Claiming Social Security Retirement Benefits at Age 70

Senior man sits before birthday cake with 7 and 0 candles, surrounded by family.If you are about to turn 70, congratulations on reaching a major milestone.

If you also have delayed claiming Social Security retirement benefits up until now, you are joining a select group. Only 6.5 percent of Social Security recipients delay collecting their benefits until they reach age 70. (For most people, this is the age at which you can collect the maximum benefit.) Now that you're about to join this group, knowing when and how to claim these benefits is key.

Deciding how long to wait to claim Social Security benefits can vary depending on several factors. This might include other income sources you anticipate having in retirement as well as projected life expectancy. But Social Security experts advise waiting as long as possible to start collecting benefits, up to age 70.

This is because if you delay taking retirement beyond your full retirement age (FRA), you amass “delayed retirement credits.” This increases your benefit by 8 percent for every year that you wait, over and above annual inflation adjustments. Your checks will be about 76 percent more than had you claimed at age 62, the earliest you can file. It can be tough to find a better and more reliable investment than that.

What Is Full Retirement Age?

Full retirement age is 66 for those born from 1943 to 1954. The age you need to reach for full benefits then begins to go up, depending on your birth year. (The full retirement age increased in 1983 following a decision by Congress.)

For those born in 1955, for instance, their FRA is age 66 and 2 months old. People born in 1960 or later will reach FRA at age 67.

For further details, the Social Security Administration offers a full retirement age chart online in PDF format.

Again, you can receive Social Security retirement benefits earlier than full retirement age; however, you will not receive as high a payment compared to if you were to wait.

Note that if you are collecting benefits based on the work record of a current or ex-spouse, there is no point in waiting until you're 70 years old. You won't accrue delayed retirement credits beyond your full retirement age.

Don’t Wait Any Longer

Delayed retirement credits stop at age 70, so there is no advantage to putting off starting benefits any longer. Not only won’t your credits increase by claiming after age 70, but if you wait longer than half a year, you’ll start losing monthly benefits you would have otherwise received. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will pay you retroactively for benefits accrued up to six months after your 70th birthday, but that’s it. If you wait any longer, benefits you would have received are permanently forfeited.

The next thing to know is that the SSA won’t automatically start sending you checks once you turn 70. You need to apply for benefits.

You can do this starting four months before the date that you want your benefits to begin. To get the maximum amount, you’ll want the benefits to start the month you turn 70.

In one scenario, however, benefits will automatically kick in at age 70: Those who took benefits after reaching their full retirement age and then suspended their benefits to earn delayed credits until age 70. For them, the SSA should automatically restart benefits at 70.

You can apply online for Social Security. If you are for some reason unable to submit your application online, you can call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). Another alternative is to visit your local Social Security office.

The SSA will want certain information and documents when you apply. Review this checklist for what you need to know before you apply.

When Will You Get Your First Check?

The SSA issues checks a month behind, so your benefits should start arriving the month after the month you turn 70. For example, if you were born July 17, you should ask that your benefits start in July and your first check will come in August.

However, those born on the first day of the month get a small bonus: the SSA treats them as if they were born the previous month and starts paying benefits in their birth month. So, for example, if you were born July 1, you’d request benefits to start in June and the payments would begin in July.

What If You’re Still Working?

Working past age 70 (or any time past your full retirement age, in fact) won’t affect your benefits. And while you won’t increase your monthly benefit by waiting past age 70 to claim, you could boost it by working in addition to collecting Social Security.

This is because the SSA calculates your benefits each December based on your 35 highest-earning years of work. If your earnings plus your Social Security benefits allow you to replace a lower-earning year, your overall benefit could increase in the annual calculation. But Social Security benefits are taxable, so if you’re earning more money your tax rate may be higher.

In most cases, your Medicare premiums will be deducted from your Social Security check. If you happen to be retiring at age 70 and you’ve been paying Medicare’s high-earner surcharges, keep in mind that you can reverse these surcharges if your income drops far enough.

The Social Security Administration uses income reported two years ago to determine a recipient's premiums. If your income decreases significantly because of certain circumstances, including retirement, you can request that the SSA recalculate your benefits. Your premium surcharges could then end or see a reduction.

Additional Information

You can get an estimate of your Social Security income by starting a MySocialSecurity account online. To learn more about Social Security and retirement benefits, also check out the following:

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