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Don't Claim Social Security If You Can't Answer These 3 Questions

By Maurie Backman – Aug 6, 2021 at 5:18AM

Key Points

  • You may end up relying heavily on Social Security in retirement.
  • The age at which you claim benefits will determine how much money you'll get.
  • It's important to consider different factors before signing up.

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Filing for benefits is a decision you can't afford to get wrong.

Eventually, you'll reach a point when you'll need to start thinking about retirement -- whether you're ready to leave your career behind and whether the time is right to start collecting Social Security. Even if you've saved well for your senior years, Social Security could end up being an important source of income for you. And the age at which you choose to file could impact how much of a payday you'll get.

That's why it's important to make sure you're signing up for benefits at the right time. And you shouldn't even think about claiming Social Security until you're able to answer these key questions.

Two people at laptop

Image source: Getty Images.

1. What's my full retirement age?

The monthly Social Security benefit you'll collect in retirement will hinge on what your wages looked like during your 35 highest-paid years of earnings. You're entitled to that benefit, without a reduction, once you reach full retirement age, or FRA.

You can consult this table to see what your FRA looks like based on your year of birth:

If Your Year of Birth Is:

Your Full Retirement Age Is:

1943-1954

66

1955

66 and 2 months

1956

66 and 4 months

1957

66 and 6 months

1958

66 and 8 months

1959

66 and 10 months

1960 or later

67

Data source: Social Security Administration.

You're allowed to sign up for Social Security before FRA (as early as age 62), but filing early will result in a permanent reduction in your benefits. As such, it's important that you know your FRA before making that call.

2. How much will my benefit grow if I wait?

Just as claiming Social Security before FRA will result in a lower monthly benefit, delaying your filing will give you a higher benefit. For each month you hold off on signing up past FRA, your benefit will grow by 2/3 of 1%, for a total of 8% per year.

Once you turn 70, your benefit can't grow any more. But if your FRA is 67 and you delay your filing until age 70, you'll boost your monthly payments by 24% -- for life. It's important to crunch the numbers and see how much you can raise your senior income by holding off on filing.

3. Have I considered my spouse's needs?

If you're a lot older than your spouse, he or she may outlive you by many years. And if you were the higher earner in your marriage, then you may be entitled to a much more generous monthly benefit than your spouse.

If you pass away before your spouse, he or she will be entitled to survivors benefits that total the same amount you were eligible to collect. So if you think your spouse will become reliant on that income, then you may want to delay your filing -- or at least wait until FRA -- to sign up for Social Security. Doing so will leave your spouse in a much stronger financial position in your absence.

Don't rush into filing

The age at which you claim Social Security will have a huge impact on your retirement. Make sure you're able to answer these important questions before making any plans to sign up for benefits. Otherwise, you might file at the wrong age and regret your decision afterward.

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