Putting the Security Back in Social Security

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / CBoswell

There is a recurring concern that comes up when discussing retirement planning with clients. When we sit down with someone to break down various sources of retirement income, sometimes they will stop me and say “Mark, I don’t want to count on Social Security because I’m pretty sure it will be gone by the time I retire.”

It’s an understandable concern. We see headlines all the time calling for Social Security reforms (meaning cuts), throwing around scary words like “default” and “insolvent.” However, it is important to remember what these words really mean. If someone owes you $100.00, and they can only pay you back $99.97, they are technically insolvent. But you’re not really going to miss those three cents all that much.

The Social Security trust is short more than a couple of pennies, but the concept is the same: the program has merely enough funding to meet most of its obligations rather than all of them. You might hear estimates that the Social Security trust fund will “run out” within 20 years, but this does not mean the end of Social Security. Even without the support of the trust, the Social Security program is projected to have enough revenue to continue paying out approximately 75% of its obligations after the trust runs out (according to the latest annual report of the trustee board at ssa.gov.)

This is still a problem, obviously. No one wants to wake up in 20 years and hear their benefits have been cut by 25% because Social Security ran out of money. Thankfully, the fixes are not onerous. The math behind the Social Security trust, as with any pension fund, is based on the principle of compound interest—something that Albert Einstein is said to have called the greatest force in the universe. Staving off that future 25% drop can be accomplished by a smaller 13% decrease in benefits or increase in revenues today (representing a payroll tax of about 2%.)

These changes will undoubtedly cause some pain and there will be resistance to Social Security reforms. None of us knows what the future may bring, so it may be foolish to treat benefit projections as hard and fast numbers. But it seems clear to us that Social Security will likely survive in some form.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.