Two out of five regret taking Social Security early

Sad lonely pensive old senior womanA substantial number of people file for Social Security benefits as soon as they’re eligible. Many live to regret their decision.

Two out of five early retirees wish they had waited, according to a recent survey by the Nationwide Financial Retirement Institute, an arm of Nationwide Mutual Insurance. Here’s why, according to an article in the AARP Bulletin:

When you look at the differences in their monthly payout, you can understand their remorse. Those who took their benefit early report an average monthly payment of $1,190. Those who collected it at their full retirement age have an average $1,506 monthly payment. And those who delayed collecting their benefit report an average monthly payment of $1,924 (or $734 more than the early payout). The difference between the lowest and the highest monthly checks over 20 years comes to a whopping $176,160.

I suspect the longer folks live, the more they’re likely to regret rushing to grab their benefits. And this is an especially critical issue for women, since we tend to live longer and often have smaller Social Security benefits than men.

Financial advisors typically understand the huge potential benefits of waiting a few years to start Social Security checks, and many recommending tapping other resources, including retirement funds, if that’s the only way to delay. But many people apply for Social Security without ever checking in with an advisor. Many rely on friends and family for advice–not the best course with something as complicated as Social Security claiming strategies. The worst reason for starting early? The unfounded fear that Social Security will “go away” if they don’t grab their checks now. That can be a costly misconception.

I have a lot of posts on this blog that can help you make better claiming decisions; just type “Social Security” into the search box above. Here’s a link to one post that has important information, as well as links to recent research that underscores the importance of waiting to claim.


  1. The post you link to at the end of this article points to two websites. The AARP calculator is a missing 404 page, and the “MaximizeMySocialSecurity” page is a pay-for-use site.

    • Liz Weston says

      Thanks for the note that the calculator had moved. As for the other site, that’s why I noted that the one-year license is $40.

  2. Dear Liz–All websites (government/AARP), journals, newspaper articles, radio/tv financial advisors, etc., advise waiting until full retirement age rather than take early ss at age 62.
    However, we have a family acquaintance who retired as a career ss employee–he took his retirement at age 62, and he stated that absolutely 100% of his fellow ss employees also took their ss benefits at age 62. According to him, not a single one ever waited til full retirement age.
    Why would what occurs in the real world be so different from the official ‘line’?

    • Liz Weston says

      There could be a lot of reasons. He could be full of hot air. How would he know what 100 percent of SS employees decide? Or he could have retired many years ago, when the benefits to delaying weren’t so obvious. Or he could, like many, be unable to delay gratification or unwilling to acknowledge he needed more education about the decision. Many people think they know far more about claiming strategies than they actually do, and SS employees aren’t necessarily the exception. (Judging from what some of them tell the people who write to me, it appears many need more education!)

  3. I don’t regret it at all. I was laid off at age 58 and when I reached age 62, I needed it to pay for my health insurance. At age 58, women are not hired at jobs with benefits. It was either that or have no health insurance. As it was, I received two riders going from a group plan to private plan. I was told if I signed up within 30 days, I would have no riders. That was a lie. Between age 58 and 65, I spent close to $50,000 on health care, without SS I would not have been able to do it. I have a pension from the job and with SS, and after 12 years of retirement I am doing ok and glad I took it early.

    • Liz Weston says

      Sometimes there’s little choice but to start early, and give up the built-in growth that could have made your checks 30 to 75 percent bigger (30-some percent if you’d waited until full retirement age, up to 75 percent if you’d waited until age 70). If you don’t have a spouse who might have to survive on your benefit, that changes the equation as well.

  4. This is true for those who don’t have a spouse also eligible for SS. For those who do, there are various claiming strategies. For example a woman, who is often the lower earner, can take her SS at 62 while her husband continues to work (or vice-versa), and the spouse can file for benefits on her record at Full Retirement Age, waiting until 70 to file for his own retirement benefit.

    • Liz Weston says

      The woman in this scenario would not be able to switch to her own benefit. If you start early, you’re stuck with what you get, which is the larger of your own benefit or your spousal benefit. You can’t switch later. If, however, you wait until your own full retirement age to file a restricted application for spousal benefits only, you can collect those until age 70 and then switch. It’s very important to understand the rules for the various claiming strategies, because you could easily make a mistake that costs you for the rest of your life.

  5. Hi Liz, thank you for all the wonderful information you provide from common sense issues to those of significant complexity; Social Security for example. Perhaps you can help with a question I have regarding how SS benefits are calculated with regard to full retirement age 67 when compared to the advised age of 70. The percentage difference is well documented with most suggesting 8% growth per year of deferral. Are these projections based on the assumption that an individual continues to work and thereby contributing? If no, and one continues to work, will the 8% per year projection possibly be greater reflecting continued accrual of quarters and subsequent contributions? My SS taxable income averages about $95,000 per year. I plan to retire at 66 and defer SS until 70 but am not confident the calculators on SS website account for this rather simple scenario. Thanks

    • Liz Weston says

      No, the 8 percent annual increase is baked in, regardless of whether you continue to work. Your actual benefit is based on your 35 highest-earning years, so high wages in the final few years could increase your benefit a bit in addition to the 8 percent.

  6. My husband will retire from the Federal Gov. at 62 and is REQUIRED to take Social Security when he retires. I retired at 58 wit 2 pensions and may have a larger SS payment due to my husband working in non SS industries for many years. My question is with him being required to take SS at 62 is it better for me to wait to file to maximize our benefits? I’ve also heard of taking the benefit and suspending it to maximize benefits. Any advice you can give to us would be helpful.

    • Liz Weston says

      I haven’t heard of a federal employee being required to start SS at a particular age. If he really must file early, then delaying may make sense. You might want to check out, which for $40 allows you to fiddle with various scenarios to see what makes the most sense. Just remember you can’t file and suspend until you reach your own full retirement age.

  7. I will have a comfortable CalPERS retirement and real estate investments so I should be able to retire at age 62 at 100% of my salary (I will be debt free)…so I am thinking about taking Social Security early because I want to have fun with the money early. I am in great health but who knows what the future will bring?