Since the creation of the Social Security Administration in 1935 as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, the standard age for claiming one’s social security benefits has been sixty-five—the standard retirement age in the United States. All Americans are eligible to begin claiming their benefits at the age of sixty-two; however, doing so will reduce them by up to thirty percent. Conversely, waiting to claim benefits until the age of seventy, the last possible cut-off, could increase them by up to thirty-two percent.
Ultimately, the decision of when one chooses to file for their benefits is an individual one, requiring careful research and analysis. However, in making the decision, there are a number of factors to consider, including the impact that the decision is likely to make on one’s spouse—providing a compelling reason for individuals to wait as long as possible before beginning to collect their benefits.
The age at which a person begins to claim his or her benefits permanently affects how substantial those benefits will be. When a person files for their benefits, they are effectively locked in at that rate for the rest of their life. This means that an early decision to claim them, resulting in a few extra years of payments upfront, could have serious consequences in the long run. On the other hand, if a claimant waits until age seventy, the extra payments they will receive could pay off in the long run.
On some level, these calculations depend a great deal on how long a person expects to live—based on their overall health, any medical conditions they have, and so on. A person with serious illness might be better off taking benefits early, while a relatively healthy individual might be able to wait. All of this is a personal decision—but there is a way that it could affect others.
In a marriage, after one elderly spouse dies, his or her widow(er) usually becomes entitled to survivors’ benefits. Typically, this means that the surviving spouse receives the deceased one’s benefit amount if the deceased spouse receives a larger amount. One person cannot claim two Social Security checks. In other words, if a widow is eligible to receive $1,200 per month, and her deceased husband received $1,500 per month, that woman can now claim $1,500 per month—but not $2,700.
With this in consideration, it makes the most sense for the family’s higher earner to delay claiming for longer, if he or she can afford to; it will ensure greater financial stability for the ones that he or she leaves behind.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for The National Interest.