Canonical List of Reasons to Start or Defer Social Security

By Alan Silverstein, Fort Collins, Colorado. Email me at
Last updated June 12, 2024

When should you start your retirement or similar Social Security benefit payments? First a very brief summary of considerations:

Discussion and longer list: Once eligible for SS (Social Security) benefits (in the USA), in many common cases (retirement, spousal, ex-spousal, and survivor) you can start (take it) sooner, but at a discounted rate for life, or defer (wait for) benefits, to receive a higher monthly payout for life. The usual range for starting SS retirement benefits is ages 62-70; other benefits vary. (Many pensions/annuities also have this feature, but with different age ranges and discount rates.)

There are a remarkable number of valid reasons both for starting sooner and for deferring.

Here is a hopefully comprehensive list of all the reasons that I could locate (and tease apart) for each alternative, with minimal digression into explaining each one -- you should search for details. You can decide which arguments matter the most to you. My main goal is to help you minimize regrets due to later learning about factors that mattered to you, but you overlooked.

In general, as John Diamant observed: A lot of people start SS too early, and adopt unnecessary longevity risk because they underestimate life expectancy, or otherwise don't understand the complex tradeoffs; or, they buy an annuity when they would be better off instead deferring SS for whichever member of a couple has a higher benefit pending.

Start ASAP (usually age 62)

Defer Until Age FRA or 70

Some benefit types max out at your FRA (SS Full Retirement Age), while basic retirement benefits grow if deferred until age 70.

And what about some of each?

In principle, before age 62 you should pick the "right month to start" for yourself, based on whatever are your personal criteria and values. And then for as long as you are still deferring, if those criteria and values change, be prepared to revise that and start sooner.

But in practice I observe a lot of people (who don't otherwise start earlier, at age 62 or retirement before FRA) "binding themselves" to their FRA, that is, settling on deferring until their SS-defined FRA, then starting. Especially for SS retirement benefits, there's nothing too special about your FRA. So long as you defer, your lifetime monthly amount continues to rise (at a slightly different rate) until age 70 (but retroactive claiming up to 6 months does become possible at FRA). I understand how your FRA is a tangible external reference point that can "feel right", and also simplify the start/defer decision (as mentioned above as one reason not to defer).

DRC timing of starting benefits

If you defer past your FRA (full retirement age, 65-67, depends on your birth year), and for any reason (choice or necessity) you start retirement benefits before age 70, and you care and have a choice, for best results (second-order optimization), apply (up to 4 months ahead) to begin in January (of the year you turn 67, 68, 69, or 70). Why? Because your DRC (delayed retirement credits) of 8%/year (2/3%/month) between FRA and 70 are only applied at the start of each year (unless you wait until age 70, then they're immediate).

Worst case: If you start in July, you permanently lose 6 months of credits (accrued Jan-Jun) for the next 6 months of the year (Jul-Dec), equivalent to 2% (6*6/12*2/3%) of your annual benefit. (Worst because, for example if you start in June, you lose up to 5 months of DRC depending on how long ago was your FRA, for 7 remaining months of the year, or 35 (not 36) x 2/3%; in Feb (or Dec), you lose 1 DRC month for 11 months (or 11 for 1), etc.) Starting in January, if all goes well you lose 0 for 0, because you get the full 12 credits (8%) for last year, and are paid in full every month this year.

Good luck!

PS about calculator tool

You might want to check out this open source tool for playing with your benefits analysis. I've only glanced at it, but others think it's great, and it does look snazzy.