3 Reasons It's Smart to Take Social Security Benefits at 62

By Brian Stoffel Markets Fool.com

Deciding when to take Social Security benefits is a complex task. You'll weigh factors such as your health, how you'll coordinate with your spouse, and 100 other variables specific to your own situation.

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In an attempt to offer a simple solution to a very complex problem, here are three reasons it's smart to take Social Security benefits as early as possible -- at age 62: Autonomy. Time. Enough.

Image source: Getty Images

Here's what I mean.

Autonomy: the underrated factor driving record levels of life satisfaction

Our concept of retirement is problematic -- it sounds boring. We think of it as quitting work, and then either sitting on the couch and watching TV all day, or playing endless rounds of golf.

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The reality is very different.

Because we view any activity outside of leisure as "work," we forget we humans have a strong drive to work. The difference is that in retirement you have autonomy. You get to choose what to work on, and when to work on it.

Wes Moss, radio host, author, and chief investment strategist at Capital Investment Advisors, asked retirees about the number of "core pursuits" they had upon entering retirement. Core pursuits can be defined as any activity that gives a person enjoyment, purpose, and/or meaning. Gardening, volunteering, coaching, and exercising all qualify.

He found that happy retirees had an average of 3.6 core pursuits. Unhappy retirees entered with just 1.9. Apparently, autonomy doesn't matter much if you don't know what your interests are.

Further, an Age Wave/Merrill Lynch study found that the emotional well-being of retirees was through the roof.


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Data source: Age Wave/Merrill Lynch

Study participants reported being free from"the daily grind, the pressure of juggling family and work, alarm clocks, deadlines, [and] never-ending emails." And that allowed them to have the freedom to"sleep in, exercise more, get to know their grandchildren better, fall in love again, travel, read more, unplug, volunteer, [and/or] learn a new skill."

The sooner you can reach this stage, the better. So why not start claiming Social Security at 62?

Enough: the magical concept to soothe your financial worries

The "retirement numbers" we're told we must reach to retire safely are massive: $1 million or more. The truth is that we have much more control over this number than we think.

That's because almost all models for retirement assume that we need to replace 75% to 80% of our working incomes in retirement. There are a few glaring errors with this line of thinking:

  1. It assumes that higher earners must be higher spenders. While it's true that many of us fall prey to the hedonic treadmill, those who find their level of "enough" are exempt from such folly.
  2. It ignores the fact that spending often declines in retirement. A 2016 report from the University of Michigan's Health and Retirement Study found that "as people age, they spend less on transportation, vacations, and food, and more on healthcare, donations, and gifts."
  3. It ignores the simple fact that we humans are great at adapting. The Age Wave/Merrill Lynch chart from the previous section is representative of retirees' experiences across a swath of demographics. Most entered retirement with less than $1 million. Yet most are very happy.

Beyond medical emergencies, you are solely in control of what you deem to be your household's level of Enough. If you experiment with it, you might be surprised at how low it really is.

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Perhaps you realize that you can live on $30,000 per year very comfortably in retirement. If you factor in the average household's annual Social Security benefit of about $16,000 per year, and include any pensions that might be coming your way, your retirement number could dip all the way to $300,000 total.

If claiming at age 62 will be enough to get you to that point, why delay?

Time: the precious commodity

Finally, we have the morbid realization that we won't live forever. We'll consult the actuarial tables from the Social Security Administration.

If You Are A...

And You Retire At...

You'll Enjoy Retirement For...

Male

62

20 years

70

14 years

Female

62

23 years

70

16 years

Data source: Social Security Administration

Hopefully, you are by now convinced that retirement is great for your emotional well-being and is much more financially attainable than you previously believed.

That being the case, why wouldn't you want to enjoy as much of it as possible before you pass away?

For many retirees, it's smart to claim Social Security benefits at 62. It lengthens the most enjoyable stage in their lives.

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