Age 62 is the earliest age you can file for Social Security, and not surprisingly, it's also the most popular. But signing up to collect benefits at 62 has its drawbacks -- namely, locking in a lower monthly benefit for life.
Your monthly Social Security benefit is unique to you, and it's calculated based on your average monthly wage, indexed for inflation, during your 35 most profitable years of earnings in the workforce. That benefit, however, won't be yours in full until you reach full retirement age, or FRA.
FRA depends on your year of birth and it falls between 66 and 67. Filing for Social Security at 62 with an FRA of 67 will shrink your monthly benefit by 30%, and unless you undo your filing and pay back your benefits within a year of claiming them, you'll be stuck with that lower benefit for life. That could, in turn, make it far more difficult to cover your senior living expenses and enjoy your newfound freedom during retirement.
But despite the downside of filing early, in some cases, it makes perfect sense to sign up for Social Security at 62. Here are a few such scenarios.
1. You're afraid to work because of the pandemic
Many older Americans have jobs that can't be done remotely. If you fall into that category and you're not yet eligible for a coronavirus vaccine (in some states, eligibility is limited to those aged 65 and over unless there's an underlying health condition), then filing for Social Security at 62 could make it possible to leave your job and stop putting your health at risk. Or, it could make it possible for you to stop working temporarily, ride out the pandemic, and then attempt to return to the workforce later on.
2. You're not confident you'll live a long life
While you'll slash your monthly benefit by claiming Social Security at 62 rather than waiting until FRA, you may end up scoring a higher lifetime benefit by filing as early as possible. Say you're entitled to a $1,500 monthly benefit at an FRA of 67. Filing at 62 will give you $1,050 a month instead, but if you only live until age 75, you'll come away with a total of $163,800 in your lifetime. If you wait until your FRA and pass away at 75, you'll collect a lifetime total of $144,000 -- almost $20,000 less. As such, if you have health issues or another reason to think you won't live such a long life, claiming Social Security at 62 is the way to go.
3. You want money to travel as soon as it becomes safe again
Many people have put travel plans on hold due to the pandemic. If you've had to cancel a dream trip already, you may not want to wait to reschedule it. Claiming Social Security at 62 could put money in your pocket a lot sooner to travel once that becomes a safe prospect again. Granted, that may not happen this year, but it'll be nice for you to have the option once you're ready to board a plane or explore new corners of the world.
The idea of cutting your monthly benefit on a permanent basis may seem daunting, and that alone may prompt you not to sign up for Social Security at 62. But for some seniors, filing that early is actually a smart move, so don't assume it's the wrong one for you. Rather, weigh the pros and cons and think about what you stand to gain by claiming your benefits as soon as you're allowed to.