There are a lot of opinions on when you should start claiming your Social Security benefits, but the age you claim may not actually matter that much at all.

The two main factors that determine how much your monthly Social Security benefit check will be are the age you start claiming, and the average income of your 35 highest-earning years of work. And in order to get all your benefits, you’ll have to wait until your full retirement age to start claiming.

You can start claiming at 62, but you’re benefit check will be smaller. On the flip side, if you wait until 70 you can actually boost your checks by 8% for every year past your full retirement age. Here’s a handy chart that can help you determine your full retirement age:

62 75% 70%
63 80% 75%
64 86.7% 80%
65 93.3% 86.7%
66 100% 93.3%
67 108% 100%
68 116% 108%
69 124% 116%
70 132% 124%

Looking at that chart, you would think waiting until 70 would be the obvious best year to start claiming, but that means waiting eight years to start receiving benefits.

It’s all by design because Social Security was crafted to give you roughly the same amount of benefits throughout your retirement if you live an average age. So collecting early means a smaller check, but more of them. Claiming late means you won’t be getting as many checks over your lifetime, but they’ll be bigger. Here’s an example to give a little context, per The Motley Fool:

Say your FRA is 67, and based on your income over your career, you’d receive $1,500 per month in benefits if you file for them at that age. If you claim at 62, your checks will be reduced by 30%, leaving you with $1,050 per month. If you wait until you’re 70, you’d receive 24% more per month or $1,860.

The average life expectancy in the U.S. today is 78.6 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So if you live until, say, age 80, you would claim $226,800 total if you started claiming at 62. Claiming at your FRA of 67 would mean $234,000 in total benefits, and claiming at 70 would get you $223,200 in your lifetime.

So waiting an extra five years after 62 would only give you a little over $7,200 extra in your lifetime. Waiting until 70 in this example means you are actually losing out on $3,600 if you had instead filed at 62. That means that the age when you file, if you live an average lifespan, doesn’t really matter in the end.

Timing Your Social Security Benefits

Social Security ageFiguring out when to file for Social Security matters a little more if you know you are expected to live significantly longer or shorter than the average life expectancy. Of course, no one really knows when they are going to pass on, but there are certain factors that are worth considering.

Your health is probably the most important thing to think about. If you live a healthy lifestyle and come from a family that has a history of long lives, it may be worth waiting until your full retirement age or later to start claiming Social Security benefits. That means you will have more time to collect those bigger checks.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may want to start collecting as early as possible if you are in poor health. Claiming early would give you more time to enjoy your benefits.

Choosing when you file for Social Security is a big decision, and we’ve harped on when to file here on Money and Markets before. The important thing is to know your options so that you can make the most well-informed decision for yourself and your family.

• You can find all of the latest and most important news about Social Security here on Money and Markets.

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