Ages for Social Security Eligibility

The age required to be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits depends on the year of birth. Amendments passed by the U.S. Congress in 1983 allow for a gradual phasing in of an increased age limit at which full Social Security retirement benefits may be collected. An increase in the minimum age to receive full benefits phases in over 22 years, in which point the age will rise to 67.

Early Retirement

As of 2011, the earliest age for Social Security retirement benefits is 62, but those opting to receive benefits at this age will see benefits reduced by a fraction of a percent for every month before the full retirement age. For those born before 1943, the full retirement age is 65. For those born between 1943 and 1959, the full retirement age is 66, and those born after 1960 receive full retirement benefits at 67.

Later Retirement

Those delaying taking Social Security benefits until after the full retirement age for their particular date of birth may increase benefits by a monthly percentage for each month until reaching age 70. After age 70, the percentage does not increase, even if the person continues to delay taking the benefits. For those born in 1943 or later, delaying benefits until age 70 can result in an 8 percent increase in monthly benefits over taking them at full retirement age.

Deciding When to Take Benefits

According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), taking early or late benefits generally evens out over a lifetime. Early retirement means smaller monthly benefits amounts, but the person receives them for a longer period of time. Late retirees receive benefits for less time but in larger amounts. The SSA notes that those delaying benefits until after full retirement age may be eligible for delayed credits, increasing the monthly benefits. In any case, contact the SSA when deciding to retire.

Benefit Calculation

Unlike certain government pension plans, Social Security benefits are not calculated based on the last five years of earnings during the working years. Social Security benefits are based on the average lifetime earnings over all of the years the worker paid into the Social Security system. The SSA states that for the majority of current and future beneficiaries, the 35 highest earning years are averaged. Years in which earnings were low or nonexistent may be counted to equal 35 years of work.