Social Security now accounts for about one-third of all income annually received by U.S. retirees, amounting to $1 trillion in annual benefits. While impactful, research consistently finds that the financial effect of Social Security could be even greater if more people waited to enroll, since monthly benefits can increase in value if retirees delay claiming. But, we don’t know how much is annually lost from households making the sub-optimal decision about when to claim Social Security, how many are making mistakes, or who is making those wrong decisions. To explore these questions, we utilize new technology invented by United Income and data sponsored by the Social Security Administration:
Retirees will collectively lose $3.4 trillion in potential income because they claimed Social Security at a financially sub-optimal time, or an average of $111,000 per household. The average Social Security recipient would receive 9 percent more income in retirement if they made the financially optimal decision about when to claim this retirement benefit.
Current retirees will collectively lose an estimated $2.1 trillion in wealth because they made the sub-optimal decision about when to claim Social Security, or an average of $68,000 per household. Most retirees will lose wealth in their 60s and early 70s if they choose to optimize Social Security, but will be wealthier in their late 70s through the rest of their lives.
Only 4 percent of retirees make the financially optimal decision about when to claim Social Security. About 57 percent of retirees would build more wealth through their life if they waited to claim until they were 70 years old (when only 4 percent of retirees currently claim), while only 6.5 percent of retirees would have more wealth if they claimed prior to turning 64 (when over 70 percent of retirees currently claim benefits).
About 21 percent of those at risk of not affording retirement (or having enough income to cover their expected cost of living) would see an improvement in their chances if they claimed Social Security at the optimal time. Among those retirees at risk that start with a greater than 10 percent chance of affording retirement, 95 percent see their chances of affording retirement improve by an average of 28 percent.
You can find the full report, including policy suggestions to encourage later claiming, here.