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When Should I Start Collecting Social Security?

When Should I Start Collecting Social Security?

March 18, 2021
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A question we often receive, and one that is deeply intertwined within our financial planning process is the question of “when should I start collecting Social Security?

Social Security is something we pay into throughout our working years, and we hope will be there as a benefit to us when we retire down the road. But the way the system is set up is to incentivize beneficiaries to hold off on collecting benefits until they are a bit older.

We all wish we could start taking out full Social Security benefits at age 62 when we become eligible, however, the reality for many of us is that isn’t a good idea.

When to start collecting is a highly personalized question, and we can’t really begin to come to an exact answer for you through a blog post. However, before you stop reading, what we will do in this blog is give you a better idea of how to answer this question for yourself!

So when should you start collecting social security?

To determine this, we need to do a little detective work. First, when were you born?

Retirement ages for full Social Security benefits 

If you were born in…

Your full retirement age is…

1950 or earlier

You’ve already hit full retirement age

1951-1954

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 or later

67

Source

When determining when to start Social Security withdrawals, there’s an interesting thing that is going on-- you are essentially betting on your life expectancy. That might sound morbid, but it is true. If you start withdrawing early, your paychecks are lower, but you receive more paychecks. If you start later, your paychecks are fewer but a higher dollar amount. What this means is you need to take some educated guesses about your life expectancy considering health, lifestyle and relationships into account so you can come to a breakeven point. In other words, of course taking Social Security is more beneficial in the early years. But the longer you live, eventually you cross a breakeven point where delaying Social Security becomes more valuable. What is your prediction for that breakeven point for you?

The general rule of thumb most in the financial planning world will tell you is that you should wait until your full retirement age to begin collecting Social Security. The reason is because once you start collecting, that amount is locked in for the rest of your life. Delaying Social Security increases the dollar amount you will receive once you hit full retirement age.

There are some caveats here. First, do you need the money now? Can you live off of other retirement investments, delay your retirement entirely, or work part time? If this is not an option or your standard of living will be too low, it might be worth it to consider starting Social Security early.

Another thing to consider is your overall health. If you are in good health and you have a family history of longevity, chances are you are in this retirement gig for the long haul. And that means waiting a few years to reach full retirement age can be well worth it.

There’s also something called “delayed retirement credit” — DRC — which is the government’s way of rewarding you for delaying Social Security withdrawals past your full retirement age by providing you with an income credit.

Our final point to help you in your quest to answer this question for yourself is to let you know what we typically recommend to our clients given their situation.

We can’t stress enough; this is a highly personalized discussion and this is not a recommendation for your situation. However, generally we suggest taking benefits early under two conditions: 1) The individual can’t make ends meet without it. 2) The individual is in poor health and not expected to live very long. Otherwise, we normally encourage clients to hold off until full retirement age or later.

Hopefully this helps you on your retirement planning journey! As always, we are here to help if you have any questions.