Social Security is the prime source of retirement income for many individuals, but Americans’ knowledge of the basics of the benefits gets a failing grade, according to a consumer poll by MassMtual.

MassMutual used a quiz to test near- retiree knowledge of Social Security retirement benefits during the Covid-19 pandemic and found that 35% of near-retirees age 55 to 65 flunked and another 18% earned a grade of D. Only 3% answered all 12 true-or-false questions correctly.

Although 26% of individuals age 60 to 65 have no idea of the full retirement age, 94% knew that if they claimed benefits before full retirement age, their benefits will be reduced as a result.

Most individuals approaching retirement (83%) also are aware of the consequences of receiving Social Security benefits before reaching their full retirement age. Furthermore, 86% know that if they receive benefits before their full retirement age and continue to work, their benefits may be reduced based on how much they make.

Not surprisingly, topics such as death and divorce and the impact on Social Security were on the minds of many during the crisis. The Mass Mutual survey found that 22% did not know that it is not true that if a spouse passes away one can receive both their and their spouse's full benefits. Nearly one-third (30%) did not know that a divorced person might be able to collect Social Security benefits based on an ex-spouse's earnings history.

MassMutual also noted that because of the pandemic’s negative impact on the economy, some individuals have seen their earnings reduced or eliminated. This impacts Social Security benefits because benefits are based on the top 35 years of earnings, and individuals with 35 or fewer years could be negatively impacted for life.

“As with most things in life, knowledge is power, and choices should be made on purpose and not by accident,” David Freitag, a financial planning consultant with MassMutual and a Social Security specialist, said in a statement. “With Social Security, there are a lot of options to consider. Make the wrong choice, and you will be leaving money on the table for the rest of your life.”

The online quiz was commissioned by MassMutual and conducted by PSB Research in March. It included 1,500 Americans age 55 to 65 who have not filed for Social Security retirement benefits.

MassMutual first conducted a similar consumer poll in 2015, which revealed that 62% of those over 50 failed. In 2018, 47% failed the quiz and 33% failed it in 2020.

The quiz is as follows:

1. If I take benefits before my full retirement age, they will be reduced for early filing. (TRUE)

2. If I am receiving benefits before my full retirement age and continue to work, my benefits might be reduced based on how much I make. (TRUE)

3. Once I start collecting Social Security, my benefits will never change. (FALSE)

4. If I have a spouse, he or she can receive benefits from my record even if he or she has no individual earnings history. (TRUE)

5. If I have a spouse and he or she passes away, I will receive both my full benefit and my deceased spouse’s full benefit. (FALSE)

6. The money that comes out of my paycheck for Social Security goes into a specific account for me and remains there, earning interest, until I begin to receive Social Security benefits. (FALSE)

7. Under current Social Security law, full retirement age is 65 no matter when you were born. (FALSE)

8. As a divorced person, I might be able to collect Social Security benefits based on my ex-spouse’s earnings history. (TRUE)

9. Under current law, Social Security benefits could be reduced for everyone in 2035. (TRUE)

10. If I file for retirement benefits and have dependent children age 18 or younger, they also may qualify for Social Security benefits. (TRUE)

11. If I delay taking Social Security benefits past the age of 70, I will continue to get delayed retirement credit increases each year I wait. (FALSE)

12. I must be a U.S. citizen to collect Social Security retirement benefits. (FALSE)