Social Security serves as a major income source for millions of retirees, and for those without much in the way of savings, it's a lifeline. If you're behind on retirement plan contributions, or are worried about covering your bills as a senior, then it's important that do everything in your power to make the most of your benefits.
Thankfully, one simple move could score you a higher monthly Social Security benefit for life. If you delay your benefits past full retirement age, you'll boost them by 8% a year, up until age 70. It's a move that 23% of Americans in their 50s and 60s plan to make, according to the May 2020 Simplywise Retirement Confidence Index, and it's one worth considering if you're looking to buy yourself some added financial security later in life.
Why delaying benefits pays off
Your Social Security benefits are calculated based on your 35 top-earning years in the workforce. But the age you file for benefits at will determine the amount you ultimately collect each month as a senior.
If you claim benefits at your full retirement age, you'll get the exact amount you're eligible for based on your earnings record. Here's what full retirement age looks like, based on the year you were born:
Year of Birth
Full Retirement Age
66 and 2 months
66 and 4 months
66 and 6 months
66 and 8 months
66 and 10 months
1960 or later
Now you're allowed to file for benefits before full retirement age, starting at age 62, but in doing so, you'll reduce them in the process. On the flipside, delaying benefits will give you an automatic raise -- one that will stay in effect for as long as you collect Social Security.
So should you delay benefits? If you're already far along in your career and you don't have much savings, then doing so makes a lot of sense. Though there's no single savings amount that guarantees you won't have money problems in retirement, as a rule of thumb, it's smart to close out your career with 10 times your ending salary in an IRA or 401(k), or wherever you're housing your savings. If you're 59 years old earning $80,000 annually and you only have $50,000 socked away for the future, you should probably plan on delaying Social Security.
Furthermore, Americans are living longer these days, and while that's a good thing in theory, it poses a challenge from a savings perspective. Many seniors go into retirement thinking they'll be set if their savings last 20 years, only to live well into their 90s and deplete their nest eggs prematurely. By boosting your monthly Social Security benefit, you'll buy yourself what we'll call longevity protection -- even if you outlive your savings, Social Security will have to keep paying you that higher benefit for life.
Of course, there's one scenario where it doesn't pay to delay Social Security, and that's if your health is poor. But otherwise, think about the upside of postponing benefits past full retirement age and consider a later filing age than the one you may have initially planned on. You don't necessarily have to delay benefits all the way until 70, but putting them off even a year could make a huge difference in the grand scheme of your retirement.
The $16,728 Social Security bonus most retirees completely overlook
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