If you're an older worker who's worried about whether Social Security will be around for you in retirement, you're in good company. In a recent Gallup poll, more than half of pre-retirees expressed concern that benefits won't be available when the time comes to claim them.
Now the good news is that contrary to rumors, Social Security is not, in fact, going broke. What the program is facing, however, is an impending revenue shortage that will cause it to most likely deplete its trust funds by 2034. Once that happens, Social Security will only manage to pay about 79% of its scheduled benefits unless Congress steps in and comes up with a fix. And while that's not as dire as completely running out of money, it is a frightening prospect for the millions of seniors who rely on those benefits to provide most of their income today, and for those who will one day land in the same situation.
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If you're an older worker who's concerned about Social Security, you may want to come up with a backup plan in case your benefits do end up getting reduced. Here are a few routes you can take.
1. Build a stronger nest egg
The more money you have saved going into retirement, the less you'll end up relying on Social Security. So if you still have a number of working years ahead of you, take the opportunity to pad your nest egg while you can.
At present, workers 50 and older are allowed to contribute up to $24,500 a year to a 401(k) and $6,500 a year to an IRA. Max out the former for 10 years, and you'll add $338,000 to your savings if your investments bring in a 7% average annual return during that time. Max out the latter, and you'll boost your savings by about $90,000, all other things being equal.
Keep in mind that 401(k) and IRA yearly contribution limits can rise over time, and that the above numbers work with the current limits only. In other words, if you commit to maxing out your retirement plan for the duration of your career, and your investments do well, you might pad your nest egg even more.
2. Work longer
If there's not a lot of time to boost your nest egg between now and retirement, a good bet is to extend your career past your originally anticipated quit date. Doing so will achieve a number of purposes. First, it will give you additional time to contribute to your retirement plan. Second, it will prevent you from dipping into your nest egg for longer, thereby stretching whatever savings you've managed to accumulate. Finally, it'll potentially help boost your Social Security income by allowing you to hold off on taking benefits past your full retirement age (FRA).
Your full retirement age is a function of your year of birth, and for today's workers, it's either 66, 67, or 66 and a certain number of months. For each year you delay benefits past FRA, those payments will increase by 8% until you turn 70. That means that working until 70 and filing then when your FRA is 67 will boost your monthly benefits by 24% -- for life.
3. Plan to work part-time as a senior
Retiring doesn't have to mean not working at all. If you're concerned about losing some Social Security income, you can compensate by getting a part-time job during your golden years. The options here are virtually limitless -- you can turn a hobby into a job, consult in your former field, or kick off an entirely new venture. Not only will working part-time allow you to earn money, but you'll most likely save money on entertainment by virtue of having fewer hours to occupy.
4. Reduce your senior living costs
While you can't control what happens to Social Security, you can control the amount of money you spend as a senior. If you're worried your income will be lower than anticipated, you can offset that loss by lowering your living costs during your golden years.
Though certain expenses, like healthcare, may be non-negotiable, you can aim to keep other big-ticket items, like housing and entertainment, to a minimum. That could mean downsizing your current living space in retirement, relocating to a less expensive part of the country, and getting creative about scoring senior discounts. Cooking at home will also help save you a bundle, so if income is an issue, steer clear of those early bird specials, tempting as they might be.
It's too soon to tell what will happen to Social Security benefits in the coming years, but one thing's for sure: The less reliant you are on those payments, the better off you'll be in retirement. So rather than spend your time worrying about Social Security, focus on boosting your savings and employing other strategies to increase your income. With any luck, that'll do the trick in compensating if Social Security does indeed come to slash benefits in the future.
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