The Carr Report: Social Security Pop Quiz

How much do you know about social se­curity?

MassMutual recently gave a social se­curity true/false quiz to 1,500 individuals ages 55 through 65. According to the re­sults, 65 percent of people either failed or got a D grade, 18 percent of respondents earned a C, 12 percent got a B and 6 per­cent received an A. Only 1 percent of re­spondents got a perfect score.

I went onto the MassMutual website and took the quiz. I’m happy to report, I got a perfect score.

Below are some true and false social security questions followed by the corre­sponding answers. Take the Social Securi­ty Pop Quiz to test your knowledge.

Q: Social security retirement benefits are based on my earnings history; I’ll re­ceive the same monthly benefit amount whether I start collecting before or after my full retirement age.

False: If you collect social security re­tirement benefits before reaching full re­tirement age, you effectively lock in a low­er monthly benefit amount. If you wait to begin collecting until after you reach full retirement age, you become eligible for delayed retirement credits. These credits increase your monthly benefit amount by up to 8 percent each year that you delay collecting, up to a maximum of 32 percent. Once you reach age 70, no additional de­layed retirement credits accrue.


Q: If my spouse dies, I will continue to receive both my own benefit and my de­ceased spouse’s benefit; the total social security benefits I receive will not change.

False: Social security retirement bene­fits are only paid while you are alive. As­suming that you are eligible, the amount you receive will equal the greater of your benefit or your spouse’s benefit.


Q: Only U.S. citi­zens can collect so­cial security retire­ment benefits.

False: You do not have to be a U.S. citizen to qualify for so­cial security retirement benefits. Resident aliens who pay into the social security sys­tem may qualify to receive retirement ben­efits, assuming they earn enough credits and meet specific criteria. To become part of the social security system, non-citizens must have lawful alien status, permission by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to work in the U.S., and a social security number.


Q: Under current social security law, my benefits will not be reduced if I claim them at age 65.

False: Your full retirement age is based on the year you were born. For people born between 1943 and 1954, the full re­tirement age is 66. For those born between 1955 and 1959, the full retirement age in­creases by two months each year starting at 66 years and 2 months in 1955. If you were born in 1960 or later, the full retirement age is 67.


Q: If I am still working when I claim my social se­curity, my benefit might be reduced, depending on my earnings and my age.

True: You can work and receive social security retire­ment benefits. However, if you have not reached your full retirement age, your earnings will be subject to the retirement earnings test. If your income exceeds the test limit, social security may withhold all or a portion of your benefits.


Q: If I file for retirement benefits and have minor dependent children, they may also qualify for social security benefits.

True: When you file for social security retirement benefits, your children may also qualify to receive benefits based on your record. An eligible child can be your biological child, adopted child, or stepchild. Your dependent grandchild may also qual­ify. Normally, benefits stop when children reach age 18, unless they have a disabili­ty. However, if the child is still a full-time student at a secondary school at age 18, benefits will continue until the child grad­uates or until two months after the child reaches age 19, whichever comes first.


Q: My Primary Insurance Amount is the social security retirement benefit amount I will receive if I elect to receive my retire­ment benefit at age 62.

False: Your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) is the benefit you will receive if you begin receiving retirement benefits at your full retirement age. At this age, your benefit is neither reduced for early retirement nor increased for delayed re­tirement.


Q: Social security payments are not sub­ject to cost-of-living adjustments.

False: The Social Security Act of 1973 included a provision for cost-of-living ad­justments (COLAs) to help social security benefits account for inflation. Each year, the Social Security Administration uses specific indexes and formulas mandated by this legislation to determine wheth­er a COLA will apply to benefits paid in the coming year and, if so, how much the detailed information on how COLAs are calculatincrease will be. For more ed, visit the Social Secu­rity Administration web­site. ­


Q: Government work­ers may receive reduced social security retirement benefits.

True: For certain work­ers, social security impos­es two offsets that reduce the full social security monthly benefits that might otherwise have been paid. The “Windfall Elimination Provision” (WEP) affects workers who have earned a pen­sion from an employer (such as a government agency) that did not col­lect social security taxes and who also have worked in other jobs long enough to earn social security benefits. Under WEP, so­cial security uses a mod­ified formula to calculate your benefit, resulting in a lower benefit than you might have otherwise re­ceived. The second offset is called the “Government Pension Offset” (GPO), and it affects spousal benefits if you receive a pension from an employer that did not collect social security taxes. The GPO can also reduce surviving spouse benefits.


Q: My spouse is eligible to receive social security retirement benefits, even if he or she has no individ­ual earnings history.

True: Many spouses choose to stay at home to raise children or other­wise spend extended pe­riods of time outside the paid workforce. This can affect a spouse’s ability to qualify for Social Se­curity benefits. In such cases, that spouse may be eligible for a Social Se­curity spousal benefit. A spousal benefit can be as much as 50 percent of the spouse’s full retirement age benefit. The exact per­centage will depend on whether the spouse filing for a spousal benefit has reached his or her full re­tirement age.


Q: In most cases, if I take benefits before my full re­tirement age, they will be reduced for early filing.

True: For those born in 1960 or later, full retire­ment age is 67 but you can claim as early as age 62. Claiming at 62 perma­nently reduces your bene­fits by 30 percent, but you will receive more monthly payments than if you wait to file.


Q: Generally, if I am in a same-sex marriage, there are different eligibility re­quirements when it comes to social security retire­ment benefits.

False: The SSA recog­nizes same-sex marriages, including approved for­eign marriages, in all 50 states.


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.

False: Social Security is a pay-as-you-go program. Today’s workers pay so­cial security taxes, and that money goes back out as monthly income to ben­eficiaries.


Q: Under current law, social security benefits could be reduced by 20 percent or more for every­one by 2035.

True: Payroll taxes are only expected to cover about 78 percent of sched­uled benefits by 2035. Re­tirees could see a 22 per­cent reduction in social security payments unless workers pay more into the system or the full retire­ment age is increased.

(Money Coach Damon Carr can be reached at 412-216-1013 or visit his website @ www.da­



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