A lot is at stake in the next presidential election, but one of the most important issues may be flying under the radar: The future of Social Security.
Social Security is one of the most popular entitlement programs in U.S. history, but it's in trouble. If no action is taken, its trust fund could run short, necessitating a major benefits cut and devastating retirees who rely on the program. The program's trustees have been warning of this possible outcome for a long time, but while lawmakers have tried to find solutions, efforts at reform have thus far failed.
Soon, however, kicking the can down the road will no longer be possible and politicians will be forced into action. And if big changes are made for the first time since the Social Security Amendments of 1983, the president will likely have a major impact on what those changes are.
Hard as it is to believe, that means that after the 2020 election, the fate of the program could be in the hands of President Donald Trump or presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
Why the election matters so much
While the most recent trustee's report indicated Social Security's trust fund reserves wouldn't be depleted until 2035, it didn't take into account the financial consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Because the impact of crisis could damage multiple funding sources for Social Security, some estimates suggest the program could be out of cash by 2028.
This doesn't just mean that the problem could potentially fall into Biden's lap as his second term finishes up around the time the money runs dry (if he were to win the next two elections). The reality is that action should be taken well before the money actually runs out because any potential fixes only get costlier and more difficult the longer lawmakers delay.
Because swift solutions are necessary as the program's finances get worse, there's a very good chance key decisions will need be made over the next four to five years by whomever is in charge.
And this is especially true as both Trump and Biden have, at various times, pledged to protect Social Security benefits and make sure no cuts occur. If it looks as though the funding will start running out in the next few years and cuts will become necessary because of it, their pledges to save the program could very well come in the form of taking steps to shore up its finances.
Vote as if your Social Security benefits depend on it
Of course, there's no guarantee that lawmakers will change Social Security in 2020 or over the next four years. But they may have no choice but to do so if dire warnings about the impact of the coronavirus pan out and the trust fund's insolvency date moves closer.
Because there's ample reason to believe something will need to be done by the next president, be certain to read up on each candidate's proposed solutions for Social Security. If you're like most people, these benefits will be an important source of income as a retiree, so the fate of the program should be one of many considerations when you decide how to vote in 2020.
And no matter who is president, it's important to remember that Social Security benefits are likely never going to be sufficient to act as your sole source of retirement income -- even if no cuts occur. If you're still working, make sure you're saving and investing enough to build a retirement nest egg that can supplement your benefits if you want to have financial security in your later years.