How Long Before You Draw Social Security Do You Need to Apply?

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While you can apply for Social Security retirement benefits three months before you turn age 62, you don't have to start collecting your benefits right away. In fact, the longer you wait to start receiving your benefits, the larger your monthly payment will be. Before you apply online to begin your Social Security retirement benefits, review the specific dollar amounts of your projected benefit at different ages to ensure you choose the optimal time to begin receiving Social Security.

Starting Benefits at Age 62

  • You should apply for Social Security three months before you want to start receiving it, and no earlier than when you're age 61 and nine months. Unless you're born on the first or second day of a month, your age doesn't increase until the month following your birthday. If you don't want to apply online or don't have convenient Internet access, you can call 1-800-772-1213 or visit your local Social Security office. Each application is different, and there is no guarantee that you will receive your first payment three months after you apply. If you were born between the first and 10th of the month, you are paid the second Wednesday of each month; from the 11th to the 20th on the third Wednesday; and from the 21st to the 31st on the fourth Wednesday.

Delaying Benefits Past Age 62

  • You have the option to decide when you to begin your Social Security retirement benefits. If you live to reach the average life expectancy for your age, the amount of money you get from Social Security will be the same, regardless of when you start taking it. However, the amount you receive each month can vary significantly. Spend some time assessing your financial needs, assets and sources of income during retirement before you apply for Social Security.

Estimating the Right Time

  • Suppose your monthly Social Security benefit is $1,200 at your normal retirement age of 66. You can apply for benefits when you're 61 and nine months to begin receiving benefits the month you turn 62. However, because you receive your benefits for a longer period of time, your monthly benefit is only $900. Similarly, if you wait until you turn 70 to collect Social Security, your monthly benefit is $1,584. The Social Security Administration has free planning tools and a wealth of information to help you determine the right time for you to start taking Social Security retirement benefits.

Enrolling in Medicare

  • Regardless of when you decide to start your Social Security retirement benefits, you should apply for Medicare coverage when you're 64 and nine months. Once you turn 65, you're entitled to free Medicare hospitalization insurance, or Medicare Part A. For a monthly premium, you can also enroll in Medicare medical insurance, or Part B, for doctors, supplies and other charges that Part A doesn't cover. You must enroll in Medicare Part B before the fourth month after you turn 65 or you might have to wait for coverage and pay a higher premium. This penalty doesn't apply if you're covered by your employer's group health plan.

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