As Social Security celebrates its 80th anniversary, many Americans are pessimistic about the program’s future, but most financial advisors seem positive about its survival.
A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 41 percent of Americans think there will be no Social Security benefits when they retire, and nearly a third expect benefits to be reduced, but those assumptions aren’t necessarily grounded in reality, says Scott Michalek, principal at the Wescott Financial Advisory Group in Philadelphia.
“Part of the problem is the press,” Michalek says. “The press writes more about the demise of Social Security than it does any kind of solution. The public has the impression that there won’t be any money left after 18 or 19 years, but I can’t see our government letting it fall off of the cliff.”
The 2015 Social Security Administration trustees report extended its projected funding lifespan from 2033 to 2034.
“I think there’s an education gap,” says Angela DiCastri, director of retirement markets for Northwestern Mutual.
Nevertheless, questions remain about the program’s future. The trustees report estimates that the program will meet its financial obligation for another 18 years. Then, if no changes are made, tax receipts will fall short of covering retirees’ full benefits.
“Many people think that Social Security will no longer exist, but it really means that tax receipts will be able to pay 77 percent of the benefits,” DiCastri says. “This isn’t a doomsday clock. Congress might wait to act. But even if they don’t, the benefit will be there in some form.”
When faced with a similar issue, with months before Social Security became insolvent in 1983, Congress voted to gradually increased the full retirement age from 65 to 67.
“People forget that Social Security has been broke twice before,” DiCastri says. “In 1977, Congress raised the withholding to preserve the program. If Congress does something, things will change, but we don’t know what that something will look like.”
The solution to Social Security’s current woes could be another increase in the retirement age.