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Social Security is Going Broke. Here's How to Avoid Going With It

Take a moment and imagine surviving on $1,360 per month, only a few dollars above the federal poverty level. This scenario is a reality for millions of Americans living on Social Security. The average benefits aren't nearly enough to sustain a lifestyle, and things aren't likely to improve. In fact, the Social Security Administration warns that benefits are only fully funded until 2034, and roughly three-quarters funded thereafter.

If you're worried about Social Security going broke, take these steps as soon as possible to reduce your dependency on entitlements and safeguard your golden years. 

1. Crunch the numbers

The Social Security deficit is a problem, but it isn't a surprise. More Americans are leaving the workforce than entering it, which means that today's incoming Social Security tax revenues won't be enough to cover full benefits by 2034. The result? Unless Congress finds a solution, Social Security recipients could lose up between 20% and 25% of their benefits. 

Image source: Getty Images.

You can't do much to control the future of entitlements, and you're better off focusing on your independent savings in the meantime. The first step is figuring out how much you'll need. Here's what today's seniors are spending on life's necessities:

  • Housing: $15,528 per year
  • Transportation: $6,852 per year
  • Food: $5,508 per year
  • Healthcare: $5,760 per year
  • Entertainment: $2,460 per year

These and other expenses shake out to $44,600 per year, or $3,700 per month. Based on these figures, a retired couple with a monthly benefit of $2,077 would still need $1,623 per month to make ends meet, or $584,280 for 30 years of retirement.  

Social Security isn't going away entirely, but it's a good idea to plan aggressively to protect yourself in case your benefits decrease. Use this retirement savings calculator and the SSA's Benefits Estimator to get a sense of where you stand. 

2. Supercharge your savings

While it's true that Social Security was never meant to be the sole source of income for retirees, tax-favored accounts for saving for your golden years haven't always been available. 401(k) retirement plans have only been around since 1978, and IRAs weren't introduced until 1974. If you're lacking in these areas, there are a few ways to catch up. 

Image source: Getty Images.

  • Invest now: Better late than never as they say, and now is the time to start saving. If you're 50 or older in 2017, the IRS allows you to contribute an extra $6,000 per year to your 401(k) or 403(b) plan in addition to the standard $18,000. The catch-up amount for traditional and Roth IRAs is $1,000, bringing your maximum contribution to $6,500. These savings can add up fast: Assuming a 7% return, maxing out your contributions for a single year would grow your investments from $30,500 to $60,000 over the next decade. 
  • Overhaul your budget: Access to those catch-up contributions is one thing, but budgeting for them is another. Spending is a problem for the majority of Americans. A recent CreditCards.com survey revealed that 84% are impulse shoppers, and 20% admit to spending more than $1,000 on a single item. Old habits die hard, and it's crucial to curb yours before exiting the workforce. Consider using a budgeting app like Mint.com to track expenses and receive a visual reminder of how you spend. If you can, aim to cut 10% across the board and redirect your funds into retirement savings. A financial cushion will help you manage life's surprises, including Social Security cuts. 

Image source: Getty Images.

3. Increase your income

Sometimes even the most frugal seniors can't meet their savings goals, let alone plan for Social Security cuts. In addition to your investment accounts, it might be necessary to rely on other income strategies, including: 

  • Rental property: Homeownership is a valuable asset in retirement, and renting out a room or entire property can rake in big bucks. According to a Priceeconomics analysis, the average Airbnb host earns $924 per month, income potential you can't afford to ignore. 
  • The gig economy: Millions of Americans are currently using a side hustle to earn more money, and it's paying off. A Harris Poll survey conducted on behalf of CareerBuilder revealed that 30% of respondents earn more than $75,000 per year. Catalog your skills and check out the most profitable niches. They may come in handy as you enter retirement. 
  • Delaying Social Security withdrawals: Making the most of Social Security requires patience. As you can see in the table below for those whose full retirement age is 66, taking your benefits early will reduce the size of your monthly check, a pain that will hurt even more if your benefits are cut down the road. 
Claiming Age Percent of Primary Insurance Amount Amount (Assumes a $2,000 Primary Insurance Amount)
62 75% $1,500
63 80% $1,600
64 87% $1,740
65 93% $1,860
66 100% $2,000

SOURCE: SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION.

Regardless of whether your retirement hinges on full Social Security benefits, it's important to plan aggressively. Extra cash can't hurt, and the result will help you sleep better and enjoy your golden years, with or without Congress's help. 

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