When to start receiving social security retirement benefits is one of the most important decisions you can make when contemplating retirement.  Retirement benefits can  start as early as age 62 or as late as age 70.  However, your monthly benefit amount will be different, depending upon the age you start receiving it.

You must be insured under the Social Security program before retirement benefits can be paid to you or your family. That is, you must have earned a certain amount over a certain period of time to become fully insured for Social Security Retirement purposes.  Social Security  considers  the number of quarters of coverage you earned to determine if you are insured. You earn a quarter of coverage (QC)—also called a "credit"—for a certain amount of work covered under Social Security, but you may earn no more than 4 QCs per year.  Generally, to be fully insured for retirement benefit purposes, you need at least one QC, which equals 1 credit, for each calendar year from age 21 to age 6f2.

If you choose to start your benefits at age 62, the monthly amount that you receive will be reduced based upon the number of months you receive benefits before you receive your full retirement age.  If you wait until your full retirement age, your benefits will not be reduced.  If you wait until after your full retirement age, the amount you receive every month will be increased based upon the number of months you do not receive benefits between your full retirement age and age 70.  There is no additional benefit for working beyond age 70.

Full retirement age had been 65 for many years. However, beginning with people born in 1938 or later, that age gradually increases until it reaches 67 for people born after 1959.

You should apply for retirement benefits no more than four months before you want your benefits to begin.  Even if you have no plans to receive benefits, you should still sign up for Medicare three months before age 65.