The U.S. government instituted Social Security during the Great Depression as a retirement program. The goal was to provide financial aid to older Americans unable to work. You pay into this system all of your working life, and you can determine when you wish to start collecting the benefits.
According to the Social Security Administration, you can retire anytime between the ages of 62 and 70. Social Security determines full retirement age, when full benefits will be paid, for all working Americans, based on their year of birth. According to Bankrate.com, those born in 1937 or earlier reach full retirement age at 65, while those born after 1937 reach their full retirement age between the ages of 65 and 67, depending on their year of birth.
While you will receive full benefits when you reach your full retirement age, Social Security also allows you to retire with reduced benefits as early as 62. In general, the longer you wait to retire, the more your monthly payments will be until you reach age 70. The Social Security Administration states that your benefits will not continue to increase by delaying retirement past the age of 70.
The decision of when to retire and apply for Social Security is a personal one based on many factors, including your health and financial situation. The question you have to answer is whether retiring early with a steady income stream of reduced benefits is the best option, or whether retiring later with larger monthly benefits payments is better for you. The Social Security website has excellent tools to help you estimate your earnings at different retirement ages. You can use this information to help determine the best age to retire.
If you retire early, your monthly payments will be permanently reduced based on the age that you retire and your retirement age as calculated by Social Security. If you plan to continue working during part of your retirement, you may invest your Social Security benefits in stocks. However, stocks are risky investments, and you may lose everything in the long run.
In addition, the government will take 50 percent of what you earn if your wages exceed a certain income level each year, if you take early retirement. You have to decide if you have the investment skill and the ability to offset your lost wages with the returns on the invested benefits to make early retirement your best option. If you don’t have a solid savings nest egg, holding off on retirement longer may help you by ensuring that you receive a higher monthly payout.
However, according to Bankrate.com, if you are in poor health and concerned about how long you will live, taking the early retirement option will ensure that you receive the most of your benefits. However, if you are in good health, delaying retirement could mean you will receive higher benefits for a longer period of time if you live past the normal life expectancy age of 78.
Regardless of the age at which you retire, Social Security rules require you to wait to apply for benefits until four months before the date that you want to start receiving them.
Marci Sothern has written as a tutor in the academic field since 1999. She holds a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in political science from the University of Texas at Tyler. Her main areas of expertise include American history, comparative politics, international relations and political theory.