Should I Delay Claiming Social Security?

Social Security, Full Retirement Age, FRA, Benefits, Deduction, Earnings Test, Life Expectancy, Earnings Test, Work History
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When you begin claiming affects how much money you get from the program, and once you're receiving checks, it's difficult to undo your decision.

Getting the timing right on Social Security is essential. Deciding when to claim is a decision requiring thoughtful planning and accurate information. A recent article from York News-Times titled “3 Reasons to Put Off Social Security for Another Year and 2 Reasons Not to” takes a common-sense approach.

There are good reasons to delay taking Social Security benefits. First, if you are under 70, the longer you delay benefits, the larger your checks. Benefits grow anywhere from 5/12th to 2/3rd of 1% per month, depending upon your Full Retirement Age (FRA) and your current age. Based on your work history, FRA is the age when you qualify for a standard benefit. For most of today’s wage earners, this is sometime between age 66 and 67.

A second reason to delay: you may get a more significant lifetime benefit if you live into your mid-80s or beyond. However, those who need the income to pay bills may not have a choice, even if they have not reached their FRA. If possible, delaying by a few months might be helpful to increase benefits.

A third reason is if you are still working. If you are working and earning a decent salary and have not yet reached your FRA, you may run into problems with the Social Security Earnings Test. The federal government deducts $1 from each monthly benefit for every $2 you earn over $19,560 in 2022 if you are younger than your FRA for the entire year. If you reach your FRA in 2022, you will still have a deduction, but this will be $1 for every $3 you earn over $51,960. If you are still working, delaying taking benefits makes sense.

The good news: the money will not be out of your pocket forever. Once you reach FRA, your benefits are recalculated to include previously withheld amounts, making checks larger. However, if you do not need benefits right away, the best decision is to delay taking Social Security until you retire.

There are also reasons why delaying taking Social Security benefits is not necessary. The biggest one is if you are 70 or older. The benefits stop growing on your 70th birthday, so there is no reason to delay. Make sure to sign up for benefits by your 70th birthday.

If your life expectancy is not great, there is no incentive to wait. If you pass away before signing up for benefits, you might not get any money from Social Security. Take an honest look at your health and your family’s health history. If you think you might not live all that long, or if everyone in the family passes early, it may make sense to apply for Social Security, even before your FRA.

When you sign up for benefits matters a lot, the Social Security Administration has calculators on its website to use once you have created a My Social Security account. Your work history will give you an idea of how much you can expect to receive in Social Security benefits at various ages.

It also makes sense to align your estate and retirement plans with Social Security.

Reference: York News-Times (Jan. 27, 2022) “3 Reasons to Put Off Social Security for Another Year and 2 Reasons Not to,”