When you're deciding when to leave the working world, you need to think about how Social Security benefits fit into your retirement plans.
These benefits are designed to replace around 40% of pre-retirement income and are vital for most Americans who are no longer getting a paycheck. But the benefits you receive are profoundly affected by the age at which you first claim them, and many people don't make the most strategic choice.
While some experts recommend waiting until age 70 to start claiming Social Security checks, this isn't the right choice for everyone. In fact, there's one really good reason to claim your benefits long before that milestone.
Why you shouldn't wait until 70
The single best reason to claim Social Security benefits long before 70 is because you're eligible to do so and you want to. Benefits can be claimed as early as 62, and there are lots of reasons you might not want to delay much beyond that.
You might, for example, need to leave work because of your own health, because of family health issues, or because of other caregiver responsibilities. Or you might lose your job and be unable to find a new one or are unwilling to start over at such a late age. You may even just decide you're tired of working and want to enjoy retirement when you're still young and healthy.
Whatever your motivations, most people can't afford to stop working without claiming Social Security to supplement their savings. And if you're one of those people and want to claim your benefits early, you don't have to listen to the experts who say to wait: They are your benefits, and it's your choice.
Of course, you shouldn't make this decision until you understand the financial consequences. When you start receiving checks at any time before your full retirement age (FRA), you're subject to early filing penalties that could shrink them by as much as 30%. And if you don't wait until 70, you give up the opportunity to raise your benefits by as much as 8% annually by earning delayed retirement credits after FRA.
Deciding to claim early could very well mean you get less money over your lifetime, although that's not always the case; it depends whether you outlive your projected life expectancy. But people make many life decisions because they prioritize something besides maxing out their money. Some take jobs that pay less but provide more flexible hours, or people retire even though they could keep earning a high salary. The choice to claim Social Security early is no different.
As long as you weigh the trade-off and are confident you'll have enough money through retirement even with a smaller benefit, there's no reason not to start getting Social Security checks as soon as you desire.
Make sure you have a choice about when to claim benefits
While the best reason to claim benefits long before age 70 is that you can and want to, this only makes sense if you have enough saved to have the luxury of choice. If you have little or nothing invested for your later years, you may seriously regret shrinking the size of your Social Security checks.
You can avoid being in that position by setting aggressive retirement savings goals, diligently investing throughout your working life, and building a diversified portfolio with an appropriate percentage of stocks.
If you do these things, you should be comfortable in claiming Social Security whenever you'd like, even if that's long before you reach your 70th birthday.