Yes, the retirement puzzle is different for everyone. Some people have access to defined benefit pension programs, while others have ample savings to fall back on.
But the general equation for funding your retirement years (in the U.S.) is usually private funds + Social Security = The income you’ll live on.
Could you claim Social Security a little earlier and push things up a little bit? You can, but there are some good reasons to think twice about jumping in before you’ve reached full retirement age.
Social Security in brief: You can first file for benefits once you turn 62, but that isn’t defined by the government as your “full retirement age.” As such, if you claim your payments starting at age 62 you’ll get less than if you waited.
Until when? It’s the government, so of course it’s a little convoluted: If you were born in 1960 or later your full retirement age is 67. Before that and your age might be 66 or 66 and a few months. (See, it’s convoluted.)
In his own words: President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed The Social Security Act of 1935 into law in… 1935, creating the framework of what we now know as Social Security, so naturally he had a lot ot say about it. One of his most famous lines was delivered during a speech in Marietta, Ohio in 1938: “Once old age was safe because there was always something useful which men and women, no matter how old, could do to earn an honorable maintenance. That time is gone; and some new kind of organized old-age insurance has to be provided.”
By the numbers: As of 2021, the average monthly Social Security benefit is $1,543, according to the SSA.
But just because you can claim Social Security early doesn’t mean you should. The hit to your income might seem small now but it can make a big difference down the line due to two major variables: healthcare costs and long-term savings. A swing in either (such as a stock market drop right before you retire) could impact your monthly income in a big way.
Consider that the average 65-year-old couple retiring this year can expect to spend $300,000 on medical expenses during their retirement, according to Fidelity. That’s a big number, and it’s only expected to go up from here.
Also consider that the average IRA balance as of 2021 is $130,000. Not too bad if you’re in your 30s, but try and retire on that and you’ll find that money doens’t last long. The boost from Social Security is going to be needed by a lot of people.
Takeaway: Everyone’s situation is different and that’s why the SSA offers some flexibility in when you can claim Social Security and start receiving payments. But be sure to carefully weigh the pros and cons of your decision before moving forward. Sometimes claiming early just isn’t worth it in the long run.