Deciding when to begin claiming Social Security is a crucial factor when planning for retirement,because the age you file for benefits directly affects how much you receive each month.
Age 62 is the most popular age to begin claiming benefits, with 42% of men and 48% of women filing at this age, according to a report from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Few people wait until later to claim, with just 2% of men and 4% of women waiting until age 70 to file.
There's no one-size-fits-all answer as to when you should begin claiming benefits, as the right option will depend on your situation. But there are a couple of reasons why it might be beneficial to claim early -- as well as reasons why you might be better off waiting.
Reasons to claim early
1. You could receive more money over a lifetime
In theory, the amount you receive in benefits over a lifetime should be roughly equal regardless of whether you claim early or delay benefits. If you claim early, you'll receive smaller checks each month but more of them over a lifetime. By delaying benefits, you won't receive as many checks, but each one will be bigger.
That said, sometimes the math doesn't quite add up the way it's supposed to. These calculations assume you'll live an average lifespan, which is roughly 79 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you have reason to believe you'll live a shorter-than-average lifespan, you could actually collect more money over a lifetime if you claim early.
2. You'll have more money to spend earlier in retirement
As you get closer to retirement, you may have a lot of bucket-list activities you want to enjoy. Those activities can be expensive, and claiming early can give you a little extra spending money when you're still relatively young and healthy.
Waiting longer to begin claiming benefits will result in larger checks each month, but if your health starts to decline and you can't enjoy the activities you'd planned, that extra money may not be worth the wait.
Reasons to wait
1. You'll receive bigger checks
Arguably the biggest incentive to delay benefits is the larger checks you'll receive. If you wait until age 70 to file for benefits, you'll receive your full benefit amount plus up to 32% extra each month for the rest of your life. That could result in hundreds of dollars more per month compared to if you'd claimed earlier, and that money can go a long way -- particularly if your retirement fund isn't as robust as you'd hoped it would be.
2. You could receive more over a lifetime if you live a longer-than-average lifespan
Claiming early may be beneficial if you expect to live a shorter-than-average lifespan, but delaying benefits may be a smart move if you have reason to believe you'll live a very long life.
Of course, nobody can predict exactly how long they'll live. But you can consider your overall health, and look at your family history to see if there are any trends. If you're in the best shape of your life and nearly everyone in your family has lived into their 90s, there's a good chance you may enjoy a long and healthy life as well. In that case, waiting to claim benefits may result in collecting more money over a lifetime, which can be especially helpful later in life if your savings run dry.
When should you claim benefits?
The age you choose to claim Social Security will depend on several factors, including your estimated lifespan, how much you have in savings, and your personal preferences.
If you expect to live an average or shorter-than-average lifespan, you don't necessarily need the larger checks, and you're ready to get a jump-start on retirement, claiming early may be your best option. But if you expect to live a very long life, your savings are slim, and you are okay with waiting a few years to start collecting your monthly checks, delaying benefits may be a smart move.