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Don't Fall Into the Social Security Trap

If you—or your folks—are anywhere near retirement, you should be asking these questions now.
Photographer: Dennis Brack

Every year, Americans give up thousands of dollars of income by filing for Social Security benefits too early. If you're anywhere near retirement, or want to help guide your parents, here's how to think about when to file—a once-in-a-lifetime decision with huge financial consequences.

You can start getting a monthly check at 62, but that locks in a reduced benefit for the rest of your life. Retirees currently get the full Social Security benefit at 66. Waiting even longer will fatten those checks further. File for Social Security as a single person at 70 and your monthly check can be 76 percent higher than if you had filed at 62. That's a source of income that automatically adjusts for inflation and will last as long as you do.