A:

You can begin collecting Social Security retirement benefits on your own account any time between ages 62 and 70. However, if you choose to begin collecting before you have reached full retirement age, your benefits will be temporarily reduced. Should you begin to collect at age 62, your benefits will be reduced by 25% to 30%, depending on when you will reach full retirement age. Full retirement age is between ages 66 and 67, depending on your year of birth.

For example, if you reach age 62 in 2017 and choose to retire early, your benefits will be reduced by 25.83%, as the full retirement age for those born in 1955 is 66 and 2 months. For those who retire before reaching full retirement age but after age 62, benefits will be reduced by a smaller percentage.

The temporary reduction in benefits is required to compensate for the additional years of collection incurred by those who retire early. Once you have reached full retirement age, your benefits will revert to the normal amount based on your wage history and other factors, such as collection of a public pension.

The other side of this coin is that for those who decide to retire later, benefits will be increased accordingly through a system of delayed retirement credits. Each year that you defer retirement between full retirement age and age 70 earns a deferred retirement credit equal to an additional percentage of your normal benefit amount. The value of each credit changes from year to year, so it is best to consult the Social Security Administration website for exact values based on your date of birth. As of 2017, for those born in 1943 or later, each year of deferred retirement is worth an additional 8% in benefits, or two-thirds of 1% each month. This means that for someone born in 1948 retiring in 2017 at age 69, three years past the full retirement age, benefits would be increased by 24%. However, this rate is subject to change each year, so if you have already reached full retirement age but have not yet reached age 70 and plan on deferring retirement past the end of 2017, be sure to consult the website for updated information. The SSA site also contains useful links to various benefit calculators to help you estimate the amount of your benefits based on your age, wage history, and age of retirement.

If you are the surviving spouse of a deceased worker, you may be eligible to collect benefits on his or her account as early as age 60 or as late as your full retirement age. The amount of the benefit will be determined by the age of your spouse, his or her wage history, and whether or not he or she had begun collecting benefits prior to death. Just as above, benefits will be reduced for those who begin collecting before full retirement age, though at a different rate. However, should you choose to collect spousal benefits at age 60, you will still able to switch to collecting your own retirement benefits after age 62 should your own wage history result in a higher benefit amount.

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