For millions of Americans, Social Security benefits are a lifeline in retirement. Among retirees, approximately half of married couples rely on their monthly checks for at least 50% of their retirement income, according to the Social Security Administration. Around one in five retired couples depend on their benefits for 90% or more of their income.

Because Social Security benefits are such an integral aspect of retirement, it's important to ensure you're making the most of them. The age you begin claiming benefits will have a lifelong effect on your monthly checks, so it's not a decision to be taken lightly.

You can begin claiming benefits at age 62 or anytime thereafter. The longer you wait to begin collecting benefits (up to age 70), the more you'll receive each month. For that reason, some people may think delaying benefits is the best option to collect as much as possible from Social Security. However, there are a few great reasons to consider claiming as early as possible at age 62.

Senior couple dancing on the beach

Image source: Getty Images.

1. You could earn more over a lifetime

Social Security benefits are designed so that, in theory, you should receive roughly the same amount over a lifetime no matter when you begin claiming. If you claim early, you'll receive smaller checks but more of them over a lifetime. If you delay claiming benefits, you won't receive as many checks, but each one will be bigger.

However, this assumes you'll live an average lifespan, which is roughly 79 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you're battling health issues or have other reason to believe you won't live that long, it might be smart to claim as early as you can. Although your checks will be smaller, you might receive more money over a lifetime compared to if you'd delayed benefits.

2. You can start enjoying retirement sooner

If you have a healthy retirement fund, Social Security benefits will just be the icing on the cake. You may not necessarily need the extra benefits you'd receive by waiting longer to claim, so it makes sense to claim earlier.

The first few years of your retirement will likely be some of the most enjoyable. Those years are the time to start checking items off your bucket list, because you're still relatively young and healthy. The older you get, the harder it will be to travel the world, chase the grandkids around the backyard, or take those dance lessons you've always wanted. By claiming benefits as early as possible, you'll have some extra cash to start enjoying retirement sooner.

3. It will make it easier to afford retirement

Claiming benefits early can also be a smart choice when you don't have a strong retirement fund. Although working longer and delaying Social Security benefits can be a wise move if you have little to nothing saved, not everyone wants or is able to go that route. You may lose your job and be forced into an earlier-than-expected retirement, for example, or you might be facing health issues and want to retire early to make the most of the years you have left.

It is possible to retire early and then wait a few years to claim benefits, but for many people, it's simply not feasible to survive for years on savings alone. In that case, claiming benefits early can make it easier to afford retirement. Although you'll be collecting smaller checks each month, that may be preferable to having to scrape by using what little you have in savings.

Social Security benefits can go a long way in helping you enjoy a comfortable retirement, but it's important to make sure you've done your homework before choosing an age to begin claiming. In some cases, claiming as early as possible at age 62 is the best retirement decision you can make.