Learn

What is My Social Security Retirement Age?

Dana Anspach

June 1, 2024

While there is something called Full Retirement Age (FRA) for Social Security, you can collect your retirement benefit as early as age 62 and at any age after that. A good question to ask is, “What age should you begin benefits?” The answer to that depends on how much you want to get over your lifetime.

Retirement age and starting Social Security do not have to happen simultaneously. Let’s examine your Social Security retirement age, and what other factors you should consider.

Your Full Retirement Age

What most people mean by Social Security retirement age is Full Retirement Age (FRA). Your FRA depends on the year and day you were born, per the schedule below.

  • 1943 – 1954: 66
  • 1955: 66 and 2 months
  • 1956: 66 and 4 months
  • 1957: 66 and 6 months
  • 1958: 66 and 8 months
  • 1959: 66 and 10 months
  • If you were born in 1960 or later, Full Retirement Age is 67.

If you were born on the first of the year, Social Security considers you to have attained your age in the year prior.

Example. George was born January 1 of 1955. He is considered to have attained the age of 66 in 1954, the year prior, so his FRA would be 66, as according to Social Security you attained the age of 66 in 1954.

If you begin benefits before FRA, you get less, and if you claim at an age past FRA, you get more, with the highest amount available at age 70. There are no benefits to waiting past age 70 to claim Social Security.

If you begin benefits before you reach your FRA and you continue to work, your Social Security benefits may be reduced. This is due to the Social Security earnings limit, which applies if you earn too much. This reduction in benefits no longer applies once you reach your FRA.

Once you understand the basics of your Social Security retirement age, you need to consider how much you can get.

How Much Social Security Can You Get?

What are your Social Security benefits worth; a few hundred thousand dollars, maybe?

Would it surprise you to know that over 25 years, the average single person could receive $600,000 or more in total Social Security benefits? Many married couples will get over a million dollars.

According to the Social Security office, in 2024, the average monthly Social Security retirement benefit is about $1,907. That’s $22,884 a year. If you were a high-wage earner, the maximum monthly benefit for someone attaining Full Retirement Age (FRA) in 2024 is $3,822 – or $45,864 per year. And you can get even more by waiting until age 70 to begin benefits: a 2024 maximum of $4,873 per month or $58,476 annually.

When deciding what retirement age to start Social Security benefits, consider inflation. In 1975 Social Security benefits began to include an inflation adjustment, which means your benefits increase as prices rise (prices as measured by the Consumer Price Index, called the CPI-W).

Note. Benefits have historically increased at an annual rate of about 3.5%, although from 2009 – 2020, with two notable exceptions, increases were 2% a year or less. As inflation kicks in, increases rise; 2021, 2022 and 2023 saw a 5.9%, 8.7% and 3.2% respective annual increase.

If you take the average benefit of $22,884 a year increasing at 2.5% a year for 25 years, you will receive $780,300 in cumulative dollars. If you’re a high-wage earner, retire and receive $3,822 a month, increasing at 2.5% a year for 25 years, that adds up to $1,566,612.

It’s a pile of money! By making a wise decision, you can increase the size of that pile. Let’s look at the factors to consider when deciding which Social Security retirement age to use for starting benefits.

We’ll look at the key factors that apply to Singles, Married Couples, Divorcees, and Widows or Widowers.

Singles

Singles can claim Social Security at a retirement age as early as age 62, but will receive less than they can get if they claim at an older age. If you are single and have no prior marriages lasting ten years or longer, you should know two key things before you begin Social Security.

  1. Your probability of living past your mid-80’s.
  2. Your FRA and how it interacts with the earnings limit.

First, let’s look at longevity.

How likely do you think it is that a 65-year-old single female will live to 85?

According to the Society of Actuaries (SOA) a 65-year-old woman has a 65% the probability of reaching 85. A 65-year-old male, in average health, has a 55% probability of living to age 85. Those probabilities are often higher for white-collar earners.

If I were a gambler, I’d bet on those odds. Yet many people make this decision with an off-hand comment such as “Well, I might not live that long.” That’s like betting against the odds. If you’re in good health and you have more than a 50% probability of living past age 85, you’ll typically get more cumulative dollars by starting benefits later rather than earlier.

The problem is people equate starting Social Security with retirement. They are not synonymous. You can retire before 70, withdraw from retirement accounts, and delay the start of Social Security until age 70. For many, contrary to what you may initially think, this approach increases overall wealth, reduces your odds of running out of money, and provides more guaranteed, inflation-adjusted income later in life. These are all things that you want during retirement.

