You can generally begin claiming Social Security benefits at any age between 62 and 70. Most married men begin claiming benefits at 62 or 63 – despite the fact that their family’s overall expected lifetime income from Social Security would be much greater if they waited a few years, because the amount you get from Social Security each year increases the longer you wait to start receiving it.
The people who are most affected are wives who outlive their husbands. While men who claim benefits at age 62 lose an average of 4 percent of their lifetime expected income as a result of claiming early, if they die before their wife, the wife will typically receive a survivor’s benefit that is 20% less than she would if her husband had waited a few years. That can make a big difference!
A recent study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College examined why married men claim Social Security early even though it’s not usually in their family’s interest.
You might assume that men are more likely to claim early if they need the money, but interestingly, the study found that wealth makes little difference in when men first claim their benefits. Men without a lot of savings often claim early because they need the money to live on, but wealthy men often claim early, too, because they want to leave their children an inheritance and they prefer to live on Social Security benefits (which will stop if they die) instead of spending down other assets that could be passed along to their children.
Interestingly, the study found that, in terms of when married men claim benefits, it makes no difference who the family decision-maker is. Men tend to claim early whether the decision is made by the husband, the wife, or both acting together.
The Center for Retirement Research offers a guide to when to claim Social Security benefits at its website, http://crr.bc.edu.