Social Security was created to provide basic retirement benefits for workers reaching age 65. Workers who pay (or have paid) Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) taxes are covered by Social Security. After paying into the system for at least 40 quarters (10 years on average), you will be eligible to receive retirement income benefits. These benefits are based on a worker’s highest earnings over a 35-year period.

Social Security full retirement age

Social Security benefits can start as early as age 62 or as late as age 70, but to receive full retirement benefits depends on the year of birth. Learn more about full retirement ages with Social Security's Benefits Planner.

Year of Birth Full Retirement Age
1937 or earlier 65
1938 65 and 2 months
1939 65 and 4 months
1940 65 and 6 months
1941 65 and 8 months
1942 65 and 10 months
1943-1954 66
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 and later 67

Filling early for Social Security

The retirement benefit for those who file prior to reaching full retirement age will be permanently decreased, by up to 30%. Example: if the benefit at age 67 is $1,000, and filing is done at the earliest possible age (62), the benefit would only be $700. The penalty would extend throughout retirement.

Those who file for benefits after reaching the full retirement age may receive delayed retirement credits. This equals nearly an 8% annual increase per year by waiting up to age 70. No further increases are available past age 70.

Applying for Social Security

Applications for Social Security can be submitted three ways:

  1. Online through the benefits application on the Social Security website,
  2. Online through the Medicare and Social Security application, or
  3. Call 1-800-772-1213; TTY for hearing impaired 1-800-325-0778.

Social Security penalties

There are penalties for receiving benefits before the maximum retirement age that vary based on starting age. Below is a chart of the penalties based on the age that you begin to claim Social Security benefits.

Applying at Age:  Penalty
62 A permanent penalty of 25-30% (depending on the birth year of applicant)
Between full retirement age and 70 Up to 8% increase for each year of waiting after the eligible retirement age. Depending on the retirement age, it is possible to increase the regular monthly benefit by 24% or more by waiting to receive benefits. 
At full retirement age  If the benefit at full retirement age is $1,000 but the individual waits until age 70 to file, the amount received will be around $1,240 (exact amount is based on the number of months following full retirement age)