Over the coming years, millions of baby boomers will reach age 62, the minimum threshold for receiving Social Security retirement benefits. If recent history is any indication, most of these people (over 70% by some estimates) will take their benefits as early as possible.
But whether you should take Social Security retirement benefits at the earliest possible age, or defer them until reaching normal retirement age (or even age 70), depends on several factors. Among these are your overall health and life expectancy, your plans to earn income before reaching normal retirement age, anticipated returns on other investments, even your guesses about the future of Social Security. Like most retirement planning choices, this decision isn't one-size-fits-all.
For some people, deferring Social Security benefits isn't an option. If your savings won't cover ongoing expenses, you may need to rely on social security income to make ends meet.
But if your circumstances offer more financial flexibility, you may want to consider deferring Social Security benefits. For each year you delay taking benefits, the payouts increase, up to age 70. Also, if you plan to earn significant income between age 62 and your normal retirement age (age 65 to age 67, depending on the year you were born), putting off your Social Security benefits may make sense. That's because any benefits in excess of specified limits ($15,120 in 2013) will be reduced. You'll lose $1 of benefits for every $2 in earnings above the limits. Fortunately, you won't lose any Social Security benefits (regardless of earnings) once you reach full retirement age.
On the other hand, let's say you've accumulated $500,000 in your 401(k) account and expect that account to generate an 8% annual return. Under such a scenario, you might be better off leaving your retirement savings alone and taking your Social Security benefits early to cover living expenses. Or perhaps your family has a history of health problems and you don't realistically expect to live into your 80s. Again, taking Social Security benefits at age 62 might be a good choice.
When it comes to retirement planning, there are no guarantees. When deciding whether to defer Social Security benefits, take a realistic look at your situation, run the numbers, and give it your best shot.
In addition to helping people on JustAnswer, Shane runs the Northrop Financial Group in Fort Myers, Florida.
For help with your income taxes or personal finances, you can talk with a financial Expert anytime on JustAnswer.