Have you done the math and decided you want to take Social Security benefits as early as possible?

You’re in good company. Although every month you wait to take Social Security translates to a higher monthly benefit, 62 remains the most popular age to start Social Security.

But don’t expect your first check to arrive right on your 62nd birthday.

You can file an advance application for Social Security once you’re 61 years and eight months old. And you also have some flexibility as far as when you apply, though don’t wait too long. Applications can take up to three months for Social Security to process, so if you want your benefits to begin in January, make sure you apply in October.

While giving Social Security sufficient time to process your application helps you get your payments faster, the exact timing of your first check — and all the ones that will follow — is mostly out of your hands.

A senior woman relaxes in a hammock while reading an e-book.

Image source: Getty Images.

When will you get your first Social Security check?

Social Security pays benefits a month behind. So if you were born in January and apply at least three months before you turn 62, you still wouldn’t get your first check until the February after your 62nd birthday. The money you get in February is considered January’s payment.

If you’re claiming Social Security based on your own work record, the exact timing of your benefits depends on when your birthday falls in the month. Here’s a schedule of when payments are made :

  • Date of birth between 1st and 10th of the month: Second Wednesday of the month.
  • DOB between 11th and 20th: Third Wednesday of the month.
  • DOB between 21st and 31st: Fourth Wednesday of the month.

If you’re claiming based on a current or former spouse’s record, though, your payment will be scheduled based on their birthday, not yours. 

How to apply for Social Security

Submitting an online application is the easiest way to apply for benefits. You can typically do so within about 15 minutes. 

As of October 2020, local Social Security offices remain closed due to COVID-19, but if you need assistance, you can call 800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Are you sure you want to start benefits at 62?

There are plenty of great reasons to take Social Security at 62, particularly if you want to retire early or you’re no longer able to work.

But if you have the option to keep working or live off your retirement savings, holding off is often the better option. Waiting until your full retirement age, which is between 66 and 67 for people born in 1943 or later, will give you a monthly payment that’s 30% higher than you’d get by starting at 62.

Each year you delay beyond your full retirement age yields an extra 8% until you reach age 70. The difference between starting Social Security at 70 versus 62: A monthly benefit that’s 76% higher.

Also, keep in mind that your options for reversing your Social Security decision if you started benefits too early are extremely limited. 

But ultimately, the best age to take Social Security depends on a lot of factors, including your health and life expectancy, your financial situation, and when your spouse is claiming.

Bottom line: If you’ve weighed all the factors and decided starting Social Security at 62 makes sense for you, apply at least three months before your birthday. You won’t get your first payment in time for your big day, but you can have an encore celebration when it hits your bank account.

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