Social Security benefits can potentially make or break retirement for many seniors.
The median 401(k) account balance is roughly $35,000, according to Vanguard's 2022 How America Saves report, which means Social Security benefits will likely play a major role in many older adults' retirement plans. It's wise, then, to make sure you're earning as much as possible.
Fortunately, there are ways you can increase the size of your monthly payments. And there's one strategy, in particular, that could boost your benefits up to 24%.
How your age affects your benefit amount
The age you begin claiming Social Security will have a significant effect on the amount you collect each month. The earlier you claim, the smaller your checks will be. But by delaying benefits, you could earn a substantial boost.
The most important figure to know is your full retirement age (FRA), which is the age at which you'll receive your full benefit amount based on your work record. If you were born in 1960 or later, your FRA is 67 years old.
If you have a FRA of 67 and you file as early as possible at age 62, your benefits will be reduced by 30%. But if you hold off on claiming until age 70, you'll receive your full benefit amount plus an extra 24% each month.
These adjustments are permanent, too. A common misconception is that if you file early, your benefits will increase once you reach your FRA. In reality, though, your benefit amount is generally locked in for life when you begin claiming. By delaying benefits, then, you could potentially earn larger checks every month for the rest of your life.
What age should you claim Social Security?
There's not necessarily a right or wrong time to file for Social Security. Some people may be better off claiming early, others may benefit from waiting a few years, while others still may split the difference and file at their FRA. The right move for you will depend on a few factors.
- Claiming early: This option makes the most sense for those who want to get a jump-start on retirement or have reason to believe they may not live well into their 80s or beyond. If you're battling health issues, for example, you could actually receive more over a lifetime by filing earlier.
- Delaying benefits: Waiting a few years to claim could boost your benefits by hundreds of dollars per month, so this could be a smart move if your retirement savings are falling short. Also, if you expect to live a longer-than-average lifespan, these larger checks can go a long way if your savings eventually run dry.
- Filing at your FRA: If you're on the fence about when to file, claiming at your FRA could be the best of both worlds. You'll receive your full benefit amount without reductions, but you also don't have to wait as long to start receiving benefits.
Your overall financial situation will also play a part in your decision. If you have a robust retirement fund and don't necessarily need the extra bump in benefits you'd receive by delaying, there's no harm in claiming as early as possible. But if Social Security is going to be your primary (or only) source of income in retirement, delaying could make your senior years more financially comfortable.
There's no single best age to begin claiming Social Security, as it will depend on your individual circumstances. But by understanding how your age will affect your benefit amount, it will be easier to make the best decision for your situation.