When to claim Social Security is arguably the most important decision you will make regarding the benefits program, which begs the question: Is the most popular age to claim Social Security the best option for you?

While popularity shouldn’t matter when it comes to claiming your benefits, it does give a little insight into what others are doing so we can explore some reasons they might choose a particular age to claim Social Security.

Many factors go into determining your monthly benefits, and the age you claim will most likely have the greatest impact on how much Social Security income you bring in — and that’s not just month-to-month, that’s for your lifetime then on.

Here’s a breakdown of the most popular age to claim Social Security, and some reasons it may not be the best choice for you.

Most Popular Age to Claim Social Security

The Social Security Administration recently released data showing 1.5 million new people started benefits in 2018, and 31% of filers chose to start benefits at 62, making it the most popular age to claim Social Security by a long shot.

It’s interesting to see that so many are claiming benefits early, especially considering monthly benefits are reduced by at least 25% depending on your full retirement age (between 66 and 67 depending on your birth date for anyone retiring between now and 2022).

Why would anyone want to reduce their monthly income by that much? One reason 62 could be such a popular age to claim Social Security is because people may just need the extra income to get by. A 2019 Gallup poll found that 90% of Social Security recipients rely on their monthly benefits to keep the lights on. And 83% of incoming retirees were in the same boat.

Another reason to consider taking Social Security at 62 is if you are in poor health and don’t expect to live into your 80s or 90s. It may be beneficial to start claiming benefits early so you can get the most out of what you have worked your whole life to build.

That doesn’t mean it’s a great retirement strategy, though. United Income ran a study and found that 80% of older Americans would be better off waiting until at least 67 to start claiming benefits.

The Benefits of Full Retirement Age — or Beyond

boost your social security retirement age age to claim Social SecurityThe second-most popular age to claim Social Security in 2018 was full retirement age. The SSA lumped everyone in the age range of 66 to 66 and 4 months back then (the full retirement goes up by a couple months each year), which totaled 14.3%. However, that’s less than half who are claiming at 62.

Waiting until your full retirement age, or close to it at least, means you will get a huge boost to your monthly payments. Let’s look at a little example using 2020’s average Social Security income of $1,500 per month.

If your full retirement age is 67, that $1,500 gets reduced by a whopping $450 to $1,050 per month if you start claiming at age 62. If you only expect to receive $1,200 per month by full retirement age, that payment will be slashed by 30%, to $840 per month.

If you push your Social Security claiming date to 70 (the maximum age to claim) that $1,500 per month jumps to $1,860. Of course there is a careful balancing act here because that’s three extra years of no monthly income from the benefits. This works for people who expect to live to their late 80s or early 90s, but that’s a crapshoot.

While 62 was the clear cut most popular age to claim Social Security, it doesn’t make a ton of sense for anyone who can wait until a later age. If you plan for retirement and consider claiming Social Security early, it may pay off to take a bit of time and create a strategy to delay those benefits until a later date, if you can.

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