Special Situations to Consider Before Starting Social Security

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It makes financial sense to wait to collect your Social Security benefits until you hit full retirement age: 66 if you were born between 1943 and 1954 and as much as 67 if you were born after 1959.

Your Social Security benefits will shrink if you begin collecting them before you hit full retirement age. According to the Web site of the U.S. Social Security Administration, if you are the main wage earner and you begin taking payments at age 62 -- the earliest age at which you can begin collecting Social Security -- you will receive just 75 percent of the monthly benefits you would have earned if you had waited until you hit full retirement age to begin collecting.

This can add up. But there are times when retiring early -- and collecting those monthly Social Security checks before you hit full retirement age -- is actually the right decision.

I can't work: Maybe you'd like to continue working until your full retirement age. Unfortunately, events have conspired against you. Maybe your health is bad, and you can no longer handle the strain of working. Maybe you lost your job and you haven't been able to find replacement work.

In such cases, it might make sense to begin drawing your Social Security benefits before you reach your full retirement age. Taking a smaller Social Security benefit each month is a better alernative than is running up credit-card debt or facing the possibility of losing your home to foreclosure.

My health is bad: This a rough estimate, but, generally, if you expect to live past 78, it makes more financial sense to wait to take your Social Security payments until you hit full retirement age. If you don't think you'll live to 78, it makes sense to take your Social Security payments as early as possible.

Of course, you can't predict how long you'll live. But if you are in poor health already, or are suffering from a potentially life-threatening disease, your odds of living past 78 are lower. It might be time to consider taking your Social Security benefits earlier.

I'm married and my husband is ready to start collecting: Even if you haven't reached full retirement age, it's considered smart for married women to begin taking their Social Security benefits at the same time as their husbands. If your husband passes away before you, you can choose to either receive your Social Security benefits or your husband's, whichever is higher.

Your spouse has passed away: If you are a surviving spouse, you can either claim your own Social Security benefits or those awarded to your deceased partner. You'll obviously take the payment that is higher. If you take your spouse's benefits, though, before you reach full retirement age, these benefits will be reduced permanently. It might not make financial sense, though, to wait until you reach retirement age. For instance, if you'll struggle to pay your household bills without the benefits of your deceased spouse, you should begin taking your benefits as soon as possible.