A new survey of U.S. veterans, conducted for the Kiplinger
Washington Editors, finds that a high percentage of vets are
unaware of how to get an estimate of their Social Security
benefits, and they do not understand the cost of claiming benefits
early or the potential benefit of delaying the start of
More than seven in ten veterans surveyed "didn't know" or
"underestimated" how much monthly benefits are reduced if they
claim benefits at age 62 rather than at today's full retirement age
of 66. Likewise, nearly nine in ten vets didn't realize how much
benefits will increase if they wait until age 70 to start claiming
The benefit due at age 66 is reduced by 25% for those who claim
at age 62. The benefit at age 66 rises by 8% each year a retiree
delays claiming, until age 70. A retiree due $1,200 a month at age
66, for example, gets $900 a month if benefits start at age 62 and
$1,584 a month if he or she holds off claiming until age 70.
"This knowledge gap must be filled," says Knight Kiplinger,
editor in chief of Kiplinger publications, including
Kiplinger's Personal Finance
magazine. "Doing so will enhance the financial security of the men
and women who serve to protect our freedom."
This Veterans Day, November 11, vets will be given free access
to a powerful online tool that creates a personalized recommended
claiming strategy designed to maximize lifetime benefits from
Social Security. (
Kiplinger's Social Security Solutions
usually costs $49.95.) The program, which produces a personalized,
downloadable report for each vet who uses it, is being sponsored by
William Meyer, founder of Social Security Solutions and creator
of the tool, says he believes the knowledge gap uncovered by the
survey reflects Americans' general lack of understanding of the
complex rules that govern Social Security. "We're focusing on
veterans now because this is a group that we can help, and it's a
group that we should help. And what better time than Veterans
"Ironically, 70% of the veterans surveyed said they believed the
best place to find advice about the best time to claim benefits is
a Social Security office or the agency's Web site," Meyer adds.
"Unfortunately, Social Security employees are forbidden to offer
such advice." While the survey found that 80% of vets who were
collecting benefits had claimed them as soon as possible (at age
62), 68% of those who have not yet claimed benefits said they
planned to wait until full retirement age or later.
"There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Social Security
benefits among those nearing retirement, and we want to help
veterans understand more about their retirement options," says
Karen Wimbish, director of retail retirement at Wells Fargo.
"Choosing when to take your Social Security benefits is one of the
most important financial decisions of your life."
To illustrate the potential value of the online tool, Meyer
cites the results of an educational program offered to a group of
Iowa residents last summer. "The recommended claiming strategies
could add an average of more than $170,000 to the lifetime benefits
of those who used the tool," Meyer reports. Estimated lifetime
benefits were projected to be $27,000 to as much as $305,000 more
than the amount recipients would likely collect by simply claiming
benefits as soon as possible, at age 62. "We want to make sure
veterans don't leave money on the table by making a silly mistake,"
Meyer says. "Maximizing Social Security and coordinating those
benefits with military retirement pay can provide for a much richer
Veterans will be able to access their free report on November
11, 2013, at
. In addition to their name, age and marital status, they'll need
to enter their Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is the
estimated monthly Social Security benefit they will receive if they
start benefits at full retirement age. Instructions at
explain how to get that figure. The free-for-a-day program is also
open to widows and widowers of veterans.
The online poll of 1,000 veterans ages 50 to 70 was conducted at
the end of September by the online-polling firm Qualtrics and has a
margin of error of plus or minus 3%. One in four of those polled
have or expect to have served 20 or more years in the military, so
they are eligible for military retirement pay. But nearly 30% were
unaware that they could claim that benefit and Social Security at
the same time.