Social Security might end up paying you a fairly generous retirement benefit. The average recipient today gets $1,657 a month, and if you earn a higher average wage than the typical worker, you might be in line for a substantially higher benefit down the line.
Plus, there are steps you can take to grow your Social Security benefits. Delaying your filing beyond full retirement age, for example, will leave you with a more generous monthly benefit for life.
But as much as you might have high hopes for Social Security, the reality is that relying on it too heavily could end up hurting you financially. In fact, there might be one facet of Social Security you're overlooking, and it could result in a world of financial upheaval during your senior years.
Will benefits be cut?
Social Security is facing a pretty significant income shortfall. In the coming years, it doesn't expect to collect enough revenue to keep up with scheduled benefits.
Once its cash reserves (known as its trust funds) run out, Social Security might have no choice but to implement significant benefit cuts. And so that average monthly benefit we just talked about? It could get slashed by 20% or more in time.
What this means is that you can't afford to bank too heavily on Social Security in the context of your retirement. Instead, it's important to set yourself up with a viable income stream in case Social Security winds up paying you less than expected.
And while you could make plans to start a small business or earn money in retirement by participating in the gig economy, a safer bet is to work on building a strong nest egg.
If you contribute funds to a retirement plan consistently throughout your career, you can amass a fair amount of wealth through savvy investing. And that could, in turn, protect you in the event of widespread Social Security cuts.
Imagine you're able to set aside $500 a month in an IRA or 401(k) plan for 40 years during your career. If you were to invest that money at an average annual 8% return, which is a bit below the stock market's average, you'd wind up with a nest egg worth a little more than $1.5 million. That could be a solid safety net in case Social Security winds up letting you down.
It's important to plan for the worst
To be clear, Social Security cuts are by no means set in stone. But they're also absolutely on the table at this point. If you want to avoid spending your retirement perpetually cash-strapped, be sure to build a nest egg to compensate for a potential reduction in Social Security benefits.
Even if Social Security cuts don't come to be, those benefits will only replace about 40% of your former earnings if you take home an average salary. And while delaying your filing might raise that percentage, you'll still ultimately need savings of your own to enjoy the retirement you've always dreamed of. The sooner you start focusing on building your nest egg, the more likely you'll be to amass enough wealth to cover your needs in retirement and then some.