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New AARP Survey shows many unaware of Social Security claiming strategies

Greater awareness could increase monthly benefits, improve retirement security

February 29, 2012

AARP Media Relations

En español | New AARP Survey shows many unaware of Social Security claiming strategies

Greater awareness could increase monthly benefits, improve retirement security

WASHINGTON – An AARP survey released today demonstrates that while many Americans approaching retirement have a basic understanding about the benefits they can expect to receive from Social Security, they remain unaware of different claiming strategies that could have a significant impact on their income throughout retirement.

Although the survey found widespread awareness that waiting to claim several years after age 62 can result in higher monthly benefits, very few respondents had an accurate sense of how much higher their benefits could be. There was considerably more confusion about spousal benefits and the ramifications of claiming while working.

“When and how to claim Social Security retirement benefits can be a complex decision, and is different for everyone,” said Jean Setzfand, AARP Vice President for Financial Security. “This survey shows us that people who are approaching retirement may be facing this decision without enough information to make the right choices for themselves and their families.”

Among the survey’s findings:

* Just 29 percent of respondents realized that waiting until at least age 70 to claim would mean receiving the highest possible monthly retirement benefit. About one in five respondents (19%) incorrectly believed they could receive the maximum monthly benefits even before reaching their full retirement age.

* When asked at what age they expect to start collecting their Social Security retirement benefits, a majority (57%) reported an age that is lower than their full retirement age. Only one in ten (10%) expect to claim at age 70 or older, which would maximize their monthly benefits.

* Approximately nine in ten (89%) respondents were aware that their monthly benefits will be higher if they claim benefits at their full retirement age rather than at age 62. But of those, half (51%) underestimated by more than 10 percentage points how much their benefits would increase.

* Fifty-seven percent of the people who identified themselves as the least knowledgeable about Social Security are nonetheless expecting Social Security to be a major source of their retirement income. This gap in knowledge may mean they forego potential benefits.

* Familiarity with Social Security benefits for widows and widowers is high, but fewer than half (48%) of respondents who are or have ever been married were aware that spousal benefits are available while the worker is alive.

“People are worried about retirement. Many know they haven’t saved enough, and they’re counting on Social Security,” Setzfand continued. “By getting more information about claiming strategies that might result in a bigger base of monthly retirement income from Social Security, they can achieve some financial peace of mind.”

For many of the issues examined in AARP’s survey, knowledge increased with education, household income, and savings, and as people approached their expected claiming age. Knowledge also tended to be higher among men than women and higher among non-Hispanic whites than among African Americans and Hispanics. Complete survey results can be reviewed at

AARP offers resources, including free webinars on Social Security and retirement planning, to help its members and all older Americans plan for a secure retirement at To get an estimate of how much you can expect to receive in Social Security retirement benefits, visit To find out if your plans are still on track to retire when – and how – you want, go to

AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with a membership that helps people 50+ have independence, choice and control in ways that are beneficial and affordable to them and society as a whole. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to either political campaigns or candidates. We produce AARP The Magazine, the definitive voice for 50+ Americans and the world's largest-circulation magazine with over 35.1 million readers; AARP Bulletin, the go-to news source for AARP's millions of members and Americans 50+; AARP VIVA, our bilingual multimedia platform for Hispanic members; and our website, AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. We have staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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