When should you begin to take social security benefits?

By Kenneth H. Bridges, CPA, PFS     March 2010

You can begin to claim social security benefits at any age between 62 and 70.  The longer you defer, the larger the monthly benefit.  Accordingly, clients sometimes ask us when they should begin to take the benefits.  There is no easy right or wrong answer to this question, but generally we find that one should begin taking the benefits at age 62 if:

They have a current need for the cash flow;

  • They do not expect to live to their actuarial life expectancy (based on current health, family history, etc.);
  • They do not have any confidence that the social security system will survive long-term; and/or
  • They are aggressive investors and believe that they can invest the early benefit payments in a manner that will produce a high rate of return and are willing to take this investment risk with their social security benefits.

On the other hand, deferring benefit payments generally makes the most sense if:

  • You do not have a current need for the cash flow;
  • You believe you will live to life expectancy or beyond;
  • You are in a higher tax rate bracket now than you anticipate in later years;
  • You are a conservative investor (at least with respect to your social security benefits); and/or
  • You view social security as a safety net.

If there is a spouse involved, the decision gets a little more complicated, but it often makes sense for the spouse with the lower earnings history (especially if that spouse has a longer life expectancy) to begin benefit payments at age 62, and then switch to survivor benefits later.


Kenneth H. Bridges, CPA, PFS is a partner with Bridges & Dunn-Rankin, LLP an Atlanta-based CPA firm.

This article is presented for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended to constitute legal, tax or accounting advice.  The article provides only a very general summary of complex rules.  For advice on how these rules may apply to your specific situation, contact a professional tax advisor.