Choosing when to claim Social Security benefits is one of the most important decisions you'll make, because it will permanently affect your monthly retirement income.
To receive the full benefit amount you're theoretically entitled to, you'll need to claim benefits at your full retirement age -- which is either age 66, 66 and a certain number of months, or 67, depending on the year you were born. The earlier you claim (as early as age 62), the more your benefits will be reduced.
However, despite the benefit reduction, sometimes claiming early is the smartest decision. And there are a few reasons why it pays to file for benefits as early as you can.
1. You could collect more money over a lifetime
The Social Security program is set up so that in theory, you should receive the same amount in lifetime benefits no matter what age you begin collecting them. Claiming early will result in smaller checks, but you'll receive more of them. If you delay benefits, you'll receive more money each month but fewer checks over a lifetime.
However, these calculations don't always work out perfectly. The average life expectancy is around 79 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and if you expect to live a shorter-than-average lifespan, you may collect more money in benefits over a lifetime if you claim early.
Of course, nobody can predict exactly how long they'll live. But if you're battling health issues or have other reasons to believe you won't live into your 80s or beyond, claiming as early as possible can help you make the most of your benefits.
2. You'll have more to spend earlier in retirement
When choosing what age to claim, your decision shouldn't be based solely on numbers; it's also important to consider how Social Security can affect your quality of life in retirement.
If you have a healthy stash of retirement savings, Social Security benefits may just be the icing on the cake. You may be able to collect an extra few hundred dollars per month by delaying benefits, but that may not outweigh the advantages of claiming early and having extra cash to spend right away in retirement.
Time is your most valuable resource, and everyone wants to enjoy retirement to the fullest. By claiming as early as possible, you'll have more money to help make the most of the early years of retirement when you're still relatively young and healthy.
3. It can help you avoid withdrawing your savings during a recession
Right now can be a daunting time to retire, especially amid the fear that a second wave of COVID-19 (and another stock market crash) is on the horizon.
Withdrawing your retirement savings during a market downturn can be risky, because you're selling your investments when stock prices are at their lowest -- essentially locking in your losses. While you may not be able to avoid withdrawing at least some of your savings during a market downturn, claiming benefits early can help you keep as much money as possible in your retirement fund until the stock market recovers.
Social Security benefits can potentially make or break your retirement, so it's wise to choose carefully when deciding what age to begin claiming. While claiming early isn't for everyone, in some cases, it can be a fantastic decision and will set you up for a more financially secure retirement.