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65% of People Struggled With These Social Security Questions: Can You Get Them Right?


If you’re approaching retirement age, chances are you need to brush up on your Social Security knowledge.

A recent MassMutual poll found that most people nearing retirement age don’t know the ins and outs of this vital safety net program. In fact, 65% of people between 55 and 65 years old either nearly failed or outright flunked a 13-question quiz on Social Security. Respondents struggled the most on questions about deferred benefits, how benefits are taxed and whether non-citizens are eligible to receive Social Security.

A financial advisor can help you plan for Social Security and find the best time to claim your benefits. Find a trusted fiduciary advisor today.

Can You Answer These 13 Questions?

A MassMutual poll found that a people nearing retirement age don't have firm understanding of Social Security.

MassMutual partnered with PSB Research to poll older adults on their understanding of Social Security. Of the 1,500 people who took part in the online poll between April 4 and 7, only 6% correctly answered 12 or more of the true/false questions. While 12% of participants got 11 of 13 questions right, 18% answered 10 questions correctly.

However, 29% of people received a failing grade on the quiz by answering six or more questions incorrectly. Meanwhile, another 36% of respondents scored in just the 60th percentile by incorrectly answering four or more questions.

Here are the 13 true or false questions that were asked in the survey (correct answers appear below):

  • In most cases, if I take benefits before my full retirement age, they will be reduced for early filing.
  • 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.
  • If I have a spouse, he or she can receive benefits from my record even if he or she has no individual earnings history.
  • 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.
  • Generally, if I am in a same-sex marriage, there are different eligibility requirements when it comes to Social Security retirement benefits.
  • 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.
  • Under current law, Social Security benefits could be reduced by 20% or more for everyone by 2035.
  • If I file for retirement benefits and have dependent children aged 18 or younger, they also may qualify for Social Security benefits
  • If I get divorced, I might be able to collect Social Security benefits based on my ex-spouse’s Social Security earnings history.
  • Under current Social Security law, full retirement age is 65 no matter when you were born.
  • 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.
  • Social Security retirement benefits are subject to income tax just like withdrawals from a traditional IRA account.
  • I must be a U.S. citizen to collect Social Security retirement benefits.

Correct answers: 1. True; 2. True; 3. True. 4. False; 5. False; 6. False; 7. True; 8. True; 9. True; 10. False; 11. False; 12. False; 13. False

Social Security Topics People Struggled the Most With

A MassMutual poll found that a people nearing retirement age don't have firm understanding of Social Security.

Of the 13 questions that were asked in the survey, the final three above posed the most challenges for respondents.

More than 75% of people responded incorrectly when asked whether a person needs to be a citizen to collect Social Security retirement benefits. Non-citizens can in fact qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, provided they are in the country legally, are authorized to work in the U.S. and have earned enough work credits over the course of their careers.

Meanwhile, more than half of respondents incorrectly thought that Social Security retirement benefits are subject to income tax like withdrawals from a traditional individual retirement account. In reality, only a portion of a person’s benefits are potentially taxable. All money that’s withdrawn from an IRA is subject to income tax.

An individual tax filer may pay taxes on up to 50% of their Social Security benefits if their total income is between $25,000 and $34,000. If their total income exceeds $34,000, up to 85% of their Social Security benefits may be subject to income taxes.

Joint filers may see up to 50% of their benefits taxed if their combined income is between $32,000 and $44,000. For couples whose total income exceeds $44,000, 85% of their benefits may be taxed.

Lastly, just over half of the participants in the poll incorrectly responded to the question asking whether delaying benefits past age 70 increases a person’s eventual benefit. While it’s true that delaying your benefit beyond your full retirement age will boost your eventual payment, benefits stop increasing in value once a person reaches age 70.

Bottom Line

A MassMutual poll found that people between 55 and 65 years old struggle with a variety of topics related to Social Security. Only 6% of respondents answered all 13 true-or-false questions in a survey correctly or missed only one right answer. At the other end of the spectrum, 65% of people either received a failing score on the quiz or barely passed, highlighting a lack of knowledge concerning the ins and outs of Social Security.

Tips for Claiming Social Security

  • If you’re nearing retirement age, working with a financial advisor can be especially beneficial. An advisor who offers financial planning services can help you determine the right time to claim your benefits based on your broader financial situation. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • When it comes to retirement, planning ahead is vital. SmartAsset’s Social Security calculator can help you estimate how much you eventual benefits will be based on your age and salary.
  • Waiting to claim Social Security after you reach full retirement age will leave you with a larger benefit than claiming at age 62, but it’s not necessarily the best option in every situation. We ran the numbers to find out when it does and doesn’t make sense to wait on Social Security.

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