The numbers are staggering. Each month, 43.7 million retirees receive Social Security benefits. For more than 60 percent, the check supplies more than half their monthly income, and for a full third, it accounts for nearly all of it, according to Social Security figures. A recent Center on Policy Priorities study suggests that the elderly poverty rate would be over 40 percent if not for Social Security.
Clearly, Social Security remains a big deal. Just as important is the decision of when to claim benefits.
As a refresher, full retirement age for Social Security is 66 for those born between 1943 and 1954. It rises to age 67 for those born starting in 1955. You can take benefits as early as age 62, but it reduces the amount to 75 percent of your full benefit.
Nevertheless, nearly three out of five beneficiaries claim their benefits before reaching age 65, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Only 10 percent delay receiving benefits until after their full retirement age, when the benefit amount continues to increase until you hit age 70.
Claiming benefits early is not ideal, but many people do so because of poor health, financial pressure, or simply because they lack confidence in the government system.
If you’ve already started taking benefits early, Social Security does give you a small window for changing your mind. You must make the change within your first 12 months of receiving benefits.
Why might you change your mind? One common scenario is a change in health status. Many beneficiaries retire due to poor health, but later recover enough to re-enter the workforce. In this instance, an allowed “do-over” makes sense—especially if it means obtaining a higher benefit down the road.
For a deeper dive into the importance of timing your Social Security benefits, read this article about baby boomers and Social Security.