In April, the Social Security Trustees shared a dire update with the public: Benefit cuts may be on the table as early as 2035, the year the program is expected to deplete its trust funds.
Though Social Security gets the bulk of its revenue from payroll taxes, in the coming years, it expects to owe more in benefits than it collects due to the mass exodus of baby boomers from the workforce. The program can tap its trust funds to make up for that shortfall, but once those funds run dry, it may have no choice but to implement substantial cuts to scheduled benefits.
The COVID-19 crisis hasn't helped matters, either. With so many Americans out of work, Social Security is collecting a lot less payroll tax at present, which means that the 2035 trust fund depletion date could come sooner. As such, beneficiaries need to brace for the very real possibility that they may not get as much money from Social Security as expected.
That said, there are steps you can take individually to compensate for a potential reduction in benefits down the line. Here are a few to focus on.
1. Put in a full 35 years in the workforce
Your Social Security benefits are based on your wages during your 35 highest-paid years in the workforce. But if you don't work a full 35 years, you'll have a zero factored in for each year there's no income on file for you. That's why it could pay to plan on extending your career if your current target retirement age leaves you with fewer than 35 years of earnings. That way, you'll replace those zeros with an actual salary that will bring up your total monthly benefit.
2. Delay your filing as long as possible
You're entitled to your full monthly Social Security benefit based on your earnings record once you reach what's known as full retirement age, or FRA. That age is either 66, 67, or somewhere in between, depending on what year you were born. But you don't have to sign up for Social Security at FRA; you can delay your filing up to age 70, snagging an 8% annual boost in benefits all the while. That means if you're looking at an FRA of 67, filing at 70 will give you 24% more monthly Social Security income.
3. Fight for more money at work
Since Social Security benefits are earnings-based, the more money you make at your job, the more you'll get in retirement. It pays to do what you can to increase your wages, whether that means boosting your skills to become more valuable, taking on additional responsibilities to pave the way to a promotion, or researching salary data for your industry and bringing shortcomings to your employer's attention.
Chances are, you're counting on Social Security to provide a significant chunk of your senior income. While benefit cuts may be inevitable, you can do your part to make up for them by taking the above steps. Doing so won't just put more money in your pocket for retirement; it'll buy you more peace of mind for the future.