If your 70th birthday is approaching and you haven't started your Social Security benefits yet, you've reached ultra-elite status. Just 6.5% of new Social Security recipients are 70 or older.
But now that you've made it to the finish line, there's no reward for waiting any longer. Here's exactly what you should do to claim that maximum Social Security benefit you've waited so patiently for.
When to apply if you're turning 70
Social Security won't automatically start sending you checks once you turn 70, with one exception: If you took benefits after reaching full retirement age and then suspended your benefits to earn delayed credits of 8% per year, your benefits will automatically restart at 70.
Otherwise, you'll need to file an application. The earliest you can file for Social Security is four months before you want your benefits to start.
Regardless of when you file, make sure you specify that you want your benefit to begin the month you turn 70 to get the maximum amount. Social Security pays a month behind, so expect your first payment to arrive the month after your 70th birthday. For example, if you were born on May 10, you'd request that your benefits start in May and receive the first payment in June.
But there is an exception if you were born on the 1st of the month. For those people, Social Security calculates benefits as if they were born the previous month. So if you were born May 1, you'd request that your benefits start in April. Your first payment would arrive in May.
What happens if you delay past 70?
If you don't start your benefits once you reach 70, you can apply to receive up to six months' worth of payments retroactively. But there's no benefit in doing so. Delayed retirement credits stop once you reach 70, so you won't get more money by holding out longer. Wait longer than six months and you've permanently forfeited those benefits you earned.
It's important to note that your benefits won't be affected if you're still working, since you're past full retirement age. In fact, working longer could even boost your future checks. Social Security calculates benefits based on your 35 highest-earning years. If you're able to replace a lower-earning year with a higher-earning year, your benefit could increase since its calculated annually. But because you'll be earning more money, more of your Social Security will be taxable.
The perks of waiting for Social Security
There's a big payoff for waiting until 70 if you're claiming based on your work record. But if you're taking benefits based on a current or ex-spouse's record, you won't earn delayed retirement credits beyond your full retirement age, so there's no reason to wait until 70.
But if you're waiting until 70 to start benefits based on your own record, you can expect your checks to be about 77% more than they would have been had you claimed as soon as you turned 62. That doesn't mean waiting makes sense for everyone, but if you're in good health and have a long life expectancy, delaying as long as possible is typically a sound strategy.