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Abstract

The Social Security Statement is sent annually to each individual over age 25. The Statement contains information regarding the Social Security program, the individual's past covered earnings and contributions, and an estimate of the individual's future retirement benefits. Given the complexity of the Social Security benefit formula, the Statement represents the best and perhaps only estimate of the benefits to which an individual may be entitled. Knowledge of benefits is important, as individuals must plan their own retirement saving around their Social Security benefits. However, little research has been conducted regarding how effectively the Statement has improved Americans' knowledge of benefit levels. This paper uses data from the Health and Retirement Study to gauge near-retirees' ability to predict their Social Security retirement benefits both before and after the Statement began universal distribution to all near-retirees in 1995. Results are ambiguous. The initial automatic distribution of the Statement did not appear to produce an immediate increase in knowledge of retirement benefit levels. However, continued receipt over a number of years prior to claiming may have reduced individual errors in predicting benefits. Financial literacy with regard to Social Security benefit levels may be improved through greater research into the contexts in which recipients understand and retain the benefit estimates contained in the Statement.

The research described in this report was prepared for the Social Security Administration and conducted by the Financial Literacy Center.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation working paper series. RAND working papers are intended to share researchers' latest findings and to solicit informal peer review. They have been approved for circulation by RAND but may not have been formally edited or peer reviewed.

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