Nearly half (47%) of adults age 45 and older say deciding when to claim Social Security benefits is the biggest retirement decision they're facing, according to a survey from the Empower Institute.

Social Security benefits can have an enormous impact on your retirement, so it's crucial to choose wisely when deciding your claiming age. While everyone's situation is different, here are three signs you're ready to start taking benefits now.

Social Security card with assorted bills

Image source: Getty Images.

1. You've checked your estimated benefit amount

You don't have to wait until you start collecting Social Security to figure out how much you'll receive. In fact, you can easily check your benefit amount online by creating a mySocialSecurity account.

By checking your statements online, you can see your estimated benefit amount based on your real earnings throughout your career. It's a good idea to check your benefit amount before you begin claiming, just to be sure your expectations are realistic. If you check your statements and find that you won't be receiving as much as you thought, you might need to do a little more preparation before you begin claiming.

2. You understand how your full retirement age affects your benefits

Your full retirement age (FRA) is the age at which you'll receive 100% of your benefit amount. If you were born in:

  • 1959 (and will be turning 62 in 2021): Your FRA is 66 and 10 months
  • 1960 or later: Your FRA is 67 years
  • Before 1960: Your FRA is either 66 or 66 and a certain number of months, depending on the year in which you were born

If you begin claiming before your FRA, your benefits will be reduced by up to 30%. These reductions are permanent, too, meaning you won't see your benefit amount increase once you reach your FRA. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad idea to claim early, but be sure you're aware of how it will affect the size of your monthly checks.

In addition, if you delay claiming benefits past your FRA (up to age 70), you'll receive your full benefit amount plus up to 32% extra each month. This boost in benefits is also permanent, so if you delay benefits, you'll receive larger checks for the rest of your life.

3. You've created a strategy with your spouse

If you and your spouse are both eligible for benefits, it's a good idea to decide when you both want to claim, in order to maximize your monthly income. You may decide that the higher-earning spouse should delay benefits, while the lower-earning spouse claims early, for example, or you might both decide to claim early or delay.

In addition, when one spouse passes away, the other may be eligible to collect the deceased person's entire benefit amount in survivors benefits. If you have reason to believe that the higher-earning spouse won't live as long as the other, it might be wise for that person to delay benefits so the surviving spouse can take advantage of larger checks later in life.

Social Security benefits are an integral piece of the retirement puzzle, so it's important to ensure you've done your research before you start claiming. And if you've done these three things, that's a good sign you're ready to start taking Social Security.