The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way Americans live their daily lives, affecting everything from how we work to how we shop to how we communicate with loved ones.

It's also affected millions of people's financial lives, with approximately 16.8 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits over the span of just three weeks. COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the stock market as well, and many workers have watched their retirement savings plummet essentially overnight.

If you're nearing retirement age, this market downturn could be concerning for your financial future. And if you're thinking about when you want to begin claiming Social Security benefits, there's one good reason you should consider claiming early.

Social Security cards and hundred dollar bill

Image source: Getty Images.

Claiming early now could pay off later

Choosing when you want to file for benefits is a big decision, because it will affect your monthly checks for the rest of your life. The earlier you claim (as early as age 62), the smaller your checks will be, but the more of them you'll receive over your lifetime. If you delay claiming benefits (up to age 70), you won't receive as many checks, but they'll each be bigger.

One reason to consider claiming early now is because then you won't need to withdraw as much from your retirement fund during a recession.

When the market is down, stock prices are at their lowest. That means it's not the best time to withdraw money from your retirement account, because you'll be selling your investments at bargain prices. When you've been saving for decades, you're essentially buying high and then selling low. Ideally, if you're planning on retiring in the near future, it would be a good idea to consider postponing retirement by a few years. That way you can wait until the market recovers to start withdrawing your money.

But not everyone has the luxury of being able to delay retirement, so if you're retiring right now or within the next year or so, claiming Social Security benefits as soon as you can will mean you won't need to withdraw as much from your savings. And when you're able to leave more money in your retirement fund, you'll see greater gains down the road as the market recovers.

When is it a good idea to delay benefits?

Claiming early isn't right for everyone, and in some cases it might be better to delay benefits. Just be sure that you've considered how your decision will affect your savings.

Delaying benefits might seem like a good decision if your investments have taken a hit due to COVID-19. After all, those bigger checks could come in handy if your savings don't last as long as you'd planned. However, if you're planning on retiring now and then waiting several years to begin claiming benefits, you'll likely have to survive on your savings alone during that time. And if you're withdrawing more from your retirement fund when the market is down, you'll lock in even bigger losses.

If you don't need to retire right away, however, delaying Social Security benefits might be a smart idea. By working a few more years, you can avoid withdrawing while the market is down and give your investments more time to recover. At the same time, you can delay benefits and start earning bigger checks once you do eventually start claiming them.

These are uncertain times, and if you're nearing retirement age, you may need to be flexible with your retirement plans. By claiming Social Security at the right age, you can maximize your retirement income and set yourself up for long-term success.