Next, consider the earnings limit.

If you are working and begin benefits before your FRA, you’ll owe back some of your benefits if you earn too much. This is because of the Social Security earnings limit. The great news is once you attain your FRA, you can earn any amount without being subject to the earnings limit.

Note. The earnings limit is not a tax. If you lose benefits because of the earnings limit, they will be slowly paid back to you once you reach FRA. There are also taxes on benefits, which is an entirely different set of rules than the earnings limit.

Singles can choose their Social Security retirement age without worry about how it may impact a spouse. But if you’re married, the equation changes.

Married

Born on or after January 2, 1954

With the November 2015 changes to the Social Security rules, there are few complex claiming options for those born on or after January 2, 1954. While both spouses can claim benefits as early as age 62, that rarely makes sense.

Married couples must consider joint life expectancy and the impact of the survivor benefit. Once they are both claiming, when the first person passes, it is the larger Social Security amount that continues.

Example. John and Joan are 71 and 69. John receives $3,800 a month, and Joan receives $1,640. John passes away. Joan continues to receive only the larger of the two amounts, the $3,800 month, which continues to go up with inflation, for the rest of her life.

As a couple, you must strategize to maximize the survivor benefit. Usually this means the highest wage-earner of the two claims at 70, however couples with age differences should run this through Social Security claiming software to determine an optimal claiming strategy customized to you.

Here’s a short list of things married couples should consider when filing for Social Security.

  • If you want to get the most income from a scenario where you are both long-lived, you’ll both wait until age 70 to begin benefits.
  • If you want to hedge a bit, and have a scenario that works well in the event one spouse lives longer and the other passes around their mid-80’s or earlier, than typically the lower earner starts benefits at their FRA, and the higher earner delays until age 70.
  • And if only one of you worked, then the non-working spouse can still file for a spousal benefit when the working spouse begins their retirement benefits.

The summary above is simplified. It’s always best to get personalized advice. Claiming Social Security is a permanent decision. Take the time to analyze your options and make a thoughtful choice.

Divorced

You must be age 62 or older, and have been married ten years or more to claim a benefit based on your ex-spouse’s record. It does not impact their benefit, nor their current spouse’s benefit amounts.

However, if your divorced spouse is 62, but has not yet filed, you must be divorced two years before you are eligible for a spousal benefit based on their record. For example, assume you are both 62, and just divorced. You need to wait two years, and thus be age 64, before you could claim a spousal benefit on your ex’s record.

If you ex had already filed for benefits there is no two-year requirement to be eligible for the spousal benefit (or ex-spousal benefit in this case).

Note these key differences between spousal benefits for married couples vs. for ex-spouses.

  • When you’re married, your spouse MUST file for their benefits before you can collect a spousal benefit.
  • With an ex-spouse, your ex does NOT have to file for you to be eligible for a spousal benefit. But they must have reached the age of eligibility (usually 62), and you must have been divorced two years or more.

Widow or Widower

Widows and widowers are eligible to claim Social Security survivor benefits as early as a retirement age of 60. In addition, if you are a widow or widower who did not remarry before age 60, and you and your late spouse worked, you have a unique claiming option that is not available to everyone.

Usually, when you file for Social Security benefits, you are deemed to be filing for all benefits you may be eligible for. However, widows and widowers have a unique option – they can file a restricted application regardless of their date of birth, and they do NOT have to wait until their FRA to use this claiming strategy. A widow or widower can CHOOSE to apply for only one benefit type – either their own or the survivor benefit – and that preserves their option to later switch to the other benefit type.

That means a widow who is no longer working can start her survivor benefit at age 60 (it would be a reduced benefit because she is starting early) and then at age 70 switch over to her own retirement benefit. There are many variations of this approach. For example, in cases where the deceased spouse was a much higher earner, it may make sense for the survivor to start their retirement benefit at age 62, then switch to their widow/widower benefit at their FRA.

Choosing retirement and choosing when to begin Social Security are two of the biggest financial decisions you’ll make in your lifetime. If there was ever a time to get professional advice, this is it.

For those looking for personal advice, Sensible Money offers customized retirement income plans where we provide a recommended Social Security claiming plan that considers taxes, your other accounts, pensions, and much more. Visit our Services page to learn more.