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3 of the Most Outrageous Social Security Myths You'll Hear

By Maurie Backman – Oct 10, 2020 at 11:01AM

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Buying into these misconceptions could destroy your retirement.

There's a good chance Social Security will end up being an important source of income for you during retirement, so it's important to understand how the program works -- and that includes not buying into some of the biggest misconceptions about it. Here are a few dangerous myths you must get to the bottom of.

1. All benefits are the same

Many people assume that Social Security pays a single, universal benefit to seniors who are eligible for it. Not so. Your benefit will be calculated based on your unique earnings history -- specifically, your average monthly wage, adjusted for inflation, over your 35 most profitable years in the workforce. It's for this reason that boosting your income during your career is crucial. Not only will it put more money in your pocket initially, but it could also result in a higher monthly payout from Social Security throughout your retirement.

Middle-aged man scratching his head

Image source: Getty Images.

2. If you file early, you'll only take a temporary hit on benefits

You're entitled to your full monthly Social Security benefit based on your earnings history once you reach full retirement age, or FRA. FRA is based on your year of birth, as follows:

Year of Birth

Full Retirement Age

1943-1954

66

1955

66 and 2 months

1956

66 and 4 months

1957

66 and 6 months

1958

66 and 8 months

1959

66 and 10 months

1960 or later

67

Data source: Social Security Administration.

That said, you're allowed to claim Social Security as early as age 62, and that's a route many seniors opt to take. But if you file for benefits before FRA, they'll be reduced -- and not just temporarily.

Some seniors mistakenly believe that if they claim Social Security at 62, their benefits will be restored to their full amount at FRA. But that's not at all how the program works. In fact, when you think about it, this particular misconception actually makes no sense. If Social Security were to restore your benefit to its full amount at FRA, then why wouldn't everyone just sign up at 62?

In some cases, claiming benefits at 62 or at another age prior to FRA makes sense. But know that if you end up doing so, the reduction in benefits you face will remain in effect on a lifelong basis.

3. It pays to delay benefits indefinitely

You may have heard that if you delay your Social Security filing past FRA, your benefits will go up as a result. And that's true. For each year you wait to file beyond FRA, your benefits will increase by 8%.

But one thing some seniors don't realize is that the delayed retirement credits you'll accrue by waiting stop accumulating once you turn 70. As such, there's no reason to delay your filing past that point, and if you do, you could lose out on many months of income.

Get your facts straight

The more you know about Social Security, the better prepared you'll be to make smart decisions that help you make the most of it. Spend some time reading up on Social Security, even if retirement is still many years away. You may find that doing so guides some of the moves you make during your career -- moves that could significantly impact you financially down the line.

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