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The 1 Reason You Shouldn't Hesitate to Claim Social Security Early

By Maurie Backman - Nov 14, 2019 at 6:02AM

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Seniors are often told to wait on Social Security, but here's a good argument for filing sooner.

There's a somewhat complicated formula that's used to calculate your Social Security benefits, but in a nutshell, your earnings over your 35 highest-paid working years are adjusted for inflation to determine what monthly benefit you're eligible for at full retirement age, or FRA. FRA isn't the same for everyone; it depends on year of birth. Here's what it looks like:

Year of Birth

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 or later

67

DATA SOURCE: SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION.

That said, the Social Security Administration (SSA) gives you the option to claim benefits well ahead of FRA -- you can file as early as age 62. But in doing so, you'll slash those benefits, and generally for life.

The SSA will take away 6.67% of your monthly benefit for each year you file early within 36 months of FRA, and it will take away 5% of your monthly benefit per year for each 12-month period thereafter.

Head spinning yet?

Here's what that means: If you claim Social Security a year prior to reaching FRA, you'll lose 6.67% of your monthly benefit. File three years before FRA, and your monthly benefit will be reduced by 20%. And if you file at the earliest possible age of 62 with an FRA of 67, you'll have 30% of your monthly benefit taken away.

It's for this reason that seniors are often advised not to claim benefits early. Many workers enter their golden years short on personal savings, and as such, can't afford the hit on benefits described earlier. But here's one very good reason to file for Social Security as early as you want: You can afford it.

Smiling older man and woman sitting on a rock surrounded by trees.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

What can your Social Security benefits do for you?

Many seniors depend heavily on Social Security to pay the bills. But if you've saved nicely for retirement in an IRA or 401(k), to the point where you have more than enough money in your nest egg to cover your essential living expenses for several decades, then it pays to use your Social Security benefits to fulfill the goals you've always dreamed of. Those goals could involve international travel, or opening a cafe, or buying an RV and touring the country's national parks. The choice is yours, but if claiming Social Security early allows you to achieve those goals at a younger age, when you're apt to be in better health and have more energy, then you shouldn't hesitate to go for it.

Imagine you have the option to retire at age 62 thanks to your healthy savings, but without Social Security, you really can't spend your days doing the things you want to do. You might push yourself to hold off on filing until FRA to avoid a hit on benefits. But what happens if come FRA, you're plagued with a medical condition that starts to impact your mobility? Suddenly, you've lost the opportunity to fulfill the goals you worked so hard to have a shot at.

If you're low on savings, then you may have no choice but to file for Social Security on time, or even delay benefits past FRA to boost them in the process. (You can grow your benefits by 8% a year, up until age 70, by holding off on claiming them past FRA.) But if you've done a great job of saving for retirement, then why not reward yourself by claiming Social Security when you want to? Sure, a higher monthly benefit may be nice down the line. But what you potentially lose in future income, you'll gain in personal experiences and fulfillment.

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