Planning for social security - claims & benefits.

When and how you file can make a big difference.

For many of us, Social Security is the lynchpin that holds our retirement plans together. That’s because this federally insured program has the unique ability to protect us from a host of financial challenges, like market downturns, inflation, declining interest rates, and worries about outliving our money if we are blessed with longevity.

Even though Social Security benefits may be guaranteed by the government, it’s important to remember that your monthly payments can vary greatly based on two key factors: 1) when you file your claim, and 2) how you file your claim. Here’s a closer look…

When to claim.

Contrary to popular belief, the government does not issue Social Security payments as soon as you are eligible. First, you have to apply, and then, if you are approved, you have to let the government know when you would like to claim or “collect” your benefits. Generally, you will have three options:

On time (full benefits)—Once you reach what the government calls your “full retirement age,” you are eligible to receive 100% of your projected Social Security benefit. Your full retirement age depends on the year you were born.1

Year of birth

Full retirement age




66 and 2 months


66 and 4 months


66 and 6 months


66 and 8 months


66 and 10 months

1960 or later


Claim early (reduced benefit)—Regardless of when you were born, you can claim your benefit as early as age 62—but at a reduced rate. The earlier you claim, the less you’ll receive. Those who claim their benefit at age 62 could lose as much as 30% of their total benefit.2

Delayed claim (enhanced benefit)—Conversely, if you wait to claim your benefit, you will receive higher monthly payments than originally projected. The longer you wait, the more your payments will increase. In fact, Social Security benefits increase 5%–8% every year you wait beyond full retirement age up until age 70.

How to claim.

While claiming your benefit can be fairly simple, there are strategies you can use to increase the total amount you—and in some cases your loved ones—receive over time. This is especially true if you are married, divorced, or have dependent minor children. Here are some common strategies you can use to help maximize your benefits:

Claim a spousal benefit—If you are married, or were married to your former spouse for at least 10 years, you may be eligible to claim an amount equal to 50% of your spouse’s (or former spouse’s) benefit. This strategy is typically used by spouses who did not work or who earned significantly less than their partners, so their spousal benefit is larger than what they would receive on their own. This benefit has no impact on the amount your spouse will receive when he or she decides to claim.

File a restricted application—This option is available for those born on or before January 1, 1954. Here’s how it works. As a working spouse, you are eligible to receive one of two benefits: the spousal benefit mentioned above, or the benefit you have earned throughout your working career. While most people choose their earned benefit—which is usually higher—this strategy lets you restrict your claim to the spousal benefit at first, then switch to your own later on. That way, you will enjoy some income now, while allowing your future benefit to grow 5%–8% a year.3

It's more than a game—It's your future.

Deciding when, and how, to claim Social Security benefits is a big decision. That’s why it’s so important to have a game plan going in and to weigh all your options before deciding on a course of action. Click here to learn more important facts about Social Security. Let us know if you’d like some help.

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Neither New York Life Insurance Company nor its agents provide tax or legal advice. Please consult your own tax, legal, or accounting advisors to find out more about the personal consequences of the general subject matter of this article.

1“Understanding the Benefits,” Social Security Administration, 2019, p. 7. 

2“Benefits Planner: Retirement,” Social Security Administration.

3Rachel L. Sheedy, “Restricted Application Social Security Strategy Is on Its Way Out,” Kiplinger, January 2, 2019.