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Thinking about writing off Social Security? Not so fast

(BPT) - Social Security is a hot topic these days. Unfortunately, many Americans are still in the dark when it comes to planning for Social Security. And that could have significant consequences.

A recent nationwide omnibus survey of 1,007 adults in the United States shows that despite the constant coverage about the topic, many Americans aren't clearing the information hurdles of Social Security and that could have unfortunate costs, like not receiving the full benefit of Social Security, or missing out on much-needed income later in life. These misconceptions have the potential to lead to sub-optimal retirement strategies and cause individuals to miss out on valuable financial resources.

Those in the path of danger when it comes to the all-too-common fear-based response to Social Security are the very individuals that the program was designed to protect: everyday, average Americans. The good news is that 71 percent of survey respondents ages 55 and older feel either 'very certain' or 'optimistic' that Social Security funds will be available to them when they retire. However, the picture looks a bit bleaker to those 35 to 54: 39 percent of respondents are 'doubtful' that Social Security will be around when they retire, though they are still making it part of their retirement strategy; 19 percent are not including it as a part of their retirement strategy at all. Finally, of those surveyed who are ages 18 to 34, 39 percent are not including it in their retirement strategy, and 26 percent are including it, but are 'doubtful' that Social Security will actually be around.

According to Social Security trustees, enough reserves exist for the system to pay 100 percent of promised benefits until 2033, without further reform. Even if the program pays out lower percentages of benefits after 2033, chances are it will contribute to retirement income at some level for many years into the future.

Americans who stand to maximize Social Security benefits are the ones who take a proactive approach and calculate the impact Social Security can have on a retirement strategy. Unfortunately, Americans are still hesitant to incorporate Social Security into their retirement strategies due to some common misconceptions.

So, what are some of these common misconceptions plaguing the American public?

One way to claim?

The stakes are high when it comes to claiming Social Security. The decision you make can have consequences for the rest of your life and potentially impacts the benefits of your family as well. Myriad ways to claim Social Security exist, based on things like current and past marital status, disability, employment history and age. These various claiming strategies can make a big difference in a person's bottom line, so making the right type of claim is critical.

Few know about the options when it comes to the many ways to claim Social Security. The Thrivent Financial survey found:

* 32 percent of respondents believed that there is only one way to draw Social Security, and that is: claiming benefits on him/herself and the money he/she has paid into the program.

* 24 percent said they could claim a couple of ways, and they are confident that they know what those ways are.

* 32 percent said they know there are a couple of different ways to claim, but they have no idea what those are.

* 12 percent of respondents identified that myriad ways to claim Social Security exist.

'Talking with someone who can help figure out the best time and method to file and claim Social Security is important for a solid financial future,' said Patrick Egan, a retirement spokesperson with Thrivent Financial. 'Tools exist that help simulate Social Security scenarios to more accurately estimate the benefit people can receive and how it can play into an overall strategy.'

The early bird doesn't get the whole worm

One of the biggest misconceptions about Social Security is that no matter when a person decides to claim, the monthly benefit amount is the same. Many don't know that waiting to claim Social Security can pay off. Most people know that individuals can start receiving Social Security benefits at age 62. But, few understand that those who start receiving benefits at 62 will get less per month than if they waited until full retirement age. Full retirement age is 66 for persons born from 1943 to 1954; it increases by two months each year for those born from 1955 to 1959; it's 67 for persons born in 1960 or later. If individuals hold off until age 70, the monthly benefit will grow even more.

When survey respondents were asked when they think they will claim Social Security:

* 32 percent said as soon as they are eligible

* 17 percent said they will delay as long as possible

* 18 percent said they will claim when they will receive 100 percent of the benefit,

* 33 percent don't know.

Of the respondents ages 55 and older, 50 percent said they would claim as soon as they were eligible; only 17 percent would wait until they would receive 100 percent of the benefit (18 percent didn't know when they would claim and 15 percent said they would wait as long as possible.)

A helpful hand; a listening ear

With all of the information floating around about Social Security, one starts to wonder where individuals are turning for information. Survey participants identified that:

* 36 percent get Social Security information from the government website (ssa.gov).

* 14 percent get Social Security information from his/her spouse, family or friends.

* 9 percent get Social Security information from the media.

* 5 percent get Social Security information from a financial advisor.

* 36 percent said that they don't get information about Social Security at all.

When it comes to incorporating Social Security income into a financial strategy, only 14 percent of respondents said that they had discussed it with their financial advisor; 30 percent had not, and 5 percent had discussed it indirectly. Fifty-one percent disclosed that they did not have a financial advisor at the time of the survey.

'It is concerning that only 14 percent of individuals have directly discussed with a financial advisor the role Social Security will play in their retirement,' said Egan. 'Regardless of age, it is never too soon to start identifying various streams of retirement income and the part they may play in your future.'

Planning for the future

Social Security has developed a bit of a bad reputation over the past decade, but for the foreseeable future, it is expected to remain a reliable financial resource. If individuals don't take all income streams into account while planning for retirement, they may miss out on valuable options to make a financial strategy even stronger. Taking the time in the short-term to learn more about how Social Security can influence a retirement plan can have big long-term implications.



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