If you're eager to start your Social Security benefits, you may be wondering how soon you can claim them. But the answer to this question isn't quite as simple as it seems. That's because there are different kinds of Social Security benefits -- and because starting some of them early could have financial consequences.
Here's what to know about when you can get checks from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and why you may want to delay getting certain types of benefits even after you first become eligible.
When can you start your retirement benefits?
You're allowed to start getting retirement benefits once you hit 62, but the SSA considers that to be filing early. And you'll have to wait quite a few years to avoid that label.
Every Social Security beneficiary has an age designated as their full retirement age (FRA), based on their birth year. The earliest FRA is 66 for those born after 1943. And FRA gradually starts moving later for anyone born in 1955 or later, until it hits 67 for anyone born in 1960 or beyond.
Filing early has financial consequences. A penalty applies for every month you start your checks prior to your full retirement age. The penalty is 5/9 of 1% every month for the first 36 months and 5/12 of 1% every month for any earlier month. The reduction adds up to about a 6.7% cut to your standard benefit for each of the first three years and a 5% reduction for each year prior.
You may be willing to accept these consequences to claim at 62, but it's important to know exactly what you're giving up. Social Security benefits are an optimum retirement income source: They're protected against inflation and guaranteed to last your entire life. And the reduction from filing early is permanent, although many people incorrectly believe that if they start benefits early, they'll be recalculated back up at full retirement age.
You should also know the consequences of starting at 62 could affect your spouse as well. It could reduce the amount of survivors benefits he or she receives. If you're the higher earner and you pass away first, this could have dire financial consequences. See, the last surviving spouse keeps the higher of your two benefits. If you've shrunk yours, you'll leave your surviving partner with less money on after your gone.
So while claiming Social Security benefits as early as age 62 is possible, it's not necessarily advisable. Weigh the pros and cons carefully to be certain it's right for you.
What about other Social Security benefits?
In addition to Social Security retirement benefits, there are also survivor benefits and disability benefits.
Survivor benefits are available to married individuals as well as those who divorced after 10 or more years of marriage. They become available as early as age 60 or age 50 if disabled. If you're caring for an eligible child of the deceased, you can also claim them at any time.
Disability benefits are also available at virtually any age, as long as you can qualify based on your own work history or a family members work history. The required amount of work to qualify for benefits is determined based on your age at the time you become disabled.
Understanding the rules for these types of benefits is important because if you become eligible for them, you may not need to wait until retirement age to get money you need to support yourself.