Your Results: How Did You Do on Our Social Security IQ Test

Category: Financial and taxes in retirement

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.

Overall results
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)

Y 66
65
62
70

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?

1957
1959
Y 1960
1962

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?

66%
Y 75%
80%
100%

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. In the year you reach full retirement age they will deduct $1 for every $3 you earn. After that there are no deductions. BUT, if some of your retirement benefits are withheld because of your earnings, your monthly benefit will increase starting at your full retirement age to take into account those months in which benefits were withheld.

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.

Bottom line:
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.

Posted by Admin on April 20th, 2018

12 Comments »

  1. I recently read “Get What’s Yours – the Revised Secrets to Maxing Out your Social Security”, which offers an absolute wealth of SS knowledge.

    Something spelled out in that book but virtually nowhere else: if Spouse A lives beyond FRA but dies before ever filing for benefits, the widow(er)s spousal benefits are calculated as if the deceased had filed for benefits on the day of his/her death.

    In practical terms this means that if one dies at 68.5 years old and has never taken benefits against his/her own earnings, the widowed spouse is eligible for benefits for Spouse A’s 68.5 year old benefits.

    This is useful information for couples where the higher earning spouse is considering delaying benefits beyond FRA.

    by JCarol — April 22, 2018

  2. I have. Question for a friend who has just been widowed, and is desperté to know if she’ll be eligible for the ss of her husband…she gets about six hundred…..it’s such a minefield, and I can’t advise her?….any suggestions please???….thank you.

    by Joyce — April 23, 2018

  3. Yes, I believe she should be eligible for widow’s benefits. She needs to contact her local SS office rather than rely on just what all of us might think. She needs to call. Even if she was divorced and had been married to the man for ten years prior to the divorce, she would be eligible. The only way to know for sure is speak with a representative from SS.

    by Jennifer — April 24, 2018

  4. Please, DO NOT solely rely upon the information given by Social Security Office personnel. Have her pay a Certified Financial Planner (CFP), someone who works as a fiduciary for the client, a fee to get the proper advice. I have talked with CFP’s who specialize in Social Security planning as part of overall retirement planning. There are many specific instances where they’ve outlined SS claiming strategies for clients only for the clients to be told by their local SS Offices that they cannot claim SS as the advisor said. Problem was, the local SS Office personnel were wrong! Had to present the SS rules and go up a few “supervisor” levels to get the right answer from local SS Office personnel. If the clients would have stopped at the first answer they got from SS Office personnel, their benefits would be lower than what is allowed by law. A couple of hundred dollars in fees could equate to a lifetime of thousands in increased yearly SS income.

    by Doug — April 24, 2018

  5. Doug….Jennifer….Thank you so very much. This is frightening…..can’t thank you enough, j

    by Joyce — April 24, 2018

  6. Social Security should not be so complicated or produce so much anxiety. But it does. Thank you for producing this quiz and yes, please do more.

    by Jay Smith — April 25, 2018

  7. Q. 6. In 2018 what is the average monthly Social Security benefit, AND the highest available monthly benefit?
    Incorrect Answer:
    Y – $1400 average and $3680 maximum

    Correct
    . In 2018, the maximum benefit will increase $101 per month to $2,788

    Editors comment: From SS FAQ page
    The maximum benefit depends on the age you retire. For example, if you retire at full retirement age in 2018, your maximum benefit would be $2,788. However, if you retire at age 62 in 2018, your maximum benefit would be $2,158. If you retire at age 70 in 2018, your maximum benefit would be $3,698. See https://faq.ssa.gov/link/portal/34011/34019/article/3735/what-is-the-maximum-social-security-retirement-benefit-payable

    by Bob — April 25, 2018

  8. I am retired military and I assume that my military service is being considered in my SS payment. However, I have been hearing about a benefit that requires you to take your DD214 to the nearest SS Office and register it to receive an extra benefit in your monthly payment. Is this so? Also, can this be made retroactive from my actual date of retirement?

    by Donald — April 25, 2018

  9. From Arthur:
    I got 9 out of 12 right. Missed all the questions regarding spousal benefits.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    by Admin — April 25, 2018

  10. We moved a lot of comments from another Blog here because they pertain to Social Security. Don’t forget to take our “What is your Social Security IQ” quiz:

    The original comment was from Jennifer, who worries about maintaining her standard of living:
    — While I am still working, I am fine financially. In late June I went back to work in medicine (I had been an administrative nurse in surgery) for an oral surgeon, but if I cannot work, it could be a hard time for me as I do not have a pension. I have saved via a 401K and have equity in my home. I have plenty of clothing and buy mix and match classics so I do not need anything but maybe one piece per season, if that. I am a good cook and have set a food budget, within that budget I attempt to allow for eating out for lunch or afternoon tea maybe once a month. There are many months I do not eat out at all. Since I have somewhat figured out what I need to do if I stay here, and I do not know where to go for retirement, I will stay put. Washington, DC has lots of free activities and stimulation.

    From Clyde:
    Jennifer, if you haven’t taken Social Security yet, you could wait until 70 and you’ll get approximately eight percent more per year if you do. If you are able to continue your job until that age or longer, the income from that could tide you over until you’re eligible for a larger payout at 70. Take it at 70, because the payment doesn’t grow after that except for any annual COLA increases. Also, if health insurance is a financial concern, when you reach age 65 you’re, of course, eligible for Medicare and Medicare Advantage policies can be very inexpensive, some even having no monthly premium. And within their networks, there are almost always plenty of providers and hospitals. In your 401k, you maybe able to withdraw 3-5 percent of it each year without decreasing the principal amount, assuming markets go up on average 5-7% over time. However, no growth percentage is necessarily assured. Some fee-based financial advisor help could assist you in keeping your 401k in good shape for the future. As to HOA fees increasing, whether you’re renting or in a purchased condo, the HOA fees or rent will probably always be going up some, so that unknown may always be an issue – but not insurmountable. Best wishes.

