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Half of Americans fail this quiz on Social Security retirement benefits

  • Forty-seven percent of adults ages 50 and above could not pass a simple Social Security quiz.
  • Two topics that particularly confused quiz takers: full retirement age and spousal benefits.
  • Not fully understanding Social Security strategies can result in big losses for retirees if they make a mistake when claiming benefits.
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If you can't pass a simple five-question quiz on Social Security retirement benefits, you're not alone.

Almost half of adults ages 50 and above — 47 percent — failed the quiz that mutual life insurance company MassMutual recently sent out in an online survey.

Aspiring retirees can take some comfort in the fact that those results are actually an improvement from a similar survey conducted three years ago. That 10-question quiz resulted in a failure rate for 72 percent of the general population and a 62 percent defeat for those ages 50 and up.

"The good news is we're making progress," said David Freitag, a financial planning consultant and Social Security expert at MassMutual. "The bad news is we have a long way to go."

Two topics that stumped quiz takers were the ideal age for claiming Social Security and spousal eligibility to receive retirement benefits.

When asked to answer true or false to the statement, "Under current Social Security law, my benefits will not be reduced if I claim them at age 65," only 49 percent answered the correct answer, "False."

Most individuals who reach retirement today can receive their full benefits at age 66 or 67, depending on the year in which they were born.

This is what is known as full retirement age, which is often confused with the age by which you typically must sign up for Medicare — 65.

"You are going to be taking a reduction in benefits if you don't fully understand your full retirement age," Freitag said.

The next question that stumped respondents asked them to answer true or false to the statement, "My spouse is eligible to receive Social Security retirement benefits, even if he or she has no individual earnings history."

Just 54 percent of respondents responded with the correct answer, which is "True."

Not understanding the nuances of Social Security retirement benefits can cost couples.

If a married couple went to buy an annuity that would pay $5,000 per month for the rest of their lives, while adjusting for inflation at 2 percent per year, they would likely pay more than $1 million. "It's a staggering number," Freitag said.

Social Security retirement benefits are often worth that same sum over your lifetime.

And for married couples — who have many options based on their ages and eligibility for benefits — there is a lot at stake.

"If you have an asset in front of you that's worth more than $1 million, it's worth understanding," Freitag said.

Another key finding of MassMutual's research found that 86 percent of respondents ages 50 to 59 have not set up an online account with the Social Security Administration. Meanwhile, 60 percent of the 1,007 total individuals surveyed, ages 50 and up, have yet to create their online accounts.

Setting up a My Social Security account not only helps you protect your benefits from getting stolen, it also helps you double check your earnings record upon which those benefits are based.

Mistakes, which can be prompted by job changes or misprocessed 1099 forms, are common, according to Freitag. If you have 30 people in one room, 10 percent of them will likely have an error on their Social Security record, he said.

Making sure those records are accurate is crucial, as the Social Security Administration takes your highest 35 years of earnings to calculate your benefits.

"People need to be aware of how much they're contributing to the Social Security system," Freitag said.

Quiz questions (Answers = True or False)

1. Under current Social Security law, my benefits will not be reduced if I claim them at age 65.

2. My spouse is eligible to receive Social Security retirement benefits, even if he or she has no individual earnings history.

3. If my spouse dies, I will continue to receive both my own benefit and my deceased spouse's benefit; the total Social Security benefits I receive will not change.

4. Social Security retirement benefits are based on my earnings history; I'll receive the same monthly benefit amount whether I start collecting before or after my full retirement age.

5. If I am still working when I claim my Social Security, my benefit might be reduced, depending on my earnings and my age.

Answers

1. False

2. True

3. False

4. False

5. True

Visit MassMutual's quiz for full explanations of the answers.

More from Personal Finance:
How the timing of your Social Security check impacts your financial health
Believing these Social Security myths could make you poorer in retirement
You may be disappointed with the size of your Social Security check in retirement