I’m considering taking Social Security at 64. I’ve been told not to wait until I’m 67, which is my full retirement age (FRA), because it would take years to make up the benefits I’d have received by collecting early. Also, if I start Social Security at 64, my 14-year-old son will receive a Social Security benefit until age 18. Have I been misinformed?

No, but you’ve omitted a crucial factor: your life expectancy.

Postponing Social Security until your FRA (or even longer, until you’re 70) involves a trade-off: You pass up a smaller benefit today in order to get a bigger future benefit. Whether that trade-off makes sense depends on variables like your financial situation, health, family longevity and marital status.

If your FRA is 67 and you start Social Security at 64, you’ll get 80% of the amount you’d receive at 67 and the reduction is permanent. If you wait until your FRA to claim Social Security, you’ll collect 100% of your benefit — but you will have passed up three years of smaller monthly checks and your son will lose three years of a benefit he only qualifies for until age 18. That means taking Social Security at your FRA won’t start paying off until you’re about 81 years old.

But you or your spouse — or both of you — are likely to live much longer! According to the Society of Actuaries, a 65-year-old married couple now has a 50% chance that at least one spouse will be alive at 92, and a 25% chance that one spouse will live to age 97.

The bottom line:

The main reason to postpone Social Security is to receive a substantially bigger, inflation-indexed benefit in your 80s and 90s for you and your surviving spouse.

More information:

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