You no longer have to wait until you turn 65 to begin collecting Social Security retirement benefits. Then again, you no longer can receive your full Social Security benefits when you do turn 65. Social Security's early retirement option and the increase in the program's official retirement age mean 65 is no longer the magic number it once was.
The Importance of 65
Under the legislation that created Social Security in 1935, workers who had paid taxes into the system became eligible for benefits when they turned 65. That made 65 the country's more-or-less official retirement age, and it remained so for a quarter-century. In 1961, though, Congress created an early-retirement option under Social Security, which remains in effect. Now, workers can begin receiving Social Security benefits at age 62.
Full Retirement Age
Although people can start drawing Social Security at age 62, they will get less money each month than they would if they waited until "full retirement age," as defined by the Social Security Administration. Full retirement age used to be 65. But as the average life expectancy has increased, so has the length of time that people are on Social Security. In addition, the number of Americans age 65 and older has exploded: from 9 million in the 1940 Census to more than 40 million in 2010. That has put financial pressure on the system and led to an increase in the full retirement age.
Reaching Retirement Age
For people born in 1937 and earlier, the full retirement age remained 65. For those born in 1960 and later, full retirement age is 67. For people born in between those years, full retirement is on a sliding scale. The later they were born, the later their full retirement age. For example, people born in 1938 had a full retirement age of 65 years, 2 months. For people born from 1939 to 45, it was an even 66 years. For those born in 1959, it was 66 years, 10 months.
Reduction in Benefits
The longer you wait to begin taking Social Security, the more money you'll get each month in benefits. If your full retirement age is 67 and you wait until 65, you'll get a larger benefit than you would if you had started at 62 — but not as large as it would have been had you waited till 67. According to the Social Security Administration, if your full retirement age is 67 and you start taking benefits at 62, your monthly benefit will be reduced by about 30 percent. If you wait until 65, your monthly benefit will be reduced by about 13 percent. Wait until 67, though, and you get the full benefit you qualify for.
Cam Merritt is a writer and editor specializing in business, personal finance and home design. He has contributed to USA Today, The Des Moines Register and Better Homes and Gardens"publications. Merritt has a journalism degree from Drake University and is pursuing an MBA from the University of Iowa.