As you're preparing for retirement, one important decision you'll need to make is what age you'll begin claiming Social Security benefits.
The earliest you can file for benefits is age 62. This is also the most popular age to claim, with 48% of women and 42% of men filing for Social Security at this age, according to a report from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
While there are advantages to claiming early, there's also one significant risk you face that could potentially derail your retirement plans.
Claiming early could be a risky move
When you claim Social Security before your full retirement age (FRA), you'll receive lower monthly payments than if you'd waited to file.
Those smaller checks may not make a significant difference in your retirement lifestyle in the short term, because you likely also have a healthy retirement fund to depend on to make ends meet. But eventually you may run out of savings, at which point you might have no choice but to rely primarily on your Social Security benefits. In that case, claiming early could put your retirement at risk.
The median amount baby boomers have saved for retirement is just $152,000, according to a survey conducted by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. In addition, the average American age 65 and older spends approximately $46,000 per year, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals. At that rate, a nest egg worth $152,000 will only last roughly three years.
If your savings run dry and you're forced to rely on your benefits as your primary (or only) source of income in retirement, you may regret claiming sooner rather than later.
When is it worth it to wait?
Delaying Social Security benefits can be challenging, especially if you're eager to retire. But waiting to claim can have a dramatic effect on the amount you receive each month.
The average retiree receives just over $1,500 per month in benefits, according to the Social Security Administration. Say you have a FRA of 67 years old, and if you were to begin claiming at that age, you'd receive $1,500 per month.
If you were to claim at age 62, your benefits would be reduced by 30%, leaving you with $1,050 per month. But if you were to wait until age 70 to file, you'd collect your full benefit amount plus a 24% bonus, or $1,860 per month.
In addition, once you begin claiming Social Security, your benefit amount is generally locked in for life. One common misconception is that if you claim early, your benefit amount will automatically increase once you reach your FRA. In reality, though, you'll be stuck with those smaller checks for the remainder of your retirement.
However, the other side of the coin is that if you delay benefits, you'll collect larger checks each month for the rest of your life. That can be a major advantage if you end up relying on your benefits as your main source of income.
The age you start taking Social Security benefits is a highly personal decision, so there's not necessarily a right or wrong answer. However, if you're concerned you may run out of savings later in life, waiting a few years to file for benefits could be a wise move.