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Social Security benefits

To Delay or Not to Delay: Navigating the Social Security Decision

For many retirees, Social Security plays an important role in their retirement planning.  Deciding when to begin your benefits can be complicated and involves careful consideration of your financial situation, marital status, health, and your life expectancy. Below, we outline several of the key factors to consider when deciding whether to start Social Security earlier or later.

Understanding Social Security Basics

Before discussing the factors that influence your decision, let’s review a few basics. You can begin receiving Social Security retirement benefits as low as age 62. However, your full retirement age (FRA) depends on when you were born – it’s somewhere between 66 and 67 for most people today. Your FRA is important because claiming before your FRA results in a reduction of your monthly benefit while delaying past your FRA up to age 70 increases your monthly benefit.  It is also important if you are still working.

Factors to Consider

1. Financial Need

The most straightforward factor is your immediate financial need. If you’re unable to work and don’t have sufficient retirement savings, claiming early might be necessary. However, if you can afford to wait, delaying benefits can result in a significantly larger monthly check.

2. Life Expectancy

If you have a shorter life expectancy due to poor health or family history, claiming earlier might make sense. However, if you are in good health and have a family history of longevity, waiting could mean a greater amount received over your lifetime.

3. Employment Status

If you plan to continue working past age 62, be mindful of the earnings limit. Earning too much could temporarily reduce your Social Security benefits if you claim before your FRA.

4. Impact of Taxes

Social Security benefits can be taxable depending on your total income. If you have income from other sources, claiming Social Security might not make sense in the early years.

5. Marital Status

If you’re married, you must consider the impact of your decision on your spouse as well. Survivor benefits are based on your benefit amount.  Because of this, a higher-earning spouse might want to delay taking their benefits to ensure their surviving spouse receives more.  

6. Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLAs)

Social Security benefits are adjusted for inflation. If you start early, your COLA will be applied to a lower base, possibly affecting your purchasing power in the long run.  By waiting, you have a larger base and the opposite is true.

Scenarios

Scenario 1: The Early Starter

John, 62, has health issues and a family history of shorter lifespans. His work is physically demanding, and he has minimal savings. For John, starting Social Security early makes sense. The reduced benefit is outweighed by his immediate need and the uncertainty of his future health.

Scenario 2: The Delayer

Susan, 66, enjoys her work as a consultant and plans to continue working until 70. She’s in good health and her family has a history of longevity. By delaying her benefits, Susan maximizes her monthly check, ensuring a more comfortable retirement and potentially greater lifetime benefits.

Conclusion

Deciding when to start Social Security is an important decision and can vary considerably based on individual circumstances. If you are unsure about what is best for you, please talk with a financial advisor to get personalized advice based on your situation, health, marital status, and goals. Remember, the best choice is different for everyone and should align with your needs.  Taking the time to make the best decision for you will provide greater peace of mind during your retirement years.

Opinions expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Raymond James. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Raymond James and its advisors do not offer tax or legal advice. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional.