Thanks for taking our Social Security Quiz. (If you haven’t taken it already, here is the link to the Quiz). To make sure you don’t miss out on useful tools and information like this, sign up for our Free weekly Best Places enewsletter.
It is clear this was a hard quiz – Social Security is complicated. The average score after more than 2,000 people took it is 50%. Of the 13 questions, more people in aggregate got the correct answer than not. There were, however, 2 questions that most people missed (by a narrow margin). See Question 3 (how Social Security calculates your benefit – more people said 20 years than the correct answer), and Question 12 (Restricted Benefit available to folks born before Jan. 2, 1954). Here is a link to our summary article of how people did on the Quiz.
Fortunately no one should feel bad if they didn’t do well on it, because the point of it was to be a learning tool. Take the quiz (or study up in advance with the prep materials we provided), read the correct answers and explanations, and bingo – you will know just about everything you have to know about your Social Security benefit!
Below you will find more information about the correct answers. There is a Y in front of the correct answer.
Q.1. Assuming you were born between 1943 and 1954, what is considered your Full Retirement Age for Social Security benefit purposes? (The rest of the questions in this quiz assume you were born between 1943-1954, unless otherwise noted)
Comment: There is always some confusion over what “Full Retirement Age” means. SS assumes 66 is the full retirement age for folks born between these years. But you can actually qualify for “more than full” and get a larger benefit at any age up to 70. (See Full Retirement Age Chart).
Q.2. The Full Retirement Age (FRA) starts gradually increasing for people born in 1955 and later. In what birth year does the FRA go to age 67?
Comment: The full retirement age for people born between 1955 and 1959 ranges from 66 and 2 months to 66 and 10 months. It is age 67 for those born in 1960 and later.
Q.3. How does the Social Security Administration calculate your benefit?
– Social Security calculates your average indexed monthly earnings during the 20 years in which you earned the most.
– Social Security calculates your average indexed monthly earnings during the 25 years in which you earned the most.
– Social Security calculates your average indexed monthly earnings during the 30 years in which you earned the most.
– Y Social Security calculates your average indexed monthly earnings during the 35 years in which you earned the most.
Comment: Most people tend to get this question wrong, usually underestimating the number of years in the calculation. The point is, the more years you can maximize your earnings, the higher your benefit. By the way, to qualify for any benefit the minimum number of earning quarters is 40.
Q.4. Assuming you claim your SS retirement benefits at age 62, what % of your Full Retirement Age benefit will you receive?
Comment: You will only get 75% of your Full Retirement Age benefit if you take it at age 62. The closer you get to your FRA, the closer to 100% you receive.
Q. 5. Assuming you wait to claim Social Security until age 70, which of these statements is most correct?
– Your benefit will be the same as at your Full Retirement Age
– Your benefit will be 120% of what you would get at age 66
Y – Your benefit will be 132% of what you would get at age 66
– You should wait until age 72 and get an even higher benefit for delaying
Comment: Your benefit increases by 8% a year if you claim after age 66 (up to age 70). Most experts believe that age 77-78 is the breakeven point for claiming early vs. later – in other words if you or your spouse live past that age you are better off delaying. The average life expectancy for a female aged 62 is 85.
Q. 6. In 2018 what is the average monthly Social Security benefit, AND the highest available monthly benefit?
Y – $1400 average and $3680 maximum
– $1200 average and $3020 maximum
– $1600 average and $3840 maximum
– $1500 average and $2950 maximum
Comment: The average SS benefit is quite low. But for people who have maximized their earnings over 35 years and who delay to age 70, the benefit becomes quite meaningful.
Q. 7. Which of these is the most accurate statement about working after you start taking Social Security?
– Once you start taking social security your benefits will be reduced if you work for pay.
Y – Once you start social taking security your benefits will not be reduced if you work for pay, as long as you have reached your full retirement age.
– Once you start social taking social security your benefits will not be reduced if you work for pay.
Comment: If you are younger than full retirement age during all of 2018, SS will deduct $1 from your benefits for each $2 you earn over the 2018 limit of $17,040. In the year you reach full retirement age they will deduct $1 for every $3 you earn and the 2018 limit was $45,360. After that there are no deductions. BUT, if some of your retirement benefits are withheld because of your earnings, your monthly benefit will increase at your full retirement age to make up for that. See “How Work Affects Your Social Security Benefits“.
Q.8. Do you have to pay federal income tax on your social security benefits?
