When it comes to claiming Social Security, the most common advice is not to rush into your decision. Claiming at the wrong time could permanently reduce your lifetime benefit, so it’s important to think through all your options before deciding when to apply.
While that’s generally good advice, there are always a few exceptions. If any of the following three things apply to you, consider signing up for Social Security as soon as possible.
1. You’re 70 or older
You become eligible for Social Security when you turn 62 but don’t have to sign up then. If you delay benefits, your checks will grow anywhere from 5/12 of 1% to 2/3 of 1% each month. But eventually, this will end.
Once you turn 70, your checks won’t grow anymore, so there’s no incentive to delay benefits beyond this age. If you’re already beyond 70, you can claim up to six months of Social Security benefits retroactively. But there’s no way to get back any benefits you were eligible for more than six months ago.
If you’ll be turning 70 this year, think about signing up for benefits soon. You can apply for Social Security up to four months in advance of when you want them to start. Doing this is usually a good idea if you want to avoid delays with your checks.
Keep in mind that benefits are paid out in the month after they’re due. So if you request that your benefits start in March, you won’t get your first check until April.
2. You’re struggling financially
Signing up for Social Security is a wise move if you’re unable to keep up with your bills without help. If you allow yourself to fall behind on your payments, you could wind up in debt or may even lose your home.
The boost you’d get for delaying Social Security isn’t enough to make up for this. You’re better off claiming early to avoid these negative consequences, even if that means settling for a smaller lifetime benefit.
If you’re not comfortable doing this, you may have to find other ways to increase your income. You could work a regular job at least part-time or start a side hustle you can fit in as your schedule allows.
If you can’t boost your income enough, you may be able to compromise by delaying Social Security for a couple of months before you sign up. This will result in permanently larger checks without leaving you to fend for yourself for too long.
3. You have a terminal illness
Those with terminal illnesses don’t have a lot to gain from delaying Social Security benefits. If they wait too long, there’s a possibility that they may not receive any checks at all. So a lot of people in this situation choose to sign up as soon as possible and claim benefits for as long as they’re able to before they pass.
This is probably your best move if you don’t have any dependents. But if you do, you might prefer not to sign up for Social Security at all. It sounds counterintuitive, but doing so could actually provide a larger survivor’s benefit for your spouse and children.
If you claim Social Security at or beyond your full retirement age (FRA) — 66 to 67, depending on your birth year — or you die without claiming, your surviving spouse can receive up to 100% of your full Social Security benefit after your death. But if you claim early, you could reduce your family member’s maximum survivor benefits, as well as your own.
This isn’t always an easy decision to make, so talk it over with any family members who will be affected by your decision. Determine what’s best for the household, and if you choose to wait on benefits only to see your financial circumstances change, don’t be afraid to change your mind down the road and make a claim.
How to apply
If you’re ready to apply for Social Security, you can do so online or by contacting the Social Security Administration by phone. You can also visit your local Social Security office in person.
Make sure you have all the information you’ll need in order to apply. These include:
- Your Social Security number
- Your birth certificate
- Proof of U.S. citizenship status if you weren’t born in the U.S.
- Your bank’s routing and account numbers where you want the funds deposited
- A copy of your most recent W-2 or self-employment tax return
- A copy of your military service papers if you served
If you have any questions about what you need or how to apply, reach out to the Social Security Administration for more information.
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