JUST PLAIN TALK: Social Security awareness in America is increasing

Buz Livingston
Buz Livingston

A recent survey by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company showed Americans’ basic Social Security literacy improving. Don’t celebrate; almost 50 percent failed a kindergarten-level, true/false Social Security exam. Take the test. Answers below.

Q1: My benefits will not be reduced if I claim at age 65. 49 percent answered correctly.

Q2: A spouse is eligible for Social Security retirement benefits even if they have no earnings history. 54 percent answered correctly.

Q3: When a spouse dies, the survivor will receive their benefit plus the deceased spouse’s entire benefit. 80 percent answered correctly.

Q4: Your Social Security will be the same if you start benefits before or after your full retirement age. 83 percent answered correctly.

Q5: If you begin benefits and continue working, your benefit might be reduced, depending on your age and earnings history. 85 percent answered correctly.

People have other Social Security misconceptions. My favorite one concerns the Social Security Trust Fund. Some foolishly rail the Trust Fund doesn’t exist. We live in the 21st century. No one clips bond coupons anymore, and bonds are held electronically just like Trust Fund assets. Next year, Social Security payments will come in part from the Trust Fund so yes, Virginia, it is real.

Many argue Social Security’s looming shortfall is a dastardly deed inflicted on hard-working Americans by, take your pick, liberal or conservative policies. Instead of carrying signs saying hooray for our side it’s electronic posts. Math is the universal language and demographics is the study of statistical data. Social Security trust fund woes come from mathematics and demographics; anything else is hogwash.

Social Security stopped mailing statements to anyone under age 60. Being fiscally prudent the Social Security Administration replaced mailings with online accounts and statements. The same Mass Mutual survey found an astonishing 86 percent of respondents age 50-59 did not have online Social Security accounts. Setting up an online account allows you to verify reported earnings and to correct any mistakes. Plus an online Social Security account provides an identity theft bulwark since the Social Security Administration only allows one online account per Social Security number.

Millennials argue Social Security won’t be around for them. Recently one of my daughter’s best friends lost her brother at age 37. Fortunately for her nephew, Social Security will pay benefits based on her brother’s earning history until her nephew finishes high school. Also if someone becomes disabled during their working years, Social Security provides income. Social Security is an efficiently-run program for the common good.

Social Security’s funding issues are nothing new. We’ve been kicking the can down the road for decades and listening to false prophets. The solution is to cut benefits or raise taxes, neither are popular, but President Reagan admirably did both. Correct answers: False, True, False, False, True.

You can’t always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP can help figure out what you need. For specific recommendations, visit or come by the office in Redfish Village, 2050 Scenic 30A, M-1 Suite 230.