Editors' pick: Originally published Dec. 2.
One of the biggest decisions any American must make pre-retirement is when to take Social Security.
According to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, the most popular age for taking Social Security is indeed 62, despite that fact Americans are locking in lower payments for life. Some 42% of men and 48% of women take benefits at 62.
The fact is that monthly benefits increase by 8% a year between 62 and 66, which is full retirement age for many. Waiting until 70 bumps benefits another 30%. And while 70 is the age recommended by many financial planners, only about 2% of Americans wait that long.
With all that in mind, when is the best age to take Social Security? Should you take it early, at retirement age, or wait till 70?
"It's a much bigger decision than a break-even analysis," says Justin Halverson, co-founder of Great Waters Financial in Minneapolis. "Social Security is a very controversial topic. A lot of people will tell you everybody should wait till 70. Other people say when you retire, take it the next day."
"I think you have to look at it in light of a much bigger plan," he adds. "You have to look at longevity. I'd prefer that people plan for longevity. Maybe they leave money on table with Social Security. It's better than the alternative, if you plan of early death and live and run out of your assets."
Josiah Grauso, financial advisor with ASC Financial Group in Allentown, Pa. and a certified National Social Security Advisor, says there is no on right answer.
"There are so many people on opposite sides talking to everybody - people, advisors, who think you should take it early or later. It is a divided issue. It is not a single decision that could be made right for everybody."
Grauso says the worst thing someone can do is to take Social Security benefits early, and then go back to work between 62 and full retirement age. "You will get full-time reduction for rest of your life, and you are subject to the income threshold," he says.
That's especially true in the Poconos, where he's based. In particular, there are a lot of teachers he sees who have the goal of replacing some income.
"People have grandiose views of what retirement will be and plan to do this and other thing," he says. "But people are just bored. There are only so many times you can play golf or clip bushes. Now they can have a detrimental view of retirement and Social Security benefits, because they got the reduced benefit and are over the (income) threshold."
"Do your research to optimize it," says Jeanne Thompson, senior vice president at Fidelity Investments in Boston. "Many people may take it too early. They may be better off waiting."
In fact, Fidelity has a Social Security Optimizer Tool. "One of the biggest mistakes people make is not taking [Social Security] at the appropriate time," she says. "Waiting can drastically increase the benefit. Do a little research."
"The best advice is proper planning," says Grauso. "You cannot make this decision in a vacuum."
Says Halverson: "The biggest advice would be to consider your Social Security not just a decision about when to take it and when do you break even. Consider the decision as part of a more complicated tax strategy that will allow you to be more secure. By adding guaranteed income and you would keep more money by reducing your tax bill if you use the delay of Social Security as an opportunity to spend it down and convert IRAs into Roth."