When to begin collecting Social Security

Key Points

  • Social Security eligibility depends on your birth year.
  • Reduced benefits are available at age 62.
  • The longer you wait to begin collecting, the higher your payment will be up to age 70.
  • Your family members may be able to receive benefits based on your record.

While Social Security likely will not cover all your expenses in retirement, it can supplement income from other savings accounts and employer plans. Now is the time to understand the implications of when you begin taking your Social Security benefits.

You can begin receiving reduced benefits as early as 62, but to receive your full benefit, you must reach full retirement age (as defined by the Social Security Amendments of 1983). Your full Social Security retirement age depends on the year you were born.

Full Social Security retirement age

Birth year Full retirement age
1943-1954 66 years
1955 66 years, 2 months
1956 66 years, 4 months
1957 66 years, 6 months
1958 66 years, 8 months
1959 66 years, 10 months
1960 or later 67 years

Note: If you were born on Jan. 1, you should refer to the prior year.

Delaying requesting benefits

Just because Social Security considers age 66, 67 or something in between to be your full retirement age, this doesn't mean you have to start collecting benefits at that time. There may be advantages to waiting.

For each month past your full Social Security retirement age you put off receiving retirement benefits, your benefit will automatically increase by ⅔ of 1% per month or 8% annually.

Increase of delayed retirement

Year of birth Yearly rate of increase Monthly rate of increase
1943 or later 8.0% 2/3 of 1%

Note: if you were born on Jan. 1, you should refer to the rate of increase of the previous year.

The benefit increase no longer applies when you reach age 70, even if you continue to delay taking benefits.If you decide to delay your retirement, be sure to sign up for Medicare at age 65. If you do not sign up, in some circumstances your Medicare coverage may be delayed and cost more.

Retiring early

If you can't or don't want to wait until full Social Security retirement age, it's possible to begin collecting Social Security as early as age 62. While this may seem tempting, you should try to avoid it if possible. Your monthly benefit will be reduced by about 0.5% for every month you start collecting before full retirement age. That may not sound like much, but it adds up as shown in these examples:

Born Full retirement age Implications of taking Social Security payments at 62
1953 66 25% lower benefit than if you wait until 66
1961 67 30% lower benefit than if you wait until 67

Working while receiving benefits

At age 62 or above, you can continue to work and also receive Social Security retirement benefits. Be aware that there may be a tradeoff between working and collecting, depending on your age and your employment income.

If you begin Social Security when you are…

Years before you reach full retirement age In the year you turn full retirement age Older than full retirement age
$1 is deducted from your benefits for every $2 you earn above the annual earnings1 limit. $1 is deducted from your benefits for every $3 you earn over the limit. No limit on earnings1
Annual earnings limit: $16,920 in 2017

Only applies to earnings1 for months prior to turning full retirement age

It is important to note that any benefits withheld while you continue to work are not “lost”. Once you reach normal retirement age, your monthly benefit will be increased permanently to account for the months in which benefits were withheld.
  Annual earnings limit: $44,880 in 2017  

1 Earnings include salaries, bonuses, vacation pay and commissions, but not pensions, annuities, interest and investment income or veterans or other military retirement benefits, which do not affect your Social Security benefit.

If you retire during a year in which you have already earned more than the yearly earnings limit, you may receive a full Social Security check for any whole month you are considered retired (with limited earnings and not performing substantial services in self-employment), regardless of earnings prior to retirement.

Survivors benefits

When you die, your spouse and other family members may be eligible for survivors benefits, provided they meet the following conditions.

Your widow or widower is Your unmarried children are Your parents are
Age 60 or older Younger than age 18, or up to age 19 if they are full-time elementary or high school students Age 62 or older and dependent on you for at least half of their support
Age 50 and disabled and their disability started before or within seven years of the worker's death Any age if you were disabled before age 22, and remain disabled  
Any age if not remarried and caring for the deceased worker's child younger than 16 or is disabled and receives benefits on the worker’s record    

Applying at the right time

When you apply for Social Security can make a significant difference. The same is true for Medicare, which you are eligible for at age 65. If you haven't applied yet, here are guidelines to consider.

When to apply Where to apply Keep in mind
Social Security
Three months before the date you will retire Local Social Security office, or on the SSA website Only the SSA can provide an up-to-date calculation of your benefits.
Medicare
Three months before your 65th birthday Local Social Security office, or on the SSA website If you wait, you may wind up paying more for Medicare Part A (hospital insurance) if you aren't eligible for premium-free Part A, Part B (medical insurance) and Part D (prescription drug insurance) coverage.