The question has gotten harder to answer in the last few years.
Ric Edelman is a co-founder of Edelman Financial Engines. The following is taken from his weekly radio call-in show.
Question: I’ll turn 66 years old in a few months. I could sign up for Social Security now and would receive only $13 per month less than if I waited until I’m 66 and can earn as much as I want without affecting my benefits. I’m earning about $70,000 a year, and I’ve been frugal my whole life. I’d like to start my benefits now so I could have a little more to spend. Should I?
Ric: Your question used to be much easier to answer. In my book The Truth About Money I tell you to take the money as soon as you’re eligible — as young as 62, even though you get only 80% of the benefit at that age. The argument for this: You don’t know how long you’re going to live. You could wait until you’re 70 and get more than 100% of your stated benefit, but you might not live that long — or you might need the money now. So even though you could receive more money later, that doesn’t do you any good if you have bills to pay today.
Today, however, the answer is far more complicated because of nuanced rules within the Social Security system. The goal, of course, is to maximize the income you will receive from Social Security — but that depends on your age, current income, marital status, spouse’s income, and the age disparity between you and your spouse.
Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all, rule-of-thumb answer that I can give you. Besides the aforementioned factors, the best answer for you has to do with how much steady income you need, how much other income you have and the sources of that income. It depends on whether your pension or retirement plan incomes are placed where they are maximally taxed. It depends on your Medicare and Medicaid eligibility. It affects the taxes you’ll pay on investment income — all this can get absurdly complicated.
Offhand I’d say sure, take the money now. You’ve been working your whole life, delaying your gratification. You’ve been a frugal, responsible and mature adult. Who cares if taking the money now isn’t the optimal approach?
In other words, if taking the money now enables you to enjoy yourself a little bit more and a bit sooner, if you can afford it and doing so doesn’t adversely impact you or your spouse over the rest of your lifetimes, then sure, go ahead! But I’d much rather you reached this answer after a full review by an independent financial planner.