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How Old Is a “Senior Citizen”? Age 65 – or Maybe Not

Poll: At What Age Do You Consider Someone to Be a “Senior Citizen”?

Sure, in your heart, you’re only as old as you feel. But the U.S. government, companies, retiree associations, and retailers are a bit blunter in whom they consider a “senior citizen.” Age 65 is still the standard senior-citizen threshold for Medicare, but the tipping-point age elsewhere can vary from 38 to 80. So how old do you really have to be to be a senior citizen? Let’s consider the answer from several organizations.

seniors wearing party hats, to illustrate article on how old is a senior citizen

U.S. Census Bureau: 37.8 and 65

The median age of the U.S. population is 37.8. Half of Americans are below that age; half are above. So, once you reach 38 years old, you’re statistically on the “senior” side of the population. Feeling old now?

Generally, however, the U.S. Census Bureau lumps Americans age 65 and over into the “older population” category. In the 2010 census, 13% of citizens were in that senior category. You can expect that percentage to increase, too. Census projections show that by 2060 the senior population will double, from 46 million in 2014 to 98 million in 2060. That will make seniors 24% of all Americans.

This aging population is what’s causing lawmakers and others to reassess and bump back the “senior citizen” line.

AARP and Senior Associations: 50

You know you’re in the sights of the AARP as soon as you reach 50 and start getting membership appeals in the mail. You may not be a “retired person,” but you can still join AARP to start receiving the discounts and benefits the organization offers.

Conservative-learning alternatives to the AARP, the American Seniors Association and Association of Mature American Citizens, also let you sign up at age 50.

Senior Discounts: 55, 60, 62, 65

Many older people complain about the “senior citizen” label, saying they don’t feel old. However, here’s the good news: Those few extra years can pay off in big savings with senior discounts.

A few senior discounts start as early as age 50, especially with an AARP card (see above). But the senior savings really kick in at ages 55 and 60, with a few businesses and organizations making you wait until 62 or 65.

senior couple dancing, to illustrate article on how old is a senior citizen

Senior Housing: 55 and 62

The federal government’s Housing for Older Persons Act is the source of 55+ and 62+ senior housing, including senior apartments, independent living, and retirement communities. This act sets aside a special status for housing communities in which the majority of residents are age 55 or older or all the residents are age 62 or older.

Retirement Plans: 59½ and 70½

The IRS has an odd obsession with half years. With some exceptions, if you tap a pension plan, 401k or IRA before age 59½, you may have to pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty tax. After 59½, you can withdraw from retirement plans without a penalty if you are not working. If you are employed, check with your plan holder on specific rules. Generally, you must start receiving payouts the year you hit 70½.

Driver Licenses: 64-80 recently looked into the extra scrutiny that states place on older drivers when it comes time to renew a license. Among major retirement states, special policies for senior drivers kicked in as young as age 64 in Georgia to age 80 in Florida. Most of the states require a vision test for those older drivers.

Medicare: 65

65 birthday candles, to illustrate article on how old is a senior citizen

You can enroll in the federal health insurance program at age 65. You can sign up even if you’re not receiving Social Security yet. As noted below, that’s good since the Social Security age has become a moving target.

Social Security: 65, 66 and 67

Uncle Sam is your most important judge, of course. In the United States, past generations were considered to have reached full retirement age at 65. In recent years, however, legislation has moved the age requirement for full benefits from 65 to 67. The reasons cited: Older people are healthier, and average life expectancy is increasing, as noted above by the Census Bureau.

The Social Security Administration still considers 65 to be full retirement age if you were born in 1937 or earlier. But if you were born in 1938 or later, that gradually rises. If you were born in 1943 to 1954, for instance, your retirement age is 66. If you were born in 1960 or later, sorry, your full retirement age is now 67. (Note: You can still start withdrawing as early as age 62 but at a reduced rate.)

OK, you’ve read all the evidence. Now you get to have a say and vote in our poll.

Would you have another response? Tell us in the comments!

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  • Mark Edelen

    About Mark Edelen:

    Welcome to the Senior Living Blog. I direct and edit the blog for the best senior-housing and senior-living insight and advice, while also conducting search-engine optimization for the site as a whole. Follow me on Twitter @MarkEdelen.

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