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Nearly 50% of Older Americans Risk 1 Dangerous Social Security Mistake

Your Social Security benefits are calculated by taking your wages during your 35 highest-paid years in the workforce, adjusting them for inflation, and applying a special formula to determine what monthly income you're entitled to as a senior. But the age at which you claim those benefits will determine how much money you collect.

You're entitled to your full monthly benefit based on your earnings history once you reach full retirement age, or FRA. Here's what that age looks like, depending on your year of birth:

If Your Year of Birth Is:

Your Full Retirement Age Is:

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 or later

67

DATA SOURCE: SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION.

But you don't have to sign up for benefits at FRA -- you can file for them as early as age 62 and reduce them in the process, or delay your filing past FRA and boost your benefits for life. Specifically, your benefits will increase by 8% for each year you hold off on claiming them past FRA. This means that if you're entitled to a monthly benefit of $1,500 at an FRA of 67, you'll bump that payment up to $1,620 a month if you claim Social Security at 68.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

The delayed retirement credits that give you that boost, however, can no longer accrue once you turn 70, which is why 70 is generally considered the latest age to sign up for Social Security, even though you're by no means compelled to claim benefits then. But if you don't file for benefits by age 70, you'll risk losing out on income you otherwise would've been entitled to.

Such is the risk 47% of older Americans are taking. In a recent MassMutual survey of near-retirees aged 55 to 65, that percentage of respondents thought you could continue accumulating delayed retirement credits past the age of 70. And that's just plain incorrect.

Don't wait past age 70 to file for benefits

There are plenty of good reasons to delay your benefits all the way up until age 70, but once that milestone hits, there's no sense in waiting any longer. The greatest increase you can snag for your benefits is 32% if you're looking at an FRA of 66 or 24% if your FRA is 67. But the Social Security Administration (SSA) won't let you grow your benefits past these thresholds.

If you don't manage to file for benefits at exactly age 70, don't worry -- the SSA will pay you up to six months of retroactive benefits so that you won't lose out on money if you manage to sign up by 70 1/2. But if you file past that point, you'll effectively forgo retirement income that could've been yours.

Social Security is a complex program loaded with rules. It pays to read up on how it works so you don't claim benefits at the wrong time and lose out on income that could be essential during your senior years.

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