Social Security provides an important retirement benefit for most Americans. One of the most important decisions people have regarding their Social Security benefits is when to take them. Generally speaking, retirees can start drawing benefits between the ages of 62 and 70. The longer they wait, the bigger each payment will be.

You'll face many trade-offs when deciding when to take your Social Security benefits, and hard-and-fast rules are few and far between. If you're trying to figure out when to take your benefits, there are at least three good reasons to consider waiting:

  • You're still working past your full retirement age.
  • You expect to have a long retirement.
  • You're not comfortable investing.

Here's why these factors matter.

Still working?
If you have other sources of income, up to 85% of your Social Security payment gets taxed. Additionally, once you start taking Social Security, your benefit is generally "locked," though you will get credit for future wages that could increase your benefit.

Your Social Security check is based on your highest 35 years of wages. If you still have zero-income or low-income years on your record, working longer can provide a nice bump, and delaying benefits will keep them from being locked in low.

Indeed, each year you delay taking your Social Security benefit past your full retirement age (up to age 70) adds 8% to your benefit amount. If a job you intend to keep working adequately covers your costs, why turn down that automatic raise by taking the money earlier?

Expect a long retirement?
If you have good reason to believe you will exceed the average life expectancy, delaying your benefits could provide you more over your lifetime than starting sooner. Of course, none of us really know when our time is up. If you pass away sooner than you expected, your lifetime benefits could be lowered by waiting.

The chart below illustrates how much your benefits can vary based on when you decide to start receiving them.

Chart from Social Security.

Based on that information, the table below shows the total you'd receive over your lifetime, based on how long you live and assuming no inflation:

Total Received by Age...

Start at 62

Start at 66

Start at 70





































Source: Author's calculations based on data from Social Security. Assumes no inflation.

Waiting up to age 70 gives you a higher monthly benefit and the potential for a higher total lifetime payout -- if you live long enough to collect. That additional cash can come in handy in the later years of your retirement as you may become more dependent on hiring help to handle daily activities you can no longer handle on your own.

Not comfortable investing?
If you're retired, your key sources of income are your pension (if you get one), your Social Security, and the money you earn from your investments. Money you receive from Social Security is money you don't have to take out of your investments to cover your costs of living. The longer you wait (up to age 70), the larger your monthly Social Security check and the less you need your investments to cover once you do start collecting.

Additionally, while the potential returns are higher in the market, the market carries no guarantees, and the risks of loss are real. On the flip side, however, the key risk of Social Security is that benefit cuts could occur if the trust fund runs dry.

Is there a downside?
Of course, there still is no such thing as a free lunch, even when it comes to programs like Social Security. Delaying Social Security (up to age 70) may seem like a good idea, but remember:

  • If you start later, you have to cover your costs of living until then from some other source.
  • If you pass away sooner than you anticipate, the money Social Security saved by not paying you remains in Social Security's control, rather than being passed to your heirs.
  • The farther into retirement we get, the less mobile and independent we generally become. Delaying gratification for the sake of a larger Social Security check does you little good if you're not able to enjoy the benefits of that larger monthly check.

How accurate is your crystal ball?
On average, the age at which a typical person takes Social Security doesn't make much of a difference. Your particular circumstances may be unique, and your choice of whether to delay your Social Security benefit depends on many factors. Key ones you'll need to consider:

  • How long you expect to live and be able to make use of the larger checks.
  • How you'll cover your costs during the window between when you can collect and when you do collect.
  • Whether your investments are better helped from more time to compound or more supplemental income from a larger Social Security check.

Just remember that if you do delay, the benefits of waiting stop at age 70.