Under Pressure, Social Security Benefits May Be Cut Sooner Than Previously Suggested

Under Pressure, Social Security Benefits May Be Cut Sooner Than Previously Suggested
Photo by Huy Phan

We already know that Social Security will be dealing with tough challenges in just a few years if something truly significant doesn’t change, and soon.

We also know that last year’s pandemic probably made things much worse. In fact, this year the “new normal” for Social Security could turn any cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for next year into an empty gesture.

(Can we agree the entire Social Security program would be euthanized if it were a hedge fund or private pension?).

Overall, the bureaucrats who should be working around the clock to come up with real solutions for retirement savers are giving us the impression that…

“Benefits are going to get cut. Deal with it.

This is not comforting.

Inflation in the U.S. is close to spiraling out of control. For the near-term, any COLA offered by Social Security is likely to evaporate like water on a hot street. Consider: the 2021 adjustment for inflation was 1.3% which is just noticeably smaller than the 4.2% year-over-year official inflation number and almost invisible compared to the nearly-8% inflation based on real-world experience.

One source claims the COLA will be 4.7% in 2022, but we’ll have to wait and see. Hopefully the actual inflation rate won’t be 6x higher than the adjustment this time…

Remember, every time the Social Security Administration makes a cost of living adjustment, Social Security’s reserves dry up faster. There’s no incentive beyond playing fair to prevent those COLA numbers from being lowballed year after year.

That’s one “solution” that might be marginally more politically acceptable than actually cutting benefits.

Even so, anxiety about Social Security’s solvency and worry about benefits is everywhere.

A financial tech company, Covisum, even created a Social Security benefits cut calculator to let us calculate optimal scenarios. Obviously, the expectation that benefits will be cut is baked into the tool.

An article on CNBC laid out the reasoning for this potentially dire scenario:

The funds Social Security draws from to pay benefits are running low. Benefit cuts could be one of the changes politicians consider to fix the system.

Let’s keep in mind that any Social Security benefits cuts would reduce the guaranteed monthly payments to the very retirees who paid for it. That’s an outright injustice.

Furthermore, cutting benefits to “balance the books” is like paying less than the minimum monthly payment on a credit card bill (because you can’t afford the minimum amount), and then claiming you fixed the problem by lowering your payment.

Failing to meet your financial obligations is not a solution for individual Americans, nor should it be for America’s federal agencies.

Retirees who filed for Social Security benefits early due to the economic impact of COVID-19 added stress to the already-faltering agency. According to Covisium, that could mean an even earlier deadline for the Social Security Administration:

This increase in Social Security claims and reduced income from workers has many experts estimating that the Social Security system will run out of funds as early as 2029. [emphasis added]

The current Social Security Trustees Report doesn’t factor in this potential disaster because it was issued “pre-COVID.”

The next update will have to answer some tough questions…

In the meantime, how should we plan for retirement? Or are we doomed to give up on the dream?

Are you doomed to work away your golden years?

The answer is there isn’t an easy answer to this question. You’ll find a lot of articles rehashing the standard advice, like:

  • Spend less than you earn.
  • Be financially disciplined.
  • Save a fixed percentage of your income.
  • Take advantage of employer matching.
  • Pay down debts.
  • Reduce expenses.
  • Live below your means.

And so on.

These are good reminders, of course. The problem is, “one size fits all” financial advice doesn’t suit every situation.

On the other hand, surging inflation does affect every retirement saver. In fact, it’s the “silent killer” of many future plans…

Arm yourself against the “silent killer” of wealth

Financial Times Advisor offers this perspective:

But as always, inflation is the silent killer. People do not realise their pensions and savings are at risk because prices are going up. So as a society, as an industry we could do better to help encourage people to make their savings work for them. [emphasis added]

More and more, you’re on your own when it comes to outwitting the “silent killer.” The good news is, you have options. Since you know your situation best, the best advice is to take control of your own retirement savings plan

That means taking some time and examining your risk profile, diversifying your assets, assessing how your investments perform in inflationary environments and considering physical assets in your savings.

Physical precious metals like gold and silver have had inherent value for thousands of years. They are tangible, finite resources. They have also proven to be an excellent hedge against inflation and might be the perfect weapon you need to defeat the silent killer.

2021, COLA, Featured, inflation, retirement savings, social security