Early, on time or late?

Q: Should I file to start collecting my Social Security benefits early, on time or late? What is best?

A: You can start collecting benefits as early as age 62 and as late as 70, and your “full retirement age” (66 or 67 for most of us today) is the age at which you qualify for your full benefits. If you start collecting early, your checks will be smaller, and if you delay starting to collect, your benefits will grow bigger. It’s not necessarily worth it to wait until 70 for the biggest checks, though. The system is designed to be a wash for those who live average-length lives, as you’ll get many more of the smaller checks or fewer of the larger ones.

So consider your circumstances. If you stand a good chance of living an average or short life, you might start collecting at 62 — the age at which most people start. If you plan to keep working into your late 60s or you expect to live a long life, delaying starting to collect can make sense. Many people will have little choice; they’ll simply need the income as soon as possible.

Social Security is a vital retirement support, so read up on it and perhaps consult a financial adviser before deciding what to do. (You’ll find fee-only advisers at NAPFA.org.)

Q: Can you explain what “securities” are?

A: They’re assets that have some financial value — typically equities or debts that can be traded. Examples include stocks, bonds, options and certificates of deposit. Most investments can be classified as securities.

Out of options

Dear Fool: Many years ago, I went to my local brokerage office and asked a young broker to call the home office in New York City.

I had him ask them to recommend two stocks that they expected would fall in the next two months so I could buy options on them. He came back to me recommending Kmart and United Airlines. I bought some “put” options on those stocks, but I ended up losing $450 on them.

Two weeks later, the broker called, wanting me to invest. “You won’t get a second chance to lose my money,” I replied. So much for the value of a research department of a national stock brokerage.

The Fool responds: Well, two bad calls doesn’t necessarily mean the research was worthless — even good investors make regrettable moves.

It’s important to understand the limitations of options, though. If you buy shares of stock, you can wait months or years for them to perform for you. But options come with expiration dates — often just a few months away.

A “put” option gives you the right to sell a certain stock at a set price, no matter what the stock is trading at in the market.

If the option’s expiration date arrives and the stock price is still above the exercise price, then it won’t make sense to exercise it, and it will do nothing for you.

The House of Mouse

Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) recently kicked off a new fiscal year with an earnings decline due to an unusually weak movie-release schedule. But 2019 is looking up.

For one, Disney’s recently launched ESPN+ streaming service reached 2 million paid subscribers, and the company is poised to launch a similar streaming service called Disney+ later this year. Both will help offset the negative impact of cord-cutters on its broadcast business.

Meanwhile, its big-screen releases this year include “Captain Marvel” and a live-action version of “Dumbo” in March; Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame” in April; a live-action rendition of “Aladdin” in May; Pixar’s “Toy Story 4” in June; a live-action version of “The Lion King” in July; “Frozen 2” in November; and “Star Wars: Episode IX” in December.

Assuming Disney’s pending $71.3 billion acquisition of most of the assets of 21st Century Fox goes as planned, it will own a 60 percent stake in Hulu, up from 30 percent, along with properties such as “Avatar,” National Geographic and Marvel’s “Deadpool,” “Fantastic Four” and “X-Men” franchises.

With a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio in the midteens and a growing dividend recently yielding 1.5 percent, Disney is an appealing candidate for the portfolios of long-term investors. (The Motley Fool owns shares of and has recommended Walt Disney.)