Full retirement age—also called normal retirement age—is the age when Americans receive full Social Security benefits. Your full retirement age varies depending on the year you were born. Contrast this with the so-called early retirement age of 62, when people may start receiving partial Social Security benefits.
Social Security Full Retirement Age
The Social Security Administration sets a full retirement age to standardize benefit calculations and ensure fairness. Originally, Social Security’s full retirement age was set at 65 for all beneficiaries, but the Social Security Amendment of 1983 gradually raised the full retirement age to 67.
Increasing the full retirement age preserved revenue in the system and addressed a looming shortfall” as American life spans lengthened and more people were claiming Social Security benefits for longer.
Today, your Social Security full retirement age depends on what year you were born. For everyone born in 1960 or later, it will be standardized at age 67:
|Year You Were Born||Full Retirement Age|
|1955||66 and 2 months|
|1956||66 and 4 months|
|1957||66 and 6 months|
|1958||66 and 8 months|
|1959||66 and 10 months|
|1960 or later||67|
Full Retirement Age vs Early Retirement Age
While understanding your full retirement age is a key part of the puzzle, it’s different from when you may start claiming Social Security benefits. That’s your early retirement age, which is 62 regardless of what year you were born. And while all Americans may start receiving benefits when they turn 62, doing so will decrease the amount of each monthly payment.
Here’s a bit of the Social Security Administration’s official jargon, which is essential for getting a complete picture of your benefits. Full retirement age is how old you must be to receive your full primary insurance amount (PIA), or the base-rate Social Security benefit you’re eligible for given your lifetime earnings history.
How Full Retirement Age Impacts Your Social Security Benefits
When you claim Social Security benefits early—before your full retirement age—your total monthly benefit is decreased by a small percentage of your PIA for each month until your full retirement age. Conversely when you delay claiming benefits until after your full retirement age, it boosts your monthly benefit payment by a small percentage of your PIA—up to the year you turn 70.
Your Social Security benefit is reduced by around half a percent for each month between the date when you claim benefits early and your full retirement age. At the very most, you could see a reduction of up to 30% of your PIA by claiming benefits before reaching full retirement age. A PIA of $2,000, for example, could be cut to $1,400 if you take your benefit as soon as you are eligible, rather than waiting for full retirement age.
On the other hand, delaying Social Security benefits until after your full retirement age could garner you a larger monthly benefit.
“For every month after full retirement age, you add two-thirds of 1% per month up until you attain age 70,” says Carroll. This means an increase of up to 8% per year that you delay taking benefits between full retirement age and age 70. For a beneficiary with a full retirement age of 66 and 6 months, a PIA of $2,000 could be increased to $2,600 by waiting to take benefits until age 70.
Just keep in mind that other types of Social Security retirement benefits, like survivor and disability benefits, have different cutoff ages. Social Security survivor benefits, which provide a monthly payment to the surviving spouse based on their deceased partner’s work history, can start at 60, or 50 if the survivor themselves is disabled.
Social Security’s full retirement age also matters in these cases, because if you live to claim Social Security, any benefit reductions or gains you lock in will impact the amount survivors receive on your passing.
Social Security disability benefits do not have any specific retirement age, since disability can strike at any age.
Should You Take Social Security at Full Retirement Age?
There are tons of factors to consider in deciding when to start your Social Security benefits.
For people with serious health problems, it might make sense to start benefits early. Someone who was disabled before full retirement age and can no longer work might consider forgoing a higher monthly benefit to start collecting monthly Social Security benefits immediately. Meanwhile, maximizing Social Security benefits is a strategy that’s most relevant for people who expect to live longer than average.
Consider a hypothetical beneficiary who lives to 79, which is the average American life expectancy:
- If they started collecting Social Security at age 62, with a $1,400 monthly payment, they would receive a lifetime total of $285,600 in benefits.
- If they waited until their full retirement age, they’d receive a $2,000 monthly benefit, for a lifetime total of $300,000.
- If they waited as long as possible to claim benefits—to age 70—they would get a monthly benefit of $2,600, or a lifetime total of $280,000.
For this hypothetical American, no matter when they choose to start receiving Social Security benefits, the differences in lifetime total benefits isn’t very large. Deciding when to start Social Security isn’t always as simple as aiming to maximize your monthly payment.
To help you figure out the right solution for your personal financial and health situation, consider meeting with a financial advisor to run the numbers and determine if starting Social Security benefits at full retirement age is right for you. And remember to factor in your loved ones in this decision as your choice may ultimately affect them.
If your spouse is the lower earner and will eventually receive your Social Security benefit [as a survivor benefit], keep in mind that your filing decision (early vs. later) will impact the amount of monthly benefits they will receive after you are gone.