3 Signs You’re Ready for That First Social Security Check

The rules governing Social Security retirement benefits allow you to claim them as early as age 62 and as late as age 70. You may want to start the checks rolling as early as you can, but you shouldn’t do so without making sure that you’re really ready for them and that you’ve thought through some important considerations.

Here are three signs that you are ready to start collecting your benefits. See which ones apply to you now and which ones you still need to tackle.

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1. You’ve set up a “my Social Security” account

Visit the Social Security Administration (SSA) website and set up a “my Social Security” account — no matter how close or far from collecting Social Security you are. Doing so will let you pop into your account at any time, to see estimates of your future benefits along with the SSA’s record of your earnings year by year. You can also take care of some Social Security business via that account, and if you spot any errors, you can have them fixed, which can boost your ultimate benefits.

It’s important to have a good idea of how much income you can expect from Social Security before you start collecting, so that you can incorporate it into your overall plan. If, for example, you’ll be getting less than you expected, you might want to work another year or two and/or find an additional income stream for retirement. If you’ll be getting much more than you expected or need, you might be able to retire early.

2. You’ve determined your full retirement age

You shouldn’t be thinking of starting to collect Social Security until you know your full retirement age — the age at which you can start collecting the full benefits to which you’re entitled, based on your earnings record.

For most of us, that full retirement age is 66 or 67. You can find yours here:

Birth Year

Full Retirement Age

1937 or earlier

65

1938

65 and 2 months

1939

65 and 4 months

1940

65 and 6 months

1941

65 and 8 months

1942

65 and 10 months

1943-1954

66

1955

66 and 2 months

1956

66 and 4 months

1957

66 and 6 months

1958

66 and 8 months

1959

66 and 10 months

1960 and later

67

Data source: Social Security Administration.

3. You’ve decided when it’s best to start collecting benefits

The reason it’s important to know your full retirement age is because if you start collecting your Social Security retirement benefits before it (as early as age 62), you’ll receive smaller checks — and if you delay starting to collect beyond your full retirement age, your retirement benefits will get bigger — by about 8% per year until age 70. Here’s a handy table showing what percentage of your full retirement benefits you’ll get at various ages:

Start Collecting at:

Full Retirement Age of 66

Full Retirement Age of 67

62

75%

70%

63

80%

75%

64

86.7%

80%

65

93.3%

86.7%

66

100%

93.3%

67

108%

100%

68

116%

108%

69

124%

116%

70

132%

124%

Data source: Social Security Administration.

While it might seem a no-brainer to delay starting to collect as long as possible, it will actually make little difference when you claim your benefits if you live an average-length life. The system is designed that way. Starting early means smaller checks, but more of them — and vice versa.

So consider lots of factors before you decide when to start collecting your benefits. For example:

Do you stand a decent chance of living an extra-long life? Then consider delaying (and vice versa).
Do you simply need the money, perhaps because you retired early and have insufficient retirement savings? Then collect sooner rather than later.
Are you coordinating with a spouse, perhaps with the higher earner delaying and the lower earner collecting sooner?

Once you know how much money you can expect from Social Security at various ages, you’ll be much more ready to decide when to claim your benefits. You might also want to look into ways to increase your Social Security benefits before you claim them.

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