If you follow the news, you’ll see plenty of worry around how much longer Social Security will last. So here’s the truth: Yes, Social Security should be around when you retire. However, depending on how things play out, it’s possible that you won’t get the full benefits or may have to wait longer to start collecting.
But don’t worry too much. Social security is just one aspect of your retirement plan. With time on your side, if you invest strategically throughout your adult life, you can still have a comfortable retirement.
Of course, it helps to know how much of the Social Security benefits you paid into for years will actually come back to you. Read on to learn more about the future of Social Security and how to estimate your payouts.
The Current State of Social Security: 23% Loss
Social security payouts are partially funded by the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund. The latest report from that fund has fueled speculation that Social Security may end soon.
The report states that the fund has enough money to cover all scheduled benefits through 2034. That’s just 11 years from now, so what if you’re not retiring until after that?
As of now, the fund is expected to be depleted by 2034. However, the U.S. government is still collecting Social Security tax, and that money will still be available to pay out. The problem is that the tax income will only cover 77% of what you’re owed. In other words, in a worst case scenario, you’d lose about 23% of your benefit.
What’s Behind the Social Security Shortfall
You might wonder how in the world Social Security can run out of money, and why now? It really has nothing to do with mismanagement or bad policies. The real reason is that people are living longer today, so benefits are being paid out for longer than planned.
According to federal data, that problem will only get worse because of our current demographics. The number of Americans who are 65 and older was about 58 million in 2022, but is expected to reach 76 million by 2035.
What Will Actually Happen to Social Security?
While there’s no definitive answer about what will happen to Social Security, the likeliest outcome is that you’re going to get some form of benefit when you reach retirement age. But how much you get or when you get it may change. So — is Social Security going away? Not in the foreseeable future.
What Could Happen to Social Security
Congress may try to step in and fix the Social Security program to at least cover the people who retire in 15, 20, or 30 years.
One idea lawmakers are considering is to let things take their course and allow the fund to run out, therefore, reducing the payouts people will get. Another is to raise the age of eligibility for full benefits to age 70. Still another is to expand Social Security benefits by lifting the tax cap so high-income earners pay more into the program.
But it’s a supercharged political issue, and the strong partisanship in the country is creating headwinds for Social Security reform. There’s no broad bipartisan support for any proposal so far.
How Social Security Factors Into Your Retirement
As of December 2022 about 48.6 million retired Americans received an average $1,825 average monthly benefit. And 12% of men and 15% of women rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income.
With today’s cost of living, it's smart to save more for retirement, so you won’t have to rely as much on Social Security. But first, you should get a sense of how much money to expect.
Figure Your Social Security Payment
Once you’ve earned enough to qualify for Social Security benefits, you can get a Social Security statement from the government. This shows what your estimated payment will be when you reach retirement age. You’ll need 40 credits to qualify, and you earn one credit for every $1,470 earned, up to a maximum of 4 credits per year.
Just note that the estimated benefit amount on the statement is in today’s dollars. Since Social Security benefits are tied to inflation, the amount you receive will be much higher once it’s time to collect.
How to Get Your Social Security Statement
You may receive your Social Security statement in the mail, or you can see it online by creating an account on the Social Security website. In addition to your estimated benefit amount, you’ll also see how much you’ve paid in Social Security and Medicare taxes over your working lifetime.
Here’s an estimate of Social Security retirement benefits for a 30 year old making $100,000 a year:
Monthly benefit amount
62 and 1 month in 2055
67 in 2060
70 in 2063
You can get a more specific estimate for your income level by using the U.S. Government’s Social Security calculator.
Pro Tip: Social security benefits are also available for people with disabilities as well as survivor benefits.
Don’t Rely on Only Social Security Alone
As you age, you may face higher health expenses. Relying on Social Security as your main source of income can leave you struggling.
Here’s why: For someone who retired at 65 in 2022 and had average earnings throughout their life, Social Security benefits only replace about 37% of their income. Most people would find it hard to live on such a small slice of their former paycheck.
If you’re between 30 and 50 years old today, the full benefit isn’t guaranteed. A good strategy is to use the assumption that your Social Security income will be about 50% of the estimated amount on your Social Security statement. While that’s conservative, it’s better to underestimate so you can work on making smarter investment decisions to compensate.
Take Charge of Your Retirement Investing
The earlier you start saving for retirement and the more you contribute to your retirement accounts, the larger your nest egg will be. If you haven’t already started making retirement contributions, start today.
Your first goal: Contribute enough to your company 401(k) to qualify for any employer match they offer. So if your employer matches 3%, contribute 3% for a total of 6% of your income saved.
Level up: Assuming you’re taking care of other aspects of your finances (like paying off high-interest debt and building an emergency fund), you can also increase your retirement plan contributions. Aim to reach 10%.
Max out: Once you have the means, boost your contributions up to 15%. At that point, you can even begin exploring other investment vehicles such as real estate.
For more guidance, see our Guide to Financial Planning for Couples
Think Beyond Social Security
The bottom line is that the concept of Social Security isn’t going away just yet. Depending on future legislation, you may get less than you expect or have to wait a bit longer to start collecting.
While Social Security would provide a nice source of income to count on in retirement, you shouldn’t rely on it alone, even if you do end up with your full benefits. Investing regularly from the time you’re young is the best way to ensure that you’re financially secure, no matter what’s in store for Social Security’s future.