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Why October is the scariest month for your retirement

  • Seventy-eight percent in a new survey think Social Security funding will run out during their lifetime.
  • Forty-three percent of older unmarried recipients rely on that check for 90 percent of their monthly income.

October is a scary month for America's retirees, and not just because swarms of kids will be banging on their doors, demanding candy and treats.

No, October is the month when the Social Security trustees generally announce the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) to recipients' monthly checks. In recent years, the paltry percentage increase has been downright frightening. It was zip in 2015, and 0.03 percent in 2016.

And consider this: Roughly 43 percent of older, unmarried recipients rely on that check for 90 percent of their monthly retirement income, according to the Social Security Administration. The average monthly check is $1,369, by the way. Yes, you read that correctly.

The Nationwide Retirement Institute, an arm of Nationwide, the Columbus, Ohio-based insurer with the Peyton Manning commercials, conducts an annual survey of consumer knowledge and attitudes about Social Security. The results of its most recent poll are sobering and should send a chill among anyone concerned about the financial security of older Americans.

"There's a lot of belief that there will be changes over the next four years that will negatively impact their Social Security benefit." -Tina Ambrozy, president, Nationwide Financial Distributors

Among the highlights: 78 percent think Social Security funding will run out during their lifetime. That's pretty troubling given how many people really rely on this benefit. Worse yet, 29 percent of future retirees said they plan to draw their benefits early, before reaching full retirement age, (which is currently 66+) according to the survey, which was taken in May and June among 1,012 adults age 50 and older.

I recently sat down with Tina Ambrozy, president of Nationwide Financial Distributors, to elaborate on the results.

"There's a lot of belief that there will be changes over the next four years that will negatively impact their Social Security benefit," Ambrozy said. That's the highest that sentiment has been in the four years the survey has been taken, she added. (Although the Republican tax framework, released on Sept. 27, says it will encourage "retirement security" and "will aim to maintain or raise the resources available for retirement." )

Of course, if you're in poor health or think the government's cash will run out, it's an understandable decision to take the money early, though that's a very costly move as you permanently lower your benefit than if you had waited to collect.

Compounding the issue is the general lack of understanding about the how the program works. It's not your fault. The Social Security claiming system with all its rules, nuances and permutations, makes an NFL coach's playbook look simple.

For example, if you wait until age 70 to start collecting, your benefit will be about 32 percent more than if you took it at 66. Or that your Medicare premiums generally are automatically deducted from your monthly benefit. And if you're married and want to strategize about who should claim what and when, it really does take a rocket scientist to decipher it all.

Meanwhile, Nationwide has developed a Social Security claiming tool it says will help you make informed decisions about this critical benefit. (Spoiler: it's only available to advisors who work with clients.)

"Advisors need to be comfortable talking with their clients," about Social Security, Ambrozy said, which was part of the impetus in building the tool.

They're not alone in trying to give Americans a leg out on sorting all this out. And even if you aren't working with an advisor, there are a number other tools out there, both free and paid, although with varying degrees of accuracy.

For America's older citizens, it's time well spent to utilize one.

(Update: This story has been updated to include details of the Republican tax framework.)