– Yes, all of it is taxable
– No, none of it is taxable
Y – Yes, you will have to pay taxes on your SS benefits if your (filing separately) “adjusted” income is over $25,000/year.
– Yes, you must pay taxes on your SS benefits if your (filing separately) income is over $32,000/year.
Comment: Individuals start to pay taxes on their SS benefits if their adjusted income is over $25,000; for couples filing jointly the threshold is $32,000. Individual states vary in their tax treatment of social security benefits. Most do not, whereas others exempt a certain amount. See this SSA document for more about SS and taxes.
Q.9. How much can you receive as as a spousal benefit based on your spouse’s Social Security record?
Y – 50% if you start collecting at your Full Retirement Age
– 50% as long as you are at least age 62
– You cannot receive a spousal benefit unless you qualify on your own contribution record
Comment: We created this question to emphasize that it is usually worthwhile to wait until you are at full retirement age to start collecting a spousal benefit. If you begin collecting spousal benefits before your full retirement age, the benefit is reduced by a percentage based on the number of months before you reach full retirement age. You do not have to have qualified on your own contribution record to receive a spousal benefit.
Q. 10. As the surviving spouse of someone who qualified for Social Security benefits, what are your benefits?
– 50% of the spouse’s benefit, regardless of your age
– 75% of your spouse’s benefit upon his or her death, assuming you are at your Full Retirement Age
Y – 100% of your spouse’s retirement benefit upon his/her death, assuming you are at full retirement age
Comment: Because your surviving spouse gets 100% of your benefit, this is one of the most overlooked aspects when it comes to when to start taking your SS benefit. If you start collecting at 62 but your spouse lives to 95, they have a lot of years collecting a relatively low benefit.
The deceased worker whose benefit you are collecting on does not have started collecting their benefit (but if they were not at full retirement age your benefit will be reduced). If you start collecting as a survivor you have to be at least 60 years old, and you will receive a reduction if you are not at full retirement age. See Social Security – Survivor Benefits.
Q. 11. Assume that you are divorced from someone who qualifies for social security benefits. You are at least 62, and have not remarried. Can you collect benefits as a divorced spouse on the record of your former spouse?
– Yes – but only if your former spouse has not remarried
Y – Yes – but only if you were married to that person for 10 years or more
– Yes – but only if you were married to that person for 5 years or more
Comment: As long as you were married at least 10 years and haven’t remarried you can collect SS on your ex’s record.
Q. 12. Which one of these statements about filing strategies is TRUE?
– Anyone born before Jan. 1, 1957 can take the “File and Suspend” option (file so a spouse can collect spousal benefit, then suspend your own benefit until later)
Y – People born before Jan. 2, 1954 can take a Restricted Benefit (spouse can collect spousal benefit but can wait to claim own benefit)
– The File and Suspend and the Restricted Benefits are available to anyone when they reach their Full Retirement Age
– None of the above
Comment: The File and Suspend strategy is no longer available, unless you are already taking it. Restricted Benefit is available, but only to people who were born before Jan. 2, 1954. It can be a good strategy, particularly in the case where the person collecting the spousal benefit (and delaying collecting on their own) has a strong earning history.
Q. 13. Which of these statements from the Social Security Trustees about the financial health of Social Security is TRUE?
Y – In 2035 only 75% of promised retirement benefits will be available to be paid.
– The system is healthy and will be able to pay promised benefits for the foreseeable future
– In 2025 only 85% of promised retirement benefits will be available to be paid.
– In the next 20 years Social Security will be bankrupt and no benefits will be paid
Comment: The Trustees reported late last year that all SS retirement reserves will be depleted by 2035 – unless something is done soon. In that year the only money available to pay benefits will come from SS taxes coming in from current workers, which is why only 75% of promised benefits can be paid.
We hope you learned from this quiz, and you are now prepared to make the most of your Social Security benefit.
For further reference:
How Social Security calculates your benefit
How work affects your benefits
SSA Retirement Info Summary
What You Don’t Know About Social Security Could Hurt You (3 part series)
Disclaimer: We have tried to provide the most accurate information available. However note that in matters as important and complex as your social security benefit you should do careful research on your own, consult the SS Administration, and rely on your financial or other adviser before making important decisions.
Comments? How did you do on the quiz? Should we have more quizzes on Social Security and other subjects? What has been your Social Security claiming strategy? Anything we should explore in greater detail? Please let us know in the Comments section below.