Workers: Social Security Info is Eye-Opening

Mobile Share Email Facebook Twitter LinkedIn

Most workers have never created an online my SocialSecurity account to get an estimate of their future retirement benefits. The people who do use this feature tend to be older or are retired and already receiving their benefits.

If only more younger adults would log on.

One 31-year-old worker, after looking up his personal estimate for the first time, learned that his future benefit is “not quite nearly enough to survive on.” The estimate – retrieved during an interview with researchers for a new study – prompted him to think about a retirement plan now. A 43-year-old woman realized her spouse’s decision about when to retire would affect her spousal benefit from Social Security. “I had no idea,” she said, calling the information “a reality check.”

And it’s a good thing one 60-year-old logged on to my Social Security. He didn’t know he qualified for retirement benefits, because the last time he’d checked, he had not built up the earnings record – 40 quarters of work – the program requires. “I will look into it further and find out exactly what is going on,” he said.

These and other revelations came from interviews with 24 workers by University of Southern California researchers Lila Rabinovich and Francisco Perez-Arce. They combined these insights with a much larger, online survey to analyze how Americans use the valuable benefit estimates available to them.

It’s important to understand why my Social Security isn’t being used more, especially since first-time users described the online feature as easy to use and eye-opening. Going online didn’t seem to be an issue either, because the people in the survey already search for other information that way.

One of the primary reasons the workers hadn’t looked up their personal accounts, the researchers concluded, was a lack of awareness the feature existed. But this isn’t at all surprising for younger workers, who are more concerned about developing their careers than about retiring.

The researchers also determined that the people who use Social Security’s website are more educated and financially literate. That’s unfortunate since less-educated, lower-paid workers would probably be helped more from knowing their future benefits, which typically make up most, if not all, of their retirement income. In contrast, higher-paid workers are more likely to have 401(k) savings accounts to supplement Social Security.

The study did uncover some good news: the use of my Social Security is increasing, and more growth has come from workers than retirees. Women are also logging on more.

But more workers need to get involved earlier in planning for retirement, and my Social Security is a good place to start. The biggest obstacle may simply be making people aware the information exists.

Given how far away retirement seems to young adults, this challenge is significant.

To read this study, authored by Lila Rabinovich and Francisco Perez-Arce, see “Mixed-methods Study to Understand Use of my Social Security Online Platform.”

A similar study recently examined the use of Social Security’s online tools by older workers to claim their benefits online.

The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.  The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College.  Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report.  Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.

4 comments
Paul Muther

Another challenge is establishing an account, especially if one has four names (e.g. two middle names). The online form asks for an initial for the middle name. I have attempted to help my two young adult children, as well as my wife, all of whom have four names. Trying all the permutations to use the first letter of their “middle names” has not been successful.

Economist

The Social Security statement is somewhat useful for older workers, although it doesn’t explain whether the amounts are in current or constant dollars or whether the increases resulting from delayed claiming assume continued work. Younger workers should read the weasel words “We base benefit estimates on current law, which Congress has revised before and may revise again to address needed changes,” note the actuarial shortfall, and file their statement where it belongs – in the wastepaper basket.

Vicky Jolliff

I don’t think I get enough SSDI a month. I think it was not calculated right & I need it redone.

Brian

We’ve been following our SS benefits for decades, long before there was any online access.

Our discussions went like this – My wife wanted to collect SS benefits at 62. Her thinking was that “…we had more than enough investments and savings outside of SS; why burn through those investments/savings, leaving less for our grandkids? Since we can’t leave unused SS benefits to the grandkids, let’s take it now and leave more of our investments/savings to the grandkids.”

My thinking was to take our SS benefits as late as possible – age 70 – so that our SS benefit would be as large as possible, then we’ll only need to pull less from our investments/savings from then on.

Anyway, our compromise was to both take our SS benefits at FRA.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *. The Center for Retirement Research does not post all comments and may edit some for clarity or brevity. For more details on our reader comments policy, see here.