Updated: Februrary 2016
When it comes to something as important as Social Security, it's good to know you're getting as much from it as possible. Here are five things to remember:
You can start receiving Social Security payments as soon as you turn 62, but your benefits may be reduced 20 to 30 percent, according to the United States Social Security Administration (SSA). That's a lot, especially if you expect to spend many years in retirement. You may want to think about working a bit longer or relying on your retirement savings to help cover your living expenses until you can receive full benefits.
This chart from the SSA lists the full retirement age at which you may be entitled to receive full Social Security retirement benefits
|If you were born in...||It's...|
|1937 or earlier||65|
|1938||65 + 2 months|
|1939||65 + 4 months|
|1940||65 + 6 months|
|1941||65 + 8 months|
|1942||65 + 10 months|
|1955||66 + 2 months|
|1956||66 + 4 months|
|1957||66 + 6 months|
|1958||66 + 8 months|
|1959||66 + 10 months|
|1960 or later||67|
As long as you're 62, you have the option to take Social Security, says the SSA. The SSA sets yearly earnings limits — if you're receiving Social Security benefits before your full retirement age and earn more than the limit, your benefit payments will be temporarily lowered based on how much you earn. Say you earn $10,000 over the limit. Your benefits would be reduced by $5,000. If you make $20,000 over the limit, they would be reduced by $10,000.
The good news is that you don't permanently lose your benefits if they're reduced. Instead, your payment amount is recalculated so that you receive the withheld money once you've reached full retirement age, notes the SSA. It's another way working in retirement may help stretch out your income over time.
When you're ready to start receiving monthly benefits, you must apply for them with the SSA. You can do that over the phone (1-800-772-1213), in person, or via the SSA's online application.
Some Social Security beneficiaries end up paying taxes on their benefits, according to the SSA. It all depends on the earnings listed on your income tax return. If you file with more than $25,000 as an individual (or $32,000 jointly), you’ll have to pay federal income taxes on your benefits, according the SSA. The rules for state income taxes vary from state to state.
Let's say your monthly benefits turn out to be more than your spouse's. It's a common scenario, especially in families where one spouse paused their career to stay home with the kids. In cases like this, the SSA says your spouse may be eligible for an additional benefit — up to one-half of your full retirement amount.
After you die, your spouse will get your monthly benefit check or hers — whichever is more. And if you have disabled children, kids under age 19, or elderly parents who depend on you for at least half their income, they could receive "survivor benefits," according to the SSA.