What is My Social Security Retirement Eligibility Age?

Benefit amounts vary depending on your Social Security retirement age.

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Social Security retirement age depends on numerous factors. Buccina Studios / Photodisc / Getty Images

Your Social Security retirement age and the amount you receive varies depending on several factors. For example, the earliest age you can collect your Social Security retirement benefits is age 62, but there is an exception for widows and widowers, who can begin benefits as early as age 60. And if you begin benefits early, and continue to work, your benefits may be reduced.

Here's how all this works with the basics on Social Security claiming ages from 60 to 70.

Social Security Retirement Age 60, If You Are a Widow/Widower

If you are a widow or widower, you can receive Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 60. If you have not reached your full retirement age, and you are still working and earn more than the earnings limit, your benefits will be reduced. Once you reach full retirement age, no more reduction will apply, regardless of how much you work and earn. Those working will want to consider waiting until their full retirement age to begin widow/widower benefits.

One option available to widows/widowers is to file a restricted application, which means you can begin one type of benefit, such as a survivor benefit, then when you reach age 70, you can switch over to your retirement benefit amount if it would be a larger amount.

Earliest Normal Social Security Eligibility Age Is 62

Even though you can begin benefits as early as 62, that doesn't mean you should start taking them at that age.

Although age 62 is the earliest Social Security retirement age, you can begin benefits you will receive a reduced benefit at this age. If you want a larger amount of guaranteed income later in retirement, then waiting to begin benefits until you are a few years older will make sense. Remember, even if you are retired, you can wait to apply for Social Security until a later age (age 70) so that you get a higher benefit.

It is one of the best ways to make sure you have a higher amount of inflation-adjusted income later in life.

Also, if you take Social Security at this early age, and you have earnings in excess of the Social Security earnings limit, your Social Security benefit will be reduced. Once you reach full retirement age (which is determined by your date of birth), there is no reduction in benefits for continuing to work no matter how much you make.

You can apply for Social Security retirement benefits any time after you reach age 62. Once you reach age 62, think of it like open enrollment; you can begin at any time. You do not have to wait until another age cut off.

Full Retirement Age (Age 65-67 Depending on Date of Birth)

Your full retirement age is determined by your day and year of birth. It is the age at which you get your full amount of Social Security benefits. For every year you delay taking your benefits from full retirement age until age 70 your benefit amount will increase by almost 8% a year. It is referred to as a delayed retirement credit. This increase can result in more lifetime income for you and your spouse. Even after factoring in a potential return on investment and the monthly benefits you could have received if you claimed early, there can still be a $50,000  - $100,000 increase in lifetime benefits by waiting until you are older to begin your benefits.

Age 70 - Wait and Accumulate Delayed Retirement Credits

At age 70 you will get the maximum amount of benefits that you can get from Social Security. It does not make sense to delay your Social Security retirement age past age 70. Waiting until age 70 to begin your Social Security if you are married and are the higher earner results in a higher survivor benefit for your spouse. 

Consider the age for which you claim benefits very carefully. Your Social Security benefits are likely worth far more than you think. You are making a decision about a lot of money. In most cases, you cannot easily change your mind as Social Security benefits were not designed to be stopped and started.