By Jean C. Setzfand
"How secure do you feel about your retirement?"
I may be the only person around using that question as a cocktail-party opener. But even if you're not constantly surveying everyone you know, it's likely you've seen the recent attention-grabbing headlines about people's lack of retirement savings.
So you won't be surprised to learn that my unscientific surveys match the more qualified studies, in which folks report feeling "anxious" and "uncertain" about retirement or even that it's "not possible."
In these uncertain times, we're lucky we have Social Security to come to the rescue!
The program recently celebrated its 79th birthday, and I want to mark that milestone by doing more than blowing out the candles: I want to use this as an opportunity to reinforce the critical benefits this program brings to Americans of all ages. For many, Social Security serves as a crucial income base for expected (such as retirement) and unexpected (disabilities and death) life situations.
According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, almost 80 percent of workers expect Social Security to be a source of income in retirement. And people of all ages - millennials, Gen Xers and boomers - recognize how important the program is and want to see it strengthened for current retirees and future generations. A recent Pew Research survey shows that 80 percent to 90 percent of people believe that Social Security has been good for the country (despite some concerns about the program's future finances).
Knowing how important Social Security is and will continue to be, I think it's essential for everyone to learn about the program and about how they will benefit from it. Accessing free and unbiased information is a good start. And AARP has several great tools and resources that offer unbiased information to help you get the most out of Social Security.
AARP's Social Security calculator can help you determine the best time to start taking your Social Security benefits. For example, a woman who is 62 years old today will receive a benefit that is 30 percent larger if she waits to claim her full benefit (age 67) instead of taking benefits now. That larger benefit will be especially important, since the longer you live, the more likely you are to exhaust all of your retirement savings.
At its core, Social Security is simple: You pay in to the program over the course of your full career and can claim benefits once you're eligible, at 62 (assuming you've worked 10 full years or 40 quarters, otherwise known as credits). However, it's also a complicated program with several nuances. And the decisions you make will stick with you for the rest of your life. The more you learn, the more you can make the program work best for you.
One way to learn more is by checking out AARP's "Q&A" tool, which offers practical and comprehensive information in response to common questions. The tool will give you answers to queries concerning when to take your benefits, eligibility for spousal benefits and much more. If you don't see your question listed, type it in and we'll provide an individual answer.
While we can all rest assured that Social Security will be there for us when we retire, taking a bit of time to make a plan for your retirement is always a good idea that will pay off in the long run.
Jean C. Setzfand is vice president of financial security at AARP. She leads AARP's educational and outreach efforts aimed at helping Americans achieve financial peace of mind in retirement.
Also of Interest
- Don't Make These Retirement Money Mistakes
- Social Security Changes in 2014
- Fight fraud and ID theft with the AARP Fraud Watch Network.
- Join AARP: Savings, resources and news for your well-being
See the AARP home page for deals, savings tips, trivia and more