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Social Security - Early retirement can affect benefits

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Q: I will reach my full retirement age (FRA) of 66 on May 1, 2013. Is there any significance to waiting until age 66½ to start my Social Security retirement? That is when I plan to retire.

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A: You can start your Social Security retirement with any month you think best, assuming you meet all requirements.

Monthly amounts would be more than your full retirement age (FRA) amount if starting SSA retirement when older than FRA.

If starting before full retirement age, the amount would be less than the FRA amount. The amount of increase or reduction depends on the number of months involved.

Being born on the first day of the month is important for you. Legal precedent states that a person attains their age on the day before their birthday.

When born on the first of the month, Social Security computes your benefit amount and full retirement age as if your birthday was in the previous month. With a birthday of May 1, you are considered to reach FRA in April. Consider this when starting your benefits.

Estimate your FRA amount with the Retirement Estimator in the SSA Retirement Planner section (www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2).

Then use your estimated FRA amount with the "compute the effect of early or delayed retirement" calculator to estimate amounts for specific months before or after FRA.

This calculator is found online at www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/benefitcalculators.htm#ht=1.

How much will you earn in 2013? The earnings limit for people reaching age 66, their full retirement age, in 2013 will be $40,080.

Depending on your anticipated 2013 earnings, you might decide to start benefits effective with January, and therefore receive a smaller monthly benefit, even though you plan to continue working until May.

The earnings test stops with the month you reach full retirement age. With no limit on your earnings, starting your Social Security at FRA is another option even if you continue to work.

You could also defer starting benefits past your actual retirement to increase future amounts. You have many choices. Use the Retirement Planner tools mentioned above to estimate benefits starting with any month.

Based in Grand Forks, Howard I. Kossover is the Social Security Public Affairs Specialist for North Dakota and western Minnesota. Send general interest questions to him at howard.kossover@ssa.gov. You can also read his online articles at socialsecurityinfo.areavoices.com.

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