More than half of Americans apply for Social Security before reaching their full retirement age, and more than 30 percent of those apply for benefits at 62 years of age. Americans file early for benefits even though researchers claim it would be better to wait to claim their Social Security benefits. It does matter when you opt-in to take your Social Security benefit. Between the age of 62 and full retirement, your benefits increase by about 7 percent each year and additionally 8 percent each year between your full retirement age and 70. These percentages reflect an actuary adjustment to ensure those Americans who opt for a larger check for shorter periods do not receive less than those receiving smaller checks for more extended periods.
Currently, full retirement age is 66 for those born before 1960 and 67 for those born after that. Social Security benefits will max out at age 70 and by waiting that long your checks could be 24 to 32 percent higher than what you would receive at full retirement age and a whopping 76 percent larger than what you would receive at 62. However, statistics show that only about 1 in 25 applicants will wait to collect benefits at the age of 70 when monthly benefits hit their peak. Economic hardship for some seniors results in them claiming benefits earlier, but what of those who have other retirement funds available?
Low-interest rates and survivor benefit rules coupled with longer life expectancies generally mean most retirees would benefit by delaying their benefits as long as possible. Those destined to become super-seniors, living well into their 90s and 100s, may run out of savings and may end up depending entirely on their Social Security benefits check. Having delayed taking Social Security provides maximum benefits for these super-seniors. Additionally, this older age group typically has qualities in common like a strong work ethic, positive outlook, close bonds with family, and a tendency to be religious. These traits factor into a purposeful life so that even on limited Social Security benefits when combined with the help of their family and community systems, they can still make ends meet.
At the other end of the spectrum are those Americans who feel, or know, they will have shorter life term expectancy. The Stanford Center on Longevity, however, reports that most people underestimate how long they will live. Today a 65-year-old man can expect to reach 84 years of age while a woman of the same age will probably reach 86.5 years. Studies by the Society of Actuaries are reporting life expectancies for those currently in their mid-50s (one in two women and one in three men) will live into their 90s. The cautionary tale is even if you think that you may not live long, you might indeed. It is best to anticipate being around and making financial decisions about Social Security benefits that reflect a longer life.
Claiming benefits early to invest the money does not mean you will come out ahead and may put you significantly behind. There is no guaranteed investment product with a return as high as delaying your application for Social Security benefits. Claiming benefits early can also shortchange your spouse. A married couple will lose one of their Social Security incomes when the first spouse dies. The loss of this income can create a severe drop in income even if the survivor receives the larger of the two checks. This benefit loss should incentivize the higher earner of the couple, with the larger check, to delay taking their benefit so that the survivor spouse benefit is more substantial.
You do not need to claim your Social Security benefit as soon as you stop working. Most financial planners will suggest tapping into other sources of income like a retirement fund or additional savings that allows your Social Security benefit to grow. Just delaying your benefits from age 62 to 66 can translate in a sustainable annual increase of 33 percent, so even a four-year delay can provide substantial returns.
What about 2035 and the projected insolvency to fund Social Security benefits? If Congress does not act, the Social Security system will only be able to pay out 77 to 80 percent of the benefits promised. While this is not good, Social Security is not going bankrupt. The funding mechanisms must, however, get straightened out by politicians who want your vote to keep them in office. The silver tsunami of voters ensures that Congressional leaders and policymakers cannot overlook the senior demographic, which is critical to their re-election.
Each person's or couple's situation is different; their savings, assets, debt, work history, and retirement planning all vary widely. Additionally, according to Barrons.com, every state has a distinct annual spending threshold recommended for a comfortable retirement. To learn your best options and create your plan for a successful financial retirement, including when to take your Social Security benefit, consider your situation carefully. The Social Security benefit structure and rules are changing, change with it to maximize your benefits. If you have questions, please don't hesitate to reach out.