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Are Social Security benefits going away?

Theo Thimou,

Social Security has sustained generations of Americans and kept them out of poverty as they aged. But will Social Security benefits be there for you when you need them?

RELATED: Here’s how much of your monthly expenses Social Security will cover in all 50 states

Here’s the likely future of Social Security benefits…

Most of us are aware of the problems Social Security is facing. You pay into the system all your working life through payroll taxes, but with an aging population and fewer workers to support them, the future of this social safety net program isn’t exactly crystal clear.

A recent fact sheet from the Social Security Administration notes that there are 2.8 active workers for every one Social Security beneficiary today.

By 2035, there will only be 2.2 workers having money taken out of their paycheck for each beneficiary to support an estimated 79 million beneficiaries — up from 49 million today.

It doesn’t take a math whiz to understand the numbers just can’t work if something doesn’t change. So how do you keep the promise of Social Security with that unfavorable math?

Well, for starters payroll taxes aren’t the only source of revenue for the SSA. There are two other sources, too.

One is the Social Security’s Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance Trust Fund. The SSA dips into this trust fund when the outgoing benefits it pays each month exceed the revenue it takes in, which, incidentally happened in 2010 for the first time.

The third source of revenue is the income taxes that select Social Security recipients pay on their benefits.

So the question is, how long will the trust fund last? According to recent projections, the SSA’s Office of the Chief Actuary estimates it will be depleted between 2033 and 2034.

Does that mean Social Security benefits will be going away sometime in the 2030s?

The answer is “not exactly.”

“If no legislative change is enacted, scheduled tax revenues will be sufficient to pay only about three-fourths of the scheduled benefits after trust fund depletion,” the Office of the Chief Actuary notes.

Translation: You can expect to get about 75 cents back out of every dollar you paid into Social Security beginning sometime around 2033 or 2034.

More important, however, is this phrase — if no legislative change is enacted. The reality is that something’s got to give. Money expert Clark Howard has long been saying that we’ve got some tough choices to make as a nation.

“Either taxes will have to go higher to maintain the current level of benefits or the benefits are going to have be reduced or some combo of the two,” Clark notes. “There is no magic rabbit to pull out of a hat, no matter what the politicians like to say about government waste and inefficiency.”

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