It’s likely that deciding when to apply for Social Security is probably one of the biggest retirement choices you’ll ever make.
Still, a recent survey by MassMutual showed that many retirees get key information about program rules wrong — and just one mistake can hurt you financially.
The company recently submitted 12 true or false quiz questions to 1,500 people aged 55-65 who have not yet claimed their benefits.
Only 54% of respondents were able to correctly identify whether their benefits would increase further if they defer receiving retirement benefits beyond the age of 70. The answer is no.
Also, if you’re more than 70 years late, you can only go back six months to make up for lost checks every month, said David Freitag, a financial planning consultant and social security expert at MassMutual.
“The benefits they’ve lost, they’ll never see,” he said.
Overall, the results showed that 35% of respondents failed the survey altogether and 18% received a grade of “D”.
Only 3% of respondents were able to answer all the questions correctly.
Certain questions shocked people more.
Respondents were generally unable to distinguish between the rules on divorce and the benefits of family benefits after the death of a spouse.
The results showed that 22% of retirees did not know that if a spouse is deceased, you cannot collect both your own and your spouse’s benefits. (Usually you get either yours or your spouse, whichever is higher.)
At the same time, 30% of respondents did not know that they could benefit from their former spouse’s work experience. (You must be married for at least 10 years, among other things.)
Each of these benefits has separate rules, Freitag said, which means it’s important to understand them before claiming.
“While family benefits sound like spouse benefits, they are completely different,” she said.
Not all results were bad.
Most respondents – 94% – were able to correctly say that their retirement benefits will be reduced if they apply for them before reaching full retirement age (usually 66 or 67, depending on your year of birth).
The majority – 86 per cent – were also able to assure precisely that their social security benefits could be reduced if they collected monthly checks before reaching full retirement age and continued working.
Test your knowledge
Would you be interested to see how well you would do in the quiz? Decide if all the statements below are true or false and check your answer based on the answer key below.
- If I take benefits before my full retirement age, they will be deducted for early application.
- If I receive benefits before my full retirement age and continue to work, the benefits may be reduced based on the salary I earn.
- When I start collecting Social Security, my benefit payments never change.
- If I have a spouse, she can benefit from my book even if she doesn’t have a personal earnings history.
- If I have a spouse and he or she dies, I get both the full benefit and the benefit of my deceased Spouse.
- The money coming from my social security pay goes to a certain account for me and stays there earning interest until I get social security benefits.
- Under the current Social Security Act, the full retirement age is 65 years, regardless of your birth.
- As a divorced person, I may be able to accumulate Social Security benefits based on my former Spouse’s earning history.
- Under current law, social security benefits can be reduced for everyone in 2035.
- If I am claiming retirement benefits and I have dependent children aged 18 or under, they can also receive social security benefits.
- If I am late in taking Social Security benefits over the age of 70, I still get overdue pension loans every year while I wait.
- I must be a U.S. citizen in order to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits.