The rule of thumb for collecting Social Security benefits is the earlier you claim, the less you will receive via your monthly check. Conversely, the longer you wait, the larger your monthly benefit check will be. This may be one of the most important economic decisions you will make in your lifetime.
That said, there are certain benefits to claiming Social Security at the earliest age of 62 versus full retirement age — or age 70 — depending on your circumstances and what you’re trying to achieve. Below are some reasons, and ways, to maximize your retirement benefits by claiming them early.
If you have certain medical problems and conditions, it might be a better idea to claim Social Security benefits earlier rather than later. Claiming earlier means you will have more payments over your lifetime, which can ease the stress associated with paying down medical costs. If there are more serious medical concerns, it might be better to benefit from your monthly social security payments while you are alive so that you can properly plan your estate and manage your medical bills as they arrive.
If you are eligible to receive spousal benefits, then it might not matter if you wait to claim benefits later for a larger check or not. Spousal benefits can increase your monthly check by up to $800. Last year’s average spousal payments ranged between $700-800, and with the 2021 COLA around 6%, claiming your spousal benefits can net you a big increase in income this year. Leveraging spousal benefits is a great way to claim benefits early at 62, maximizing the amount you receive by hedging against the amount lost on your checks.
The spousal benefit can be as much as half of the working spouse’s primary insurance amount according to the Social Security Administration. If the spouse decides to receive benefits before full retirement age, they’ll receive reduce benefits as a result, just as the worker will should they take early distributions. If the spouse is caring for a qualifying child, however, their spousal benefit is not reduced.
Work At Least 35 Years to Maximize Your Benefit
The Social Security Administration considers the highest 35 years of your earnings when determining your benefit. If you are claiming early, and do not have spousal benefits you can claim, the best thing you can do to maximize your benefit is to make sure you work at least 35 years.
For example, if you worked a couple of minimum wage jobs in your 20s and then had 33 years of higher income afterward, those 33 years of high income plus two years of lower income would be counted. Thus, it’s best to ensure you have at least 35 years of high income earning years. This will raise the maximum you can receive if you decide to claim early at age 62.
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This article originally appeared on GOBankingRates.com: Social Security Optimization: Maximize Your Benefits Even if You Start Collecting Early