Short-Term vs. Long-Term Crises
It’s difficult to address a long-term issue in the midst of an immediate crisis. With millions unemployed and news of firms going bankrupt because of COVID-19, the latest report on the health of the Social Security Trust Funds received little attention.
According to the report, Social Security’s costs will exceed its income beginning next year, and the fund’s reserves will be depleted around 2034. However, Andrew Saul, commissioner of Social Security, said the projections didn’t reflect the drop in payroll taxes because of lost jobs.
Countless solutions to address the shortfall have been proposed, but Congress has largely ignored them because most are politically risky. Here are a few basic ideas:
1) Raise the full retirement age from 67 (for those born in 1960 or later) to 69. In light of extended life expectancies, this seems reasonable for those who are able to keep working. But health issues already prevent many individuals from working until their full retirement age.
2) Either cut cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) for wealthy individuals or for everyone. But benefits already don’t keep pace with seniors’ rising expenses since the COLA is based on the general Consumer Price Index and doesn’t reflect the disproportionate rate at which housing, medical expenses and health insurance are increasing.
3) Increase payroll taxes for everyone. (Employers and employees each currently pay 6.2 percent of wages.) Or, raise the cap on earnings taxed by Social Security, which is now $137,700. Because benefits are capped at $3,011 at full retirement age, higher earners would not get more back.
4) Wait until Social Security’s reserves are depleted and cut benefits by up to 24 percent (the projected deficit after payroll taxes) or dramatically raise taxes. Since solving the shortfall will become more difficult as time goes by, voters should press their representatives to work on a better solution soon.
We all may face future circumstances beyond our control. But as the old adage says, “You do what you can do.” That includes prudently saving and wisely investing. Call our office if you’d like to review your retirement plan.