Throughout your working career, you pay employment taxes that help fund Social Security, which provides income when you retire. In 2023, nearly 67 million people will receive Social Security benefits, collectively totaling more than $1 trillion.
There are strict rules about when you can claim Social Security benefits. You can start collecting retirement benefits as early as age 62, but if you can delay claiming your benefits, your monthly benefit amount can continue growing until you reach age 70.
Learn more about Social Security benefits, early retirement age, and the advantages and disadvantages of filing for your benefits early and late.
What Are Social Security Benefits?
Social Security is a social insurance program created in 1935 to pay workers an income once they retired at age 65 or older. When people talk about Social Security benefits, they’re referring to a monthly payment that replaces a portion of a worker’s pre-retirement income.
The amount you receive depends on how much you earned and paid in Social Security taxes during the 35 highest-earning years of your career. Generally speaking, the higher your income, the bigger your monthly check will be — up to a point. Also important is the age at which you claim benefits. Typically, the later you receive benefits, the higher your monthly check will be.
Note that retirees aren’t the only ones who are eligible for Social Security benefits. People with qualifying disabilities, surviving spouses of workers who have died, and dependent beneficiaries may also qualify for benefits.
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At What Age Can You Collect Social Security?
When the Social Security program began, the full retirement age (FRA) was 65, and that’s still what many in the U.S. think of as the average retirement age. However, as life expectancy in the U.S. has increased, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has adjusted the FRA accordingly.
The chart below illustrates FRA by year of birth.
|If You Were Born In||Your Full Retirement Age Is|
|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|
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What Is the Early Retirement Age for Social Security?
You can choose to claim retirement benefits as early as age 62. However, SSA will reduce your benefit by about 0.5% for every month you receive benefits before your FRA. For example, if your full retirement age is 67 and you file for Social Security benefits when you’re 62, you’d receive around 70% of your benefit.
On the other hand, if you wait to claim benefits after your FRA, you’ll accrue delayed retirement credits. This increases your benefit a certain percentage for every month you delay after your FRA. For example, if your full retirement age is 67 and you delay receiving benefits until age 70, you’ll get 124% of your monthly benefits. Note that the benefit increase stops when you turn 70.
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Can You Claim Social Security While You’re Still Working?
When you claim your Social Security benefits, the SSA considers you retired. However, you can continue working after retirement and receiving benefits at the same time, though they may be limited.
If you’re younger than FRA for the entire year, the SSA will deduct $1 from your payment for every $2 you earn above an annual limit. In 2023, that limit is $21,240. In the year you reach full retirement age, the SSA will begin deducting $1 for every $3 you make above a different earnings limit — $56,520 in 2023.
No matter their work history, your spouse has the option to claim Social Security benefits based on your work record. That benefit can be up to 50% of your primary insurance amount, which is the benefit you’d receive at FRA. Your spouse can begin receiving spousal benefits at age 62, but they will receive a reduced benefit.
Pros and Cons of Claiming Social Security Early
The main advantage of filing for Social Security early is that you’ll have access to retirement funds sooner. This can be a boon to individuals who need extra money to get by each month. To help you maximize every last dollar, consider using a spending app to create budgets, track spending, and monitor bills.
The main disadvantage of filing early is that you may permanently reduce your monthly benefit amount. This could be a factor to keep in mind as you determine whether you’re on track for retirement.
So how do you decide when to file for your benefits? Consider your “break-even point.” This is the age at which receiving a delayed higher benefit outweighs claiming benefits earlier.
Here’s an example of how that works. Let’s say your FRA is 67 and your annual benefit is $24,000. If you claim your benefit at age 62, your benefit drops to $16,800 a year. If you delay until age 70, your benefit would be $29,760 a year.
By adding up each year’s worth of benefits and comparing them across different potential retirement ages, you find your break-even point. So in that last example, claiming your benefit at FRA breaks even with early filing at age 78. If you expect to live until this age or longer, you may consider filing for Social Security at full retirement age. Delaying until age 70 breaks even with claiming at FRA at age 82. So if you expect to live until 82 or longer, you may consider delaying your benefits.
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Social Security is an important source of guaranteed income during retirement and can help ensure you can cover recurring expenses like housing payments and utilities. Your monthly payment amount is determined by how much you’ve earned during your working career and the age at which you claim Social Security benefits. You’re eligible to receive your full benefits when you reach full retirement age (FRA). If you file before then, the monthly payment will be reduced. If you file later, your monthly payment can increase, up to a point. Consider your short- and long-term financial needs carefully before deciding when to claim Social Security.
Whether you’re planning to continue working past your FRA or are preparing for retirement, using a money tracker app can help you manage your overall spending and saving. The SoFi app connects all of your accounts in one convenient dashboard. From there, you can see all of your balances, spending breakdowns, and credit score monitoring, plus you can get other valuable financial insights.
Stay up to date on your finances by seeing exactly how your money comes and goes.
Can I take Social Security at age 55?
You cannot claim Social Security benefits at age 55. The earliest you can file for benefits is age 62.
What happens to my Social Security if I retire at 55?
If you retire at 55, you will have to wait seven years, until age 62, before you are eligible to claim early Social Security benefits. Retiring early may also affect the size of your benefit if you are leaving work in your top-earning years.
What is the average Social Security benefit at age 62?
The average monthly Social Security retirement benefit in 2023 is about $1,827 for those filing at full retirement age. Filing early at age 62 would reduce that benefit by 30% to $1,278.90.
Photo credit: iStock/svetikd
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