Despite the fact that women on average live longer than men, only 3 percent of women wait long enough to receive maximum Social Security benefits (at age 70), says a new survey by Nationwide Financial.

Four in five women take Social Security benefits before full retirement age (usually 66), and therefore lock in a lower payment for the rest of their lives.

Far too many women opt to take Social Security at age 62, the earliest age possible. That gives them the lowest possible benefits.

What’s at stake?  Simply hundreds of thousands of dollars of potential retirement income, says Nationwide.

5 reasons women take Social Security too early

1.  Some just don’t know the facts about Social Security, and mistakenly believe taking it earlier will result in more money over the long run, says Shawn Britt, director of advanced consulting for Nationwide.

2.  Other women may have been forced into an unexpected early retirement – either due to ill health or a job loss – and may just need the money.

3.  Women often misunderstand their life expectancy.  They underestimate how long they might live, and don’t realize how much money they’ll lose over their lifetime by asking for early reduced benefits.

4.  Others fear that Social Security will run out of money. While Social Security does have some long-term funding issues, experts feel they’re quite fixable, and don’t advocate taking benefits early.

5.  Women don’t always have access to good advice. Only 33 percent of women work with a financial advisor, which helps them make better Social Security decisions. “Women who work with an advisor are more likely to receive good advice on optimizing Social Security,” says Britt.

Why is waiting to take benefits usually a good idea?

“If you have the ability to sacrifice a little for a few years it is worth it. Maximizing benefits will result in less chance of outliving other income sources and reduce the chance of not being able to maintain your lifestyle,” argues Britt.

Let’s take a look at how benefits grow by waiting:

$1,025 – Average monthly payment for women who take benefits early

$1,270 – Average monthly payment at full retirement age (usually 66)

$1,630 – Average monthly payment for women who wait until 70

That’s a big difference in benefits each month, year after year.  Women who wait until age 70 to start benefits receive, on average, an amazing 60% more each year for the rest of their lives.

One final tip: Make sure to check out all the Social Security strategies available to you. You may be able to earn even more by claiming the spousal, widow or divorced benefits you’re entitled to.