At age 65, you qualify for Medicare. You can also start taking taxable, nonmedical distributions from your Health Savings Account (HSA) without penalties. Why not kick off your Social Security benefits at the same time?
While 65 is about the average age people claim Social Security, there’s one reason you might regret that timing. You’ll absorb a benefit cut, which could squeeze your budget in retirement.
Keep reading to find out how much that benefit reduction could be, and when taking it might be worth it.
Benefit reduction for claiming before FRA
To understand the benefit reduction for claiming at age 65, you must know your full retirement age (FRA). Your FRA is the age you qualify for your primary Social Security benefit. This is your benefit as calculated from your income history before any adjustments for claiming early or late.
FRAs vary depending on your birth year. If you’re not yet 65, your full retirement age (FRA) is somewhere between the ages of 66-and-a-half and 70. Specifically:
If you were born in 1957, your FRA is 66 and six months.
If you were born in 1958, your FRA is 66 and eight months.
If you were born in 1959, your FRA is 66 and 10 months.
If you were born in 1960 or later, your FRA is 67.
As you can see, your 65th birthday is 18 to 24 months before your FRA. This is where the benefit reduction comes in. For each month prior to FRA that you collect Social Security, your benefit is reduced by five-ninths of 1%.
Note that the five-ninths percentage applies only to the first 36 months. If you claim Social Security more than three years before your FRA, the reduction formula is five-twelfths of 1% for each month beyond 36.
The table below shows how the reduction formula applies to different FRAs and the claiming age of 65.
Number of Months Between FRA and 65th Birthday
Percentage Reduction for Claiming at 65
66 and six months
66 and eight months
66 and 10 months
The value of that 10% to 13.3% reduction depends on your primary benefit amount. You can check that number by logging into my Social Security. While you’re logged in to your account, you can view how your benefit changes at different claiming ages.
For context, the average Social Security retirement benefit for a 65-year-old is $16,836 annually. A 10% reduction would equal an annual pay cut of $1,683.60. A 13.3% reduction would lower that benefit by about $2,239 annually.
The advantage of claiming earlier
Claiming earlier than FRA isn’t all bad. In return for accepting a benefit reduction, you get to collect income 18 to 24 months earlier. Depending on your situation, that may be more valuable than the higher monthly check. For example, you may have lost your job and you need the income to pay your bills. Or, you might want to enjoy some work-free years now, in advance of potential health declines.
Social Security timing is personal
The timing of your Social Security claim affects your income, but there is more to life (and retirement) than what you make. As you decide when to file for your retirement benefit, consider the numbers and your life quality.
If you’re healthy and enjoy your job, delaying retirement for 18 or 24 months may be a no-brainer. Or, you might prefer the lower income in exchange for an earlier retirement.
What’s important is that you know and accept the pros and cons of your Social Security timing decision. That’ll minimize disappointment and financial stress so you can spend more time enjoying your life after work.
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