If You Can’t Answer These 3 Questions, You’re Not Ready for Social Security

The decision to sign up for Social Security is a big one. That’s because those benefits might end up not only constituting your largest source of retirement income, but also your most steady.

Think about it. The value of your nest egg could fluctuate based on market conditions. But Social Security is guaranteed to pay you the same monthly benefit for life.

Granted, that benefit could rise as cost-of-living adjustments come into play. The point, however, is that Social Security serves as a stable income source for many seniors, and there’s a good chance you’ll rely on it pretty heavily once your career wraps up.

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That’s why it’s so important to claim benefits strategically and why you’ll need to run through these key questions before signing up.

1. What’s my full retirement age?

Your full retirement age (FRA) is when you’re entitled to your full monthly Social Security benefit based on your earnings history. It’s important to be aware of that age because you can file for benefits well ahead of FRA. If you file early, however, you’ll shrink those payments for life.

Now FRA isn’t universal. Rather, it depends on your year of birth. You can consult this table to see what yours is:

Year of Birth

Full Retirement Age

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 or later

67

Data source: Social Security Administration.

2. How much annual income will I get from my savings?

Ideally, Social Security won’t be your only income source in retirement. But if you don’t expect a lot of annual income from your IRA or 401(k) plan, then you should take that into account when filing for benefits.

Let’s say you’re close to retirement and have $600,000 in savings. If you think you’re safe to withdraw from your nest egg at an annual rate of 4%, that leaves you with a yearly income of $24,000. That’s not a particularly large amount of money to live on, so you may, in that case, decide not to claim Social Security early but rather wait until FRA or even beyond.

You can actually delay your Social Security filing beyond FRA, and for each year you do, your benefits rise by 8%. That incentive runs out at age 70. But you still have an opportunity to give your monthly benefit a nice lift if you’re worried you won’t get a ton of income out of your savings.

3. How’s my health?

Filing for Social Security at FRA or later might result in a higher monthly benefit. It won’t necessarily give you a higher lifetime benefit, though. If your health is poor and you have reason to believe you may not live such a long life, then claiming Social Security on the earlier side could be a better bet.

Filing for benefits at age 62, for example, might result in a payday that’s up to 30% lower than what you’d get at FRA. But if you only end up living until age 72, filing at age 62 could leave you with more lifetime income.

It’s important to put a lot of thought into your Social Security filing decision. Run through these essential questions before making your decision so you can feel more confident in your choice.

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