Deciding when to apply for Social Security is an important decision, and for some people, a very difficult decision to make. Understanding when you are eligible to receive your Social Security benefits can help you plan ahead for your retirement.

When To Enroll in Retirement Benefits
The choice to begin accepting benefits as early as allowed versus delaying until full retirement age or later is a personal one. Regardless of the age you choose to collect, the payment schedule hinges on the month of your birthday. In the case of family survivors, the point of reference is the birthday of the deceased who earned enough credits for the family to be eligible for survivor benefits.

Schedule of SS payments
Social Security benefits are not prorated. They start the month following the birthday. The schedule, according to AARP, follows this rule: When the birth date falls between the 1st and 10th of the month, the payment is issued on the second Wednesday of the month following the birthday month. For birth dates between the 11th and 20th of the month, expect to be paid on the third Wednesday after the birthday month. For birth dates from the 21st through the last date of the month, recipients will have to wait until the fourth Wednesday of the month that follows the birthday.

Consequences of Early Retirement
The reason people struggle with the decision of whether to collect at age 62, full retirement or 70 is the exponential difference in benefits. Contrary to what some believe, 66 is not always the full retirement age as defined by the SSA. Retirement age varies with the beneficiary’s year of birth, ranging anywhere from age 65, for retirees born in 1937 or earlier, to age 67 for those born in 1960 or later.

Because the full retirement age increases every year, the length of time between age 62 and full retirement age increases accordingly. Therefore, the impact of collecting early varies with the year of birth and results in a differential that ranges from 20-30%. For example, for someone born in 1955, a retirement benefit of $1000 at full retirement age would be reduced to $741 at age 62. Individuals born in 1959 who retire at 62 will see that $1000 benefit reduced to $700.

How to Apply for SS Benefits
When you are ready to apply for retirement benefits, the online application is the easiest method for most retirees. No longer is there a need to schedule an appointment and travel to the local SSA office. Electronic applications should be quick and stress-free, done at your own convenience in the comfort of your own home. The only restriction is language. Currently, the online application is in English only. Applicants who require a different language will need to make an appointment.

When to File for SS Benefits
The earliest the SSA will accept your application is four months in advance. Given that the payment is released during the month after your birthday, mark your calendar to submit the application three months before your birthday. Note that the same application can be used to apply for Medicare as well if you are not yet collecting. The form is appropriate for either retirement and Medicare or Medicare alone.

When selecting the age to claim Social Security benefits, consider your health status and projected longevity along with the financial impact. For some people, having some income, even if not the maximum, is the right choice for them and their families.

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