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Should You Claim Social Security on Time? Ask Yourself These 3 Questions to Find Out

Maurie Backman, The Motley Fool

The tricky thing about Social Security is deciding when to file for benefits, because you have a wide range of options. You could file at the earliest possible age of 62 and reduce your benefits in the process, or you could file at age 70, which is considered the latest age to file, and grow your benefits instead.

A middle-of-the-road option, however, is to claim benefits on time -- meaning, at full retirement age, or FRA. Now, that age isn't the same for everyone; it varies based on year of birth, as follows:

Year of Birth

Full Retirement Age

1943-1954

66

1955

66 and 2 months

1956

66 and 4 months

1957

66 and 6 months

1958

66 and 8 months

1959

66 and 10 months

1960

67

DATA SOURCE: SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION.

If you're wondering whether it pays to claim Social Security on time, here are a few essential questions you should ask yourself first.

Senior man sitting on a couch, typing on calculator while holding a document

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

1. Do I need the money sooner?

If you're able to wait until at least FRA to claim benefits, you won't face the reduction that comes with filing early. And to be clear, your benefits will take a hit for each month you file ahead of FRA. But if you find yourself desperate for money, you may have no choice but to claim Social Security sooner.

Imagine you are 65 and lose your job. If you don't have the savings to tide yourself over until FRA, then you're better off filing for benefits early than racking up debt to pay your living expenses. On the other hand, if you do have enough savings, then waiting another year or two to file could pay off in the long run.

2. Do I plan to keep working?

You're allowed to work and collect Social Security at the same time, but if you wait to file on time, you won't lose out on benefits because of your paycheck. If you work and start collecting benefits before FRA, you'll risk having some of your Social Security income withheld.

Whether that happens will depend on your earnings level. Currently, you can earn up to $17,640 and not lose any of your benefits, but past that point, you'll have $1 in benefits withheld for each $2 you earn. The only exception is if you're reaching FRA this year, in which case you can earn up to $46,920 without losing benefits. But once your earnings exceed that mark, you'll have $1 in Social Security withheld for every $3 you earn.

That's why it often doesn't pay to claim Social Security before FRA if you're still working. Though the amount in benefits you have withheld will be repaid to you once you reach FRA, the reduction in benefits you face by filing early will remain in effect for the rest of your life (unless you manage to undo your benefits within a certain time frame, which is a tough thing to do).

3. Am I likely to live a long life?

The longer you expect to live, the more it makes sense to delay benefits past FRA. Imagine you're entitled to a monthly benefit of $1,600 if you file for Social Security on time at age 67. Waiting until age 70 will grow your monthly benefit to $1,984, but you'll miss out on 36 payments during that three-year time span. Now, if you live until age 82 1/2, you'll break even under both filing scenarios. But if you live until age 88, you'll come out over $25,000 ahead in lifetime Social Security income by delaying benefits and not claiming them on time.

By filing for Social Security on time, you avoid a reduction in benefits, which is important if you're entering retirement without much in the way of personal savings. That said, it sometimes pays to claim benefits earlier than FRA, and it often pays to wait past that point. Consider the impact of filing at various ages, and with any luck, you'll land on the right decision.


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This article was originally published on Fool.com