You have considerable flexibility for when you can begin receiving your benefits.
As the accompanying illustration shows, the full retirement age, i.e., the age at which full retirement benefits are payable, depends upon when you were born.
Age for Receiving Full Social Security Retirement Benefits
(Important Note: Though full retirement age varies, you also may want to consider applying for Medicare benefits three months before your 65th birthday; if you wait longer, your Medicare medical insurance and prescription drug coverage could cost you more.)
You may begin receiving benefits as early as age 62, though your benefits will be reduced at a rate of about one-half of 1% for each month you begin taking Social Security before your full retirement age.³
You may choose to delay receiving benefits until after attaining your full retirement age, in which case, your benefits are scheduled to increase by 8% annually. This increase under current law will be automatically added each month from the moment you reach full retirement age until you start taking benefits or reach age 70—the age at which these delayed retirement credits stop accruing. Plus, your benefit also will increase by any cost of living adjustments applied to benefit payment levels during that time.⁴
If you plan on continuing to work, you may still receive the full benefit for which you are eligible. Indeed, working beyond full retirement age can increase your benefits. However, your benefits will be reduced if your earnings exceed certain limits. If you work and start receiving benefits before full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced by $1 for every $2 in earnings above the prevailing annual limit ($17,040 in 2018).⁵
If you continue to work during the year in which you attain full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced by $1 for every $3 in earnings over a different annual limit ($45,360 in 2018) until the month you reach full retirement age.
Once you have attained full retirement age, you can keep working and your benefits under current law will not be reduced, regardless of how much you earn.
As you can see, the decision of when to begin taking Social Security is a critical one.