What people don't know about Social Security, but should

By David Freitag CLU, ChFC, CRPC
David Freitag is a financial planning consultant and Social Security expert for MassMutual.
Posted on Apr 10, 2018

It’s startling how little people really know about what, for many people, could be their biggest asset in retirement. We’re trying to fix that.

In June of 2015, MassMutual announced the results of a landmark study about public awareness and Social Security. This study of over 1,500 people, conducted by KRC Research, used 10 basic questions about Social Security. Over 70 percent failed the test. 

Even more revealing is that 62 percent of the people in the over 50-years of age cohort failed to pass the test. 

The most dramatic result of this study, however, was that only one person out of 1,500 actually got all the questions right.

The big three “aha” questions from the study related to citizenship, retirement age, and working while collecting benefits. Here are some of the key results from the study:

  • You do not have to be a U.S. citizen to collect Social Security benefits. You do have to have the legal right to work (green card holder) in the U.S. and most important, pay FICA taxes.
  • The retirement age to collect full benefits (FRA) is 66 or 67 (depending on the year you were born) and not 65. Many people are clearly confusing the filing age for Medicare with the filing age for Social Security benefits.
  • Over one-half of the people in the survey believed that they could work and collect their full Social Security benefit regardless of their age. In reality, an earnings test is applied to your income if you file for benefits between age 62 and your full retirement age and could result in the withholding of all of your benefits if you have earned income over $17,040 (2018).

Since the time of that 2015 study, MassMutual and its financial professionals have focused on helping clients understand the role Social Security plays in their retirement savings. So how are we doing in improving the national awareness of how Social Security works? It is time for a new follow-up study to discover if people are learning more about their benefit choices.

Once again, we have engaged KRC Research to target the over-50 years of age demographic and see if they have improved their scores. We will have the results of the follow-up study soon and will share it. 

Do you want to see how you do?

The questions used with the new study are available now on our website. Click here and and take the quiz. It does not take much time and I am sure you will find some important information about your Social Security benefits. This is an “open book” quiz and the answers are provided for you. It is fun to see how much you know or do not know about this important benefit.

Remember that 12.4 percent of your income, up to the 2018 wage base of $128,400, is paid into the Social Security trust fund. You pay 6.2 percent and your employer matches it with a 6.2 percent payment. Often you are paying more for Social Security that you are contributing to your 401(k) plan. It is not a good idea to have little or no knowledge about how the program works or what is the best time to apply for benefits. 

While you are visiting our site, take a few minutes to read the supporting material and learn more about Social Security and your plans for retirement.

LIMRA, a research association of life insurers, reports that for many people between 42 percent and 49 percent of your retirement income comes from Social Security. If you make a mistake about how and when to take these benefits, all of the rest of your retirement planning decisions are impacted. To make things even more important, you only have one year to change your Social Security filing decision. After that one year, it is extremely difficult to make any changes to the payments. 

It is best to get it right the first time.

Learn more from MassMutual…

4 ways to delay Social Security

Retirement savings catch up: 3 moves

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The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual, its subsidiaries, employees, and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel. Opinions expressed by those interviewed are their own, and do not necessarily represent the views of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company.