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10 Jaw-Dropping Stats About Social Security

Selena Maranjian, The Motley Fool

Retirement was a much riskier time of life in America before the 1935 debut of Social Security. The program was designed to help Americans live more comfortably in their postwork years, and it has, overall, been a resounding success.

You'll see just how much of a success in the 10 amazing facts and figures below.

A man wearing glasses, with his mouth open in surprise.

Image source: Getty Images.

No. 1: 90%

Social Security is critical to most retirees' financial well-being. A substantial 21% of married elderly Social Security beneficiaries and 44% of unmarried ones get fully 90% or more of their income from the program, according to the Social Security Administration. Meanwhile, about 48% of married elderly Social Security beneficiaries and 69% of unmarried ones get 50% or more of their income from Social Security. Overall, the elderly get about a third of their income from Social Security.

No. 2: 64 million

Roughly 64 million Americans collect Social Security benefits as of 2019 -- which amounts to roughly 1 in 5 Americans.

No. 3: $1 trillion

Those 64 million Americans collect, in total, more than $1 trillion in benefits annually. That $1 trillion makes up about 5% of our country's entire gross domestic product (GDP), which was about $20 trillion in 2018.

No. 4: 0.6%

Though it spends more than $1 trillion annually, the Social Security program is surprisingly efficient. Only 0.6% of its budget is used for administrative expenses.

No. 5: $1,470

The average monthly retirement benefit was recently $1,470. That amounts to about $17,640 per year. If your earnings have been above average, you'll collect more than that -- but not a whole lot more. The overall maximum monthly Social Security benefit for those retiring at their full retirement age was recently $2,861 -- or about $34,300 for the whole year -- while those who started collecting at age 70 in 2019 max out at $3,770 per month, or $45,240 per year.

No. 6: 8%

You can make your ultimate retirement benefit check bigger or smaller than what you'd get if you started collecting at your full retirement age by starting to collect earlier or later. For every year beyond your full retirement age that you delay starting to receive benefits, you'll increase their value by about 8% -- until age 70. So delaying from age 67 to 70 can leave you with checks about 24% fatter.

That works in reverse if you start collecting early. For every year before your full retirement age that you start collecting, your benefits shrink by about 7%. So if your full retirement age is 67 and you start collecting benefits at age 62, your checks will be about 30% smaller.

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Image source: Getty Images.

No. 7: $725,000

Few people think of it as a life insurance policy, but Social Security benefits are available for many widows, widowers, and children of workers who have died. These survivor benefits had a total value roughly equal to a $725,000-face-value life insurance policy as of 2018 (for a young worker with average earnings).

No. 8: 85%

Not everyone realizes it, but if you earn or receive more than a certain amount of income while collecting Social Security, up to 85% of your benefits may be subject to taxation. On top of that, 13 states tax Social Security benefits to some degree. Fortunately, though, many of them have rules that result in relatively few people facing that taxation.

No. 9: 37%

There was a major precursor to Social Security in America: Civil War pensions. They offered benefits for those disabled in the war and grew to offer both disability and old-age benefits to veterans -- and to survivors of those who died, too. By 1894, military pensions made up a whopping 37% of the entire nation's budget!

No. 10: 35%

You may not be aware of it, but scams related to Social Security abound and are on the rise. According to one report, fully 35% of consumers alerted about identity breaches experienced breaches related to Social Security. Armed with information such as your name, birth date, and Social Security number, scammers can try to get your Social Security benefits. One way you might prevent this is by opening and monitoring a my Social Security account.

The more you know about Social Security, the more you can probably get out of it. For starters, learn how you might increase your Social Security benefits.

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