In November and December, 2019, I sent out a survey covering Social Security filing strategies. The survey was sent to a closed Facebook group (dealing primarily with Social Security filing strategies), as well as to my blog readership and Twitter followers.
If anyone would like to see the actual unscrubbed survey data, please send me a note at [email protected] and I’ll set you up. I’ll be interested in hearing your insights after reviewing the data!
Given the sources of respondents, it’s safe to assume that this group of people is on the higher end of the scale of knowledge about Social Security rules and the like when compared to the general population. When you add in the ages of the respondents (median was the 60 to 65 range), I’d say this group is probably as educated as most folks can expect to be about Social Security. This is a strong factor, in my opinion, in the results that we saw.
After scrubbing the data, there was a total of 412 respondents, and 351 of those reported on both their own strategy and their spouse (or ex-spouse, or late spouse). The age of the group was as follows:
It’s not surprising that the lion’s share of the respondents are in the range of 60-70 (approximately 70% overall) given the audience and the topic of Social Security filing.
Of those surveyed, we asked who had already filed (along with whether their spouses had filed). Roughly 2/3 of the group has not filed, as shown below (this includes both the survey taker and his or her spouse):
Next question was about Social Security filing age. I combined the responses together for all filing strategy ages and statuses for the following information. By this I mean that the following three charts include all respondents, regardless of whether the individual had already filed or was still planning to file. This first chart includes all filing ages as well (we’ll break down the ages a bit in the next two charts after this one):
Splitting the chart above between those over age 60 and those under age 60, gives us a different perspective. First, the intended or actual filing of for those over age 60:
Next is the intended filing age for those surveyed that are under age 60:
The younger group isn’t looking to file at age 66 hardly at all compared to the older group – and of course they wouldn’t be, since the FRA is up to age 67 for those who are reaching 60 in 2020 or later (i.e., those age 59 or younger). What is surprising is that the younger group is twice as likely planning to file at 62 versus the older group. I wonder if this is a trend, or if the perspective of age will cause a change to strategy as these folks get closer to filing age(s)?
The next breakdown I did was between those who have already filed, and those that have not filed yet. First, we’ll look at the actual filing ages of those who have already filed:
And here are the expected filing ages for those who have not already filed:
Interesting results between these two groups. The group that has already filed did so at age 66 or FRA more than one-third of the time. Contrast that with roughly 28% of those who have not filed yet who are planning to file at age 66, 67, or FRA. On the other hand, 36% of the group that has not already filed is planning to file at age 70, compared to only 13.6% of the respondents who already filed and did so at age 70. This is nearly triple the rate.
Again I’m not sure whether this is a trend or if when the chips are down, the actual filing ages may be closer to FRA for a portion of that group who presently indicates a plan to file at age 70. Or perhaps the remaining group (those who have not yet filed) is just more inclined to delay in order to maximize benefits. That could be the reason they were involved in the communities that were targeted and surveyed. Also, keep in mind that the respondents over age 70 in the survey only amounted to approximately 9% overall.
We next polled the group regarding their reasons for filing. This gives us a bit of insight into some of the “why” of filing strategies.
Below are the results of filing strategy reason for respondent and spouse – and why they chose their particular strategy. These responses were partly defined but allowed for a free-form response. The free-form responses have been summarized by general reason. The first chart is for the filing strategy reason for who have already filed:
And then here are the reasons for choosing a particular strategy for those who have not yet filed:
Delaying to FRA or to age 70 combined are the most common reasons for choosing a particular filing strategy, for either filing status. For those who are yet to file, these two represent more than 60% of the responses, but only about 36% of those who already filed. As surmised above, I believe this might indicate that filing strategies change as folks get closer to actual filing age(s).
The next most common answer in both groups was to start benefits as soon as possible. This is what we often expect as the most common answer of all, given the general perception by the public that the Social Security system is in jeopardy and they want their benefits now rather than later. Still, among the group this response only garnered 15% (already filed) and 11% (not yet filed), so it’s not as common as I would have guessed.
The closing section of the survey dealt with satisfaction – the question was “Are you satisfied with your filing strategy?” Of the 412 survey takers, 365 (88.5%) were satisfied with their filing strategy. This left 47 (11.5%) who were not satisfied. The “Why not?” question was free-form, with no multiple choice responses pre-set, so the survey takers were free to give whatever reason they wanted. It was surprising that there weren’t more reasons (after my summarization) for dissatisfaction.
The top reasons for dissatisfaction are summarized below:
As you can see, the most common response was dissatisfaction due to the complexity of the system or the fact that the rules have changed. There were so many responses which combined these two factors that it was necessary to report as a combined figure. There was just no easy way to display these two factors separately and accurately. I’ll deal with breaking these two up in a future survey.
Naturally the rule changes have caused havoc with many folks’ plans, and this dissatisfaction is well justified. Furthermore, complexity of the system compounds the issue of the rule changes, apparently causing dissatisfaction among the choices for a given percentage of respondents.
It is somewhat surprising that the next most common response is that the individual had filed (or is planning to file) earlier but would prefer to file later. Unfortunately the survey was not designed to capture the reason behind that choice. I found this a bit surprising that folks are somehow either systematically or by their own circumstances being forced into an earlier filing age than they’d prefer. Again, this is a factor to account for in future surveys.