When I was a practicing nurse, I never thought I would retire or need Social Security. Around my mid-fifties, I changed my mind. As a nurse, Social Security seemed complicated. And retirement seemed so far off that I barely gave it any thought. Now, as a Financial Advisor, this is a common question. Clients often ask, “when can I collect Social Security”? The simple answer is at age 62. But that isn’t always the best answer because there is much to consider before claiming Social Security benefits. Unfortunately, Social Security can be boring and complicated, but your claiming strategy depends on understanding it. Read on to learn about Social Security benefits to help you with your retirement planning.
What is Social Security?
Social Security is a federal program that provides income to retired and disabled individuals. The focus of this post is on Social Security retirement benefits. Click here to learn more about Social Security Disability Insurance.
Social Security is funded by payroll taxes. Employees and self-employed persons, alike, pay into Social Security. Your Social Security benefit depends on the amount you earned and the length of time you paid into the program. More on this later. Social Security is a steady source of income, much like your paycheck from your nursing career. You receive your Social Security benefit monthly.
When Can I Collect Social Security for Retirement?
The earliest age you can collect Social Security retirement benefits is 62. However, there are eligibility requirements to meet before you can apply. To be eligible for Social Security benefits, you must have earned enough credits by working and paying Social Security taxes. The number of credits you need depends on your age and the benefit you’re applying for. For retirement benefits, you need at least forty credits, which is equivalent to 10 years of work.
When to Apply for Social Security
When to apply for Social Security depends on your retirement plan. Even though you can apply for Social Security at age 62, there is much to consider to get an optimal amount. The longer you delay applying for Social Security, the more money you will receive.
How Much Social Security Benefit Can I Receive for Retirement?
You will receive 100% of your earned benefits at full retirement age (FRA). Full retirement age is dependent on your birthyear. If you were born between 1943 and 1954, full retirement age is 66. For those born after 1954, full retirement age gradually increases by two months a year until it reaches 67 for those born in 1960 or later. For example, full retirement age for someone born in 1955 is 66 and 2 months. And this pattern continues until those born in 1960 reach 67.
For each year you delay applying for Social Security past your full retirement age, you can gain 8% in income. For example, if your full retirement age is 66 and you apply for Social Security at age 67, you will receive 108% of your earned benefit. If you delay to age 68, you will receive 116% of your earned benefit. And the amount increases by 8% every year until you reach age 70. You won’t gain any more income after age 70. However, you will receive the most of your earned benefit at 132%.
Hypothetically, let’s look at what happens if you claim before your full retirement age. If you apply for Social Security before your full retirement age, your income may be reduced by 5/9 of 1% for each month for 36 months before full retirement age. And if you claim 36 months or more before full retirement age, you may see a reduction of 5/12 of 1% for each added month.
Confusing right? Let’s break this down into real numbers.
Let’s say you want to apply for Social Security at age 62 and your birthday is January 1, 1962. You decide to receive benefits in February 2024. Your full retirement age is December 2028. But because you decided to start Social Security benefits 58 months before your full retirement age, your income will be reduced by 29.17%. This is nearly 30% less every month! This is a reduction of 5/9 of 1% for the first 36 months before your full retirement age and 5/12 of 1% for the 22 additional months.
Let’s use a hypothetical case study as an example.
Mary, a registered nurse for 30 years, currently earns $50,000 a year. Mary was born on 1/1/1962. Mary plans to retire at age 62 and wants to begin benefits in February 2024. Mary will receive $1,091 each month in Social Security benefits if she retires at age 62. Adjusted for inflation, Mary’s income will increase to $1127.00 a month.
After meeting with her Financial Advisor, Mary decides she does not have enough savings to supplement her Social Security benefits at age 62. Mary decides she will wait until her full retirement age to collect Social Security benefits. Mary’s full retirement age is 67. Mary will turn 67 on January 1, 2029. If Mary begins collecting Social Security benefits in February 2029, she will receive $1660.00 a month. Adjusted for inflation, Mary will receive $1951 a month.
Now Mary is curious, and she thinks she may be able to delay applying for Social Security just 3 more years until she is 70. At 70, Mary will receive $2098 a month or $2688 adjusted for inflation.
The difference between starting benefits at 62 and 67 is $569 a month or $824, adjusted for inflation. If Mary delays until age 70, she will receive $1007 a month more than what she would have received at age 62 or $1561 more income, adjusted for inflation. You can use the Social Security benefit calculator to estimate your retirement income.
How Are Social Security Benefits Decided?
Although you need to work 10 years to earn eligibility credits, the amount of Social Security benefits you receive is based on your average earnings over your working years. The Social Security Administration (SSA) calculates your benefits using a formula that considers your highest 35 years of earnings. If you work fewer than 35 years, the SSA will use zeros for the years you didn’t work, which will lower your average earnings and reduce your benefits. Other factors that can affect your benefits include your marital status, whether you have dependents, and your work status. If you’re married, you may be eligible for spousal benefits, which can provide you with up to 50% of your spouse’s benefits. If you have dependents, such as children under the age of 18, they may also be eligible for benefits.
Can I Work and Collect Social Security Benefits?
If you continue to work after you start collecting Social Security, your benefits may be reduced if you earn more than a certain amount. For 2023, the earnings limit is $21,240. If you earn more than this amount, your benefits will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn above the limit. However, once you reach your full retirement age, there is no earnings limit. And you can earn as much as you want without affecting your benefits.
Optimizing Your Social Security Benefits
To optimize your Social Security benefits, it’s important to understand the factors that affect your retirement income. One way to optimize your benefits is to delay collecting them until after your full retirement age. For each year you delay collecting benefits, your benefits will increase by 8%, up to age 70. This can result in a significant increase in your monthly benefits. Another way to optimize your benefits is to work for at least 35 years and earn as much as possible during those years. This will increase your average earnings and result in higher benefits. You can also work with a Financial Advisor to develop a retirement plan that considers your Social Security benefits and other sources of retirement income.
Should I Ever Consider Collecting Social Security Early?
There are times when you may want to consider collecting Social Security early. One example is if you have an illness that may shorten your lifespan. You may also consider collecting early if your spouse is receiving Social Security benefits that are higher than yours. While you will lose your benefit, you can apply to receive higher benefit in the case of your spouse’s death.
Social Security is an important source of retirement income for millions of Americans. If you’re wondering when you can collect Social Security, it’s important to understand the eligibility requirements, factors that affect your retirement income, and strategies for optimizing your benefits. Claiming Social Security benefits is a decision that will affect your remaining life. And since outliving money is a common fear among retirees, consider meeting with a Financial Advisor to help you plan an efficient Social Security claiming strategy. By planning ahead and making informed decisions, you can help ensure that you have a secure and comfortable retirement.
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These concepts were derived under current laws and regulations. Changes in the law or regulations may affect the information provided. All numeric examples and any individuals shown are hypothetical and were used for explanatory purposes only. Actual results may vary. Upon clicking these links, the content you are going to is not controlled, reviewed or approved by, and is not the responsibility of, the website that you are leaving.
Georgene Collins, RICP®, RN, PhD, MBA is a registered nurse turned Financial Advisor at Airey Financial Group. Georgene helps other nurses take control of their finances and prepare for retirement. Georgene began her career with Airey Financial Group in 2017 after retiring from 30 years in healthcare.
Georgene holds the Retirement Income Certified Professional (RICP®) designation from The American College of Financial Services. She holds health and life insurance licenses and a long-term care certificate in Indiana and Illinois. Georgene is a Registered Representative and Investment Advisor Representative and has earned the FINRA Series 63 and 65 registrations.