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Tuesday, October 18, 2022

How Much Do Seniors Know About Social Security?

Most (65%) older adults scored a “D” or “F” on this Social Security quiz comprised of 13 true or false questions. How does your knowledge stack up?  

Social Security payments will likely be a big part of most retirement plans. That’s why it was a surprise when MassMutual recently polled 1,500 older adults from age 55 to 65 and most got a failing grade. A mere 1% of respondents got a perfect score. It just goes to show that most of us need to brush up on our knowledge before we make any decisions about when to file for Social Security and the other big government program for our elder years, Medicare.

When Should You File? 

It is possible to calculate the optimal time when you should begin benefits by guesstimating your likely year of death (usually by using the history of close relatives) and then adjusting the benefits calculator with the number of years you will get paid.

While that makes sense if you are looking at Social Security in terms of dollars collected, you might need to reevaluate your frame of reference, according to a recent article in MarketWatch. Author Jim Blankenship argues that Social Security was always meant to function as insurance, more accurately, insurance against living longer than you think you will. That shift may cause you to change when you choose to tap into the program. 

For instance, a high earner may estimate the optimal time to start drawing benefits is at age 66, but it would be a much better move to put that off until later so that his wife, who is a lower earner, can take advantage of bigger payouts when he dies.

Many Americans Start Social Security Early 

It is no secret that inflation is up, increasing costs on everything from gasoline to milk. Amid this backdrop, many Americans (42% in 2022 vs. 36% a year ago) are choosing to put their hands on some cash in the form of Social Security benefits now, while continuing to work, according to a recent survey. They may not realize there are disadvantages to this scheme. 

First, if you claim Social Security at 62, the earliest age possible, you may give up as much as a 30% bigger check down the road. Second, some benefits will likely be held back if you are working before full retirement age. Consider waiting until then to claim Social Security to maximize what you get out of the program.

Most Americans will count on Social Security to provide them with much or all of their retirement income. It is important to do your own research to find out the best option for your particular situation.

“There are definite rules, definite deadlines and definite dates that need to be met,” says David Freitag, a financial planning consultant and Social Security expert at MassMutual. “Or you could discover after the fact that that oversight was very costly, if you’re not careful.”

One of the big questions is whether to file early, when you will be sacrificing the amount of your monthly payment in order to get more of them, or later, when waiting rewards you with a heftier check. A great place to start weighing the differences is on the agency’s My Social Security site, where you’ll find information about your own situation, with sliders so you can estimate payments according to a few different factors. 

Are you ready for that quiz? Here it is, with answers below.

Social Security benefits quiz: True or false?

  1. In most cases, if I take benefits before my full retirement age, they will be reduced for early filing.
  2. 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.
  3. If I have a spouse, he or she can receive benefits from my record even if he or she has no individual earnings history.
  4. 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.
  5. Generally, if I am in a same-sex marriage, there are different eligibility requirements when it comes to Social Security retirement benefits.
  6. 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.
  7. Under current law, Social Security benefits could be reduced by 20% or more for everyone by 2035.
  8. If I file for retirement benefits and have dependent children aged 18 or younger, they also may qualify for Social Security benefits.
  9. If I get divorced, I might be able to collect Social Security benefits based on my ex-spouse’s Social Security earnings history.
  10. Under current Social Security law, full retirement age is 65 no matter when you were born.
  11. 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.
  12. Social Security retirement benefits are subject to income tax just like withdrawals from a traditional individual retirement account.
  13. I must be a US citizen to collect Social Security retirement benefits.


  1. True (89% got this right)
  2. True (82%)
  3. True (72%)
  4. False (68%)
  5. False (65%)
  6. False (62%)
  7. True (60%)
  8. True (58%)
  9. True (57%)
  10. False (56%)
  11. False (49%)
  12. False (42%)
  13. False (24%)

Still have questions? The MassMutual site includes lots of easily digested information to help you out. Start with the video that gives an overview of this potential $1 million benefit, then go on to charts and graphs that are supported by short explanations.