retirement planningHow and when to collect Social Security is likely to be a big factor in your retirement planning. During retirement, you may look forward to cashing in on your years of paying into Social Security by collecting a check each month. But if you have a substantial nest egg and don’t need the money, how do you decide when to start collecting Social Security?

Americans can choose to start collecting Social Security between the ages of 62 and 70. Many people want to start as soon as possible, but while 62 is tempting, you may be cutting yourself short. Consider the pros and cons of collecting early before making a decision.

Know your full retirement age

Just because you can start collecting at age 62 doesn’t always mean it’s the best choice. This is because 62 is not considered your full retirement age. If you were born after 1960, your full retirement age is 67. If you were born in the 1950s, your retirement age is around 66.

If you wait until your full retirement age to collect, you will get more money each month. The longer you wait after your full retirement age—but not after age 70—the higher your benefit. You can calculate your full retirement age on the Social Security Administration’s website at www.ssa.gov/pubs/ageincrease.htm.

Collecting before your full retirement age

If you begin collecting Social Security at age 62 and your full retirement age is 66, the check you receive will be about one quarter less than amount you would receive upon your full retirement age.

If you are the breadwinner of your household, collecting before your full retirement age could also impact your spouse: if you begin collecting early, the amount of money your spouse would receive after your death decreases.

The longer you wait to start claiming Social Security, the greater the rewards. For example, if you wait until age 66, you get the full amount. Hanging on until age 70 increases your check by one-third more than you would receive if you began collecting as soon as you reached your full retirement age.

Factors to consider

The math seems to say that everyone should wait until age 70 to reap the best benefits. But this is not always the case, and you should consider your options carefully.

There are times that it might make sense to start collecting early. If, for example, you are in poor health, or if the family breadwinner is ill and can no longer work, collecting early may help prevent piles of debt from mounting up.

Your marital status also plays a factor. If you’re single and in poor health, you risk using up your savings between the ages of 66 and 70. According to experts’ analyses, you may not be able to offset the loss with the higher Social Security payments you’ll receive if you wait.

If, however, you’re single, in good health, and you’re either still working or you have a large savings, you may want to wait until age 70 in order to benefit from the higher payments.

With married couples, it may be best for the spouse who earns the most money to hold off until 70, while the spouse who makes less can start at 62. This system will ensure that when one passes away, the surviving spouse will receive the higher benefits—generally the amount their living spouse would have received at age 70, even if the spouse died before that age.

Consider contacting a Certified Financial Planner. He or she can help you ensure you’re maximizing your Social Security benefits and answer any questions you might have about your other assets.

Jeff Rose is a Certified Financial Planner and Iraqi combat veteran. He blogs at Good Financial CentsSoldier of Finance and Life Insurance By Jeff.