Workers face many concerns as they prepare for retirement, but one of the most pressing is regarding Social Security. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of workers say they're worried Social Security won't be available to them once it's time to retire, a recent survey from Wells Fargo discovered.
With no shortage of gloom-and-doom headlines promising the program's demise, it's understandable to worry about the future. Especially if you're going to be depending on your benefits to help make ends meet in retirement, you may be concerned that you won't be able to afford to retire if Social Security is no longer around.
However, although the Social Security program has its fair share of troubles, there's no need to worry about its future. Here's why.
The good news: Social Security isn't going anywhere
You've likely heard that Social Security is bankrupt and that your future benefits are at risk. The good news, though, is that the program itself isn't going anywhere.
When you pay your Social Security taxes as an employee, that money isn't stored in an individual account just for you, which you can tap once you're ready to start claiming benefits. Rather, it's paid out to current retirees in the form of monthly benefit checks. Then once you're ready to retire, the checks you'll receive will be funded by younger workers' taxes.
That means that as long as workers continue paying their taxes, there will always be cash that can be paid out as benefits. In other words, the program is not on the verge of collapse, as many soon-to-be retirees are concerned about.
The not-so-good news, however, is that the program is facing a slight hiccup: There's currently not enough cash to go around. With baby boomers retiring en masse (to the tune of around 10,000 workers every day, according to Pew Research Center), a lot of money needs to be paid out as benefits. And with retirees living longer than ever, today's seniors are receiving more monthly checks than generations past.
As a result there's more money flowing out of the system than coming back in. To cover the shortage, the Social Security Administration has been dipping into its trust funds. However, those funds are expected to run dry by 2035, the most recent report from the Social Security Administration Board of Trustees revealed. Once those trust funds are depleted, the only money that will be available to pay out in benefits will be what comes in from taxes -- and it's currently estimated that future taxes will be enough to cover only around three-quarters of scheduled benefits.
The bad news: Retirees could face benefit cuts
There are a couple of potential solutions to the cash shortage plaguing the Social Security Administration. Congress could raise taxes, for instance, which would provide more money that can be paid out as benefits. Or the Social Security Administration could cut benefits because there's not enough money to go around.
Nobody knows exactly what will happen in the future, but if you're nearing retirement age, it's a good idea to be prepared for any possible scenario. If you're banking on being able to survive primarily on Social Security benefits and then realize your checks are going to be slashed by 25%, that could wreck your entire retirement plan.
One way to prepare for potential cuts is to bulk up your savings so you won't be forced to rely too heavily on Social Security. Your benefits are designed to replace only around 40% of your preretirement income anyway, so if you play it even more conservatively and assume they may make up only a small portion of your income once you retire, you won't be left in the lurch if your checks are reduced.
Another option is to take advantage of delayed retirement credits. If you claim benefits at your full retirement age (FRA), you'll receive the full benefit amount you're theoretically entitled to. But the Social Security Administration rewards those who delay claiming benefits until after their FRA, up until age 70. If you have a FRA of age 67 and you wait until age 70 to claim, for instance, you'll receive an additional 24% each month on top of your full amount. In the event that benefits are reduced, the boost you'd receive by waiting to claim can take the sting out of the cuts.
It can be frightening to think about the future of Social Security, but the positive news is that you'll still have some form of benefits to depend on once you retire. It may not be quite as much as you'd anticipated, but if you start adjusting your plan now to account for potential reductions, you can prepare yourself for any obstacles life throws your way.