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  • Writer's pictureAspen Investment Management

When Should I Take Social Security?

When Should I Take Social Security?

Understanding the best time to begin receiving Social Security benefits can be a complex decision, but it's a crucial decision for retirement planning. Whether you're a novice to Social Security or seeking guidance on optimizing your benefits, here's a breakdown to help you make informed decisions best fit for your specific needs.

What is Social Security?

Social Security is a federal program designed to provide financial support to retired individuals, disabled workers, and the surviving spouses and children of deceased workers. Throughout your working years, you pay Social Security taxes, which contribute to the Social Security trust funds. When you reach retirement age or meet specific eligibility criteria, you become eligible to receive monthly benefit payments from Social Security.

When should you take social security?

A common question we get from our clients is, “When should I begin taking my social security?”

As you might guess, our answer tends to be “It depends.”

There are several factors to consider before deciding to take your social security right away or delaying it into the future. It is important to have a full understanding on how social security works and the different nuances that might affect your specific situation.

Factors to Consider

1. Full Retirement Age (FRA)

Your FRA is the age at which you can receive your full Social Security retirement benefit. It varies depending on your birth year, ranging from 66 to 67. Claiming benefits before your FRA will result in reduced monthly payments, while delaying benefits beyond your FRA can increase your monthly benefit amount. You can start claiming benefits as early as 62, and can delay them until age 70.

2. Work Status and Earnings Test

You can choose to continue working while receiving Social Security benefits. However, if you start benefits before your FRA and earn income above a certain threshold, a portion of your benefits may be withheld through the earnings test. It's essential to understand how this can impact your overall income and determine the optimal time to claim benefits based on your work situation.

You have the option to file for Social Security benefits at age 62, even if you're still employed. However, starting benefits at 62 is before the full retirement age (66 to 67, depending on your birth year), resulting in reduced monthly payments. Each month before your full retirement age permanently decreases your benefit by about half a percent. Moreover, if you work while collecting early benefits, your Social Security payments may be partially withheld due to the earnings test. The earnings test reduces benefits by $1 for every $2 or $3 earned above certain limits, depending on your age.

3. Financial Needs and Longevity

Assess your financial situation and determine if you need the income from Social Security immediately or if you can afford to delay. If you urgently need the income to cover essential expenses, filing for Social Security early may be a reasonable choice.

Also consider your life expectancy and overall health to gauge the optimal time to start benefits. While delaying benefits can result in higher monthly payments, it may take several years to offset the income lost by not claiming earlier. Be sure to consider the long-term consequences of receiving reduced benefits in your later years. Continuing to work in your 60s and delaying Social Security could provide a more comfortable retirement in the future.

4. Spousal Benefits

Marital status can impact your Social Security timing, particularly with regard to spousal benefits. If you are married, divorced, or widowed, your spouse's work history may entitle you to spousal benefits. These benefits can provide additional income based on your spouse's earnings record. Consider the impact of claiming spousal benefits at different ages and how it may affect your overall retirement income.

If you have limited or no work history, you may qualify for up to 50% of your spouse's Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). Taking spousal benefits before your full retirement age will result in a reduction. It's crucial for the higher-earning spouse to delay benefits since survivor benefits are based on the actual benefit amount of the deceased spouse, not just the PIA.

5. Health Considerations

Your health status can influence the decision of when to claim Social Security benefits. While poor health may tempt some to start Social Security benefits early, it's essential to consider the long-term implications. Starting benefits early often means receiving lower payments over your lifetime, and the break-even point (where lifetime benefits even out) typically falls around age 80. Making decisions based on anticipated life expectancy can be risky, as people often live longer than expected. If your health prevents you from working, applying for Social Security Disability benefits may be a better alternative.

6. Market Status

During a recession, you might face the dilemma of withdrawing from investments or claiming Social Security early. While Social Security offers a guaranteed 8% return for each year of delay, the stock market carries risks. If your portfolio experiences significant losses, waiting for a rebound may be beneficial. Consider the historical recovery times of the stock market and weigh them against your financial situation.

7. Tax Implications

Social Security benefits can be subject to federal income taxes depending on your overall income level. Understanding how Social Security benefits are taxed and how it fits into your overall tax strategy is crucial for proper financial planning.

By carefully considering these factors and seeking personalized advice from our team, we can help you determine the optimal time to claim Social Security benefits. Remember, everyone's situation is unique, so what works for one person may not work for another. Timing your Social Security benefits depends on your unique circumstances. Taking the time to understand your options and make informed decisions can help you maximize your benefits, meet your financial needs, and enjoy a comfortable retirement.

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