Two women in garden, laughing and enjoying each other's company.
Planning for retirement

If you're single, waiting to collect can pay off

Social Security offers guaranteed increases—the longer you wait, the more you'll earn.
7 minute read

Points to know

  • The longer you wait to start collecting Social Security, the more you'll collect each month.
  • Several factors could reduce your Social Security payments: working while you collect benefits before your full retirement age, paying federal (and possibly state) taxes, having Medicare premiums deducted, and receiving a government pension.

Start with your benefits estimates

Your first step in maximizing your Social Security benefits should be to visit the Social Security Administration (SSA) website.

GET YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY ESTIMATES

The SSA website provides estimates for how much you'll collect if you start receiving benefits at age 62, your full retirement age (FRA) (between 66 and 67), and age 70. Remember that you don't have to start taking your benefits at those milestone ages; you can start collecting anytime between ages 62 and 70.

Factors that could reduce your payments

Before you plug your Social Security estimates into your retirement plan, be sure to adjust those estimates if any of these factors apply to see how much you might actually end up with.

Working while you collect Social Security may temporarily reduce your benefits

You may pay federal & state taxes on your payments

Your Medicare premiums may be deducted from your payments

A government pension could decrease your benefits

Figure out the best time to claim Social Security

As you consider the right time to start collecting Social Security, remember that if you decide to delay, you can revisit that decision as often as you'd like.

Anyone who's paid Social Security taxes for at least 10 years can start to receive retirement benefits as early as age 62 based on his or her earnings record.

Collecting Social Security at 62 has some advantages. For example, you may be ready to retire and counting on Social Security as the cornerstone of your retirement plan. After all, if you've paid Social Security taxes for 10 years, then you're entitled to Social Security benefits.

If you have serious health problems or a family history that suggests you may not live long enough to profit from waiting, collecting early might make the most sense for you.

On the other hand, the earlier you start to collect, the less you'll receive each month. But if you start to collect and then change your mind, you have 2 options.
 

The "reset" rule

Within 12 months of starting to collect, you can "reset" your benefits to erase the reduction, but you must repay all of the benefits you and your family earned.

See how it works: The "reset" rule

 

The voluntary suspension rule

If you started collecting before your full retirement age (FRA), you can suspend your benefits at FRA and restart them later.

See how it works: Voluntary suspension
 

Anyone who's paid Social Security taxes for at least 10 years can start to receive retirement benefits as early as age 62 based on his or her earnings record.

Collecting Social Security at 62 has some advantages. For example, you may be ready to retire and counting on Social Security as the cornerstone of your retirement plan. After all, if you've paid Social Security taxes for 10 years, then you're entitled to Social Security benefits.

If you have serious health problems or a family history that suggests you may not live long enough to profit from waiting, collecting early might make the most sense for you.

On the other hand, the earlier you start to collect, the less you'll receive each month. But if you start to collect and then change your mind, you have 2 options.
 

The "reset" rule

Within 12 months of starting to collect, you can "reset" your benefits to erase the reduction, but you must repay all of the benefits you and your family earned.

See how it works: The "reset" rule

 

The voluntary suspension rule

If you started collecting before your full retirement age (FRA), you can suspend your benefits at FRA and restart them later.

See how it works: Voluntary suspension
 

If you start collecting Social Security retirement benefits at your full retirement age (FRA), you'll receive 100% of your primary insurance amount (PIA). But remember that you can collect more than 100% of your PIA by waiting beyond your FRA.

Each month that you delay your Social Security benefits past your FRA, you'll earn an extra 0.67%. That's an extra 8% for each year that you wait past FRA … and what other investment can guarantee an 8% annual increase?*

If you can wait until you're 70, you'll receive your highest Social Security payments—up to 132% of your primary insurance amount (PIA) if your full retirement age (FRA) is 66, or 124% of your PIA if your FRA is 67.

Of course, you don't have to file when you reach one of the milestones listed above—62, full retirement age (FRA), or 70. You can apply for Social Security retirement benefits anytime between the ages of 62 and 70.

What's next?

Social Security provides more than just retirement benefits. And the federal government offers more than just Social Security benefits. As you put your retirement plan together, check to see whether you qualify for other government benefits, such as family and children services, tax assistance, and active military or veterans benefits.

Apply for Social Security

You can file for Social Security benefits online, over the phone, or in person at a local Social Security Administration office.

You may need to produce these documents when you apply

  • Your Social Security card.
  • An original birth certificate or other proof of your birth.
  • A copy of your W-2 form or self-employment tax return for the previous year.
  • If you weren't born in the United States, proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status.

A Vanguard advisor can help

If you're struggling with making your best Social Security decision, we can help. You'll also get a custom financial plan, ongoing portfolio management, investment coaching, and real-time goal tracking—all at a low cost.

Reach your goals with advice from Vanguard

CONSOLIDATE YOUR RETIREMENT SAVINGS AT VANGUARD

Make your life easier and let us help you reach your goal.

Learn the basics of retirement planning

More help

Build your Social Security strategy

Partner with a Vanguard advisor or call 800-523-9447 to speak with an investment professional.

Partner with a Vanguard advisor or call 800-523-9447 to speak with an investment professional.

*The amount of your monthly benefits also increases for each month you wait between age 62 and your FRA, but the rate is lower than 8% per year and varies depending on your age.

All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest.

Advice services are provided by Vanguard Advisers, Inc., a registered investment advisor, or by Vanguard National Trust Company, a federally chartered, limited-purpose trust company.

The services provided to clients who elect to receive ongoing advice will vary based upon the amount of assets in a portfolio. Please review the Form CRS and Vanguard Personal Advisor Services Brochure for important details about the service, including its asset-based service levels and fee breakpoints.