Chances are, you'll rely on Social Security as an important income source after retirement. Most Americans depend on their benefits to help make ends meet, especially if they've saved too little and don't have a guaranteed pension from an employer.

That's why it's such a big problem that so many people don't know basic facts about Social Security -- or in some cases, they even harbor inaccurate beliefs.

These three shocking Social Security stats show just how much confusion exists about key aspects of retirement benefits that could affect income for life. 

Money sitting on Social Security check

Image source: Getty Images.

1. More than 9 in 10 Americans are in the dark about maximizing benefits

According to research from Nationwide, a whopping 92% of Americans were not able to identify the factors that would allow them to maximize their benefit amount. Unfortunately, that means the vast majority of people could be missing out on money they might need. 

There are many steps you can take to maximize retirement income, including:

  • Working for at least 35 years. Social Security calculates your benefit based on average wages in the 35 years you earned the most. If your work history doesn't span 35 years, you can still get benefits, but it will shrink the size of your checks. Your average wage that your benefits are based on will be calculated with some years of $0 wages factored in. 
  • Coordinating with your spouse. If your partner plans to claim spousal benefits on your work history, you would have to claim yours first. Unfortunately, claiming your benefits early could shrink survivors benefits. You and your partner need to decide on the best plan. 
  • Claiming benefits at the best time. The age you start your checks determines how much you get. Waiting until 70 to start your payments would give you the maximum monthly check, but whether it maximizes your lifetime income depends on how long you live. 

2. More than three-quarters of Americans don't know this crucial age

As just mentioned, age plays a crucial role in determining the size of your Social Security checks.

Unfortunately, Nationwide found that more than 76% of Americans don't know their full retirement age (FRA). That's the age when you're eligible to receive your full standard benefit. When you claim your benefits even one month ahead of FRA, early filing penalties apply and reduce the amount of your monthly income. 

The chart below shows your FRA based on the year you were born. 

Year of Birth

Full Retirement Age


66 and 2 months


66 and 4 months


66 and 6 months


66 and 8 months


66 and 10 months

1960 or later


Data source: Social Security Administration

It can actually pay to wait until after full retirement age to claim your benefits, because once you reach FRA, you start earning delayed retirement credits. The small monthly increases these credits provide can add up to an 8% bump up in the size of your checks for each year you wait, up until 70. 

3. Almost 40% of Americans believe their benefits will go up later if they claim early

Some people who are aware of early filing penalties may make another big mistake in claiming Social Security. That's because Fidelity also found that 38% of Americans actually believe their benefits will go back up after they reach their FRA if they started getting a reduced benefit early. 

The sad reality is that this isn't true. The reduction from early filing penalties will affect your income for the rest of your life. You will never get as much monthly money as you would have if you had waited. 

Make sure you don't claim Social Security without the knowledge you need

These shocking statistics show just how many Americans misunderstand fundamental facts about Social Security.

If you're one of them, take the time to learn the truth before claiming your benefits. You don't want to find yourself with checks that are smaller than you expect, so researching your options fully is the smartest move to protect your financial future.