During almost any conversation about Social Security, it is inevitable that some of the more disparaging comments about the system will come out. “I’m taking mine right away before the system runs out of money” and “It’s not enough to retire on anyway” are typical comments.
It’s not my job to champion the system, but there is certainly a lot of misinformation getting passed around that causes people stress, and that is never good. I hope to cover the reality and with the information we have today, dispel some of the ideas which are just plain wrong and to provide some insight as to what your Social Security benefits are worth in terms of a cash value.
First, yes, under the current plan benefit levels and rules, it is projected that the Social Security Fund will start paying out more than it takes in from payroll deposits around the year 2021, and run out of money in about 2033. Of course, this assumes no action is taken to raise the age required to receive benefits, or any adjustment is made to the payroll tax rate used to fund the system.
Longer lifespans and the baby boom generation moving into retirement are definitely stressing the system. But this problem is manageable through some combination of raising the FICA payroll tax, which funds the system; moving up the age at which eligibility begins; and possibly, but not likely, reducing benefit levels.
The important thing is to be able to get to the other side of the boomers, a demographic group 76 million strong. Once these folks have enjoyed their retirement years and pass on, there will be some likely relief for the system as the next demographic – Generation X – is smaller in size and will put less strain on the system when it relies on it for benefits.
Additionally, the large baby boom generation spawned what we might call an “echo-boom.” This is what is now known as Generation Y. Also known as the Millennials, they are those born in the early 1980’s through the early 2000’s, and are the first generation to live their entire lives with computers being commonplace. Generation Y is estimated to be over 90 million strong here in the U.S. and will be a powerful force to replenish the Social Security Fund for their predecessors, Generation X, as they reach peak earning years. Of course, they will present a problem to the system later when they all start drawing benefits.
It is also important to have some perspective on the cash value required to provide the same level of income that Social Security provides. While benefit levels vary with age at filing, earnings history, and some other factors, the average recipient today receives about$1,250 per month. Using the financial planning concept of the safe withdrawal rate which is generally accepted to be in the 4 to 5 percent range, you would need about $350,000 for each individual ($700,000 per married couple) to generate the level of income the average Social Security recipient gets each month.
Since most families retire with less than this amount in saving and investments, it is important to plan for when and how you will receive Social Security benefits to maximize your income. I think it is also important to remember, but does little good for those already retired, is the idea that Social Security Benefits were never intended to be someone’s whole retirement plan.
President Roosevelt, when signing Social Security into law stated, in part, “We can never insure 100 percent of the population against 100 percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.”
Which, takes us to something another man this one with the last name of Franklin, said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”
While inflation over time has turned the perspective on pennies into dollars, the thought process is unchanged as good advise for those working toward building their financial future.
Tom Breiter is president of Breiter Capital Management, Inc., an Anna Maria based investment advisor. He can be reached at 778-1900. Some of the investment concepts highlighted in this column may carry the risk of loss of principal, and investors should determine appropriateness for their personal situation before investing. Visit www.breitercapital.com.