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Health and Benefits

Applying for Social Security Retirement Income

This is a decision that requires thought and planning. Taking benefits early means getting a reduced payment.  Delaying benefits until age 70 will result in a larger monthly payment. There are pros and cons to either option. You need to consider multiple factors before making a decision.

  First: you need to know your full retirement age.
    Born in the year     Full retirement age
    1943-1954               66
    1955                       66 and 2 months
    1956                       66 and 4 month
    1957                       66 and 6 months
    1958                       66 and 8 months
    1959                       66 and 10 months
    1960 or later            67

Once you know your full retirement age, you can consider other factors, such as your health, the type of job you have and your financial circumstances.  If you are in poor health and have difficulty making ends meet, you should consider taking benefits early.  You will get less money each month, but you will have more time to enjoy the benefits you receive.  Similarly, if you have a relatively low paying job and your spouse earns considerably more than you do, it might be worthwhile to take your benefits early.  On the other hand, if you come from a family where seniors live into their 90’s, you might want to consider delaying benefits.  Either way, it is a gamble.

The average life expectancy for women, age 65, in the United States is currently 86.6 years.  For a 65 year old male, the average is 84.3 years.  Consider those averages in weighing your options.

Reduced Benefits for Early Retirement

Second:  You need to consider the lifetime consequences of taking reduced benefits.  If you decide to retire at age 62, you can expect a benefit reduction of at least 25%. That reduced rate will continue for your lifetime.  However, you will also be collecting money for 4 additional years.

If you were born in 1954, and elected to retire at age 62, you have a 25% reduction in your Social Security benefits. That reduction will decrease every month beyond your 62nd birthday that you choose to work.  If you were born in 1955 and retire at age 62, the reduction in your benefits will be 25.83%.  By the time people born in 1960 are eligible to retire at age 62, the reduction will be 30%.  As the age for full retirement benefits increases over the coming years, the penalty for retiring at age 62 will also increase.  

The reduction percentage is: 5/9 of 1% per month for the first 36 months and 5/12 of 1% for each additional month.  In other words, if you retire this year on your 63rd birthday, (3 years before your full retirement date) your benefits will be reduced 5/9 of 1% for each month of the 36 months of early retirement. If you retired on your 62nd birthday, your benefits will be reduced 5/9 of 1% for 36 months and 5/12 of 1% for the last 12 months.  This is because you are retiring 48 months before age 66.  These calculations are very confusing.  You can go to the Social Security website to access tools to calculate how much your benefits will be reduced if you choose to retire before your full retirement date. The website benefits calculator will enable you to determine the benefits you will receive at age 62, 63, 64, 65 or any date during those years preceding your full retirement date.

Third:  The other issue that early retirees should consider is continuing earnings.  Once you reach full retirement age, you can collect your Social Security benefit and earn as much income as you want with no restrictions on your earnings. However, between the ages of 62 and your full retirement age, Social Security beneficiaries are limited in how much they can earn. For 2016, the maximum allowed earnings was $15,720.  For 2017, the limit is $16,920.  If you take early retirement benefits and earn more than the limit, $1.00 will be deducted from your monthly check for every $2.00 over the limit you earn.  More earnings are allowed for those who reach their full retirement age this year.
Deciding when to take your Social Security Retirement is a critical decision.  You need to review your personal and financial needs before you decide.  You may even want to consult a financial planner.

Applying for Social Security Retirement

You can fill out your application on-line at the Social Security website or you can visit your local Social Security office to make your application. The online application process is fairly simple.  The advantages are: you can fill out your application in the comfort of your own home; you have the opportunity to correct mistakes; and you can take your time completing the application. The application will ask you questions about your family, your work and your personal statistics. You can complete the application in one session or take several sessions at the computer to get it finished.  If you need to look up information, you can close out the application and come back to it later. You don’t need to mail your application.  When you are finished, click “submit now” to send your application. You will receive an online receipt which you can print and keep for your records.

To apply for Social Security, you will need some information about yourself and your work history. You will need:

Your date and place of birth (need your original birth certificate).

  1. Your Social Security number.
  2. Spouses’ Social Security number and date of birth.
  3. Place of marriage.
  4. Date of divorce or death of spouse, if applicable.
  5. Names of unmarried children under 18 and any disabled children under 22.
  6. Your bank account information if you want direct deposit.
  7. Name and address of your employers from this year and last year.
  8. The amount of money you earned last year, and estimated income for this year and next.
  9. A copy of last year’s W-2 or self-employment tax return.
  10. Your earnings record (Your Social Security Statement has this information.)
  11. Records of any active duty military service before 1968.

This is not an exhaustive list.  Depending on your circumstances, the Administration may require other documents.
If you are not particularly computer savvy or if you have questions about the process, you might want to go to your local Social Security office and fill out your application with the help of a Social Security representative.You can also apply over the phone.

Once you have applied for Social Security, the Administration will review your application. Social Security will contact you if it needs more information or documentation of your claim. The Administration will also inform you if you are eligible to receive benefits on another person’s work record, such as your spouse.

When Can You Apply for Social Security Retirement?

In order to apply, you need to be at least 61 years and 9 months old. However, you won’t actually receive any benefits until you turn 62. Once you turn 62, you can apply at any time and usually begin receiving benefits the same month. The Social Security Administration recommends that you apply for benefits no more than 4 months before you want the benefits to start.



Brandon, Emily, “6 Social Security Chances Coming in 2017,”US News, 18 Oct. 2016, Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.

Frankel, Matthew, “Your 2017 Guide to Social Security Benefits,” The Motley Fool, 1 Jan. 2017, Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.

“Retirement Benefits,” Social Security Administration, May 2016, Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.

“How Far in Advance can I Apply for Social Security Retirement Benefits,” Social Security Administration, Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.

“What Happens if I Work and Get Social Security Benefits?” Social Security Administration, 11 Mar. 2016, . Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.

Social Security Administration, Accessed 20 Jan. 2017.

This website has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information on this website is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state-to-state or county-to-county, so that some information in this website may not be correct for your situation. Finally, the information contained on this website is not guaranteed to be up to date. Therefore, the information contained in this website cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your jurisdiction.