Determining what age to begin claiming Social Security benefits is one of the biggest retirement decisions you'll make, and it will have a significant impact on the size of your monthly checks.
However, there is a chance that you may not have the luxury of choosing your retirement age. Many workers are at risk of being forced to claim Social Security early -- whether they want to or not. Here's why.
More adults are working in retirement
Around 58% of U.S. workers expect to continue working either full-time or part-time in retirement, according to a 2022 report from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.
Of those who plan to continue working, 75% say that they're doing so for financial reasons. Nearly half of respondents say they want the extra income, and around 28% say they need to continue working because they don't have enough money saved to retire.
There's nothing wrong with working in retirement, and if your savings are falling short, it could be a smart move.
However, 51% of survey respondents in the Transamerica report say that if they're forced to retire earlier than expected, they do not have a backup plan. If your retirement plan hinges on continuing to work, you may have no choice but to fall back on Social Security if you end up retiring early due to health issues or job loss.
How claiming early will affect your income
If you're forced to retire sooner than expected, you may have to begin claiming Social Security early to have enough income to make ends meet. The earliest you can file is age 62, and by claiming at that age, your benefits will be permanently reduced by up to 30%.
For those who are retiring earlier than planned, that benefit reduction can be a double whammy. Not only will you be missing out on extra income from a job, but you may also receive hundreds of dollars less per month from Social Security if you file early.
Of course, it's tough to predict whether you'll be forced into an early retirement or not -- which can make it harder to plan.
One thing you can do, though, is keep realistic expectations about retirement. If you're battling health issues, for example, it may be unrealistic to expect to work well into your 70s. Or if you have reason to believe your job may be on shaky ground, consider if it's likely that you'll be able to continue working for as long as you'd like.
How to prepare for the unexpected
Ideally, you'll be able to save enough in your retirement fund that working during your senior years will be a choice rather than a necessity. But that's not an option for many older adults, in which case your best bet is to have some sort of backup plan in case you are forced to retire earlier than expected.
Claiming Social Security early can be part of that backup plan, but there are other options, too. If you're married and both you and your spouse are entitled to Social Security, for example, you may choose one of you to claim early while the other delays benefits. That can give you a little extra money right away while still taking advantage of the larger checks you'll receive by delaying.
You could also consider downsizing to a smaller home or relocating to a more affordable city or neighborhood, for instance, which could help your money go further. The more planning you put into your backup plan, the more prepared you'll be for the unexpected.
Preparing for retirement isn't easy, especially if your savings are falling short. If you expect to continue working well into your senior years, a backup plan can make it easier to enjoy a comfortable retirement if life throws you a curveball.