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Clients Clueless About Social Security May Undermine Their Own Retirement Plans

By Alex Padalka April 30, 2018

Pre-retirees and retirees alike are worried about the fate of their Social Security benefits, yet many still overestimate how much they’ll receive because of widespread misconceptions about the program, according to a recent survey by Nationwide Retirement Institute.

Seventy-two percent of pre-retirees — those 50 and over who plan to retire within the next 10 years — think the program will run out of money during their lifetime, according to a survey of 1,013 adults aged 50 and over conducted this winter by Nationwide. Yet few people 50 and over, including those approaching retirement and those who are already retired, know much about Social Security: 88%, for example, don’t know the factors determining their maximum benefits, Nationwide found.

And 52% of pre-retirees don’t know that Social Security benefits are guaranteed for life, while 60% don’t know that the benefits are protected against inflation, according to the survey. Just one in three pre-retirees even knows what their full retirement age is, Nationwide found.

Perhaps what’s more worrying is that despite these concerns, people’s expectations of Social Security may still be too high. The average amount of Social Security the survey’s respondents plan to spend on healthcare, for example, is 15% — but for someone who files at 62, the average percentage is actually 64%, according to Nationwide. Four in 10 respondents don’t think they’ll spend any of their Social Security benefits on healthcare, meanwhile, the survey found.

Furthermore, future retirees believe they’ll get 30% more in benefits than what current retirees actually receive, Nationwide says. And future retirees think they’ll start collecting benefits four years later than current retirees actually did, according to the survey. In addition, more than a quarter of current retirees say their Social Security benefits were smaller than they expected, Nationwide found.

Advisors who understand Social Security may stand to win, meanwhile. While just 13% of older Americans have a financial advisor providing advice on Social Security, 72% say they would switch to one who knows how to maximize benefits, according to the Nationwide survey. And that professional help can go a long way: Among those who are already taking Social Security payments, those who work with an advisor receive over 20% more than those who are not, Nationwide found.

Financial advisors may also want to pay attention to how retirement-ready people are depending on their profession, as the Indexed Annuity Leadership Council found that readiness varies widely by industry. Close to 58% of people in engineering and a little over half of those in protective services are ready for retirement, for example. That figure plummets to just 28.5% for people who work in food preparation and serving and 27.5% for those working in personal care, IALC found.

And advisors who think that white-collar workers are surely far better prepared should think twice: While only 44.7% of blue- and gray-collar workers are prepared for retirement, that figure rises to just 49.1% for white-collar workers, according to the survey.