You may be eligible to start drawing Social Security as soon as you turn 62, but this doesn’t mean you necessarily should. By waiting a few years, you will get a higher monthly payment and potentially more total income. So how do you decide?

If you need Social Security to get by, then the decision is easy: take it when you can. If you’re in the much happier situation where your family is earning good money without Social Security benefits (say your spouse is working a well-compensated job), then the decision is also fairly easy. Your Social Security, in this case, is going to be pretty heavily taxed, so don’t take it yet.

But if all you care about is drawing the most Social Security you can before you die, the calculation is fairly simple:

Let’s say you’re eligible to draw $1,100 a month when you turn 62, but you would get $1,500 a month when you turn 67. In this case, by starting at 62 you would make $66,000 before you reach 67 (that is, $1,100 a month multiplied by 60 months). On the other hand, you will make $400 a month more by starting at 67.

So how long does it take, at $400 a month, to reach $66,000? The answer is $66,000 divided by $400, or 165 months. At 12 months per year, this means you would be even after 13 years and 9 months, when you are 80 years and 9 months old. If you die before you get to 80 years and 9 months, you would have gotten more by taking Social Security early; if you live beyond this age, you will get more by taking it later.

So how lucky do you feel?

gambling with your future?

This is a pretty typical case; for most people, it will take anywhere from 13 to 17 years to break even. If you come from a family where everyone seems to make it into their 90s, then you may want to take Social Security later. If you come from a family where no one seems to make it past their 70's, it may be better to take the payment earlier.

But for most people, there’s more to the decision than this bottom line. As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, I’m in a position not only to help you take care of your needs, but also to help you consider the lifestyle. In other words, the decision becomes less about how you maximize your Social Security payoff and more about how you want to spend your retirement.