If you're eligible for Social Security benefits in retirement, you get a choice on when you sign up. You could wait until your full retirement age (FRA), which is when you're entitled to your full monthly benefit based on your earnings history. FRA is either 66, 67, or somewhere in between, depending on your year of birth.
You can also file for Social Security early if you're willing to accept a reduced monthly benefit for life. The earliest age to sign up is 62.
On the flip side, you can delay your Social Security filing beyond FRA and boost your benefits in the process. This incentive runs out at age 70, but until then, you can give your benefits a permanent 8% increase for each year you hold off on filing past FRA.
You'll often hear that filing for Social Security before FRA is a mistake, since that guarantees you'll be stuck with a lower monthly benefit for life. But while you'll lock in a smaller payout by filing early, that's not necessarily a poor choice.
Look at the big picture
Some people end up relying heavily on Social Security to make ends meet in retirement. But if you're in a good place financially, you might have enough wiggle room to claim your benefits early and use that money to meet goals that are easier to achieve while you're younger — things like climbing certain mountains or engaging in active travel.
Let's imagine you're sitting on a $2 million nest egg. Filing for Social Security early might mean getting less money each month, but you might also have enough savings to absorb that hit. And that way, you might get your money at a time when you can do more with it.
Also, you never know what age you're going to live to — nobody has a crystal ball. But if you don't end up living a very long life, you could come out ahead financially by virtue of claiming Social Security ahead of FRA and getting your hands on that money sooner.
Lastly, filing early might help you take better care of your health. If you have a stressful office job that constantly raises your blood pressure and forces you into a sedentary lifestyle, it could have negative physical effects. Claiming Social Security ahead of FRA could mean getting to leave that job — and enjoy a more healthy way of living.
Ignore the warnings and make your own decision
There's a real danger to settling for a lower Social Security benefit for life, and it's one you'll need to reconcile if you're thinking of filing early. But don't assume that claiming Social Security before FRA is a disastrous choice.
Instead, consider your own circumstances and what you have to gain by accessing your benefits a few years ahead of schedule. You may find that the upside of getting your money sooner well outweighs the downside of a smaller monthly check for life.
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