The COVID-19 crisis has forced a lot of people to change their financial plans, and that extends to retirement. In fact, 14% of people now say they plan to delay their Social Security benefits as a result of the pandemic, according to a new Nationwide survey. But is that a smart move for you?
Why it pays to delay your benefits
Your Social Security benefits are calculated based on your earnings during your 35 highest-paid years in the workforce. From there, you're entitled to your full monthly benefit once you reach full retirement age (FRA). Here's what FRA looks like, depending on the year you were born:
Year of Birth
Full Retirement Age
66 and 2 months
66 and 4 months
66 and 6 months
66 and 8 months
66 and 10 months
1960 or later
For each year you hold off on claiming benefits past FRA, they increase by 8%, up until you turn 70, at which point there's no sense in delaying your filing any longer. As such, a benefit worth $1,500 a month (roughly what the average senior on Social Security collects today) at FRA could turn into $1,860 a month at age 70 and stay that way for the rest of your life.
With that in mind, here are some scenarios where it pays to delay your benefits:
1. You're able to keep working
There's no sense in racking up debt in the course of delaying your benefits. If you're forced to stop working at FRA and need your benefits to pay your bills, then delaying them doesn't make sense. But if you're able to extend your career so that you don't need your benefits at FRA, then delaying them could result in a much higher monthly payout -- one you might as well collect.
2. You don't have a lot of retirement savings
Many Americans were behind on retirement savings before the pandemic, and now, even more so. If your IRA or 401(k) balance isn't where you need it to be, or you've had no choice but to take an early withdrawal from your retirement savings to cover expenses during the COVID-19 crisis, then delaying Social Security is a really good way to compensate.
3. You think you'll live a reasonably long life
Social Security is actually supposed to pay you the same lifetime benefit (not monthly benefit), more or less, regardless of when you initially file, but that assumes you live an average lifespan. If your health is great, then it generally pays to delay your filing as long as you can, as doing so will result in a higher lifetime Social Security benefit.
All of that said, one thing you should know is that you may not get the choice to delay benefits. If you're forced out of a job in the course of the pandemic and have to retire early, delaying benefits could be off the table. And if you're already in your early 60s and your health is poor, then delaying benefits could cause you to come away with less lifetime income from Social Security, which doesn't make sense. But otherwise, delaying Social Security is a smart move that could make your retirement a lot more comfortable. And if the pandemic has hurt you financially in any way, holding off on claiming your benefits is a good way to fuel your personal recovery.
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