Why You Should Care About the Future of Social Security

12-May-2017

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By Steve Garfink, International Living,

“What does the Trump administration—coupled with Republican control of Congress—mean for our Social Security benefits?”

That’s a question I’ve been getting a lot lately in one form or another. Over 60 million retirees rely on Social Security, the majority for half or more of their income. Tens of millions more look to start their benefits in the not-too-distant future.

There is already quite a bit of scare-mongering concerning the future solvency of the program. Add in nervousness over the arrival of a “new sheriff” in the White House, and the result is widespread worry about how this change could impact the Social Security program.

The most common concern people express is whether the program will be there in full for them. I’ve spent a substantial amount of time over the years both researching this popular program and understanding the politics that surround it.

Why should we care about what happens with this program? Because our benefits are valuable…far more valuable than most of us realize. For most of us, our Social Security is more valuable than all of our savings, retirement accounts, and home equity. Once we understand just how valuable our benefits are, we can start to appreciate the concern over whether the new administration might change the program.

To appreciate the value of your benefits, consider this question: If you had to pay for your benefits when they start, what would they cost you?

As it turns out, there is a product in the marketplace much like Social Security. You can buy a product from an insurance company called an annuity. You pay them a sum of money now and they give you a monthly payment for the rest of your life. A special kind of annuity is adjusted for inflation once each year, just like Social Security benefits receive a cost-of-living adjustment once a year.

What would it cost to purchase such an inflation-protected annuity at full retirement age—currently age 66? Consider the case of the average 66-year-old who claimed their benefit in 2014 (the most recent year for which data are available). The monthly benefit amount averaged $1,549 for women and $1,966 for men. What would it cost them to buy that monthly payment, adjusted each year for inflation?

The answer: About $433,000 for her and about $509,000 for him. If married, their benefits are worth over $940,000. If they both claim at 70 instead of 66, the value jumps to $1,074,000. That’s for the average beneficiary who claimed at 66 in 2014. For a couple who paid tax on income close to the income cap ($117,000 in 2014) and who qualified for the maximum annual age 66 benefit of $2,642 per month, their benefits would cost them over $1.4 million—wait to claim at 70 and the cost would be over $1.6 million.

Our benefits are valuable. That’s why we should care what, if anything, might happen from the new administration that could impact their value.

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