Seniors can start taking Social Security the first month they turn 62. But is that always the most financially sound choice?

Experts say there are several factors to consider before doing so.

For those born between 1943 and 1954, the “full retirement age” is 66 years old. The full retirement age goes up two months every year after 1954 until 1960 when it is age 67, said Patty Hoffman, a public affairs specialist for the Social Security Administration.

For example, the “full retirement age” for someone born in 1956 is 66 years and four months.

Hoffman said seniors won’t get their full benefit if they begin taking it before full retirement age.

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“So if your retirement age is 66 and you start drawing your benefits at age 62, it is a 25% reduction in your monthly payment,” Hoffman said. “For those whose retirement age is 67, they will see a 30% reduction if they start drawing their benefits at age 62.”

The only exception to this is for widows and widowers. A widow can start collecting benefits at age 60, Hoffman said.

Things to consider

Libby Kathman, who works at the Grand Forks Senior Center as a senior health insurance counselor, said she also often gets questions about social security benefits.

“This is a very personal thing,” Kathman said. “Some people depend on Social Security.”

People are living longer, Kathman said, and therefore relying on Social Security checks for much longer than people used to.

Hoffman said seniors should consider how much income they will need in retirement.

“Social security only replaces about 40% of your pre-retirement income,” Hoffman said. “So you’ll need to look at your expenses.”

The need for health insurance should also play into someone’s decision to take out their Social Security benefit.

“Will you need health insurance?” Hoffman said. “If you do, some people may wait until age 65 when they’re eligible for Medicare. Another consideration may be someone’s health or their family history. Will you have lots of medical costs? Those are some of the things that people need to look at.”

Kathman said as prescription drug costs increase, she sees seniors waiting until 65 so they can enroll in Medicare.

How the Social Security benefit will impact someone’s taxable income is also something to consider, Hoffman said.

If a senior is under their retirement age, they are subject to an annual earnings limit of $17,640 per year, Hoffman said. The Social Security Administration will take $1 for every $2 over that amount.

“Once someone reaches their full retirement age, they can draw their Social Security plus make as much as they want and it doesn’t affect their Social Security benefit,” Hoffman said. “If they are under their full retirement age, then that’s when we look at their earnings limit.”

Ultimately, the choice of when to take out one’s Social Security benefit is personal.

“At the end of the day, it is a personal choice,” Kathman said. “People might have travel plans, plans to move to where their children are. They might not want to work until they die.”

Online tools

Seniors can check the amount of their benefit online.

Hoffman said the Social Security Administration has an online calculator that can give seniors an estimate of what they could receive.

“What’s nice about this calculator is that you can put in ‘what-if’ scenarios,” Hoffman said. “You can put in if you’re going to work at 63, it will tell you what your benefit is going to be.”

The calculator can be found at www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.

Social Security statements can now also be found online.

“This can tell you what your benefit would be, what happens if you were to pass away, etc.,” Hoffman said. “These tools are extremely helpful in planning.”

These statements can be found at www.socialsecurity.gov/account. Seniors can also call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 for help with their benefits.