Deciding when to take your Social Security benefits is a key decision that will affect your finances for the rest of your life. But many Americans don't know how to make a smart choice about starting to receive their monthly Social Security checks. One important consideration is whether you'll get more benefits over the course of your lifetime by claiming earlier or later.

In the following video, Dan Caplinger, The Motley Fool's director of investment planning, goes through the process of figuring out your Social Security breakeven date. Dan notes that claiming early means getting more years of benefits but at a reduced rate, while waiting gives you a bigger payout but forces you to play catch-up to those who claimed earlier. For singles, breakeven dates tend to be in the late 70s or early 80s. But as Dan reminds viewers, things get more complex when there are family members to consider, as your decision affects not only your own benefits, but also spousal and survivors' benefits as well.