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When Social Security Makes the Most Sense


There’s an unfortunate tendency to focus on how to get the most out of Social Security in total benefits, but that’s not always the right approach to determine when to apply for Social Security. Everyone has the same eight-year window—from age 62 to 70—when they can start applying for benefits, as explained in the article “Why Claiming Social Security at 65 Is a Smart Bet” from The Motley Fool. The year you were born determines when Social Security sets your Full Retirement Age, or FRA.

Whether you take Social Security at age 62, which is the earliest you can take it, or at 70, after which you’ve maxed out on monthly benefits and there’s no reason to delay, depends on many different factors. For example, do you expect to live a long time based on your family history? If so, it may make sense to wait. However, if you have a number of health conditions and expect to have a shorter life span, then take your benefits early and enjoy them—you earned them.

The most common age for starting Social Security benefits is at age 62. A much smaller percentage of seniors wait until age 70 to collect benefits. Doing so locks in a higher benefit for life, but if you don’t live much longer than 70, the benefit doesn’t matter quite as much.

Going from one extreme to the other points to a choice in the middle: age 65. That’s when Medicare kicks in. Some people get these benefits confused. They think that once they are eligible for Medicare, they are eligible for full Social Security benefits. This is not true. However, 65 is still a good age to start taking Social Security benefits for a few reasons.

  • You’re not taking Social Security at the earliest age possible, so you have had two years for your benefits to increase.
  • You’re not taking Social Security at the latest age. Therefore, if you don’t live into your 90s, you’ll still have had those years to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

The numbers-crunchers at Social Security work to make sure that everyone gets the same lifetime benefits, regardless of when they file. The logic is simple: claim early, and get a smaller benefit, possibly for a longer lifetime. Delay your claim, and the same amount of money in total will come to you, just in fewer payments.

There is another advantage for claiming Social Security around the same time you switch over to Medicare. Your Part B premiums will be directly paid from Social Security benefits. That means you’ll have some protection against rising premiums. That’s because of what’s known as the “hold harmless provision.” It is a provision that attempts to limit how much of a bite Medicare premiums can take out of Social Security benefits. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a little bit of a help.

Reference: The Motley Fool (July 10, 2020) “Why Claiming Social Security at 65 Is a Smart Bet”

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