Here’s How to Squeeze an Extra 24% Out of Social Security

For 60 years, Social Security has meant more than an ID number on a tax form; more than a monthly check in the mail. It reflects our deepest values — our respect for our parents and our belief that all Americans deserve to retire with dignity. — President Clinton, in 1998

Social Security helps many millions retire with dignity by helping them retire with critical income. Don't just settle for whatever the Social Security Administration sends you, though, whenever you claim your benefits; you may be able to increase your benefits by 24%.

Image source: Getty Images.

Your full retirement age

If you were to take a Social Security 101 class, one of the first things you might learn is that each of us has a “full retirement age.” For most of us, it's 66 or 67 — or somewhere in between. Your full retirement age is the age at which you can start collecting the full benefits to which you're entitled, based on your earnings history.

The table below will show you what your full retirement age is:

Birth Year

Full Retirement Age

1937 or earlier

65

1938

65 and 2 months

1939

65 and 4 months

1940

65 and 6 months

1941

65 and 8 months

1942

65 and 10 months

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 and later

67

Source: Social Security Administration.

Here's that extra 24%

Now that you know your full retirement age, know this: You can start collecting your benefits earlier or later than your full retirement age — as early as age 62 and as late as age 70. You'll make your benefit checks bigger or smaller depending on when you start collecting them. The table below shows just how much bigger or smaller:

Start Collecting at:

Full retirement age of 66

Full retirement age of 67

62

75%

70%

63

80%

75%

64

86.7%

80%

65

93.3%

86.7%

66

100%

93.3%

67

108%

100%

68

116%

108%

69

124%

116%

70

132%

124%

Source: Social Security Administration.

The last line of the table reflects a 24% increase in benefits, and that's roughly what you'll get if you can delay starting to collect your benefits until age 70 — if you're among the many with a full retirement age of 67. If your full retirement age is 66, you can make your benefits a whopping 32% bigger by delaying until 70.

Keep in mind

Don't forget, though, that while delaying until age 70 will give you much bigger checks, you'll receive far fewer of them than if you'd started at 62, or even 67. For those living average-length lives, when you start to collect won't make much difference in total benefits collected. But if you stand a decent chance of living an extra-long life, it can be well worth delaying — if you can.

Many people simply can't delay, though, because they just need that income as soon as possible perhaps due to a health setback or job loss. Others may be able to delay by taking more out of retirement accounts each year until age 70 and then taking less out once Social Security checks start arriving.

Crunch your own numbers and see what strategy makes the most sense for you.

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