When Should You Start Claiming Social Security Benefits?

Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act in 1935, creating the federal agency behind the benefits. Two years later, the first social security taxes were collected, and regular ongoing monthly benefits began in 1940.

Social Security has helped generations of Americans. The intent of the program was to provide workers with income to supplement their retirement pensions. Through the years, reports The Crozet Gazette, the program has changed and now provides benefits to disabled workers, spouses and children of beneficiaries. The article, “When Should I Start Taking My Social Security Checks?” says that more than 62 million people receive benefits, making it one of the most used social benefit programs.

Over the years of working and paying taxes into the system, a working person receives a monthly benefit for life, with a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) being the only adjustment. Forty “work credits” are needed to be eligible for the program, which is about 10 years of work for most people. Benefits vary, depending upon the earnings of the individual and the number of years they paid into the system. The maximum benefit in 2019 would be $3,770 per month, although most payments range from $800 to $2,400, according to the Social Security Administration.

To receive the full amount, the worker must wait until FRA (Full Retirement Age) to collect benefits. Depending upon the year of birth, FRA can be age 65, 66 or 65. However, workers can take benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70. If benefits are taken early, the monthly amount is lower, and that can not change. The later benefits are claimed, the higher the monthly benefit will be.

The question to which there is no single answer, is when to start collecting benefits.

The first issue is if the person needs income and there are no other sources. Many people begin collecting Social Security early, because of unwanted early retirement. They are let go from their jobs and have a hard time finding another position. Another consideration is health. If someone has a chronic illness or a serious illness and they don’t expect to live a long time, it makes sense to take the money earlier.

What most people are looking for when they ask about the timing of benefits is a “break even” age. However, that is an inexact science. Unexpected events happen, so while the numbers may work at one point in time, life circumstances may happen, which makes those numbers useless.

Keep in mind that Social Security benefits may be taxable. Therefore, if you are still working, it makes sense to delay taking benefits.

There are varying opinions on what the future of Social Security will look like. In fact, 2018 was the first year since the 1980s when the program paid out more in benefits, than it received in tax revenue. Congress can authorize funding to address demographic shifts that will impact the trust assets. Social Security was designed as a supplement for worker pensions and not to be the sole income source, so retirement planning should include but not depend upon Social Security.

Reference: The Crozet Gazette (April 5, 2019) “When Should I Start Taking My Social Security Checks?”

Suggested Key Terms: Social Security, Retirement, Taxes, Full Retirement Age, Benefits, Pensions

About the author

Bob Brumfield

Attorney Bob Brumfield has been practicing law since 1984 and regularly receives the “Top Lawyers in California” award as well as the “Client Distinction” and “Client Champion” awards from Martindale-Hubbell.

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