When I started writing about Social Security years ago and learning more about it, one of the first things I picked up on was that the program's finances clearly need an overhaul. And many years later, that still holds true.
Social Security is facing a major revenue shortfall in the coming years as baby boomers end their careers and exit the workforce in droves. The reason is that payroll tax revenue is how the program gets most of its funding. As that revenue stream shrinks, Social Security will continuously have to dip into its trust funds to keep up with scheduled benefits.
But those trust funds aren't unlimited. And the program's Trustees' most recent estimate has those funds running dry by 2034. At that point, Social Security might have to cut benefits unless lawmakers manage to come up with a plan to avoid that -- something they've yet to do.
At this point, I'm pretty resigned to the fact that Social Security will be unable to pay me the full monthly benefit I'd otherwise be entitled to. But I'm not losing sleep over that, and neither should you. Instead, you should take proactive steps to make up for it.
When your savings can take the place of Social Security
The good news is that Social Security is not completely going away or running out of money. So even if you're nowhere near retirement, you can still expect the program to pay you the bulk of what you're entitled to despite benefit cuts.
But as of now, Social Security is looking to slash benefits by about 20%. That's not a small percentage.
Knowing that, I'm doing what I can to boost my savings so I have more income at my disposal once I have to stop working. Not only am I trying to max out my solo 401(k), but I'm also pumping funds into a taxable brokerage account I have earmarked for retirement savings purposes. The way I see it, the less I spend now and the more I save, the less of an issue Social Security cuts become for me.
Now, I know not everyone is in a position to max out a retirement plan. Though, to be fair, I consistently work long hours and make sacrifices -- like driving a 16-year-old car -- to make that possible. But you actually don't have to max out a 401(k) or IRA to amass a large nest egg.
Let's say you start saving for retirement when you turn 32 and want to retire at 67, which happens to be the full retirement age for Social Security for those born in 1960 or later. That would give you a 35-year savings window.
If you sock away $500 a month during that time and your investments generate an average annual 8% return, which is a bit below the stock market's average, you'll end up with $1 million in savings. And when you're sitting on that kind of money, losing 20% of your Social Security benefits seems less scary.
That isn't to say anyone should be happy about Social Security cuts. And to be fair, retirees already collecting benefits have fewer options to compensate for cuts. It's the people in that boat whom I truly feel for and worry about.
But if you're years away from wrapping up your career, understand that benefit cuts are likely, so take steps to make up for them with stronger savings. That way, Social Security's financial woes won't have to wreck your retirement.
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