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AUSTIN EDITION COL Find out how early retirement would affect you

Deciding at what age to retire and start collecting Social Security retirement benefits is a personal decision that depends on a person's financial resources, health, retirement plans and other variables. But there are some basic Social Security facts about the retirement age and the benefits a worker would receive that can help people make the decision that is right for them.

As a famous American athlete once said, "The question isn't at what age I want to retire, it's at what income." That's true for many folks, and it is why you need to know what your "full retirement" age is as it relates to Social Security. You also need to know what retiring earlier than your full retirement age might mean in actual dollars and cents.

Many people still do not know that an increase in the retirement age was included in the Social Security Amendments of 1983. Based on the provision in those amendments, the age for receiving full benefits is gradually rising from 65 to 67. The age for receiving full Social Security retirement benefits will continue to rise until 2027, when it reaches 67 for those born in 1960 or later. Workers can still retire as early as age 62 and collect a reduced benefit.

If you were born in 1941 and are planning to retire in 2006, your full retirement age would be 65 years plus 8 months. But what does the change mean in terms of benefit payments? There is a formula that you could use to figure out the difference between retiring at age 62, 64, 65 or 65 plus 8 months.

Social Security has an online chart at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/retirechart.htm that you can use to get that information. For example, if you were born in 1941, your full retirement age is 65 years plus 8 months. If you were to retire at age 62, you would receive about 77 percent of your full retirement benefit, or a 23 percent reduction for retiring early.

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The question a worker who is contemplating retirement would need to ask is: Can I meet my financial needs or expectations with that level of income? Of course, any private pensions, savings or investments that you possess need to be figured into the decision, as would any income from a spouse.

Social Security benefits are increased by a certain percentage (depending on date of birth) if you delay your retirement beyond full retirement age. For more information, visit Social Security's Web site at www.socialsecurity.gov/retire2/delayret.htm.

Because Social Security is the financial foundation that most retirees build upon, most workers would be well-advised to evaluate the financial pros and cons of retiring early, or waiting until they reach full retirement age or later.

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