Social Security retirement benefits become available at age 62, and there are plenty of reasons to claim them early, ranging from a desire to stop working ASAP to concerns about benefits losing buying power.
But while it can sometimes make sense to file for benefits as soon as you're able, there are also situations where people claim when they shouldn't have. In fact, one of the worst reasons to claim retirement benefits at 62 is because serious health issues are preventing you from working.
Here's why you shouldn't claim your retirement benefits early because of health issues
If you have a severe health issue that prevents you from continuing to work in your early 60s, it may be tempting to just claim your retirement benefits so you can get the income you need.
But doing so would leave you subject to early filing reductions that could cut your benefit by as much as 30%. And that can be a big problem for a few reasons. First and foremost, if you're forced to leave work early, you may not have the savings you'd hoped for, so you may need a larger Social Security benefit more than ever. And, if you're already having major health issues, your medical expenses in retirement may be higher than normal, so a larger Social Security check could really come in handy.
Of course, you may be aware of these downsides but still be thinking of claiming retirement benefits right away simply because you need the money. But before you do that, you need to explore another option instead: Claiming Social Security Disability Insurance.
If you can qualify for SSDI, you're often far better off doing so rather than starting your retirement benefits ahead of schedule. In fact, the possibility that you may be eligible for this other source of Social Security income is what makes it such a major mistake to start your retirement benefits in your early 60s when you may not actually have to.
Why claim SSDI instead of retirement benefits?
Social Security disability benefits are also supported by payroll tax, just as retirement benefits are. In other words, it's an earned benefit. If you've worked and paid into the system, you should be eligible to claim SSDI if you have a covered disability that prevents you from working. You don't have to claim Social Security retirement benefits instead of disability benefits just because you've reached the age of 62 and are eligible for that retirement income -- you can get SSDI instead until you hit full retirement age.
And when you claim SSDI and avoid early filing for retirement benefits, you will not be hit with the penalties that apply to anyone starting retirement benefits so young. The amount of your income from SSDI will be determined based on the standard benefit you'd get at FRA. You can continue to collect SSDI until hitting full retirement age, then switch to receiving your standard retirement benefit.
The wages your benefits are based on may also be higher too. Your standard benefit is normally calculated based on the 35 years when your earnings were highest. Unfortunately, when serious health issues prevent you from working, your income may fall. Because of that, a disability freeze is put into effect so that years when your earnings were low or nonexistent due to your disability won't count against you.
Thanks to the disability freeze, and the fact you get your standard benefit rather than one reduced by early filing penalties, you may see far more income from Social Security if you claim SSDI instead of retirement benefits when you can't work in your 60s because you're sick.
Of course, the downside is that you have to prove you qualify for SSDI -- which can be a challenge. You can't just get SSDI for any medical condition. Instead, you have to show that the issue is serious enough that you can't work, and it must be long-term in nature.
The SSA has a list of medical ailments that qualify if you exhibit certain symptoms, or you can prove your problems are equivalent in severity to those on the list. It can take time to prove your claim, along with some paperwork, and you might not win. Nevertheless, it's worth trying to avoid accepting lower retirement benefits.
Don't make the mistake of claiming Social Security at 62 for the wrong reason
If you're 62 and health issues are preventing you from working, claiming your retirement benefits could be a huge financial mistake. Don't subject yourself to early filing penalties just because you didn't know you could get SSDI or because you don't want the hassle. A little bit of extra effort is worth it, as your income over your retirement could be much higher.