Though millennials aren't anywhere close to retirement, it's natural for them to have that milestone on the brain. After all, we're all told repeatedly to save for it, no matter our age, so it stands to reason that younger workers might start to develop some of the same retirement-related concerns older Americans tend to have.
But when it comes to Social Security, millennials are overwhelmingly pessimistic. In fact, 80% say they don't expect to get anything out of Social Security when they retire, despite the fact that they're forced to pay into the system at present. The question is: Are they being smart or overly negative?
Where Social Security is headed
You may have heard rumors that Social Security is currently in the process of going broke, but rest assured, that's just not true. Though the program is facing some financial challenges, the fact of the matter is there's no indication that it won't manage to pay any benefits once today's younger workers are ready to collect.
But whether future retirees face a reduction in those benefits is a different story. Beginning this year, Social Security will start dipping into its trust funds because its incoming revenue won't be enough to cover its obligations. Think of it as taking a pay cut at work and dipping into your savings account to keep up with your bills, more or less.
The problem, however, is that once those trust funds run dry, Social Security won't have the ability to pay retirees their benefits in full unless Congress steps in with a fix. According to the latest projections, those trust funds will run out of money as early as 2034, which means that millennials are correct in thinking they'll get the raw end of the deal. But this also means that the 80% of younger workers who expect to get nothing out of Social Security are mistaken.
What today's younger workers need to understand about Social Security is that it gets most of its funding from payroll tax revenue. This means that, as long as we have a workforce, the program will pay out benefits in some shape or form. Furthermore, at present, Social Security's worst-case scenario involves a 21% cut in benefits beginning in 2034. Is that ideal? Certainly not, especially for the millions of seniors who rely on those benefits to pay the bills in retirement. But it's also not the dire situation so many millennials are making it out to be.
Secure your own retirement
It's easy to buy into rumors about Social Security's impending demise, and write off those benefits completely, but the truth is that doing so isn't actually such a terrible idea. The reason? Social Security was never designed to sustain retirees in the absence of other income. Today, those benefits will replace roughly 40% of the average earner's pre-retirement income, when most seniors need about twice that amount to live comfortably. Therefore, giving up on Social Security is actually a great way to push yourself to save more during your working years -- something you should be doing regardless of where the program is headed.
If you're a millennial, your yearly tax-advantaged savings are capped at $18,500 if you're putting money into a 401(k), or $5,500 if you're using an IRA. But those are pretty generous limits to work with. And if you start saving at an early enough age, you can accumulate enough wealth to fund your retirement without having to worry about Social Security one way or another.
Case in point: Imagine you're 23 years old and want to retire at 67. If you save $400 a month and invest that money at an average annual 7% return, you'll wind up with about $1.27 million dollars. And that's certainly enough to make up for a potential 21% hit on the Social Security income you would've otherwise collected.
While there's no need for younger workers to dismiss the possibility of getting money from Social Security, the truth is that we should all be doing our part to save for the future rather than sit back and wait for our benefits to come in. And since millennials have loads of time on their side, they're in a great position to prepare for the future rather than worrying about it.