This is the most important number retirees need to know

THere are many things seniors need to know to successfully plan for retirement and ensure they’re maximizing their monthly income. But one key number stands out above all others. Retirees need to be aware of this in order to make the best choices when applying for Social Security.

Not knowing this number could be a costly mistake, as it could inadvertently lead to a poor choice when starting retirement, costing hundreds of dollars a month in lost income.

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Every retiree must know this social security number

The one crucial number every senior needs to know is theirs full retirement age (FRA).

Now, you may not have heard of full retirement age, but it’s important to know as it can determine how much Social Security income you receive. See, the Social Security Administration assigns one to everyone based on the year they were born. While FRA used to be 65, it is now at least 66 and four months for anyone turning 66 this year or later. And it could be up to the age of 67.

The table below shows exactly when yours is based on your date of birth.

Year of birth

Full retirement age

1956

66 and 4 months

1957

66 and 6 months

1958

66 and 8 months

1959

66 and 10 months

1960 and later

67

Data source: Social Security Administration.

Why do you need to know your FRA?

Now that you know your full retirement age, you may be wondering why it matters. The most important reason is that you decide for yourself when to claim Social Security Benefitsrelative to FRA, determines the amount of your monthly income.

If you want to receive your standard pension – which is a percentage of wages earned during your 35 years of your highest income – you must receive your first Social Security check at exactly your full retirement age. For those turning 66 this year, that would be 66 and 4 months.

However, you have the option to start benefits well before you reach that milestone, as checks are available as soon as you turn 62. Unfortunately, if you choose to submit an early deposit, you will incur a monthly penalty for each and every month that you receive a check before FRA. So if you were born in 1956 and apply for benefits after your 66th birthday, you will be charged a four-month early filing penalty.

These penalties are five ninths of 1% per month for the first 36 months and five twelfths of 1% for each month thereafter. So a claim made two months ahead of schedule would reduce your monthly payment by about 1.1%. On the other hand, an application filed a year early would result in a 6.7% reduction in the amount of your Social Security checks, while an application filed five years early would leave you with 30% less.

You also have the option of postponing the start of your Social Security retirement income to a later date. For each month after FRA that you waive an exam, you will receive a two-thirds performance premium of 1% late retirement credits. These are ultimately worth an 8% power increase for each year of delay, although they can only be earned until the 70th.

If you don’t know your FRA, there’s no way you can calculate how your age affects the money Social Security provides when claiming benefits. Because these retirement benefits are a critical source of income for most seniors, it’s best to know when the Social Security Administration says you can retire on your standard benefit in order to make the right financial decisions in later years.

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