Social Security benefits become available at age 62, and that's the most popular age to claim them. But just because it's possible to get your benefits so early on doesn't mean it's a good idea. In fact, many experts recommend waiting a full eight years from the date of eligibility, claiming them at 70 instead.
While it may seem odd to give up getting monthly checks for years, there are actually a few really great reasons why you might want to delay the start of your benefits as long as possible. Here are three of them.
1. Because you plan to live a long time
If you claim Social Security benefits any time before the age of 70, you're giving up the opportunity to receive the largest check possible. That's because you'll be foregoing delayed retirement credits you can earn after hitting your full retirement age (FRA) without claiming benefits -- and potentially getting hit with early filing penalties if you retire before your FRA.
If you wait to claim your benefits, you'll get higher monthly checks due to delaying, and -- once you reach your break-even point where the extra money makes up for income you passed up by not claiming benefits ASAP -- you'll get more in lifetime income as well. And the longer you live, the more extra money you'll get.
If you maintain a healthy lifestyle, and everyone in your family lived into their 80s and 90s and you think you will too, waiting can really pay off for you.
2. Because you're worried about running out of money later in life
Outliving savings is a greater fear among older Americans than death, and with good reason. Retirement tends to become more expensive as you get older because your health needs become greater. If you're afraid you won't have the money to cover the basics as you get into the later part of your retirement, it makes sense to ensure you have the maximum possible Social Security income.
Social Security benefits are guaranteed to last until you die and are at least somewhat protected against inflation thanks to cost of living adjustments. While they don't really provide enough money to be your sole source of income, at least having the largest possible check means you'll be more financially comfortable if your savings don't last.
3. Because you care about your spouse (and you're the higher earner)
If you claim Social Security benefits early, you don't just shrink your own checks -- you affect the size of survivor benefits too. By contrast, waiting until 70 means your widowed spouse can get larger checks thanks to your foresight. That happens because the last surviving spouse gets to keep the higher of your two Social Security checks.
Since the death of a spouse is one of the biggest financial risks retirees face late in life, it makes a lot of sense to wait to claim your benefits if you're the higher earner and you want to ensure your surviving spouse has the largest income possible after you're gone.
Don't claim your benefits too early without thinking about the downsides
While it's tempting to grab your Social Security cash as soon as you can -- especially with mounting fears of benefit cuts -- doing so could end up costing you. The last thing you want is to be left with too little money in your later years, so think seriously about how long you expect to live, whether your spouse will depend on you, or whether you're at risk of running short of cash late in life.
If any of these apply to you, delaying the start of your Social Security checks so you can maximize your benefits could be the way to go.