Markets

A Social Security Test Only 1 in 300 Seniors Could Ace

Recently, Americans between the ages of 60 and 70 were asked five crucial questions about Social Security. Only one in 300 answered them all correctly, according to the website SimplyWise.

This is a major problem. People in this demographic group must make important decisions about their benefits -- and they need to know the answers to all these questions to make the right choices.

Here are the five questions that stumped older Americans, along with the correct answers. 

Older couple looking at financial paperwork with calculator.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. To maximize your monthly Social Security checks, at what age must you claim benefits?

Just 42% of Americans ages 60 to 70 knew this answer, with 35% incorrectly guessing that you earn your maximum monthly benefit at your full retirement age (FRA).

The correct answer is 70. Waiting until that age allows you to earn the maximum delayed retirement credits. You can earn one per month between FRA and 70, and they'll raise your benefit by up to 8% annually. 

2. What's the earliest age you can receive survivors benefits if you're not disabled?

Only 9% of people in the SimplyWise test knew that survivors benefits could be claimed as early as 60, assuming you aren't disabled or raising the deceased's child, in which case they can be started even earlier. 

Unfortunately, many older Americans incorrectly believe you'll have to wait until 62 to start these benefits. This is understandable, as 62 is the earliest age you can obtain retirement benefits. But survivors benefits are available two years earlier. Not knowing this could mean missing out on income you need as a widowed recipient. 

3. Does your spouse need to receive benefits for you to qualify for spousal benefits? 

Just 20% of older Americans were aware that you cannot claim benefits on your spouse's work record unless your spouse has already claimed benefits. Not knowing this basic fact affects your ability to devise a claiming strategy with your spouse that maximizes combined household income.

It's equally important to know the exception to this rule, though. If you've divorced after 10 years (or more) of marriage, you can claim spousal benefits and don't have to wait until your ex claims them first. As long as you've been divorced for at least two years, you haven't remarried, and your ex-spouse has reached the age of 62, you can start your spousal benefits whenever you'd like. 

4. Can divorced spouses receive spousal benefits?

This question was the one older Americans were most likely to get correct. A full 67% of seniors knew they can get spousal benefits after divorce, provided the marriage lasted at least 10 years. What you can't do, however, is collect both your own benefits and your spousal benefits at the same time, so don't count on double-dipping. 

5. Are you eligible for survivors benefits if you're divorced?

Only 38% of people in the test knew that you can get survivors benefits if you've divorced and your ex has passed away. Again, your marriage must have lasted at least a decade, though. And you cannot have remarried before the age of 60 (or 50, if disabled). 

Make sure you understand these Social Security rules

Social Security will likely be an important source of funds for you in retirement, so make sure you understand it. Check out our guide to Social Security benefits so you can become one of the minority of seniors who know the rules and can make the optimal choices about when to start benefits.

The $16,728 Social Security bonus most retirees completely overlook
If you're like most Americans, you're a few years (or more) behind on your retirement savings. But a handful of little-known "Social Security secrets" could help ensure a boost in your retirement income. For example: one easy trick could pay you as much as $16,728 more... each year! Once you learn how to maximize your Social Security benefits, we think you could retire confidently with the peace of mind we're all after. Simply click here to discover how to learn more about these strategies.

The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Latest Markets Videos

The Motley Fool

Founded in 1993 in Alexandria, VA., by brothers David and Tom Gardner, The Motley Fool is a multimedia financial-services company dedicated to building the world's greatest investment community. Reaching millions of people each month through its website, books, newspaper column, radio show, television appearances, and subscription newsletter services, The Motley Fool champions shareholder values and advocates tirelessly for the individual investor. The company's name was taken from Shakespeare, whose wise fools both instructed and amused, and could speak the truth to the king -- without getting their heads lopped off.

Learn More