What Is The Best Age To Start Your Benefits?

The answer is that there is no one "best age" for everyone and, ultimately, it is your choice. You should make an informed decision about when to apply for benefits based on your individual and family circumstances.

Your monthly benefit amount can differ substantially based on the age when you start receiving benefits. If you decide to start benefits:

  • before your full retirement age, your benefit will be smaller but you will receive it for a longer period of time.
  • at your full retirement age or later, you will receive a larger monthly benefit for a shorter period of time.

The amount you receive when you first get benefits sets the base for the amount you will receive for the rest of your life.

There are also 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 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 limit on how much you can earn.

Reminders:

Do you come from a long-lived family?

When you think about retirement, be sure to plan for the long term.

A man who turned 65 in 2014 can expect to live about another 19.3 years. A woman who turned 65 the same year can expect to live about another 21.6 years.

And those are just averages. 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?

Did your parents and grandparents all live into their 80s or 90s? If the answer is yes, and you have every reason to believe you will too, you may want to delay starting your benefits until full retirement age or later. If they didn't, 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 may outlive pensions or annuities with 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 employer provided health insurance. 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 if 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 their health insurance.

Should I apply for Medicare?

Remember, Medicare usually starts when you reach age 65.

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.

Even if you have health insurance through a current or former employer or as part of your severance package, you should still check to see whether you need to sign up for Medicare. Some health insurance plans change automatically at age 65.

If you need to sign up for Medicare but you do not, your Medicare coverage may be delayed and cost more. Please read the general and special enrollment period information on page 12 of our Medicare booklet to find out what may happen if you delay.

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

If you are eligible on another record, you may have additional options:

  • If you qualify for benefits as a widow, widower or surviving divorced spouse 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 were born before January 2, 1954 and have already reached your full retirement age, and are eligible for a spouse’s or divorced-spouse’s benefit and your own retirement benefit, you can choose to receive only the spouse’s benefit and delay receiving your retirement benefit until a later date.   If your birthday is January 2, 1954 or later, the option to take only one benefit at full retirement age no longer exists.  If you file for one benefit, you will be effectively filing for all retirement or spousal benefits.

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:

  • Wait beyond full retirement age to receive delayed retirement credits.

    Reminder: If you are within 4 months of age 65, or older, and you have health insurance through an employer or former employer, you should check to see whether you need to sign up for Medicare.

    Some health insurance plans change automatically at age 65.
  • Choose early retirement and increase the value of your benefits by investing them instead of spending them.

    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 age 62.

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 is your best choice.

If your spouse or ex-spouse’s date of birth is January 2, 1954 or later and they become eligible to receive a higher benefit on your record while receiving retirement benefits, they can no longer delay filing for the additional benefit. If your spouse files for one benefit, they will be effectively filing for all retirement or spousal benefits.

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.