What Is Full Retirement Age?

Happy senior couple dancing together at home
•••

 Cecilie_Arcurs / Getty Images

DEFINITION

Full retirement age (FRA) is the age at which you are eligible to receive the full amount of Social Security benefits. Your FRA depends on the day and year you were born.

Definition and Example of Full Retirement Age

Full retirement age is the age at which you can receive full, unreduced Social Security benefits. If you collect benefits before reaching your full retirement age, those benefits are reduced.

For example, if you start collecting benefits at age 62, the earliest age at which you can collect, you could see up to 30% reduction in full benefits. If you delay benefits until after your full retirement age, your benefits are increased thanks to delayed retirement credits. These credits can increase your benefits by up to 8%.

How Does Full Retirement Age Work?

Full retirement age is not the same age for everyone. Understanding when you will reach full retirement age depends on the day and year you were born.

Although full retirement age once was 65 for everyone, Congress passed a law in 1983 that gradually increased it to age 67, because people were living longer.

Year you were born Full retirement age
1937 or earlier 65
1938 65 and 2 months
1939 65 and 4 months
1940 65 and 6 months
1941 65 and 8 months
1942 65 and 10 months
1943–1954 66
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 or later 67

Not only does FRA depend on the year you were born, but it also depends on the day, because Social Security considers you to have attained an age the day before your birthday. Therefore, if you were born on January 1, you would use the FRA for the year before your year of birth.

For example, someone born on January 1, 1956, would use 1955 as the year to figure their full retirement age, as they would be considered to have attained an age (in this case, 66) on December 31 of the previous year (1955). According to the Social Security Administration, full retirement age for those with 1955 as an official birth year would be 66 years and two months; therefore, that is their retirement age, even if they were actually born in 1956.

For purposes of the month you are entitled to receive benefits, if you were born on the first of the month, you are considered to attain that age the month before. Someone born on February 1 would be entitled to receive their FRA benefit amount for the month of January.

If you are applying for a widow or widower's benefit, the earliest age you can receive these benefits is age 60, when you would receive a reduced benefit. 

For example, someone born at any time from 1945 through 1956 would reach their full retirement age for a survivor's benefit at age 66.

If you take Social Security benefits before FRA, and you earn income in excess of the annual earnings limit, your Social Security benefit will be reduced. Once you reach FRA, you can earn as much as you like, and your Social Security benefit will not be reduced.

Social Security is separate from Medicare. Although age 65 is frequently referenced when referring to Medicare, your full retirement age may be something different.

For couples, in many cases having the spouse who earned the most wait until full retirement age or later to begin benefits can result in a serious boost to survivor benefits. If you're married, be sure to coordinate your claiming decision to put the two of you in the most secure position. 

Key Takeaways

  • Full retirement age (FRA) is the age at which you are eligible to receive full, unreduced Social Security benefits.
  • Figuring your full retirement age will depend on the day and year of your birth. Therefore, people born on January 1 should use the prior year to calculate their FRA.
  • Collecting benefits before reaching full retirement age will result in reduced benefits.

Article Sources

  1. Social Security Administration. "Early or Late Retirement." Accessed Dec. 6, 2020.

  2. Social Security Administration. "Starting Your Retirement Benefits Early." Accessed Dec. 6, 2020.

  3. Social Security. "Retirement Age Calculator." Accessed Dec. 6, 2020.

  4. Social Security Administration. "§ 404.102. Definitions." Accessed Dec. 6, 2020.

  5. Social Security Administration. "What You Need to Know When You Get Retirement or Survivors Benefits," Page 1. Accessed Dec. 6, 2020.

  6. Social Security Administration. "If You Are the Survivor." Accessed Dec. 6, 2020.

  7. Social Security Administration. "Full Retirement Age for Survivors Born Between 1945 And 1956: 66." Accessed Dec. 6, 2020.

  8. Social Security Administration. "§ 404.313. What Are Delayed Retirement Credits and How Do They Increase My Old-Age Benefit Amount?" Accessed Dec. 6, 2020.