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If you want a financially secure retirement, you need to have a firm grasp of how much income you will have for the years ahead.

That includes understanding how Social Security works so that you can get the highest amount possible each month for the rest of your life.

Unfortunately, most Americans have no clue. Even worse, a new study shows that many grossly overestimate how much they will receive each month.

The Nationwide Retirement Institute surveyed 1,315 US workers age 50 and up who are either planning to collect checks or already doing so. Whether due to optimism, overconfidence, or confusion, nearly 70% of older workers incorrectly think they are eligible for full benefits before they actually are. About half think they will receive those full benefits at age 63, which is at least three years premature.

More than half believe they know precisely how to maximize their benefits. But only 8% could list the four factors that determine that figure: birth year, age at time of claiming benefits, marital status, and work history.

Those indicators determine a worker’s full retirement age (FRA) or when a person is first eligible to “full or unreduced retirement benefits”, according to the Social Security Administration. But claiming at your FRA does not mean you will be getting the most amount possible each month. Delaying until 70, which is the latest you can do so, gets you the highest amount possible each month for the rest of your life.

More than a quarter of people surveyed also wrongly believe that even if they claim early, their benefits will automatically increase once they reach FRA. Still, about half did not know that Social Security provides income for life and that if their spouse dies, they inherit the higher benefit of the two.

But participants working with a financial advisor fared much better. They reported getting 17% more in their Social Security benefits than those who didn’t. Those figure translated to $1,551 vs. $1,324. Ninety percent of those seeking professional advice also said they were much more able to do the things they wanted to in retirement.

Over-reliance on Social Security can cause future retirees to scale back on savings. That could amount to significant loss of funds, especially when you factor in how compounded growth helps retirement savings grow exponentially.  It also sets them up for less security just as their medical and long-term care expenses are likely to increase. And returning to work is no longer an option.

Delaying the start of Social Security benefits does not mean you have to delay getting Medicare. That program begins at 65; it is not automatic, though, and requires that you enroll within three months of turning 65.

A financially stable retirement takes careful planning and ongoing monitoring of investments and changing needs. It means working with a professional and becoming educated about Social Security benefits to maximize retirement income.

At Silverman Financial, we have expertise, training and certification in financial planning. We understand the complexities of Social Security and can help you build and grow a financially secure retirement portfolio.