PLANNING AHEAD: When should you start claiming Social Security benefits?

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Last week I had the opportunity to present regarding Social Security retirement benefits at our regularly scheduled Elder Law Section of the Chester County Bar Association. It must have been an intriguing subject since the program attracted several attendees, Chester County Bar Association members, mostly online, regardless of the 4th of July holiday the next day.

When to claim Social Security retirement benefits has been a matter of vigorous debate for many years with some folks claiming it is best to take early at age 62 or to wait until age 70, the statutory maximum starting date. My own thought is there are compelling reasons to wait unless need or health issues get in the way but there is no “right” or “wrong answer” for claiming that applies to everyone. As I stated then, the decision depends on, among other things, personal preferences, stage in life, health and resources.  If the goal is to obtain the maximum amount there are several computer systems you can use. If you want more information generally the Social Security Administration has a robust website you check out at

Here are some important points.

• You (or the person under whom you claim) need to be in the Social Security System in the first place. It might seem obvious that you need to be in the system or the person under whom you claim, such as your spouse, parent and so on is or has been in the system. This is extremely important to know for people who work in the “gig” economy and others who might not contribute into Social Security regularly through an employer. The Social Security Administration keeps a record of years worked in the system to determine how much you will be paid when it comes time to retire or, if in advance, through Social Security disability benefits.

• You want to know the “35 best years” rule. The Social Security Administration considers your 35 best working years in determining the amount of the benefit. It is extremely important to know that if your record at time of claiming for retirement benefits is for less than 35 years, every year less than 35 years is added back (adjusted for inflation, etc.) at zero! The average worker might think there is a weighted average only for the years worked. Not true. If you, or the person under whom you claim retirement benefits, has not put in 35 years in the Social Security system you can be severely disadvantaged.

• Why do so many women have lower Social Security retirement benefits and how can you “make up” to the 35 years? Although wages for women generally have been improving, the lower wages received while working tend to give you lower Social Security benefits on retirement. Again not as common as before but women who leave the job market for child raising (also true for men who do the same) many times have fewer than 35 years in the system. Add this to lost working years caring for elderly parents or relatives and this factor further reduces years in the system. How can the 35 years be “made up?” First to determine your status you can request from the Social Security Administration now your record of employment according to them. If you do not have enough years you can (and I have advised some clients to do this) return to work to make up the years.

• You might claim on your spouses (or in some cases even your former spouses’) work record. If you do this it is at one-half of the benefit but remember if you claim early such as at age 62 you likely will not get a full one-half.

• Another possible reduction. What happens if you take Social Security while still working? If you have not reached FRA  — full retirement age — and continue to work and also claim Social Security, this can reduce the benefit you would otherwise receive at that time. FRA could be between age 66 to 67 depending on date of birth. You can still work, though, and earn in 2024 $22,320 without it impacting your benefit.

• How can you maximize benefits? Wait to claim until age 70. Social Security benefits increase by 8% per year for each year that the claimant delays receiving them past FRA up to age 70 and that increase carries through indefinitely in addition to cost of living increases received each year.

Janet Colliton, Colliton Elder Law Associates PC is a Certified Elder Law Attorney and limits her practice to elder law, life care and special needs planning, Medicaid, estate and retirement planning and estate administration and is located at 790 East Market St., Suite 250, West Chester, 610-436-6674, She is also, with Jeffrey Jones, CSA, co-founder of Life Transition Services LLC, a service for families with long term care needs.