The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many older workers to rethink their retirement strategies. The unemployment rate among Americans age 55 and older surged from 3.3% in March to 13.6% in April, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics -- and losing your job can throw off your retirement plans.
Social Security benefits are an integral part of many older Americans' retirement plans. Millions of retirees already rely on their monthly checks to make ends meet in retirement, but if your savings have been negatively affected by the coronavirus crisis, you could end up depending on your benefits even more.
The age you choose to begin claiming benefits will impact how much you receive each month for the rest of your life. You can begin claiming benefits as early as age 62, but doing so will result in smaller checks each month. However, there are a couple of good reasons to consider claiming early due to the COVID-19 crisis.
1. You've lost your job
Tens of millions of Americans are out of work right now, and older workers may have a particularly difficult time finding another job. If you recently lost your job and were only a few years away from retirement, it might be tough to find another position when you know you won't be there long.
Some seniors may also be nervous about going back to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic for fear of risking their health, so you may not necessarily want to find another job right away if you're laid off. So if you've lost your job later in life, you may choose to simply retire earlier than you'd planned.
Early retirement can be a blessing for some people, but it also has its disadvantages. For one, you don't have as much time to save, and your money also has to last longer than if you'd delayed retirement. By claiming Social Security early, though, you won't have to rely entirely on your savings to survive in retirement. That could help your savings last longer, making retirement more enjoyable.
2. You want to avoid withdrawing your savings right now
The stock market has experienced a lot of volatility over the past few months, and stock prices have reached record lows lately. That means right now might not be the best time to start withdrawing money from your retirement fund.
When you sell your investments during a market downturn, you lock in your losses. Ideally, you'll want to invest during recessions to take advantage of lower stock prices, then sell when the market is flourishing and stock prices are higher. By withdrawing your savings now, you're basically buying high and selling low.
Your best bet might be to delay retirement by a few years so you can avoid withdrawing money from your retirement fund right now. But if that's not an option and you have to retire early, claiming Social Security early as well can boost your income so you won't need to withdraw as much from your savings. By leaving your investments alone as much as possible, your money will continue growing and last longer into retirement.
Consider all your options before claiming Social Security
In some situations, claiming benefits early might be a wise financial decision. But it's not the right choice for everyone, so be sure to weigh all your options. If you're able to continue working and saving, that's a smart move. That will also allow you to delay claiming benefits, resulting in bigger monthly checks.
Keep in mind, too, that once you begin claiming benefits, your benefit amount is locked in for life (save for annual cost-of-living adjustments). So if you claim early and then a few years down the road you regret your decision, it's too late to change your mind. The COVID-19 crisis will pass eventually, so be sure you've thought about how your claiming decision will affect the rest of your retirement -- not just your current situation.
No matter when you choose to file for benefits, it's a decision that shouldn't be taken lightly. Consider how your decision will affect your current situation as well as your overall retirement plan. In some situations, claiming benefits early might be the best Social Security move you can make.