Social Security is a great tool to help supplement your savings after you’ve left the daily grind, but there are some Social Security misconceptions that can wreck your idea of the perfect retirement.
Learning the ins and outs of the benefits program can help you find the best ways to use Social Security as part of your own retirement plan. It can also reveal some of the unknown truths of the benefits program that has helped millions of older Americans since its inception in 1935.
Social Security misconceptions abound, and some are more egregious than others. Let’s take a look at a couple that could crush your ideal retirement.
Avoid These Social Security Misconceptions
1. Thinking Social Security Can Be Your Only Retirement Income
This is by far the most dangerous trap to fall in when it comes to Social Security and retirement planning because it will be a huge shock when you realize how little the program was designed to supplement.
When Social Security was created in 1935, it was designed to replace around 40% of someone’s income before leaving the workforce. Take a moment to think about your own income now and halve it.
Do you think you could survive on even less than that month-to-month in retirement?
For most, the answer is a resounding “no,” but that’s not the reality. The Social Security Administration has found that Social Security makes up 90% of monthly income for almost 25% of retired married couples.
The average benefits check for an individual is $1,503 in 2020, according to the SSA. So that’s a little over $3,000 for a couple per month. Does that sound like a nice retirement?
Sure, some people can make it work, but it doesn’t sound like the ideal retirement to me.
If that $1,500 was only 40% of your monthly retirement income, you would have a little over $3,700 per individual per month to get by, or roughly $90,000 per year for a couple.
That’s more like it!
Of course, that’s just the average benefit amount, so your mileage may vary. But just seeing the amounts written out sheds some light on this Social Security misconception.
2. Assuming One Age Is the Best Time to Claim
We talk quite a bit about full retirement age (FRA) and how it affects your Social Security benefits here on Money & Markets, but assuming one age is the end all, be all age to claim is not the best approach.
While claiming at your FRA or later assures you will get 100% (or more) of your benefits you’ve contributed while working, that doesn’t make it the best approach for everyone.
You have to look at your own situation and really think about what age makes the most sense for you to start claiming. If you’ve got a healthy nest egg, and you don’t think you’ll need to rely on Social Security as much, it may be a good idea to claim as early as 62 so you can enjoy that extra income earlier in retirement.
If you think you’ll have to rely on Social Security a bit more but your nest egg is in decent shape, you are healthy and expect to live a long time, delaying until FRA or even 70 means you’ll lock in bigger checks throughout your later years in life when your retirement savings get a little thinner.
The point is, the perfect age to file is a Social Security misconception that needs to end. Everyone’s situation is different, so thinking about how you want to use Social Security now can help when it actually comes time to file.
Social Security is a fantastic tool that should be a supplement in retirement, not a crutch, so learn as much as you can about the program and figure out how it slots into your own retirement future.