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 62, but there is an exception for widows and widowers, who can begin benefits as early as 60. If you start collecting benefits early and continue to work, your benefits may be reduced.
Here's how 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 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 reductions 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 70, you can switch over to your retirement benefit amount if it would be larger.
Earliest Normal Social Security Eligibility Age: 62
Even though you can begin receiving benefits as early as 62, that doesn't mean you should start taking them at that age. This is primarily because you will receive reduced benefits. 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 until you're 70 to apply for Social Security 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 above the Social Security earnings limit, your Social Security benefits 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 62. Once you reach 62, think of it like open enrollment; you can begin at any time and 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, and it is the age in which you get your full amount of Social Security benefits. For every year you delay taking your benefits from full retirement age up until you turn 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.
Age 70: Wait and Accumulate Delayed Retirement Credits
At 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 70 because your benefit amount will not increase. Waiting until 70 to begin your Social Security if you are married and are the higher earner results in a higher survivor benefit for your spouse.
The Bottom Line
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.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the difference between survivor benefits and spousal benefits?
Spousal Social Security benefits are based on the work history of your living spouse or ex-spouse. Survivor Social Security benefits are claimed by a widow or widower. Spousal benefits are capped at 50% of your spouse's full benefits, but survivor benefits are not. You can receive the full amount of your spouse's benefit if you are a widow or widower and have reached full retirement age.
Can I claim Social Security benefits earlier than age 60 if my spouse has died?
You can claim survivor benefits earlier than age 60 if you are disabled or if you are caring for the deceased person's child, who is either under age 16 or disabled.