There was a time when Social Security payments were a key piece of people's retirement funding plans. But that's decreasingly the case, and rightfully so. The program is struggling to handle a burden that wasn't envisioned when it was created way back in 1935. Namely, folks are living longer. Then, the average life expectancy in the U.S. was around 60 years of age. Now it's closer to 77, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This means more participants are drawing from the fund for far longer than originally expected, which of course creates a cascade of problems for the program.
That being said, there are three specific reasons I'm not factoring in any Social Security checks when planning my financial future, and you may not want to either.
The program will become insolvent in the mid-2030s
The projected year that the Social Security Administration no longer has the funding it needs to continue making payments as promised keeps changing. Almost all of the estimates, however, put that point at somewhere in the mid 2030s.
It's important to understand the program won't be completely out of money at that time. It simply means Social Security won't have enough liquidity to make full payments; current number-crunching suggests payments will be on the order of 70% to 80% of what they should have been given beneficiaries' historical contributions. And that figure keeps changing a bit as well. It's also possible measures could be taken to address the problem -- Congress seems to kick related legislation around on a fairly regular basis.
The fact that discussions of insolvency are even taking place, however, is a warning in and of itself.
Increased payouts don't actually keep up with inflation
Even if Congress somehow shores up Social Security's imminent shortfall, it still may not be enough for long-term beneficiaries.
The size of the average monthly Social Security check is adjusted annually to reflect the effect of inflation. Social Security beneficiaries saw their checks grow to the tune of 5.9% this past January, for instance, which is huge. There's an even bigger increase expected for the coming year though. Current projections suggest this coming January's cost-of-living adjustment will reach a whopping 8.7%, which would be the biggest bump in four decades.
The problem is even these seemingly big payout increases don't actually keep up with the ever-rising costs most seniors are facing. As a report released by The Senior Citizens League in May points out, the average Social Security beneficiary has lost 40% of their purchasing power since 2000.
That's not a position you want to be in during your golden years.
Social Security was never meant to fully fund retirement anyway
Finally, Social Security benefits were never meant to fully fund an individual's retirement. They were only intended to be a supplement to someone's own savings, acting as a safety net of sorts to prevent extreme poverty for the nation's retired workers.
The impact of monthly payments can vary widely from one person to the next. For those who earned a great deal of wages while they were working (and were subsequently able to save the most in self-managed retirement accounts), Social Security payments only make up about one-fourth of their typical retirement income. Even for the folks at the lower end of the wage-earning scale, however, monthly Social Security payments still only account for roughly three-fourths of their income in retirement.
No matter what, you'll want to do something to make money above and beyond what Social Security can offer even under the program's best-case scenario.
The good news is...
Does this reality check stress you out? Don't panic! No matter where you are in life, there's something you can do to help yourself. Obviously the sooner you get started building your own retirement fund, the better. As I explained just a couple of weeks ago, an annual investment of $5,000 could be worth nearly $2 million if you're able to make that investment for 36 consecutive years.
Even if you don't have 36 years, every little bit of time helps. So does every little bit of extra money you can tuck away now, even if you have to stretch to come up with it. The key is doing something -- anything -- today no matter how small it seems. You might be surprised how big of a deal something small ends up being down the road.