(Jefferson City) -- For nearly 80 years, Social Security has been an important safety net and source of income for older Americans, but experts say many aren't aware of how to get the most out of the system they've been paying into.
If you claim before your full retirement age of 66, you receive reduced benefits for the rest of your life. The longer you wait, up to age 70, the more your lifetime monthly benefits will increase.
Kristen Arnold, income security policy analyst with the National Academy of Social Insurance says many Missourians are losing out on tens of thousands of dollars by claiming early, although she acknowledges not everyone can afford to wait.
"If you have poor health, if you need to stop working to care for a sick family member; if you lose your job, or if you have a physically demanding job and you need to quit working and take benefits to make ends meet, Social Security is there for you," she says. "You should take the benefits."
According to the latest data, 75 percent of beneficiaries in Missouri are receiving reduced monthly benefits due to early claiming. Nationwide, 62 remains the most prevalent age for claiming Social Security benefits.
Arnold says it can be helpful, when possible, to talk over the issue with a financial adviser. She says it's a decision that can have long-term ramifications for the entire family.
"So, if you're the higher earner and you take benefits early, that reduction gets passed on to your surviving spouse as well," says Arnold.
While some people may claim early out of a fear that Social Security will run out of money, Arnold says it's important to remember the program is fully funded for the next 15 to 20 years, and 75 percent financed beyond that. Her group has a toolkit to help with decisions about when to claim Social Security, online at www.NASI.org.