But actually, you can sign up for benefits at any age between 62 and 70. In fact, you don't even have to file once you reach 70, though there's no financial incentive to delay your claim beyond that point.
There are benefits and drawbacks to filing at different ages. If you sign up at your full retirement age (FRA), which is either 66, 67, or 66 and a specific number of months, depending on your year of birth, you'll get the exact monthly benefit you're eligible for based on your earnings history.
If you file before FRA, your monthly benefit will be reduced for life, and if you delay your filing beyond FRA, your benefit will increase. Once you turn 70, however, your benefit can't grow anymore, which is why 70 is considered the latest age to file, even if you're not forced to sign up at that point.
Clearly, if your goal is to snag the highest possible monthly Social Security benefit, you'll need to file at 70. And if you want a reasonably generous benefit, it pays to wait until you reach FRA to avoid a reduction. But despite all that, as of now, I'm leaning toward filing for benefits at the earliest age of 62. Here's why.
I don't expect to count on Social Security
Many seniors get the bulk of their retirement income from Social Security. But I'm really hoping that won't be me.
I started setting money aside for retirement around age 23 (the only reason I didn't start sooner was that my company didn't offer a retirement plan and I had educational loans that I wanted to pay off first). And since my late 20s, I've been maxing out my retirement plan contributions year after year.
I also have money invested in stocks in a regular brokerage account that I don't intend to touch until retirement, even though I'm allowed to access that money whenever I want. My hope is that between the nest egg I build and growth in my brokerage account, I'll have enough money to cover my senior expenses without having to count on Social Security at all. As such, I may decide to take benefits early and use that money for added travel and leisure -- things that may be easier to do at 62 than at a later age.
Now to be clear, I also don't expect to lead a particularly lavish lifestyle in retirement -- namely, because I don't lead one now. I routinely sock away a decent chunk of my income for the future, and I also live below my means.
In retirement, I'm hoping to downsize my home and move to an inexpensive part of the country. And while I hope to do my share of hiking and spending time in nature, I don't have the goal of visiting a string of fancy cities or dining at the finest establishments. That's just not me.
As such, I hope that if I continue saving diligently, I won't need to rely on Social Security as a senior, and so I'll have the flexibility to claim benefits whenever I want, even if it means reducing them in the process. Of course, since I'm nowhere close to retirement, I acknowledge that my stance on the matter might change, but for now, that's where I'm at.