Ask Rusty – Is It Always Best to Wait Until Age 70 to Claim Social Security?
Dear Rusty: I’m 66 years old and still (self) employed as a home builder. I have not taken Social Security benefits yet, and don’t need to at this time. If relevant, my business struggled when I first started it five years ago, but did well last year, and I’ll have my highest earning year in my life this year and possibly next year as well. My question is, and it may be dumb, is it always best to delay Social Security until age 70 if there is no current financial need for it? Also, are benefits calculated by total dollars earned over a lifetime, or is some kind of average or mean computation used? I’ve enjoyed excellent health throughout my life, and I have longevity in my family. I’m single if that’s relevant. Signed: Planning Ahead
Dear Planning Ahead: There is never a dumb question about Social Security because it's a highly complex program. No, it isn't always best to delay claiming SS until age 70, but yours might be a typical example of why waiting until age 70 to claim is a very smart move. Here's why:
• Your benefit at age 70 will be about 31% more than it would be at your full retirement age (FRA), which is 66 years and 2 months if you were born in 1955.
• If you are still working and don't urgently need the money, your SS benefit will grow by 8% for each full year you delay claiming (but you can still claim at any time if necessary and get all Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs) earned to the point you claim).
• Your benefit amount will be computed using the monthly average of your lifetime 35 highest earning years, so if your current and more recent earnings are among your highest, they will be included in your benefit computation when you claim. Your earnings in the early years will be adjusted for inflation, and if you don't have a full 35 years of earnings, they will still use 35 (putting zeros in to make 35). So, if you don't have a full 35 years of lifetime earnings, your current earnings now will eliminate some of those "zero earnings" years, resulting in a higher benefit.
• If you're in good health now and you enjoy at least an "average" longevity (about 84 for a man your age), you'll get more in cumulative lifetime benefits by waiting until age 70 to claim and enjoy that higher monthly benefit for the rest of your life. If you wish to estimate your life expectancy, you can use this tool we use here at The AMAC Foundation: https://socialsecurityreport.org/tools/life-expectancy-calculator/.
• Since you're single, you don't need to worry about maximizing a survivor benefit for your spouse, but if you marry or have an ex-spouse who outlives you, then waiting until age 70 to claim would give them the maximum survivor benefit they are entitled to.
So, in your specific circumstance, waiting until you are 70 to claim appears to be a wise choice. For others who don't enjoy good health and don't expect to make average longevity, or for those who urgently need the money earlier, claiming before age 70 is often a better choice.