Social Security Claiming and Psychology
It’s common for people to begin collecting their Social Security benefits soon after they turn 62, ignoring the financial planners and retirement experts urging them to postpone and increase the size of their monthly checks.
A new study has uncovered four powerful psychological traits that influence this decision: the individual’s expected longevity, his fear of loss, whether he perceives the Social Security system as fair, and patience.
The study surveyed some 3,000 people, primarily in their 40s and 50s. This is a good age to ask about Social Security, because claiming the benefit is a few years away, “but they’re thinking more about it,” researcher Suzanne Shu said when presenting the findings at an August meeting of the Retirement Research Consortium in Washington.
In an online survey, Shu, who is from the University California at Los Angeles, and John Payne, from Duke University, posed a series of questions designed to understand the psychology of the individuals they were studying. They also asked when they planned to claim their Social Security and then determined which psychological traits were linked to those who said they planned to file early.
Four influences on claiming came out of their preliminary findings:
Fear of loss. People who have a stronger aversion to financial loss also tended to say they would claim earlier. To them, the researchers said, a delay in receiving their benefit checks “looks like a potential loss.”
Life expectancy. It’s intuitive that an individual who doesn’t expect to live as long might want to start his benefits as soon as possible, and that’s what the analysis concluded. The researchers found that 10 years added to one’s life expectancy will delay a Social Security filing by six months.
Fairness. The individuals surveyed were asked whether they agreed with several statements about Social Security, such as “I feel that I have earned these retirement benefits.” The more strongly an individual agreed with such statements, the more likely they were to say they would file for their benefits early.
Patience. This finding was self-explanatory: the more impatient an individual, the more likely he is to claim early.
Future retirees deliberating about when to start collecting their Social Security should recognize that these psychological factors may be at work.
Full disclosure: The research cited in this post was funded by a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) through the Retirement Research Consortium, which also funds this blog. The opinions and conclusions expressed do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA or any agency of the federal government.
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