Retirement Planning

When to Retire: What Is The Best Age To Apply For Social Security Benefits?

You can start getting Social Security benefits right away when you reach age 62. But figuring out when to retire is another question entirely. Here are some tips to help you decide if you should delay those benefits to get a bigger paycheck down the road, or if you should retire as soon as possible.  

When Should I Retire?

For many Americans approaching retirement, the decision about when to begin drawing Social Security benefits is a critical decision - and for good reason. After all, 9 out of 10 Americans age 65 or older depend on Social Security to supplement their retirement income.1

Some experts advise waiting until you reach your full retirement age, because every year you delay claiming benefits makes your monthly payments that much higher. On the flipside, there are those that advocate taking benefits early at age 62, citing that even though your benefit check will be lower, you'll receive payments for a longer period of time. Deciding when to retire really depends on your specific situation.

So what's the right answer?

Unfortunately, the answer for when to retire isn't as cut-and-dried as many of us would like it to be. This article looks at both sides of the argument by presenting the facts on how the amount of Social Security benefits you'll receive can change depending on the age that you claim them. Armed with this information, you can make an educated decision about when to retire that's best for you.

Sooner versus Later

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA):2

  • Early retirement is age 62

  • Full or “Normal” retirement ranges between age 65 to 67, and is determined by year of birth

  • Delayed retirement is age 70

If you're eligible, you can apply for Social Security as early as age 62. However, if you do, your benefits could be reduced up to 30 percent. In contrast, by waiting until you reach your full retirement age (or older), you'll receive your largest benefit.3

The following chart provides an example of how your monthly benefit can differ based on the age you decide to receive them.


SSA Publication No. 0510147

SSA Publication No.05-10147, August, 2015

Click on image to enlarge.

However, whether or not you're looking at taking Social Security at 62 or later, you should know that the formula used by the SSA is in fact designed to result in the same amount of lifetime benefits - irrespective of when you decide to retire and apply for Social Security. That's right.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office:
“The Social Security benefit formula adjusts monthly payments so that someone living to average life expectancy should receive about the same amount of benefits over their lifetime regardless of which age they claim."4

Another way to look at it is while people who choose to take their benefits early may receive a greater number of checks over their lifetime, those who wait could very well go on to live well into their 80s and beyond and collecting just as much.

However, that doesn't mean that when you retire and apply for benefits is irrelevant. In fact, it's quite the opposite. According to the SSA, the decision as to whether or not it's better to wait to retire is a personal financial decision that depends on many factors such as:

  • Your current cash needs

  • Other income sources

  • Health concerns

  • Family longevity

  • Whether you plan on working part-time while in retirement

In addition, the SSA recommends before making your decision when to retire that you calculate your future Social Security benefits, and review your retirement plan, and consider you financial needs and obligations.

The fact is, the amount you receive when you first apply for your Social Security benefits sets the base for the benefits you'll get for the rest of your life. Don't leave your retirement income up to chance. Instead, take the time to weigh all the facts before making a decision about when to retire. For more information on how Social Security benefits are calculated, as well as an online calculator to compute the financial effects of taking an early or delayed retirement, visit the SSA website at http://www.ssa.gov.

1http://www.ssa.gov/news/press/basicfact.html
2http://www.ssa.gov/oact/quickcalc/early_late.html
3http://www.ssa.gov/oact/quickcalc/early_late.html
4http://www.ssa.gov/oact/quickcalc/early_late.html
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When to Retire and Apply for Social Security Benefits

Deciding when to retire is a very important choice that affects the amount of your Social Security benefits. Weigh the pros and cons of when to retire, and consider important factors such as your financial needs, other sources of income, and the state of your health. Only then will you be ready to decide when to retire. For more information, visit the Protective Life Learning Center.


All Learning Center articles are general summaries that can be used when considering your financial future at various life stages. The information presented is for educational purposes and is meant to supplement other information specific to your situation. It is not intended as investment advice and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Protective Life or its subsidiaries.

Learning Center articles may describe services and financial products not offered by Protective Life or its subsidiaries. Descriptions of financial products contained in Learning Center articles are not intended to represent those offered by Protective Life or its subsidiaries.

Neither Protective Life nor its representatives offer legal or tax advice. We encourage you to consult with your financial adviser and legal or tax adviser regarding your individual situations before making investment, social security, retirement planning, and tax-related decisions. For information about Protective Life and its products and services, visit www.protective.com.

Companies and organizations linked from Learning Center articles have no affiliation with Protective Life or its subsidiaries.

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