Social Security benefits are a vital aspect of many Americans' retirement plans, so it's critical to ensure you're making the most of them. Choosing the right age to begin claiming is one of the most retirement decisions you'll make, because it will affect how much you receive each month for the rest of your life.
By claiming benefits as early as possible at age 62, you'll receive significantly smaller checks than if you'd held out until your full retirement age (FRA) or beyond. In fact, if you have a FRA of 67 years old and you claim at 62, your benefits will be permanently reduced by 30%.
However, the coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our society, and it could affect your retirement plans as well. And there are a few reasons why it might be a wise decision to claim early as a result of COVID-19.
1. It can provide extra cash if you've lost your job
The coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly everyone to some degree, but older workers in particular, could be feeling the brunt of the impact. Workers age 55 and older faced an unemployment rate of nearly 12% in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is one of the highest jobless rates across all age groups.
If you lose your job later in life, you might consider claiming benefits as soon as possible just to get some extra income. It could be tough to find another job, and if your emergency savings or unemployment benefits run dry, Social Security benefits can go a long way in helping make ends meet.
2. It can help you avoid dipping into your retirement fund too much
If you're laid off due to COVID-19, you might simply decide to retire early rather than toil away searching for another job. By claiming Social Security benefits early, you can ensure you're not pulling too much cash from your retirement fund -- which will help your savings last as long as possible.
It's especially important to leave your savings alone when the stock market is experiencing volatile ups and downs. When the market is down, stock prices are lower. That makes it a bad time to be withdrawing your retirement savings, because you're selling your investments when they're less valuable. The market will always have good days and bad days, but it's best to avoid tapping your retirement savings as much as possible until the stock market is relatively stable.
3. You can receive bigger checks if you continue working after claiming
Some people may be reluctant to claim benefits early if they want to eventually find another job. However, you can actually collect larger checks in the long run if you keep working after you start claiming Social Security benefits.
If you claim benefits before your FRA and then continue working, your benefits could be temporarily reduced. During the years leading up to your FRA, your benefits will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn above the annual limit of $18,240. Then in the year you reach your FRA, your checks will be reduced by $1 for every $3 you earn above a limit of $48,600.
Keep in mind, though, that these reductions are only temporary. Once you reach your FRA, your benefits will no longer be reduced if you continue working. In addition, the Social Security Administration will recalculate your benefit amount to account for the money that was withheld, which will result in larger checks for the rest of retirement.
Is claiming early the right decision for you?
Claiming Social Security benefits at age 62 isn't the right decision for everyone, but in some situations, it could be the best retirement move you can make. If you've lost your job and want to maximize your income while minimizing how much you're withdrawing from your savings, claiming benefits as early as possible could help you make the most of your retirement.