Millions of seniors depend heavily on Social Security to pay the bills in retirement, especially since a large number enter their golden years without much savings of their own. That's why it pays to make the most of your benefits -- namely, by claiming them at the right age.

The monthly benefit you collect from Social Security is based on your personal earnings history, and you're entitled to receive it in full once you reach full retirement age, or FRA. Here's what that age looks like, depending on when you were born:

If Your Year of Birth Is:

Your Full Retirement Age Is:




66 and 2 months


66 and 4 months


66 and 6 months


66 and 8 months


66 and 10 months

1960 or later



But you don't have to claim Social Security at your precise FRA. You can file for benefits as early as age 62, though for each month you file before reaching FRA, your benefits will be reduced. Or, you can delay benefits past FRA and accrue credits that raise those payments by 8% a year, up until age 70. As such, 70 is generally considered the latest age to claim Social Security, even though you won't be forced to sign up at that point.

Closeup of older man with serious expression


Now you'd think that a guaranteed 8% boost would motivate more seniors to delay their Social Security benefits. But actually, the Social Security Administration estimates that only 3.7% of recipients wait until 70 to file for benefits. By contrast, a whopping 34.3% claim benefits at 62, and 18.1% file at 66, which, for many, coincides with FRA.

If you're not planning to delay your benefits past FRA, it pays to consider changing your tune. While you will have to wait a bit longer to get that money, you'll wind up with a higher monthly paycheck that could come in very handy in the long run.

Why rush to claim benefits?

Many seniors don't wait until 70 to claim Social Security because they're forced out of a job, or aren't able to work, and therefore need that money to pay the bills. If that happens to you, then you're certainly better off filing for Social Security than charging your basic living expenses on a credit card in the absence of steady income.

But if you're able to continue working beyond FRA, then it pays to delay benefits as long as you can, unless your health is notably poor, in which case you may be better off filing as early as possible. If you're low on retirement savings, a higher monthly benefit can help compensate -- a lot. And even if your savings are decent, getting more money from Social Security could buy you a host of options for your golden years -- the option to travel more, enjoy local nightlife, or spoil your grandkids the way you want to.

Remember, too, that while you could always file for benefits at an earlier age than 70 and invest your money, the stock market averages a 9% annual return, but that's by no means guaranteed. The 8% boost in benefits you'll snag by delaying your filing, on the other hand, is guaranteed, so it's pretty hard to beat.

Ultimately, there are a lot of factors that should go into your decision of when to claim benefits. But before you make your choice, be sure to consider the upside of waiting until 70 to sign up.