By Nick Massey
October 4, 2022

When to take social security

The biggest factors in your social security timeline decision should be life expectancy and spousal support.

One of the most common questions I get asked is, “When should I start taking my social security?” Like most people, I’m sure you paid a lot into the system over your working lifetime, and you want to get the maximum amount for the longest period of time.

So, do you take the benefits early, or do you hold out until full retirement age (currently 66 or so)? Or do you hold out even longer, perhaps to age 70, for an even larger payout? One factor is life expectancy. If we knew for sure when we were going to die, then it’s relatively simple math to calculate the best option. While you likely have no idea how long you will be here before you leave this earth, we can at least make an educated guess. For example, if you lead a reasonably healthy lifestyle, watch your diet, and exercise, the chances are pretty good that you will beat the averages. That’s not always the case, but at least it gives you a decent shot.

At the same time, family history is an important factor also. If most members of your family, particularly your parents, lived to be fairly old, your odds of doing the same are pretty good. However, if few or none of your family members ever made it past their 70s, you might want to start your social security as early as possible.

When it comes to social security payments, the people in charge have done the math. It’s actuarially equal to them if Americans as a group take less money earlier or more money later. Based on average life expectancy, the expected cost to Social Security is the same either way. The question for you individually is whether you expect to live longer or shorter than the average American.

Based on today’s numbers, when choosing between retiring at 62 or 66, the breakeven age is a little over 77. In other words, the higher payout you get from waiting to 66 equals the longer payout you’d get from taking it at 62 by the time you’re 77 years old. If you expect to live longer than that, you’ve made a “profit” by waiting to take the payout later. If you die before then, you would take a “loss,” as you wouldn’t have been collecting the higher payouts long enough to compensate for starting later. (Other restrictions apply when taking social security before 66.) The breakeven age between starting social security at 66 versus 70 is between 82 and 83. If you expect to live past 83, it makes sense to wait until 70 to start taking social security payments.

But there is more to consider than just numbers. Maybe you are on a tight retirement budget, and you just need the money. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Some people don’t care about the math and say, “I want the money now so I can save it, spend it, or give it to my grandkids, my church, or a charity.” There are no right or wrong answers here.

One final factor to consider is the amount going to a surviving spouse. When one spouse dies, the surviving spouse will receive the higher of the two social security amounts, but NOT both. It might make sense to get the social security amount of one spouse as high as possible because that is the amount the surviving spouse will get.

If you’re like me and plan to still push the envelope at 100, you might want to maximize the household social security as much as possible. It’s a lifestyle question that only you can answer. Of course, if I check out at 95 rather than 100 because of too many cheeseburgers, that’s five fewer years as a grumpy old man riding in a motorized scooter and yelling at young punks to get off my grass. But I digress.

Just remember, taking the money today means lower benefits later, so make sure you’re okay with that. If you’re still confused or have questions, please call us, and we’ll help you run the numbers and help you decide. Thanks for reading.

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About Nick Massey

Nick Massey is a retired financial advisor and CFP, and former President of Massey Financial Services. He can be reached at