In the realm of perplexing financial topics, Social Security benefits must rank somewhere near the very top of the list.
Despite the fact that more than 59 million Americans — 9 out of 10 people over the age of 65 — receive retirement benefits and some 165 million workers pay payroll taxes into the system, a new survey shows that most of us are woefully uninformed about the particulars of the important program.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans (72%) recently surveyed by MassMutual failed a 10-question quiz on basic Social Security concepts. Only a single individual out of more than 1,500 respondents managed to answer all 10 correctly.
Given the fact that so many of us rely on these benefits in retirement, it’s troubling on a number of fronts.
Among Social Security beneficiaries, more than half of married couples and 74% of unmarried individuals rely on their benefits for 50% or more of their income. For these workers, it’s crucial to have a strategy in place to claim the maximum benefit. Everything from when you decide to claim benefits to whether you work in retirement can impact the size of your monthly Social Security check.
Further driving our need to hone our retirement savings plan is the fact that we’re living so much longer than past generations. In 1940, the life expectancy of a 65-year-old was about 14 additional years; today it’s about 20, according to the Social Security Administration. And today’s young workers are much less likely to enjoy the added benefit of a pension to supplement retirement benefits.
“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 Fanning, executive vice president of MassMutual. “With millions of Americans nearing retirement each year, many may be at risk of underutilizing a critical component of their retirement income stream.”
Do you think you could pass the Social Security quiz? With permission from MassMutual, we’ve shared the full quiz and answers below:
- 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.
- True or False? If my spouse dies, I will continue to receive both my own benefit and my deceased spouse’s benefit.
- True or False? I must be a U.S. citizen to collect Social Security retirement benefits.
- True or False? Under current Social Security law, full retirement age is 65.
- True or False? I can continue working while collecting my full Social Security retirement benefits – regardless of my age.
- True or False? If I file for retirement benefits and have minor dependent children, they also may qualify for Social Security benefits.
- True or False? As a divorced person, I can collect Social Security retirement benefits based on my ex-spouse’s earnings history.
- True or False? Once I start collecting Social Security, my benefit payments will never change.
- True or False? Government workers may have their Social Security retirement benefits reduced.
- True or False? My spouse can qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, even if he or she has no individual earnings history.
For answers, keep scrolling:
For a full explanation of the ansers, check out the quiz at MassMutual >
Have Social Security questions? Email us at email@example.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said 72% of Americans passed the test, which is incorrect — 72% failed the test. The story has been updated.