How Your Retirement Age Could Affect Your Social Security Benefits

Contributed by: Melissa Parkins, CFP® Melissa Parkins

When planning for retirement, one of the biggest factors to figure out is how you will recreate your paycheck when you are no longer working to receive one from an employer. A couple of questions to think about:

  • Do you have a pension through your employer and if so, when are you eligible to start receiving income?
  • Will you live off of your portfolio?
  • Is Social Security the only income stream you have access to?

Many people (including myself!) long to retire early, but doing so could reduce your Social Security benefits. Your benefit will depend not only on how much you have earned in the past, but also when you decide to leave the workforce.

If you stop working before you have 35 years of earnings reported, then a zero is used for each year without earnings when your benefit amount is calculated. Any zeros will bring down your earnings average and reduce the benefits you will receive. Even if you have 35 years of earnings reported, if some of those years are low earning years (maybe at the beginning of your career), they will be averaged into your calculation and bring your benefits down lower than if you had continued to work for a few more years while, ideally, earning higher wages during your peak earning years.

One potential point of confusion when planning to retire early comes on your Estimated Benefits statement. When you look at your Social Security statement, your reduced expected benefit at age 62 actually means the amount you are expected to receive if you work until age 62 and begin collecting benefits at that time. Likewise, your increased expected benefit at age 70 means the amount you are expected to receive if you work until age 70 and then begin collecting benefits. So if you do retire early or at different ages than the two listed, the number shown as your estimated benefit could be different.

At my current age of 25, retiring early is something I aspire towards – I picture a long, lavish (read: expensive) life of luxury! Hey, a girl can dream! Many people (maybe more realistically than me) also strive to retire early, and if you don’t have access to a pension, then you may be depending more heavily on your Social Security benefit. If you do retire early, then you may receive a reduced benefit. However, retiring early is not unrealistic; but in order to have enough money to live at your comfort level, it may require working part time for a bit after retirement or even saving more now to make up for a potentially lower Social Security benefit. When making these decisions, talk with your Financial Planner about your retirement goals to see how best to build your plan to financial independence.

Melissa Parkins, CFP® is an Associate Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.

This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Melissa Parkins and not necessarily those of Raymond James. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete.