Social Security is a primary source of retirement income for tens of millions of Americans, and financial planners urge people to take maximum advantage of the Social Security benefits they've earned. For many planners, that means advising their clients to wait beyond the early claiming age of 62 before taking their benefits. But even though waiting can be smart for some people, there are good reasons for others to go ahead and take benefits as soon as possible. Here are three of them.
You have reason to expect you'll get more in lifetime benefits by not waiting
Social Security pays out smaller monthly benefits to those who claim early, but the extra payments give early claimers a head start over those who wait. The Social Security Administration's goal initially was to set things up so that timing didn't have a material impact on how much you would receive in benefits over your lifetime.
If you don't expect you'll live as long as the typical Social Security recipient, then claiming early can make sense. Keep in mind, though, that if you have a spouse or other loved ones who will claim benefits based on your work record, your decision can affect their benefits as well. But if you don't have family members who will claim survivor benefits, then you'll end up better off claiming early if you expect not to reach the age that the SSA's life expectancy projections would predict.
You want to make a lifestyle decision
The primary reason to wait to take Social Security benefits is one based on mathematics and maximizing your family's total benefits. For some, however, getting the biggest check possible isn't as valuable as living the life they want.
For many, taking Social Security early allows them to retire at an earlier age or cut back on their hours. Others prefer to use the additional cash early in their retirement when they can still enjoy it the most. Financial planners would tell you that you're leaving money on the table in many cases, but the actual value of those additional dollars might not be as much as getting to pick the time when the money will have the greatest impact.
Recent rule changes took away the incentive to wait
Late last year, lawmakers made changes to benefits available to Social Security participants who waited until full retirement age to claim benefits. Among them were the repeal of the restricted application or file-as-a-spouse-first strategy and the file-and-suspend strategy. Under a restricted application, those who reached full retirement age could elect to claim only spousal benefits, leaving their own retirement benefits untouched. Similarly, using file and suspend, someone at full retirement age or older could file for benefits but immediately suspend them and still allow a spouse to claim spousal benefits.
As a result of these legal changes, there's no longer as much incentive for married couples to wait until full retirement age -- currently age 66 -- to claim their benefits. The thousands of dollars that these couples will no longer be eligible to receive could be enough to push the balance toward claiming earlier rather than waiting, especially if some of the other factors above would ordinarily lead them to take benefits at 62.
When to claim Social Security is a tough decision that involves plenty of variables. But even though many financial planners urge their clients to think twice before claiming benefits at the earliest possible age, there are situations where it makes more sense to go ahead and take Social Security at 62 rather than waiting.