Although Social Security has been around for a long time, the program continues to evolve. And one positive change that has the potential to arise in the near term is a generous cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA.
COLAs are the annual raises seniors on Social Security are entitled to. They're not guaranteed, and there have been years when seniors have gotten no boost to their benefits at all.
But 2022's COLA could be Social Security's largest in decades. Here's what seniors need to know.
A nice windfall could be on the way
In recent years, Social Security's COLAs haven't been much to write home about. In 2021, seniors saw their benefits increase by 1.3%. In 2020, they went up 1.6%.
But next year, seniors could see their incomes rise substantially. The reason? Social Security increases are tied to inflation, and based on the data we have so far, there's reason to believe that benefits will increase by 6% or more come 2022.
Why don't we have an exact estimate? The reason is that COLAs are calculated based on third-quarter data from the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). So far, we have that data from July and August, but we're missing the final piece of the puzzle -- September's data.
That information should be coming out shortly, though. Once it does, we'll have an exact number that seniors can look forward to in 2022.
Should seniors be happy about a large Social Security raise?
A generous COLA is something today's beneficiaries may not be used to, and at first glance, a 6% or more COLA might read as good news. But let's also remember that the reason next year's COLA is looking to be so substantial is that the cost of living has gone up for all Americans.
Some of those cost increases may be hurting workers more than seniors. Gas-price increases, for example, are more apt to hit commuters' wallets than retirees' wallets. But food costs and other rising expenses may be hurting Social Security recipients, and while a nice COLA can help, ultimately, seniors may not come out ahead financially.
Furthermore, once next-year's COLA is announced, we'll still need one more piece of the puzzle -- Medicare Part B premium details. Each year, there's a standard premium seniors pay for coverage on a monthly basis. Right now, it's $148.50. But that premium could rise next year, thereby eating into seniors' COLA.
The wait is almost over
The Social Security Administration announces COLA details in early October, so next-year's raise should be made public very soon. Seniors may be excited about a boost to their benefits, and understandably so. But once that extra money comes in, it'll be important to put it to good use and manage it wisely in the face of rising living costs.
Furthermore, seniors may want to bank some of their COLA in 2022 if they don't need to spend it all. While we don't know what future raises will look like, it could end up being the case that 2022's COLA is more of an anomaly and stingier COLAs will resume once inflation calms down.