    From Jennifer:
    Hi Clyde:
    Thanks Clyde I am well versed on Social Security. I had to take my social security benefits at 63.5 years of age to preserve my savings and since I would not be contributing much into SS to raise my benefit without full time employment, which I could not find. My first check came at the end of March. I would have loved to have taken it at 70. My plan was to do so since I am in good health, until my full time job with benefits was eliminated last Dec 1, 2017. I was given only two months of severance pay and insurance .I had to sign a document that I would not sue for age discrimination for the privilege. I had been working as an Executive Assistant to the Rector of an Episcopal Church (after leaving nursing in 2015) and because I worked for a church, much to my shock, I did not qualify for unemployment benefits since churches do not pay the unemployment tax.
    For health insurance, in February 2018 I started with Christian Healthcare Ministries co-op insurance and have found it to be fine so far. The deductible is $500.00 and the premiums for the Gold plan are $150.00 per year and $40.00 plus $25.00 per quarter for catastrophic coverage. When you think of it most traditional medical insurance has a $2,000-$5,000 deductible. I will use this insurance for my secondary coverage when I qualify for Medicare next March, 2019. I could not find full time work and I decided to work part-time to supplement Social Security. The problem now is I am forced to earn no more than $17,040 (I will be 64 years of age next month). This can force a lower standard of living on me until 2020 when my FRA year kicks in. Then I can earn $45,000 or so before they reduce my benefit. Problem is I am now back in medicine ( I am a former administrative nurse) and I make good money even three days a week so since I just started in July, I am hoping to not make over the SS limit this year. Next year I will have to call SS to have my benefits temporairily reduced until I get into 2020 which is my FRA year. It is very hard on those of us who are not FRA when our full time jobs are eliminated and we are not considered for full time employment. I am lucky this did not happen earlier in my life. I firmly feel the government should do more for age discrimination in the workplace, especially since companies tend to let workers go when they get older. It is rampant and deserves more attention. I hope someone in our government is reading this!

    From Jean:
    Jennifer, I’m not an expert in SS but have heard people talk about suspending it after filing. If you can suspend the SS and find full time employment could you bring in more than the SS plus 17000? If so, you can add to your savings even though it would not increase your SS when you resume collecting.—

    From Florence:
    Jennifer?I was little confused by your post and reference to collecting SS. At age 65 you can collect your full benefit regardless of how much money you earn by working-?Check out the SS.gov website—
    “When you reach full retirement age:
    Beginning with the month you reach full retirement age, your earnings no longer reduce your benefits, no matter how much you earn.”

    From Louise:
    Jennifer, You can earn more than $17,040. Read the last line, it says the money is returned to you in higher SS payments when you reach full retirement age. Read below:
    If I collect Social Security benefits early but earn more than the $17,040 limit, how do I pay the penalty?
    You should notify the Social Security Administration of any earnings that you make so that it can adjust your benefits more quickly (through the annual earnings test). If you do not notify SSA, it will be notified through your W-2 form that SSA receives through the IRS. If you earn more than the earnings test threshold ($17,040 in 2018 for earnings prior to age 66), the SSA will reduce your benefit by $1 for every $2 in earnings over $17,040. SSA will automatically reduce your benefits once it learns of your earnings (through you or the IRS). If you do not inform Social Security that you exceeded the earnings test threshold and received a higher monthly benefit, your check will be reduced in the future once Social Security is aware of the overpayment. There is no “penalty” and the money that is taken from your benefit before full retirement age will eventually be returned to you in the form of slightly higher payments after you reach full retirement age.
    So, even if you go over the $17,040 and they take money away from you, down the road your SS will be adjusted to reflect what you paid in and you will most likely get more in your SS check.

    by Admin — August 19, 2018

  11. Hi All thanks for your replies.

    Florence, my full retirement age is 66 and I understand that they will not let me earn more than $17,040 until the first month of my full retirement year which would be 2020. I am unable to find a full time job, but I did find a lovely part time job three consecutive eight hour days per week and it pays my hourly nursing rate but there are no benefits and I must buy my own insurance. Prior to 66 I am subject to the earnings limit or they will withhold some of my benefits until I am in the year I turn 66 when there is no earnings limit. I understand all of that.

    Thanks Louise for your comments, I am aware SS will recalculate my benefts and refund back anything withheld plus add a possible added benefit when I hit FRA. I am trying to navagate it so I do not have money withheld from SS working only a part-time job. If I find a full time job prior to Jan 2020, I will call SS and let them know my possible earnings. I am getting close to FRA and the year 2020 will entitle me to a higher earnings limit, so I am not worried then as this job does not go over $45,000 part-time. There is also a possibility that the earnings limits will increase for 2019. I just need enough money now to live and hopefully save or not touch my savings until FRA so I do not have my SS check reduced.

    by Jennifer — August 19, 2018

  12. Jennifer, I believe you can suspend your SS any time within the first year you receive it, if you pay back what you received so far, and you will be in a position with SS as if you hadn’t taken it. I think such suspension may be done as long as you haven’t reached FRA. A good book on the subject is Get What’s Yours by Lawrence Kotlikoff. Also, although you may not even be considering it, it sounds to me like the clause in your separation agreement from the church on not suing for age discrimination may not be lawful. You may want to check with a labor plaintiff’s Attorney. They often will give a free half hour or hour long initial consultation.

    by Clyde — August 19, 2018

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment