How Well Do You Understand Social Security?

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If you’re like most pre-retirees, you know a bit but perhaps not enough to take full advantage of what represents upwards of $1.5 million in your retirement nest egg.

An online poll of 12 true/false statements commissioned by MassMutual of 1,500 Americans close to retirement age reveals both a general current understanding – and lack of understanding – of Social Security retirement benefits.

One third (33%) of Americans near retirement (ages 55-65) failed a basic knowledge quiz about Social Security retirement benefits, while another 19% barely passed with a D – that’s over half (52%) with an opportunity to firm up their knowledge base, according to MassMutual. On the other side of the spectrum, only 3% got an A+ by answering all 12 true/false statements correctly.

Of particular interest was the difference between what those ages 55-59 and those ages 60-65 know about Social Security. According to MassMutual, the most significant differences between 60-65- and 55-59-year-olds is that more 60-65-year-olds (12% more) knew that under current Social Security law, full retirement age is 65 no matter when you were born was a false statement, 9% more knew that a spouse can receive benefits from the other spouse’s record even if he or she has no individual earnings history, and 6% more knew that a divorced person might be able to collect Social Security benefits based on an ex-spouse's earnings history.

“Based on this study, we need to keep pushing out important information so that workers can find the best Social Security filing strategy to fit their unique situation,” David Freitag, a financial planning consultant with MassMutual and long-time Social Security expert said.

Among other things, Freitag said now is a good time for Americans to learn not only the basics about Social Security but some of the lesser-known strategies and tactics such as voluntarily suspending benefit payments.

With voluntary suspension, Freitag said one can take Social Security benefits before full retirement age and then when you reach full retirement age, suspend benefits and draw from other income sources for a period of time to basically fill your Social Security credit bucket back up to become whole - or near whole - for Social Security benefits for the rest of your lifetime.

“This is an old Social Security concept that in these challenging times and need for income now, it could be a true lifesaver for some,” Freitag said in a release. “Net-net, the more people know, the more options they can uncover and the better decisions they can make that can affect them for decades to come.”

Test your knowledge of Social Security:

True or False?

  1. If I take benefits before my full retirement age, they will be reduced for early filing.
  2. If I am receiving benefits before my full retirement age and continue to work, my benefits might be reduced based on how much I make.
  3. Once I start collecting Social Security, my benefit payments will never change.
  4. If I have a spouse and he or she passes away, I will receive both my full benefit and my deceased spouse's full benefit.
  5. If I have a spouse, he or she can receive benefits from my record even if he or she has no individual earnings history.
  6. The money that comes out of my paycheck for Social Security goes into a specific account for me and remains there, earning interest, until I begin to receive Social Security benefits.
  7. Under current Social Security law, full retirement age is 65 no matter when you were born.
  8. As a divorced person, I might be able to collect Social Security benefits based on my ex-spouse's earnings history.
  9. Under current law, Social Security benefits could be reduced for everyone in 2035.
  10. If I file for retirement benefits and have dependent children age 18 or younger, they also may qualify for Social Security benefits.
  11. If I delay taking Social Security benefits past the age of 70, I will continue to get delayed retirement credit increases each year I wait.
  12. I must be a U.S. citizen to collect Social Security retirement benefits.

Answers:

  1. True
  2. True
  3. False
  4. False
  5. True
  6. False
  7. True
  8. True
  9. True
  10. True
  11. False
  12. False

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