Social Security is a linchpin for so many Americans in retirement, and taking the time to educate yourself on how benefits work can be a boon in your golden years.
Knowing more about Social Security can also mean you aren’t falling into any traps and missing out on maximizing the amount you pull in every month from the program.
Here are three myths about Social Security that you should learn as you prepare to apply for your monthly benefits, per AZCentral.com:
1. My monthly retirement benefit will mimic my former monthly earnings
Some people are under the very erroneous impression that the monthly benefits they collect from Social Security will be similar to what their paychecks looked like. Not so. If you were an average earner, you can expect Social Security to replace about 40% of your pre-retirement income. Most seniors need close to double that amount to live comfortably and keep up with their expenses.
The takeaway? Don’t bank on Social Security alone for retirement. Instead, take steps to build savings, whether in an IRA or 401(k). Socking away $300 a month over 30 years will give you a $340,000 nest egg, assuming your investments generate an average annual 7% return during that time, which is doable if you load up on stocks.
2. If I file early and reduce my benefits, they’ll be bumped up once I reach full retirement age
Your Social Security benefits are calculated by averaging your monthly earnings during your 35 highest-paid years on the job and adjusting them for inflation. Once your monthly benefit is established, you’re entitled to it upon reaching full retirement age (FRA). If you were born in 1960 or later, FRA is 67.
You are allowed to claim benefits before FRA; you can file once you turn 62. But for each month you take benefits early, you reduce them in the process.
Here’s the problem: Some people think that if they file for Social Security early, their benefits will be reduced only for a few years and that once FRA kicks in, they’ll be bumped up to the full amount of their earnings record initially entitled them to. That’s not how Social Security works. Generally speaking, the monthly benefit you start out collecting will be the same amount you receive for life, not including the yearly cost-of-living adjustments that are applied to benefits each year. Therefore, if you file early, expect to collect that reduced benefit indefinitely.
3. I can cancel my benefits anytime and file again later
The Social Security Administration (SSA) allows each filer one do-over in his or her lifetime. If you claim benefits before FRA but regret it, you can withdraw your application and file again later to snag a higher monthly benefit. But you get only one year from the time your benefits start to make that decision, which means that if you wait too long, you’ll be stuck with your initial monthly benefit for life.
Furthermore, to get that second chance at filing, you’ll need to repay the SSA every dollar it sent you in benefits. It’s for this reason that so many seniors can’t capitalize on the do-over option, and wind up stuck with a reduced monthly benefit throughout retirement.