13 Social Security Planning Questions

How do your plans compare with consumers who were asked about Social Security preparation?

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Social Security is often in the news these days. Congress regularly threatens to change and possibly reduce benefits. The program's financial soundness is the source of constant speculation and concern. And the economic downturn shone a light on the fact that more than half of all retirees depend on Social Security benefits for more than 90 percent of their income—an alarmingly high percentage for a program designed to provide modest retirement support.

Crumpled colorful paper notes with question marks.
Crumpled colorful paper notes with question marks.

With all this attention, you'd think older Americans would be sharpening their plans to use this important benefit program. Yet according to a new poll of more than 800 consumers ages 50 to 65, fewer than 1 in 5 older Americans have even begun serious planning for how to use Social Security.

"In our survey last month, we found that only 18 percent of baby boomers are making decisions now about how they'll claim Social Security," says Michelle Hall, market research manager for Securian Financial Group, an insurance company based in St. Paul, Minn., that sponsored the survey.

At the same time, only 11 percent of those surveyed said they expect to rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their retirement income. And a sixth of respondents said they weren't counting on Social Security for any of their retirement income. "The number of boomers who expect to receive no Social Security benefits or aren't sure how much they'll receive reflects the group's insecurity about financial security in retirement," Hall adds.

[Read: 10 Things Everyone Should Know About Social Security.]

Here are 13 Social Security planning and claiming questions put to consumers in the poll, and their answers. How do these attitudes compare with your own plans?

1. Which of the following best describes your experience in planning for your Social Security retirement benefits?

Beginning to explore options; 38 percent

Have not started to explore options; 44 percent

Explored options and am developing a plan; 8 percent

Have a plan in place; 10 percent

2. At what age did you begin planning for claiming your Social Security?

Under 40; 4 percent

40-49; 3 percent

50-59; 40 percent (includes 50, 10 percent; 55, 10 percent)

60-65; 46 percent (includes 60, 12 percent; 62, 20 percent)

66 and older; 6 percent

3. How easy or difficult was it to find information about your Social Security benefit options?

Very difficult; 2 percent

Somewhat difficult; 14 percent

Neither easy nor difficult; 17 percent

Somewhat easy; 35 percent

Very easy; 32 percent

4. What prompted you to begin planning for claiming your Social Security benefits? Select all that apply.

Concern about whether retirement savings will provide enough income; 44 percent

Need to decide on retirement age; 42 percent

My health; 31 percent

Assessing specific cash flow needs in retirement; 30 percent

Uncertainty about future of Social Security; 30 percent

Advice from already retired friends or family; 18 percent

Health of spouse; 11 percent

Advice from financial adviser/professional; 10 percent

5. Have you adjusted your plan for how or when you will claim Social Security benefits?

Yes; 50 percent

No; 50 percent

6. How recently did you make adjustments to your plan?

Within the past six months; 33 percent

Within the past year; 43 percent

Within the past two years; 16 percent

Within the past three years; 7 percent

Three or more years ago; 1 percent

7. What changes have you made to your plan? Select all that apply.

Changed age at which I'll retire; 59 percent

Changed age at which I'll begin collecting Social Security benefits; 48 percent

Changed how much I spend; 41 percent

Will work part-time in retirement; 40 percent

Changed how I should invest my savings; 22 percent

Changed age at which my spouse will retire; 14 percent

Changed age at which my spouse will begin collecting Social Security benefits; 14 percent

Coordinated dates at which spouse and I will begin collecting Social Security benefits; 12 percent

8. What source(s) did you seek advice from in developing your plan for claiming Social Security benefits? Select all that apply.

Social Security website; 60 percent

Online tool/calculator; 25 percent

Already retired friends or family; 25 percent

Financial adviser; 22 percent

Local Social Security office; 22 percent

Articles in newspapers/publications; 18 percent

Retirement plan provider/employer; 16 percent

None. I did not seek advice; 11 percent

Accountant/CPA; 7 percent

[Read: Understanding Your Retirement Fees.]

9. What percentage of your retirement income is currently, or do you expect to be, attributed to Social Security?

None; 4 percent

Don't know; 37 percent

Less than 20 percent; 8 percent

20 to 39 percent; 15 percent

40 to 60 percent; 18 percent

70 89 percent; 9 percent

90 percent or higher; 9 percent

10. Based on your plan, do you think you will maximize your Social Security benefits?

Yes; 44 percent

No; 18 percent

Not sure; 37 percent

11. At what age do you expect to begin exploring your options for claiming Social Security benefits?

50 to 59; 26 percent

60 to 65; 64 percent

66 to 69; 7 percent

70 to 75; 3 percent

12. Which of the following sources do you plan to seek advice from when developing a plan for claiming Social Security benefits? Select all that apply.

Social Security website; 66 percent

Local Social Security office; 39 percent

Already retired friends or family; 36 percent

Online tool/calculator; 33 percent

Financial adviser; 27 percent

Retirement plan provider/employer; 22 percent

Articles in newspapers/publications; 15 percent

Accountant/CPA; 14 percent

None; 7 percent

[See 10 Books Investors Should Read.]

13. What percentage of your retirement income do you expect to come from Social Security?

Zero percent. I am not relying on any income from Social Security; 17 percent

Less than 20 percent; 7 percent

20 to 39 percent; 24 percent

40 to 59 percent; 27 percent

60 to 69 percent; 4 percent

70 to 89 percent; 11 percent

90 percent or higher; 11 percent