If you're thinking of claiming your Social Security benefits, you may want to take a moment to make certain you're really ready to act. Your claiming choice can be hard to undo, and it affects the amount of money you'll receive for the rest of your life. To ensure you don't make a decision now that you'll regret later, ask yourself these three key questions.
1. How much money will I get?
First and most important, you need to know how much income Social Security will actually provide if you claim your benefits now. The amount you'll receive will depend on your age when you start benefits, as well as the income earned over the course of your career.
You can use the Social Security Administration's online calculators to estimate the amount of your benefits or sign in to your online account and get a personalized estimate based on your work history. The closer you are to retirement, the more accurate either the calculator or your individual estimate will be.
When you're determining the amount of money you'll receive, remember that you get your standard benefit only if you claim it at full retirement age (FRA). If you retire before that, your benefit will be smaller. If you wait until after it, delayed retirement credits will increase the size of your monthly checks until you reach 70.
2. Will Social Security plus savings give me enough to live on?
Before you claim your Social Security benefits, you'll want to be sure you're set for a secure retirement.
Social Security alone isn't enough to support you, so consider other sources of income such as investment funds and pension money. Add up the amount of your benefits, the amount of money your savings will provide after choosing a safe withdrawal rate, as well as income from any other available sources -- then compare this number to your budget.
If you find you'll have ample cash to get by, that's a good sign you're ready to start your benefits. But if that's not the case, you'll need to decide what your options are. Often, you'll want to go back to work to save more and make it possible to delay claiming your Social Security benefits so you can raise the size of your check.
While you can work while collecting benefits, this may result in some of your checks being withheld if you earn too much and are under FRA. Although you get higher benefits later if you forfeit benefits due to working, it makes little sense to start your benefits only to see them stopped when you earn a paycheck. So if it turns out you aren't really financially ready to retire, waiting to start Social Security is often your best move.
3. How is my choice going to affect my spouse?
Finally, if you're married, you need to understand how your Social Security claiming choice affects your spouse. Specifically, if you are the higher earner and you claim benefits early, you could reduce survivor benefits and put your beloved at risk of financial struggles if you pass away first.
You should work with your spouse to decide how to maximize your combined Social Security income and, if you aren't certain what claiming strategy is best to do that, you may want to consider getting some professional financial advice.