By timestaff
October 17, 2013

Q: Say I want to start collecting Social Security at age 66. If I retire at 63, will my not working cut my benefit? — Chuck Witte, Wheatland, Wyo.

A: Social Security benefits are based on your 35 years of highest earnings. Have you worked at least that long? Then quitting at 63 probably won’t have a major impact, says Jonathan Peterson, author of Social Security for Dummies.

To illustrate, let’s say that you make $100,000 at age 63, having received 3% raises annually over a 35-year career. Hanging in for three more years would raise your monthly benefit $41, or 1.6%.

If, however, you’re making the same money but have worked only 32 years, quitting early would hurt more; you’d be forgoing $119 a month, or a 4.8% bump, by not putting in three more years. You can test scenarios yourself at ssa.gov.

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