Social Security supports tens of millions of Americans with benefits that they need to make ends meet in retirement. With benefits that are calculated based on your earning history, the program is intended to replace a modest portion of your work income after the end of your career.
One key aspect of how much you get from Social Security is when you start receiving benefits. Most people can claim Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62, but you'll receive more in your monthly payments if you wait until your full retirement age.
For decades, the full retirement age was 65, and that's still the age that most Americans think of as being typical to stop working. Yet as you can see below, the full retirement age for those entering retirement hasn't been 65 for a long time, and it's in the process of going up right now.
Data source: Social Security Administration. Chart by author.
The implications of full retirement age are a lot greater than many fully understand. The increase in the full retirement age doesn't mean that you can't start taking benefits at age 62 if you want. However, it does reduce the amount of money you'll receive if you do so. Those who were born between 1943 and 1954 and therefore have a full retirement age of 66 take a 30% reduction in their monthly Social Security checks if they take the money when they turn 62. However, those born in 1960 or later -- including those who'll be eligible to start taking early Social Security benefits in just the next few years -- will take a larger 35% pay cut in their Social Security benefits.
Even with this increase, Social Security still faces a looming financial crisis. Some lawmakers have proposed pushing full retirement ages higher yet again, with some proposing 68, 69, or 70 as possible new replacements for 67. Even if those higher full retirement ages were to phase in over time, it could still have a huge impact on the retirement planning for younger workers who are already struggling to make ends meet and set at least some money aside toward their future financial needs after they retire.
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