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  • Writer's picturePaul B. Plant

Social Security Checks are Lower than Many Americans Expect, Survey Finds

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

Americans hoping to fund their post-work years on an average Social Security check of $1,410 a month may want to rethink their retirement savings plans.  

Expectations for a secure retirement financed by monthly Social Security checks alone appear to be overly optimistic. That’s largely because of inflated estimates of what Americans expect to receive and the fact that many people retire early and start collecting years before they are eligible for full benefits, according to a new survey from the Nationwide Retirement Institute. The new survey, obtained exclusively by USA TODAY, shows a lack of understanding about how to optimize benefits from the government safety net program and the outsize hopes many people have for Social Security.

Half of current retirees and 42% of future retirees say Social Security “is or will be” their “primary source” of retirement income, according to Nationwide’s recent online survey of 1,013  U.S. adults 50 years of age or older who currently collect Social Security or plan to.  The big reliance on Social Security is worrisome, mainly because the monthly stipend from the federal government, which the Social Security Administration says averaged $1,410 at the end of March, likely won’t be enough to fund retirees’ spending needs ranging from groceries to health care to housing, according to Tina Ambrozy, president of sales and distribution at Nationwide.

“There’s a major disconnect between what consumers think their Social Security benefit will be —  and cover — compared to reality,” Ambrozy  says. For example, future retirees who were surveyed expect to receive $1,628 on average each month. But  those surveyed who are already in retirement say they are only collecting $1,257. “That’s a big difference,” Ambrozy says. “It’s like taking a 25% pay cut.”

More than a quarter (27%) of Americans now in retirement say their monthly benefit is “less than expected.” Another reason why Social Security checks are smaller than expected is this: The most common age current retirees started to collect benefits was 62 — the earliest age a person can do so, the survey found. The retirement age to receive full benefits is 67 for someone born in 1960 or later. Taking benefits early means a person receives less money every month. Some of the top reasons people who have retired within the past 10 years and took Social Security early ranged from having health problems (21%) to needing the money (20%) to losing a job (9%), among others, the survey found.

A lack of knowledge and planning for Social Security is a big reason why recipients don’t maximize their benefit payout. Nearly six of 10 (57%) future retirees think they are eligible for benefits sooner than they really are, and 63% said they were “not confident” in their knowledge of Social Security. Overall, 88% of those surveyed admitted they don’t know what factors determine how much their monthly benefit will be. To maximize their Social Security benefits, people have to get up to speed on how the payouts are determined and map out a plan, just as they do with their 401(k) portfolios. The most important decision to get right is when to start taking benefits. “Planning is a critical component of what a persons’ benefit will actually be,” Ambrozy says. “It’s not a decision anyone should take lightly.”

Top 5 expenses for which retirees use social security benefits: Groceries 27%; Housing 24%; Health Care 13%; Vacation 6%; Entertainment 5%

Published by Adam Shell, USA TODAY 2:00 a.m. ET April 25, 2018 | Updated 12:01 p.m. ET April 25, 2018

Check out Harwell & Plant’s websites and Paul B. Plant has been a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys since 2003.


Paul B. Plant, Esq., Harwell & Plant

225 Mahr Ave., Lawrenceburg, TN, 38464

Open: Monday – Thursday 9AM – 5PM | Friday 9AM – 3PM


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