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22 December 2011

Does it pay to delay taking Social Security benefits?

Let's say you're considering one of three options: taking early retirement at Age 62, retiring at the traditional Age 65, or really holding off on retiring until you've reached Age 70. Which choice might be better for you?

The question matters because people who wait longer before drawing Social Security benefits can draw larger benefits than those who don't wait.

To find the answer, we've tapped Social Security's estimate of the maximum possible Social Security benefits that would be paid for individuals choosing to begin receiving payments in the first month after they've reached each of these ages in January 2012.

We then projected the accumulated total amount of benefits each individual would receive all the way out to Age 100.

But since most Americans won't live quite that long, we also projected how much longer a typical American can expect to live once they've reached the age at which they begin receiving Social Security benefits.

We've presented our results in the following chart, where we've used a solid line to indicate the portion of benefits that would be accumulated based upon a typical American's likely remaining life expectancy, and a dashed line to cover the period from that age all the way out to Age 100.

Does It Pay to Delay Taking Social Security Benefits?

What we find is that based upon the typical life expectancy for most Americans, it does indeed pay to wait longer to draw Social Security benefits after becoming eligible.

For example, an individual who waits until the traditional Age 65 to begin receiving Social Security benefits will accumulate more money from the program than an individual who begins drawing benefits at Age 62 by the time both have reached Age 77. Since most Americans who reach either age can expect to live into their 80s, they would do better to wait than to take early retirement.

Likewise, by the time an individual reaches Age 82, they will have accumulated more benefits from Social Security by having waited to start receiving them at Age 70 than they will have by beginning to take them at Age 65.

Granny's Wild Card - Source: Racing.nd.gov

There are two big wild cards in all this however. First is the major unknown of how long you will actually live - if you knew that, then you would know exactly which option might be better for your situation.

That's also complicated by whether or not you have a spouse. In that case, your Social Security benefits would continue to be paid to them in the form of survivor's benefits throughout the rest of their lives, which matters because they might live long beyond your years. That factor would argue in favor of waiting.

The second big wild card however is whether you have another source of income that can carry you from Age 62 through Age 70. Whether that's from regular retirement income that you set aside throughout your working years or from a job, both of which might be at the mercy of the economy, you might find it necessary to begin drawing benefits long before you would otherwise have chosen to do so in an ideal world.

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