Between the record inflation and the massive cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) expected next year, claiming Social Security sounds pretty appealing right now. But it’s not the right move for everyone. If any of these three things apply to you, you might not be ready to apply for benefits quite yet.
1. You haven’t thought about how claiming now will affect your benefits
Your age when you sign up for Social Security will affect how much money you get from the program. You need to wait until your full retirement age (FRA) if you want the full benefit you’ve earned based on your work history. This is anywhere from 66 to 67, depending on your birth year.
You can claim as early as 62, but this will shrink your checks up to 25% if your FRA is 66 or up to 30% if your FRA is 67. This could still be a smart choice if you don’t expect to live past your 70s. Some people also choose to sign up early, because they’re already retired and need help paying their bills.
But delaying benefits could net you a larger lifetime benefit. Every month you wait to claim Social Security boosts your checks a little — anywhere from five-twelfths of 1% per month to two-thirds of 1% per month, depending on your age and FRA. This continues until you reach your maximum benefit at 70. That’s 124% of your full benefit per check if your FRA is 67 or 132% if your FRA is 66.
2. You haven’t talked it over with other affected household members
If you’re single and have no dependents, this doesn’t apply to you. But if you’re married or have minor children or those receiving SSI at home, your Social Security decisions could affect more than just you. So it’s important to figure out what’s best for your entire household before you sign up.
Spouses are entitled to up to 50% of their partner’s Social Security benefit at their FRA, regardless of whether the spouse ever worked. But they may also qualify for their own Social Security benefit if they’ve worked long enough. In that case, the Social Security Administration automatically gives them the larger of either their own or their spousal benefit.
Minor children and adult children disabled before age 22 are also eligible for Social Security benefits on your work record. But like spousal benefits, they can’t claim these until you sign up for Social Security first.
If you have others in your household who qualify for Social Security checks, it might be advantageous to sign up early so they can also claim benefits. This could increase the money your household receives every month.
Talk to the Social Security Administration or use the Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool to learn what benefits each member of your household might qualify for.
3. You don’t have all your documents together
In order to apply for Social Security, you’ll need:
Your Social Security card or a record of your Social Security number
Your original birth certificate or a copy certified by the issuing agency
Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status, if you weren’t born in the U.S.
A copy of your military service papers if you served before 1968
A copy of your W-2 or self-employment tax return from the previous year
You can speed up the claims process by gathering all the necessary documents ahead of time, but if you’re missing something, that doesn’t mean you have to put off your Social Security application. The Social Security Administration may be able to help you track down missing documents to verify the necessary information at no cost to you.
A word of caution
If any of these things apply to you, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t claim Social Security right now. It just means you should take some time to think it through before you move forward. If you decide to delay benefits, also consider when you do plan to take them so you know how long you’ll have to cover your retirement expenses on your own.
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