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As soon as you turn 62, you are eligible to claim Social Security benefits. However, by claiming as soon as you can, you also get the lowest possible payout that your work history allows. That's because -- for current retirees -- the full retirement age is 66. File before then, and you'll get less than the full benefit; wait until after -- up to 70 -- and you'll get significantly more.
In fact, those who wait until they are 70 to claim Social Security benefits will get 76% more in their monthly benefits than those who claim at 62. This might make the decision seem obvious -- you should wait as long as possible, right?
But this is where theory and reality often diverge, as there are some very smart reasons to claim Social Security at 62.
1) Your lifetime Social Security benefits might actually be higher
Here's the thing about filing early: you'll be collecting monthly checks for almost 100 extra months than the retiree who waits until 70. That means you'll have much more in terms of lifetime benefits for the first few decades of your Golden Years.
To illustrate this principle, let's look at two workers who would be receiving $1,500 per month at full retirement age. Look at how lifetime benefits accrue at different times and paces depending on whether they claim at 62, 66 (full retirement), or 70.
Data source: Author calculations
While every scenario is different depending on someone's work history, it typically doesn't pay off -- financially -- to claim later until your late 70s to mid 80s. If you have health problems, or just aren't willing to take that trade-off, then it makes sense to file at 62.
2) You are coordinating with your spouse
Social Security decisions aren't made in a vacuum, and it often makes a lot of sense to coordinate your filing with your spouse. While there are tons of different variables to take into consideration, I think the following scenario illuminates the factors that could be taken into consideration:
Tom and Kate -- married 40 years -- are nearing retirement. Tom had a higher earnings record during his career, which means he'll have a higher Social Security benefit. Because of Tom's family history of heart problems -- and the fact that wives tend to outlive their husbands -- Tom prioritizes making sure Kate is taken care of after he's gone.
According to Social Security rules, when a spouse passes away, the surviving member assumes the deceased's benefit -- assuming it is the higher of the two. In this case, that means Tom wants the highest benefit possible for Kate to assume if/when he passes away.
To do this, they agree to have Kate file immediately when she is 62. The extra money will allow them to make ends meet for the eight intervening years while they both work part time, both for the money and to help keep themselves active.
In such a scenario, claiming at 62 is smart because it is part of a broader plan for a household's Social Security benefits.
3) Because you can
But perhaps the smartest reason to claim Social Security at 62 is because you can! Study after study -- and probably your own life experience -- has shown that once your most basic needs are met, money doesn't add much in terms of personal contentment. That comes from the types of intentional activities that come with a little extra time: connecting with friends and family, taking care of yourself, becoming immersed in an activity that's important to you.
These trends play out in studies of retirees as well. A report from Merrill Lynch in 2016 showed that those in retirement are extremely satisfied with their lives compared to those who are still working.
Data source: Merrill Lynch/Age Wave
Lest you think that this may happen as you age -- regardless of when you retire -- the study's author took great pains to point out that being "time affluent" was a key factor in happiness as one ages.
So there you have it: three very smart reasons to take Social Security benefits at 62. While everyone's situation will be different, there's no shame in claiming as soon as you can. The benefits might not be obvious on paper, but they'll show up in your real life -- which is the only real effect you should care about in the end.
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