Social Security is the linchpin of the American retirement system. Nearly 40 million retired Americans receive an average of $1,335 a month from the program. For 64% of retirees, the check they receive makes up more than half of their total income. Without this retirement benefit, many of the oldest Americans would be destitute.
Yet for all its importance, Social Security remains a program that is shrouded in confusion and mystery. When Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company quizzed people in 2015 on some basic facts about Social Security, only 28% received a passing grade. The 1,500-person survey revealed confusion about who could claim benefits, what the full retirement age was, and whether you could work and get benefits at the same time.
Being misinformed about how Social Security works is costing retirees. “Americans who lack the proper knowledge and information about Social Security may be putting their retirement planning in jeopardy,” Phil Michalowski, the vice president at U.S. Insurance Group, MassMutual, said in a statement. “In fact, many may be leaving Social Security retirement benefits they’re entitled to on the table, or incorrectly assuming what benefits may be available in retirement.”
Where do these myths about Social Security come from? While the basics of Social Security are fairly straightforward (work, pay taxes, get money when you retire), the devil is in the details. Confusion about how benefits are earned, how much you can get, and the best time to retire abounds. Politicians and the media add to the confusion when they make dramatic — and sometimes false — statements about the future health of Social Security. In some cases, believing the lies you hear about Social Security could cause you to make planning mistakes that jeopardize your future financial security.
Here are nine of the biggest whoppers you’ll hear about Social Security.