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What is the best time to start your benefits?
We're not recommending that you take your benefits at age 62, at your full retirement age, at age 70 or at any age in between. That's a decision you have to make personally, based on your own circumstances.

Your monthly benefit amount can differ based on the age at which you decide to start receiving benefits. If you decide to start benefits before your full retirement age, your benefit will be permanently reduced. Here are some other things you may want to consider when you make that decision:

  • Are you still working?
    If you plan to continue working, there are limits on how much you can earn each year between age 62 and full retirement age and still get all your benefits.

    Depending on the amount of your benefit and the amount of your earnings for the year, you may have to give up some of your benefits. If your earnings will be high, you may decide to wait until full retirement age to start your benefits. Once you reach full retirement age, there is no longer any limit on how much you can earn.

    • After you reach full retirement age, we recalculate your benefit amount to give you credit for any months in which you did not receive a benefit because of your earnings.
    • When additional earnings appear on your record, we check whether they will increase your monthly benefit. If they do, we will send you a letter telling you your new benefit amount.
  • Do you come from a long-lived family?
    A man who turned 65 in 2007 can expect to live about another 17.5 years. A woman who turned 65 the same year can expect to live about another 19.8 years.

    About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90. One out of 10 will live past age 95.

    How long do you expect to live? If your parents and grandparents all lived into their 80s or 90s and you have every reason to believe you will too, you may decide to delay starting your benefits until full retirement age or later. If that is not the case, you may choose to start receiving retirement benefits earlier.

    If you come from a long-lived family, you may need the extra money more in later years, particularly if you outlive other pensions or annuities that have limits on how long they are paid.

  • How is your health?
    If you are not in good health, you may decide to start your benefits earlier.

  • Will you still have health insurance?
    If you stop working, not only will you lose your paycheck, but you may also lose valuable health insurance provided by your employer. Although there are exceptions, most people will not be covered by Medicare until they reach age 65.

    Your employer should be able to tell you if you will have retiree health benefits or you can temporarily extend your health insurance coverage after you retire. Also, if you are married and your spouse is employed, you may be able to switch to his or her health insurance.

  • Are you eligible for benefits on someone else's record?

    • If you qualify for benefits as a widow or widower on another record, you may choose to apply for survivors benefits now and delay your retirement benefit until later. If you delay receiving your retirement benefit until your full retirement age or later, your retirement benefit will be higher.
    • If you have reached your full retirement age, and are eligible for a spouse's or ex-spouse's benefit AND your own retirement benefit, you may choose to receive only spouse's benefits. If you do that, you can delay receiving your own retirement benefit until a later date to take advantage of delayed retirement credits.

  • Do you have other income to support you if you decide to delay taking your benefits?
    If you don't need your benefits immediately, you may decide to

    Reminder: If you're receiving early retirement from your employer, keep in mind that some company pensions include a Social Security-equivalent supplement that stops automatically at age 62. The supplement stops because they assume you will apply for your retirement benefits at that age.

  • Will other family members qualify for benefits with you on your record?
    If your spouse or minor or disabled children will qualify for benefits with you, the value of their benefits, added to your own, may help you decide if taking your benefits sooner will be more advantageous.

    However, when you start your retirement benefits also affects the amount your surviving spouse may receive. If you start your benefits

    • before full retirement age, we cannot pay your surviving spouse the full benefit amount from your record. The maximum survivors benefit is limited to what you would receive if you were still alive.
    • after full retirement age, your surviving spouse may receive your full benefit amount plus any accumulated delayed retirement credits.

Accidents or unexpected changes in your circumstances can't be ruled out, of course, so your final decision may be based on your "best guess" about your future. Our representatives can help you explore your options, so give us a call at our toll-free telephone number (1-800-772-1213) (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit your local Social Security office about three months before the date you want your benefits to start.

And remember, Medicare usually does not start until you reach age 65. Even if you decide to delay starting your benefits, be sure to contact Social Security about 3 months before you turn age 65 to check about applying for Medicare.

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Last reviewed or modified Friday Sep 12, 2008
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