Millions of seniors count on Social Security to pay the bills and enjoy retirement to the fullest. But if you claim your benefits at the wrong time, you could wind up cash-strapped and unhappy.

You're allowed to file for Social Security as early as age 62, but you won't be entitled to your full monthly benefit until you reach what's known as full retirement age, or FRA. FRA depends on your year of birth, as per the following table:

Year of Birth

Full Retirement Age




66 and 2 months


66 and 4 months


66 and 6 months


66 and 8 months


66 and 10 months

1960 or later


Data source: Social Security Administration.

While many seniors choose to file for Social Security at their precise FRA, you also have the option to delay your filing. Doing so will grow your benefits by 8% a year, up until age 70. This means that if you're entitled to $1,500 a month from Social Security at an FRA of 67, filing at 70 will give you $1,860 instead -- for the rest of your life.

The downside in that scenario is having to wait to collect your benefits, but here are three cases where it could really pay to delay.

Older man sitting on couch typing on laptop

Image source: Getty Images.

1. You don't have a lot of savings

Social Security only pays the average senior today a little over $18,000 a year. Chances are, you'll need a lot more money than that to live comfortably once you stop working, and that's where your personal savings come in. But what if you don't have much money in an IRA or 401(k) plan? At that point, you're apt to be extra-reliant on Social Security, and so growing your benefits could help you avoid a major financial hardship.

2. You're still collecting a paycheck

Social Security income is subject to federal taxes, but you can often get out of paying those taxes if your benefits constitute your sole source of income. Meanwhile, you can work and collect Social Security at the same time without impacting your benefits once you reach FRA.

But if you're still earning money from a job, there's a good chance that will propel you over the income limit to avoid taxes on benefits, in which case it could make sense to sit tight and hold off on filing. That way, you'll grow your benefits, and if you then leave your job by the time you're ready to claim them (so that they're your only source of income), you may manage to avoid taxes.

3. You expect to live a long life

Social Security is technically supposed to pay you the same total lifetime benefit regardless of when you file. The logic is that claiming benefits early or on time will give you less money each month, but more months of benefits. By contrast, if you delay your filing, you'll get more money each month, but fewer months of benefits.

Everything should even out if you live an average life span, but if you expect to live longer than average -- say, because your health is great or you have a family history of longevity -- then you'll likely get more money in your lifetime by waiting to file as long as possible.

When it comes to claiming Social Security, there's no right or wrong age to file. The choice will boil down to your personal needs and circumstances. But if any of the above factors apply to you, you may find that delaying your benefits really makes a lot of sense.