The fate of Social Security is unknown. And whether or not you should even include it in your retirement planning is a common question.
While I don't know what this program will look like in the future, I do believe that it could be an important guaranteed income source for me. That's why I include it in all of my retirement projections but with these two modifications.
1. A higher full retirement age
When Social Security was first created, the full retirement age (FRA) was 65, but since then it has increased. Now, if you were born between 1943 and 1954, your FRA is 66, if you were born in 1960 or later, it's 67; and if you were born between 1955 and 1959, it will lie between the two ages.
If you qualify for Social Security, you're eligible for your standard benefit at your FRA. You can take it early as age 62 and delay it as long as age 70. For every year that you take it early, your benefit is reduced and for every year that you delay it, it's increased.
A potential solution to Social Security deficits could be pushing this age out even further. If this is the case, my FRA of 67 might become age 68 or later. If I have my heart set on retiring at age 67, I can keep my retirement age the same but plan for a lower benefit. I can also plan on delaying my retirement to my new retirement FRA so that I get my standard benefit.
2. A potentially lower payment formula
Currently, your standard benefit is determined by the number of years that you worked and the amount of money that you made in each of those years. You qualify when you earn 40 work credits, which is the equivalent of about 10 years of working, but up to 35 years of working years can go into this calculation. The more of them you work, the higher your payment could be. And while you only need $1,470 in earned income for a credit, the higher your income, the more your benefit could be in the future.
Making up for gaps in funding with Social Security could also be accomplished by changing this formula so that it yields a lower monthly payment. For the average worker, Social Security will make up about 40% of their working income. If you earn less than the average worker it could make up a higher percentage but if you earn more, it could make up less. If this type of change happened, Social Security could make up an even smaller percentage of everyone's pre-retirement income.
How I'll plan for these changes
What this ultimately means is that I need more money saved. But saving for retirement can already be a big goal and coming up with extra each year could be challenging. That's why I plan on investing my money so that I get some growth from stock market appreciation. Combined with having time on my side, this can help make it a lot more manageable. There's no way of telling if my future payments could get cut or by how much. But I can come up with some possible projections and pick one that is most attainable for me.
For example, if I estimate that I'll need $12,000 in extra income each year, using a 4% withdrawal rate, I'll need an extra $300,000 by the time I retire. If I can save $1,650 more each year for the next 30 years and earn 10% each year on average, I can accomplish this. If I think that I'll only need $6,000 more each year, then I only need $150,000 more which would require $850 each year over the next 30 years if I earned a 10% average interest rate. Historically, I could've earned this rate of return with a portfolio of 100% stocks .
As more is known about the future of Social Security, I can make tweaks in my plan. Or as I get older and my risk tolerances change, I may decide I want less aggressive assets, which will reduce the rate of return that I earn. I can accommodate for this adjustment by either accepting a lower amount of money saved or increasing my annual contributions.
We don't know what will happen to Social Security. It might change for the worst, stay the same, or even get better. If it stays the same or gets better, so will my overall retirement lifestyle because of my proactive planning. But if it does change in a way that would have a negative impact on my retirement I can avoid making drastic changes to the way I envision living in retirement by saving more now.