Americans can begin withdrawing Social Security checks at any time between age 62 and age 70. Age 62, or the first year of eligibility, is the most popular time to begin collecting: about 32 percent of men and 38 percent of women begin collecting benefits within a month of turning 62. And for many, it’s a sensible choice: some are out of the workforce or work in physically demanding, high-risk jobs.
But if you can afford to wait, you should. If you were born between 1946 and 1954, for example, claiming at 62 means a 25 percent smaller check than claiming at 66; claiming at 67, on the other hand, means 108 percent of your full benefit.
Beyond that basic rule, there are a variety of strategies to maximize your benefits. Mary Beth Franklin, a columnist with Kiplinger’s and InvestmentNews, has spent years sniffing out hidden Social Security check boosters and loopholes. One is the “file and suspend” strategy, which allows couples at full retirement age to boost their spousal benefits by filing for one spouse and delaying actually collecting until age 70, which still triggers the spousal benefits for your spouse.