If you postpone retirement, you should also consider delaying Social Security benefits?

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Changing your retirement date means it’s time to take a long look at your financial plans, including the age when you decide to claim Social Security. Sometimes, there can be some real advantages to delaying benefits for a while, especially if you don’t need them right away.

The main reason people want to delay Social Security is to increase their checks for every month delayed, at least until they reach their maximum benefit at 70. But a lot of people aren’t able to delay because they can’t afford to — they need their monthly benefits to help pay the bills.

There are situations where it doesn’t pay to wait. Here’s what you need to know to decide on your best move.

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When delaying Social Security and retirement makes sense

If you choose to delay retirement, and you’ll have a paycheck to help you with the bills, you might be able to put Social Security off a while longer.

Delaying Social Security might help you avoid the program’s earnings test. This only affects people who are working and claiming benefits while below their full retirement age (FRA). That’s anywhere from 66 to 67 for today’s workers. 

If you’ll be under your FRA for the full year, the Social Security Administration withholds $1 from your check for every $2 you earn over $19,560 in 2022. If you’ll reach your FRA this year, you only lose $1 for every $3 you earn over $51,960, and that’s only if you hit this amount before your birthday. 

Once you reach your FRA, the government takes the money it previously withheld from you into consideration and recalculates your Social Security benefit. That’ll give your future checks a little boost. But you probably won’t end up with as much as you would have had if you’d just delayed benefits altogether.

So if you delay retirement and want to maximize your Social Security benefits, it might be wise to put off your application until you’ve officially retired or at least until you’ve reached your FRA, so you won’t see money withheld from your checks by the government.

When to delay retirement, but not Social Security

Delaying retirement could be a personal preference, or it could be due to a lack of finances. In either case, there’s nothing stopping you from claiming Social Security while working as long as you’re eligible for the program.

Claiming benefits while working might actually be the smart move if you don’t expect to live long. Delaying Social Security rarely makes sense in this situation. By opting to delay, you run the risk of waiting too long and not receiving benefits at all before you die.

Delaying retirement, but not Social Security, could also make sense if you want to begin your transition into retired life but can’t afford to quit your job altogether. You could cut back your hours at work to give yourself more free time and make up for your reduced income with your benefit checks.

There isn’t a clear right or wrong answer here. But it’s worth playing out a few different scenarios to see which one appeals to you the most. Even if you ultimately choose not to change your Social Security plans, reviewing them can help you see how they fit into your current retirement strategy, so you can estimate how much money you need to save on your own to cover your expenses.

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