What Americans don’t know about Social Security

Just 28 percent of Americans received a passing grade (60 percent or higher) when asked basic Social Security questions, a new study from MassMutual finds. Moreover, from a pool of 1,500 respondents ages 18­ to 65, just one person answered all 10 true/false questions correctly.

The quiz touched on a range of topics, including the national retirement age, spousal benefits and eligibility for benefits. The high failure rate suggests what a number of advisors already know: Too many Americans are lacking the knowledge and tools that will allow their retirement reality to match their retirement dreams.

“Perhaps the greatest Social Security deficit in this country is the lack of education around the retirement benefits of the program, which presents an opportunity and responsibility to financial professionals,” said Michael R. Fanning, executive vice president, U.S. Insurance Group, MassMutual. “With millions of Americans nearing retirement each year, many may be at risk of underutilizing a critical component of their retirement income stream.”

If there’s a silver lining, it’s self-awareness: Just 8 percent of those surveyed considered themselves to be very knowledgeable on the subject of Social Security.  

And that’s where you come in.

How does your own knowledge stack up? Continue reading for the full quiz.

1. True or False? Social Security retirement benefits are based on my earnings history, so I’ll receive the same monthly benefit amount no matter when I start collecting.

A: False. If you collect Social Security retirement benefits before reaching full retirement age, you effectively lock in a lower monthly benefit amount. If you wait to begin collecting until after you reach full retirement age, you become eligible for delayed retirement credits. These credits increase your monthly benefit amount by 8 percent each year that you delay collecting, up to a maximum of 32 percent. Once you reach age 70, no additional delayed retirement credits accrue.

Source: Social Security Administration, Retirement Planner: Benefits by Year of Birth; http://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/agereduction.html

2. True or False? If my spouse dies, I will continue to receive both my own benefit and my deceased spouse’s benefit.

A: False. Social Security retirement benefits are only paid while you are alive. Assuming that you qualify, you would receive the greater of your own benefit or your spouse’s benefit, but not both.

Source: Social Security Administration, Retirement Planner: Benefits for Your Spouse; https://socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/yourspouse.html

3. True or False? I must be a U.S. citizen to collect Social Security retirement benefits.

A: False. You do not have to be a U.S. citizen to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits. Resident aliens who pay into the Social Security system may qualify to receive retirement benefits, assuming they earn enough credits and meet additional criteria. To become part of the Social Security system, non-U.S. citizens must have lawful alien status, permission by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to work in the U.S. and a Social Security Number.

Source: Social Security Administration, Social Security Handbook, Evidence of U.S. Citizenship 1725; http://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home%2Fhandbook/handbook.17/handbook-1725.html

4. True or False? Under current Social Security law, full retirement age is 65.

A: False. Your full retirement age is based on the year you were born. For people born between 1943 and 1954, the full retirement age is 66. If you were born in 1960 or later, the full retirement age is 67. For anyone born between 1955 and 1959, the full retirement age increases gradually.

Source: Social Security Administration, Full Retirement Age: If You Were Born between 1943 and 1954; http://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/1943.html

5. True or False? I can continue working while collecting my full Social Security retirement benefits — regardless of my age.

A: False. You can work and receive Social Security retirement benefits. However, if you have not reached full retirement age, your earnings will be subject to the retirement earnings test. If your income exceeds the test limit, Social Security may withhold all or a portion of your benefits. Withheld benefits are repaid over your lifetime once you reach full retirement age.

Source: Social Security Administration, Retirement Planner: Getting Benefits While Working; http://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/whileworking.html

6. True or False? If I file for retirement benefits and have minor dependent children, they also may qualify for Social Security benefits.

A: True. When you file for Social Security retirement benefits, your children may also qualify to receive benefits based on your record. An eligible child can be your biological child, adopted child or stepchild. A dependent grandchild may also qualify. Normally, benefits stop when children reach age 18 unless they are disabled. However, if the child is still a full-time student at a secondary school at age 18, benefits will continue until the child graduates or until two months after the child becomes age 19, whichever is first.

Source: Social Security Administration, Retirement Planner: Benefits for Your Children; http://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/yourchildren.html

7. True or False? As a divorced person, I can collect Social Security retirement benefits based on my ex-spouse’s earnings history.

A: True. You may be eligible to receive retirement benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings record, provided that:

  • Your marriage lasted at least 10 years;
  • You are currently unmarried;
  • You are at least 62 years old; and
  • The benefit you would receive based on your personal earnings history is less than the benefit amount you would receive if you filed for benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings record.

If your ex-spouse has not yet applied for retirement benefits, but qualifies for them, you can collect benefits based on his or her record provided that you have been divorced for at least two years.

Source: Social Security Administration, Retirement Planner: Benefits for Your Divorced Spouse; http://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/yourdivspouse.html

8. True or False? Once I start collecting Social Security, my benefit payments will never change.

A: False. The Social Security Act of 1973 included a provision for cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs)to help Social Security benefits account for inflation. Each year, the Social Security Administration uses specific indexes and formulas mandated by this legislation to determine whether a COLA will apply to benefits paid in the coming year and if so, how much the increase will be. For more detailed information on how COLAs are calculated, visit the Social Security Administration website indicated below.

Source: Social Security Administration, Cost-ofLiving Adjustment; http://www.ssa.gov/news/cola/

9. True or False? Government workers may have their Social Security retirement benefits reduced.

A: True. For certain workers, Social Security imposes two “offsets” that reduce the full Social Security monthly benefits that might otherwise have been paid. The Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) affects workers who have earned a pension from an employer (such as a government agency) that did not collect Social Security taxes and who also have worked in other jobs long enough to earn Social Security benefits. Under the WEP provision, Social Security uses a modified formula to calculate your benefit, resulting in a lower benefit than you might otherwise have received. The second offset, called the Government Pension Offset (GPO), affects a spouse’s benefit based on your earnings. The GPO can reduce spousal benefits to $0.

Source: Social Security Administration, Information for Government Employees; http://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/gpo-wep.html

10. True or False? My spouse can qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, even if he or she has no individual earnings history.

A: True. Many spouses choose to stay at home to raise children or otherwise spend extended periods of time outside the paid workforce. This can affect a spouse’s ability to qualify for Social Security benefits. In such cases, the spouse who earns less may be eligible for a Social Security spousal benefit. A spousal benefit can be as much as 50 percent of the higher earning spouse’s full retirement age benefit. The exact percentage will depend on whether or not each spouse has reached his or her full retirement age.

Source: Social Security Administration, Retirement Planner: Benefits for Your Spouse; https://socialsecurity.gov/planners/retire/yourspouse.html


Source: What Americans don’t know about Social Security



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