Who Is Taking Early Social Security Benefits?

iStock_000016260467SmallFinancial planners have been advising us to wait as long as possible to collect Social Security to maximize the benefit. A new study finds that many middle-income workers haven’t heeded that call. They were more likely than higher earners to claim their benefit early and live on a permanently reduced payout for the rest of their lives.

According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, workers took their benefit early for a variety of reasons: They didn’t expect to live past 75; they were chronically unemployed or underemployed and needed the income; or they tapped their benefit early due to work-related factors or other situations.

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For instance, workers who held physically demanding blue-collar jobs at ages 60 to 62 were 55 percent more likely to claim their Social Security benefit early. The same held true for people who had put in at least 35 years on the job by the time they reached ages 60 to 62. They were 38 percent more likely to tap their benefit by age 62, the GAO report said.

On the flip side, workers in managerial or professional jobs at ages 60 to 62 were more inclined to delay collecting their benefit, the GAO report said.

AARP senior strategic adviser Sara Rix pointed out another possible motivation for claiming early: Social Security replaces a higher proportion of pre-retirement earnings of lower-wage workers than of higher-wage employees. The weighted benefit formula is based on the assumption that higher-wage workers have more options (with better pay, perhaps a pension) to set aside money for retirement on their own than their lower-wage counterparts.

Still, Rix says, not everyone has a choice about when to take their retiree benefit.

“For many workers – especially the unemployed and those in physically demanding jobs – Social Security is a lifeline, a guaranteed source of inflation-protection income that they can count on until they die. And their spouses can count on it as well,” Rix says. “That is what early benefits are for.”

Read: When to Claim Social Security Benefits

For workers in jobs “that are conducive to working longer, it can make sense to wait to collect Social Security,” she says. “Monthly benefits increase, and those higher benefits can be very important later in life when other sources of income are diminished and going back to work is not an option. Plus, benefits for surviving spouses will be higher.”

Determining when to take Social Security can be the most important financial decision a retiree makes. For every year folks delay collecting a benefit, from ages 62 and 70, the amount will rise by about 8 percent. Or put another way, a 62-year-old who claims an early benefit in 2014 will get 25 percent less each month than if a benefit was claimed at age 66.

Generally, the earliest one can collect a retiree benefit is at age 62. The full retirement claiming age rises to 67 for people born in 1960 or later.

The GAO, which conducted the study in part to examine why people claim their benefit early, showed that waiting to collect a benefit boosted workers’ ability to live comfortably through the early years of retirement. It said households in which workers delayed claiming Social Security until at least their full retirement age had a 45 percent higher median income (that’s after claiming their benefit) than those who took it early – $71,907 compared with $49,612 annually. By the time they reached age 72, the workers who delayed their benefit had a 33 percent higher median income than those who took it early.

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It all evens out in the end, the report said, assuming you live to an average life expectancy. At that point, the lifetime benefit amount you receive should be about the same regardless of the age at which you began benefits.


Photo: CEFutcher/iStock


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verymery 5pts

I originally went to the IRS to get my lifetime earnings as proof of income for many errors I found in my records with the SSA. I got on with the IRS and downloaded my ‘ten years’ minus 04, 05 and 06 which they have no record of. They only let us see ten years! How convenient for them! They have no record of any income for 04, 05 and 06 even though I am staring right at them… AND...I found penalty after penalty for ‘late’ payments on a tax debt I had that took me 6 years to pay off, and it’s right there in black and white…the payment was on time and they immediately charged me a hundred dollar late fee...sometimes two weeks later! There are a dozen of them!! I asked them along the way, why my balance was not going down and was informed that it was because I could not pay it off. They have no record of the $5,430.00 I paid them in 07and 08 …and my last payment was not until 2012! I thought I was going to have a heart attack.?? I called my bookkeeper and she is going to look over everything and advise me what step to take next. I was also advised that I may have to hire a tax attorney. Great...I over pay, they don?t give me the proper credit for payment OR income and now I have to pay an attorney to straighten this mess out,… plus sit in a Social Security office for an entire day.….and ‘my bad’ for not paying closer attention! I am lucky to have kept ten years of records but what about all the other years??? And they tell us to throw everything out after five…. I am not very happy right now........................

I earn less than $39,000 a year and I am 60 years old. There were two years out of 44 that I could not pay my taxes. The records they have kept will not give me the proper credit when I retire at 70...and I will still work. I realize I will not live a life of luxury but I want what I have paid to be correct. I have always considered myself a Patriot. I love my country …even with its short comings. I have always fought the good fight and will continue to do so....and I suppose maybe I should have worked harder to be better educated...but of course this is hindsight... The occupation I have is a necessary one just the same. We pay our taxes…we file our papers…we follow the rules and perhaps some of us trust too much….