As you look ahead to your next act, you might wonder about the role Social Security will play in your retirement income.  And, since it's a lifetime benefit that's unaffected by the market, your Social Security benefit – and when you should take it – should be a consideration.

The age you file for benefits will determine the size of the benefit you receive.  If you take your benefit when you're first eligible (age 62), your benefit could be reduced by 25%. But if you delay to age 70, your benefit could be increased by up to 32% (based on full retirement age [FRA] of 66). Full retirement age is the age at which you can receive 100% of your benefits. By taking Social Security at age 70, you can receive your largest benefit.

So when should you file?  It depends.  But here are four key factors that could influence your decision about when to take Social Security benefits.

  1. Life expectancy:  How long you (and your spouse) expect to live plays an important role.   The better your health and the longer you and your spouse expect to live, the more it may make sense to take Social Security later.
  2. Employment:  If you plan on working during "retirement" and start your benefit before your Full Retirement Age (FRA), some of your benefit could be withheld, depending on your income. Full retirement age is the age at which you can receive 100% of your benefits. So, if you plan on earning meaningful employment income in retirement, it may make sense to delay. 
  3. Need:  Do you need the money to support your retirement lifestyle?  If so, it may make sense to take it when you need it, regardless of other factors.
  4. Spousal considerations:   There are two types of benefits for spouses:  spousal and survivor.  If your spouse files for benefits early, any potential spousal benefit available to them would also be reduced.  Your decision can also impact your spouse - meaning, if you take benefits early and receive a reduction in benefits, the survivor benefit for your spouse would also be permanently reduced.

Source: Social Security Administration (SSA).

Visit your local Social Security office or for more information on your available benefits and options. The decisions you make about Social Security today can have a big impact on your income tomorrow.