If you ask most retirement experts, they will tell you that waiting to take your Social Security benefits as long as possible is a great idea. They argue that, by holding off until you reach your full retirement age of 66, the chance that you will maximize your cumulative lifetime benefits will increase considerably. This is based on the fact that the size of your monthly Social Security check is partly determined by when you actually apply to start getting your Social Security payments.
If you apply when you turn 62, for example, which is the earliest age that’s allowed, you’re going to get 25% last benefits that your so-called ‘primary insurance amount’, the amount of money that you are entitled to when you reach full retirement.
On the other hand, if you wait to start collecting your Social Security benefits until you turn 70 years of age, which is the latest age that you are allowed to start, you will get 32% more benefits than you would at age 66, and benefit from actuarial adjustments.
Looking at it from this point of view, it seems to make sense to wait.
On the other hand, as with most things in life, it’s not as straightforward as you might think. The reason is that consumers who choose to take their Social Security benefits earlier actually end up getting more monthly checks that those who don’t.
In the end it’s a bit of a trade-off. You need to ask yourself whether you would like smaller checks but more of them or larger checks but fewer of them.
Referring back to the experts we talked about earlier, most will tell you that you need to employ the arduous process of a ‘breakeven analysis’ to determine how much money you’re likely to receive in total lifetime benefits based on when you start receiving them and how long you actually live.
This is, as we mentioned, arduous to say the least and also speculative and quite prone to inaccuracy. It’s also, in most cases, completely unnecessary when you consider that the Social Security Administration designed their formula to yield the same amount in lifetime benefits, on average, regardless of when you begin to actually receive payments.
In fact, on a recent report given out by the US Government Accountability Office they had this to say about their formula; “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.”
Of course what they’re saying shouldn’t be taken as meaning that it doesn’t matter what age you begin to get benefits. For example, if you are fortunate enough to live to be 80 or even 90, waiting to receive your Social Security payments will definitely result in a lot more money over your lifetime.
The fact remains however that the typical American consumer isn’t trying to squeeze every last dollar out of the Social Security system. When you consider the fact that 62 is the most prevalent in for people to apply for Social Security benefits, the shortcomings of an impersonal breakeven analysis become clear.
In the end, a fancy breakeven analysis really has nothing to do with whether or not you take your Social Security benefits early or not, and everything to do with what your personal goals happen to be for retirement. If you’re lucky enough to be able to wait to start getting your Social Security benefits you definitely should but, if you either can’t or don’t want to, there’s really no reason for you to second-guess any decision you might have to take them as early as possible.