As financial planners, one of the most common questions we receive is regarding the future of Social Security. A lot of this uncertainty is driven by headlines in the media. Oftentimes, the media calls to question whether Americans can rely on the Social Security program to still be viable when current workers reach retirement. Much of the doubt is derived from changing demographics in the United States.
The baby boomer generation is reaching retirement and healthcare advances are allowing us to live longer lives. Combine this with reduced birth rates resulting in less future workers, and some of the skepticism surrounding the Social Security program becomes valid. With that being said, many Americans are afraid that the Social Security program will become obsolete, which most likely will not be the case. What we do know is that over the next 75 years or so, Social Security will have to evolve in order to support future generations of retiring workers.
The Social Security program was signed into existence by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 and has been through a few major changes over the last 84 years. As it currently stands, Social Security is a “pay-as-you-go” program, which means that the current working generations are paying for the current retirees. The system is subsidized by the Social Security Trust Fund, a reserve of funds to cover any deficit between income from taxes and output of benefits. While the demographics continue to change, the program will take on more costs with less workers to fund it. But there are several solutions to this issue, many of which we have seen before throughout the history of Social Security.
The first option, which you can imagine does not resonate well with the American constituents, is to reduce future benefits. According to Barron’s, if the program remains unchanged and the Social Security Trust Fund is depleted, the Social Security program will be able to continue paying retirees 75% of currently legislated benefits. Although Social Security was created to cover 40% of your income needs during retirement, many American’s rely on it as their only financial resource when they retire. Because of this, it is unlikely that politicians would make an argument to reduce Social Security if they are looking to gain approval from the largest demographic of voting constituents, retirees. A way that politicians have reduced benefits in a roundabout way in the past is by gradually pushing back “full retirement age” from 65 to 67. It would be more likely that we would see another push back beyond the age of 67, than an out-right cut in benefits.
The other option is to increase the revenues from payroll taxes that are funding Social Security. No one is a fan of increased taxes, but if it means providing a more reliable stream of income for you during retirement, it may be worth the extra tax dollars. We have seen changes in payroll taxes in the last 10 years with Congress temporarily cutting payroll taxes by 2% in 2011 and 2012, then raising them back up in 2013 by 2%. Many workers never acknowledged the later increase in payroll taxes. On top of that, payroll taxes are typically split between the employer and employee, so workers most likely won’t take full responsibility of any possible tax increases.
So will Social Security be going away? The brief answer is no. What we do know is that the program will continue to evolve with time and with the American population. That is why it is so important that we save for retirement during our working years, so that no matter what is to come, you are prepared. If you’d like to review your own retirement outlook, whether you are close to retirement or many years away, get in touch with us today for a complimentary consultation with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™.