Social Security Retirement Benefits: When to Retire by the Numbers
For most people that depend on social security benefits for their retirement income, the question is: when is the best time to take one’s retirement benefits. This article will compare the standard retirement age to both early retirement at reduced benefit levels versus waiting until the maximum benefits kick in at 70.
This article does not discuss the personal dynamics people find in their lives that lead them towards early retirement versus working past normal retirement age. What this article does present are facts and tables that reflect the unfettered numbers based on total income generated from retiring at different ages.
“The earliest age at which you can begin getting Social Security retirement benefits is 62.” (1)
For people born after 1943 the retirement age is 66. “For people born after 1959… Full retirement age is scheduled to increase by two months each year beginning in 2017 until it reaches 67 in 2022.” (1)
The breakdown is as follows: (2)
As of 2010, retiring at 62 the benefits are reduced by 25%. At 66, the benefits are calculated at 100%. If one retires at 70, the benefits are increased by 32%.
Let us assume that your monthly check is $1000. [This is not a bad assumption considering “the average monthly Social Security benefit for a retired worker is about $1,170 in 2010.” (1)] Then your check would be $750 at the age of 62 and $1320 at the age of 70. Naturally, in this simple example, no adjustment is being made for the annual payment increases due to the cost of living. See “Monthly Benefit Table” Below: (3)
Let’s take the example of triplets born on the same day (January 2) and let’s further assume they all retire with the same monthly check of $1000 per month. The first triplet (Tom) retires at age 62, Richard retires at 66 and Larry retires at 70. Let us see how long it would take for Richard to reach Tom’s total income. Likewise let us see how long it would take Larry to pass both his brothers. “Total Income Earned Retiring at 62, 66, & 70” Table illustrates the numbers. (4)
From Total Income Table, we see Richard passing his brother Tom when they both reach the end of their 78th birthday (in brown). Larry passes Tom a few months before their 82nd birthday (in red) and then Larry passes Richard few months before 84th birthday (in blue)!
What is interesting to note that is that Tom would have been retired 16 years before Richard passes him up and close to 19 years before his other brother Larry reaches him! This fact is extremely important when we take into consideration the statistical life expectancy that the three brothers can expect.
The “Life Expectancy” Table (5) gives us the most recent life expectance for males and females in 2006.
For this table, the period life expectancy at a given age represents the average number of years of life remaining if a group of persons at that age were to experience the mortality rates for 2006 over the course of their remaining life. This data is from the actuary tables provided by the social security administration.
If we take a moment to look at the retirement age of 62, we see that a man’s life expectancy is roughly 19 years! Coincidently the same amount of time it would take a person retiring at 62 to break even with a person retiring at 70! The difference being that the person retiring 8 years earlier would have had the advantage of enjoying their retirement 8 years longer!
While there may be many reasons to retire later in life, one should NOT give much weight about prolonging your retirement in order to earn more per monthly social security check. As the various social security tables show, it will take you between 16 to 19 years before you see more total earned retirement income; assuming that you live long enough to enjoy it!
(1) Social Security Information website:
(2) Information reproduced from
(3) Monthly Benefits Table reproduced from
(4) Table is self produced and entered into public domain on September 5, 2010
(5) Life Expectancy Table was reproduced from
(6) Photograph of social security card with money provided by www.corbis.com