Social Security: Don’t Claim Benefits Until You Reach This Milestone

NoDerog / Getty Images/iStockphoto
NoDerog / Getty Images/iStockphoto

There’s a magic number to know that can help you maximize your Social Security income when you are ready to retire. And it’s not the number you might think it is.

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Most people know that you can begin claiming Social Security benefits at age 62. And if you’ve done any financial planning for your retirement, you probably also know that if you wait to claim benefits until the age of 70, you can max out the benefit amount you can receive monthly.

But there may not be a tremendous advantage to waiting, especially if you need the income to live. Likewise, if claiming Social Security benefits can help you avoid tapping into interest-earning investments too soon or even selling stocks and other investments in a bear market, you should do so as soon as you hit age 62.

That’s because Social Security’s system equalizes lifetime benefits regardless of when you claim. If you start claiming sooner, you’ll have money earlier. But if you wait to claim until age 70, you’ll get more money in a shorter time span to make up for those eight years you weren’t collecting benefits.

However, you do want to make sure you’ve worked and paid into Social Security for at least 35 years before you claim benefits.

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You see, Social Security benefits are designed to equal a percentage of your average wages for your 35 highest earning years. For most people, their salary goes up as they age and get more experience in the workforce. More importantly, if you haven’t worked 35 years, Social Security still calculates the average based on your salary and divides the total by 35. So, if you’ve only worked 20 years, which is 10 more than the minimum required to collect Social Security, the Social Security Administration will add your salaries from those 20 years and then divide by 35. They will count the other 15 years as $0 earnings.

If you’re curious about how much you’ll receive in retirement based on your current work history or are planning ahead for your retirement, you can see your Social Security Statement, with personalized retirement benefit estimates, at nine different ages. You’ll also see your earnings history so you can make an informed decision about when to stop working and collecting Social Security.

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This article originally appeared on Social Security: Don’t Claim Benefits Until You Reach This Milestone