For many retirees, waiting until 70 to get the first Social Security check is the right financial decision. Filing for benefits at 70 can result in a higher monthly income than if you claimed payments at an earlier age. And, since many people now live longer than their life expectancy, 6 in 10 retirees end up with more lifetime income if they put off their first Social Security payment until age 70.
But there’s one situation in which there’s absolutely no benefit to waiting so long. If it applies to you, you should not wait beyond your full retirement age to get benefits.
Here’s when it makes sense to file for benefits before 70
You should start your Social Security checks no later than your full retirement age if you are going to be claiming spousal benefits instead of claiming retirement benefits.
You have a choice of getting benefits based on your own work history or getting benefits based on the work record of a current spouse or a former spouse (as long as the marriage lasted for at least a decade and you didn’t remarry).
If your earnings were pretty low over your career, spousal benefits could provide more income for you than your own benefits. They may even be your only option if you didn’t work long enough to qualify for retirement benefits.
Spousal benefits can equal up to 50% of your spouse’s standard benefit at their full retirement age. But that’s the most they can be. If you claim them ahead of your own full retirement age, you will shrink them. So you may want to wait until then. But if you wait beyond your full retirement age, you do not get to increase spousal benefits. They max out at FRA, which is well before 70. So waiting longer than FRA to get started on spousal benefits would mean that you are just giving up checks that should be coming to you and getting nothing at all in return.
This is in contrast to when you claim retirement benefits, as any month you delay the start of your own retirement checks beyond your full retirement age would result in a benefit increase of 2/3 of 1% until 70.
When is your full retirement age?
In order to determine the latest age when you should claim your Social Security spousal benefits, you should know when your full retirement age is. It depends on your birth year, and the table below shows what yours is.
Year of Birth
Full Retirement Age
66 and 2 months
66 and 4 months
66 and 6 months
66 and 8 months
66 and 10 months
1960 or later
If you have reached this milestone and you are going to be getting spousal benefits (whether or not you’ll also collect Social Security on your own), start your checks now as long as you are eligible to do so. Your spouse will need to have claimed their own retirement benefits first, but once that’s happened, then you should not wait to start collecting this important income source.
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