A huge number of Americans retire each year. In fact, more and more Baby Boomers began 2017 by exiting the workforce. The number of Americans at retirement age (65 or older) no longer in the labor force rose by 800,000 in the fourth quarter of 2016.
Retirees and future retirees depend on income from Social Security to help provide a financially comfortable lifestyle. But when it comes to claiming your benefits timing is everything, and delaying your Social Security claims could result in a bigger payout.
Your Social Security benefit at full retirement age is based on your highest 35 years of earnings.  But what if there is a low or zero income year in those top 35 years? By working an extra year in your late career, you could increase your payout by raising the amount in those top 35 years.
For 46% of women and 15% of men, working until age 63 instead of 62 replaced a zero-income year in that calculation, according to a new working paper from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
If late-career earnings replace a zero in the calculation of your benefits, you could see an increase in the benefit you're entitled to at full retirement age.
The big benefit of delaying is in the actuarial adjustment of when you claim Social Security in relation to your full retirement age. Claiming before your full retirement age permanently reduces your benefits; each year you delay from full retirement age until you turn 70 boosts the total by 8%.
Someone who retires and begins claiming Social Security at age 70 would receive a benefit that's 76% higher than the one he or she would receive at age 62, according to the study. Factor in late-career earnings replacing a zero-income year, and the increase becomes as much as 88% for women and 82% for men.
Women stand to benefit most from working longer because they tend to have more zeroes in their earnings record. Women work an average 29 years to men's 38, and they spend an average 5.5 years out of the workforce caring for children, and 1.2 years out as a caregiver for an older adult.
Get a copy of your earnings record from Social Security to see how much impact late-career earnings would have on your benefit.
Keep in mind that you might also have access to benefits based on the record of a spouse or ex-spouse. That benefit could already be larger than what you'd be entitled to with a few more work years under your belt.
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