 67, or somewhere in between -- you'll get the exact monthly benefit your earnings record entitles you to. File before full retirement age, and your benefits will be reduced by a certain percentage for each month you claim them early.
Or you can do the one thing that's sure to result in a higher monthly benefit for life -- hold off on Social Security past full retirement age. In doing so, you'll accrue delayed retirement credits that boost your benefits by 8% a year up until you turn 70, at which point that incentive runs out.
In fact, you'll often hear that 70 is the latest age you can file for Social Security, and that's technically not true. You're allowed to claim benefits after turning 70, but since there's no financial incentive to do so, most people consider 70 the cutoff point for filing.
What can extra money in retirement do for you?
If you've saved well for retirement, you might be thinking: What's the point of waiting until 70 to file for Social Security when I can access my money sooner?
The truth is that if you're in a good place financially and you don't need those benefits, but rather, you want them to more easily afford travel, leisure, and other amenities, then you might file for Social Security well before 70 (or even before full retirement age) and use that money as you please. But before you get too comfortable with your financial situation, remember that unplanned expenses have a way of creeping up in retirement. Your home's roof might spring a leak. You might encounter health issues that land you in the hospital. You might eventually require long-term care, which Medicare generally won't pay for (or at least not past a certain point).
The takeaway here is that there's really no such thing as having too much money in retirement, and while there's no telling how your personal investments (the ones you might mostly expect to live on) will fare during your golden years, one thing you can be sure of is that you'll boost your Social Security benefits for life by waiting past full retirement age to claim them. If the idea of added financial security sounds good to you, join the 3% of filers who claim benefits at 70 rather than rush to get their money sooner.