Choosing when to begin claiming Social Security is one of the biggest decisions you'll make when planning for retirement. The age at which you file for benefits will directly affect the amount you receive each month, so choosing the right age for your situation is critical. You can begin claiming at age 62 or any age thereafter, and in general, the longer you wait, the larger your checks will be.
While there isn't necessarily a right or wrong answer, claiming at one particular age could be a costly mistake.
The risk of delaying benefits
If your savings are falling short and money will be tight in retirement, delaying benefits can be a smart option. Waiting until age 70 to file will result in a boost of up to 32% on top of your full benefit amount, or the amount you'll receive if you file at your full retirement age (FRA). However, it's possible to wait too long to begin claiming Social Security.
Age 70 is the longest you can delay while still receiving a boost in benefits. Technically, you can wait until after age 70 to file, but it won't result in larger checks each month. That means you're essentially missing out on money you're entitled to, and that could amount to tens of thousands of dollars.
How much could it cost you?
Say, for example, you have an FRA of 67 years old, and by claiming at that age, you'd receive around $1,700 per month (which is roughly the average benefit amount among retirees). If you were to wait until age 70 to claim, you'd receive an extra 24%, for a total of $2,108 per month.
If you wait until age 71 to file, though, you won't receive any extra money each month. By not taking Social Security between ages 70 and 71, you'd miss out on $2,108 per month -- which amounts to $25,296 per year.
The longer you wait past age 70, the more you'll miss out on. Say, for instance, you delay claiming Social Security until age 75. That's five years' worth of benefits you're not receiving, or around $126,480 in this scenario.
This doesn't mean you can't continue working past age 70. However, even if you keep working late in life, it's best to start taking Social Security at age 70, whether you're ready or not, because that will ensure you're not missing out on money you're entitled to receive.
A strategic approach to Social Security
There's no one-size-fits-all option when it comes to claiming Social Security. For some people, delaying until age 70 is the best move. For others, though, claiming early can be a smarter decision.
Just be sure you know how your age will affect your benefit amount. When you head into retirement with a strategy, you can maximize your monthly income and enjoy your senior years as comfortably as possible.