(Bloomberg) – Americans getting ready to claim their Social Security benefits may not be getting crucial information they need to make the best decisions for their retirement, according to a new study by the Government Accountability Office. That could mean tens of thousands of lost dollars.
Many people are in dire need of any extra bit of retirement money they can get. The report notes that for those age 65 and older, Social Security benefits made up an average of 52 percent of household income in 2013. It made up at least half of income for 62 percent of retirees 70 and over. For almost a quarter of these older retirees, it made up at least 90 percent of household income.
While a ton of information about claiming your Social Security benefits is online, and you can set up an account to check your own Social Security status for benefits, some important points aren’t being adequately communicating in face-to-face meetings between agency staff and claimants, according to the GAO. It analyzed nine surveys and studies, interviewed retirement experts, and observed the handling of 30 in-person claims at Social Security Administration field offices.
“The report doesn’t begin to suggest the magnitude of Social Security’s mistakes,” in Laurence Kotlikoff’s reading of it. Kotlikoff is co-author of a best-selling book on maximizing your Social Security benefits and an economics professor at Boston University. (He’s also running for president, but who isn’t?)
For example, it’s critical to know how much more your monthly benefit will be if you delay claiming it beyond full retirement age, which is 67 for anyone born in 1960 or later.
“While some people understand that delaying claiming leads to higher benefits, many are unclear about the actual amount that benefits increase with claiming age,” according to the report. In 8 of the 26 meetings in which higher monthly benefits could have been achieved if the person meeting with the SSA representative had waited, the pros and cons of holding off didn’t even come up, although the SSA’s current policy instructs claims processors to address the topic.
Worse, the GAO report notes that “in both face-to-face and online application methods, we found claimants were sometimes provided information that could inadvertently influence them to claim earlier than they might have otherwise.”