Your Options

Learn More About Your Options

If you’re like many Americans, you’ve worked and contributed to the Social Security system for most of your life. Now, it’s time to decide when to start collecting your Social Security retirement benefits.

Making Smart Decisions

Making smart decisions about your retirement income isn’t always easy, but a financial professional can play a key role. A financial professional can help you:

  • Assess your retirement income needs
  • Evaluate different Social Security filing strategies
  • Develop a comprehensive retirement income strategy to help integrate your Social Security benefits with other sources of retirement income

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Answering the “Big Question”

Determining your full retirement age

Your Full Retirement Age (FRA) is the age at which you qualify for 100% of your Social Security benefits (known as your Primary Insurance Amount). Your FRA is based on your year of birth as shown below.

When you’re ready to start collecting benefits, you should apply for Social Security no more than four months before the date you want your benefits to start.

If you start collecting Social Security benefits and then change your mind about your choice of start date, you may be able to withdraw your claim and re-apply at a future date, provided you do so within 12 months of your original application for benefits. All benefits (including spousal and dependent benefits) must be repaid and you may only withdraw your application for benefits once in your lifetime.

* If you were born on January 1, use the prior year for “year of birth.”
Source for the chart above:, “Understanding The Benefits,” 2019.

Your Three Main Options

Three Main Options
You generally have three main options when it comes to choosing when to start collecting your benefits—often referred to as your Social Security “filing strategy.”

As you can see below, each filing strategy has advantages and disadvantages.

1Assumes individual is born in 1943 or later.

Weighing the Trade-offs

How does timing effect the benefit amount?
Here’s a hypothetical example that shows how monthly benefit amounts can differ based on the age you start collecting benefits.¹

This example assumes a benefit of $1,000 is available at Full Retirement Age (FRA) of 66 and 6 months.

You can use the table below to help weigh the trade-offs of starting early vs. waiting, based on your year of birth and your Full Retirement Age.

If you were born on January 1, use the prior year for “year of birth.”

1Amounts shown do not reflect any cost-of-living adjustments.
2Percentage reduction varies depending on your year of birth and Full Retirement Age. See table above for details. The reduction is 5/9 of one percent for each month before your Full Retirement Age, up to 36 months. If the number of months exceeds 36, then the benefit is reduced 5/12 of one percent per month in excess of 36.
3If you were born in 1943 or later, the delayed retirement credit is 8% each year.

Sources:, “When To Start Receiving Retirement Benefits,” 2019, and “Social Security Benefits – Effect of Early or Delayed Retirement on Retirement Benefits,” accessed May 21, 2019.

Other Things to Consider

Longevity plays a key role in determining which Social Security filing strategy may be more advantageous for you. Depending on how long you live, you could potentially receive more in lifetime benefits by waiting to start. The average life expectancy is now 83 for a 65-year-old male and 86 for a 65-year-old female.¹

Here’s a hypothetical example that shows total benefits paid through age 85 assuming three common starting ages. The example assumes a $1,000 monthly benefit is available at Full Retirement Age of 66 and 6 months. Amounts shown do not reflect any cost-of-living adjustments.²

1Source  for life expectancy data: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Health, United States, 2017,” Table 15.
2Note: Social Security benefits are adjusted each year to reflect the increase, if any, in the cost of living as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W).

Spousal Benefits

If you are married, you will generally receive the greater of:

  • Your own benefit based on your individual earnings record, if applicable, or
  • The spousal benefit: Up to 50% of your spouse’s full benefit.

The spousal benefit is based on your spouse’s Primary Insurance Amount at his or her Full Retirement Age. If your spouse waits to start collecting benefits in order to receive delayed retirement credits, these credits will not  increase the amount of your spousal benefit. In addition, you cannot collect on your spouse’s record until your spouse files for benefits.

Collecting Prior to Full Retirement Age (FRA)
Here’s an example that shows the impact of collecting early (at age 62). It assumes your spouse’s monthly benefit at Full Retirement Age is $1,000 and you are not entitled to any Social Security benefit based on your own earnings record.

If you start collecting the spousal benefit prior to your own Full Retirement Age, the spousal benefit is reduced by up to 35%.¹ ² Note: The reduction (calculation) will differ if you are also entitled to benefits based on your earnings record.

* If you were born on January 1, use the prior year for “year of birth.”

1When an individual files for benefits they are generally considered to be filing for all Social Security benefits to which they are entitled.
2A spousal benefit is reduced 25/36 of one percent for each month before Full Retirement Age, up to 36 months. If the number of months exceeds 36, then the benefit is reduced 5/12 of one percent per month in excess of 36.

Source:, “Social Security Benefits – Benefit Reduction for Early Retirement”, accessed May 21, 2019. Example based on a $1,000 primary insurance amount.

Continuing to Work

If you plan to continue working after you start collecting Social Security benefits, you should know that some of your benefits may be withheld. If you have family members, such as a spouse, who receive benefits based on your record, earnings from work may also reduce the benefits they receive. Please check with the Social Security Administration for complete details.

What’s considered work (earned income)?

  • Wages you make from your job prior to reaching Full Retirement Age
  • Your net profit if you are self-employed
  • Bonuses
  • Commissions
  • Vacation pay

Unearned income, such as that from annuities, investments, interest, or pensions (government or private), will not impact your benefits.

If you are working and:

Earnings limits shown are for 2019. Note: if your spouse is working, his or her earnings do not count toward your earnings limit.

Keep in mind, if some of your benefits are withheld because of work, your benefits will be increased starting at Full Retirement Age to take into account those months in which benefits were withheld.

You should also know that continuing to work while receiving benefits may result in a larger benefit amount in the future. If your latest year of earnings turns out to be one of your highest years, Social Security automatically refigures your benefit and pays you any increase due.

10Applies only to earnings before the month you reach your Full Retirement Age.

Sources:, “Benefits Planner – Retirement: Getting Benefits While Working, and “How We Deduct Earnings from Benefits,” accessed May 21, 2019.