You've probably seen a lot of Social Security advice telling you to wait to sign up for benefits because this boosts your monthly checks. That's mostly true, but there are a few times when delaying benefits could cost you money. Here are three instances where it definitely pays to sign up for Social Security right away.
1. You're 70 or older
Every month you delay Social Security benefits increases your checks slightly, but that all stops when you turn 70. After this point, your benefits won't grow anymore, so waiting to sign up just costs you money. If you're already 70 or older, make sure you sign up for Social Security right away so you can squeeze as much out of the program as possible.
If your 70th birthday is coming up this year, it's time to start getting prepared. You can apply up to four months before you want to start claiming. Start gathering your documents together to ensure the application process goes smoothly.
Your Social Security Number
Bank account information
Your birth certificate or proof of U.S. citizenship if not born in the U.S.
A copy of your most recent tax return
Employer names and dates from the past two years
U.S. military service dates and branches
The dates and locations of any current or previous marriages
If you have any questions about the documentation required, reach out to the Social Security Administration.
2. You're claiming a spousal benefit, and you're at or over your FRA
Everyone is assigned a full retirement age (FRA) based on their birth year. For today's workers, that's somewhere between 66 and 67. This is the age at which you become eligible for your full benefit based on your work history.
If you're claiming a benefit on your spouse's work record, it's also the age at which you become eligible for your maximum benefit. Similar to the scenario above, delaying benefits past this age won't increase your checks any further, so there's no sense in doing so.
If you're not sure whether your Social Security checks will be based on your work history or your spouse's, you can find out by contacting the Social Security Administration. Or you can create a my Social Security account. This will tell you what, if any, benefit you qualify for on your own work record. And if you know what kind of benefit your spouse is getting, you can enter this in and it will tell you what kind of a spousal benefit you can get.
The Social Security Administration will automatically give you the larger of your own benefit or a spousal benefit if you qualify for both. But keep in mind that you can't claim a spousal benefit unless your spouse is already receiving checks. So if they haven't signed up already, make sure they do so first so you can get your spousal benefit.
3. You have a terminal illness
Delaying Social Security benefits is generally wise if you expect to live into your 80s or beyond. Doing so typically gets you a larger lifetime benefit than signing up as soon as you become eligible at 62. But if you have a terminal illness or a family health history that leads you to believe you won't live long, signing up earlier is usually the smarter play.
If you try to delay benefits until 70 and end up dying in your 60s, you won't get any money from Social Security at all. It's better to start right away at 62 and get as much out of the program as you can.
For most people, the right time to sign up for Social Security benefits isn't always clear-cut. But if any of the three above scenarios apply to you, you should sign up for benefits as soon as possible. You don't stand to gain anything from waiting any longer, so you may as well claim as many checks as possible.
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