When it comes to your own Social Security benefits, you've got three alternatives:

Take them early
Wait until your normal retirement age
Wait even longer
Taking the money early might seem attractive, but it means settling for a lower monthly payment for the rest of your life. Consider the following factors as you decide when to take the money.

1. Your cash needs. If you're contemplating early retirement and you have sufficient resources (adequate investments, a traditional pension, other sources of income, etc.), you can be flexible about when you take Social Security benefits. However, if you can't make ends meet without electing for an early, reduced benefit, you may want to consider postponing retirement for a few years until you reach your normal retirement age, or even longer.

2. Your life expectancy and break-even age. Taking Social Security early reduces your benefits, but it also means you'll receive monthly checks for a longer time. Taking Social Security later results in fewer checks during your lifetime, but the credit for waiting means each check will be larger.

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