June 2020 - The Basics of Social Security

When you think about Social Security, what comes to mind? Do you worry if it will still be around for you when you retire? Do you wonder how much you can expect to receive each month? Are you aware of when you can start taking your benefit, or what you can do to maximize it?

If you feel confused or unsure about Social Security, you’re not alone. According to Nationwide Retirement Institute’s “2019 Annual Consumer Survey on Social Security”:

  • Less than 25% of people know what their full retirement age is.
  • 70% think they are eligible for full benefits before they actually are.
  • Workers within 10 years of retirement overestimate their monthly retirement benefit by almost 30%.
  • On average, future retirees believe they’re eligible for full benefits at age 63, at least three years before they actually are.

While reading this article is a good way to learn the basics, at some point you’ll want to check out the Social Security Benefits Planner for more comprehensive information. The website has numerous links to helpful pages within the site, including calculators, publications, and life expectancy estimates.  

Will Social Security Still Be There for You When You Retire?

There are many pessimistic news stories out there about Social Security’s future. “Going bankrupt” and “Running out of Money” are common headlines. According to a 2019 Gallup Poll1, 67% of Americans say they worry about Social Security either “a great deal” or “a fair amount.”

Here’s what’s happening

Social Security benefits are considered a “pay as you go” system. This means that Social Security taxes collected from today’s workers goes to pay today’s retirees. For many years, more workers paid in taxes than the system needed to pay out to retirees at the same time. More money came in than went out, and the excess started to accumulate in a trust fund that reached $2.9 trillion at the end of 20182.

But now, due mostly to the large number of Baby Boomers who will continue to retire over the next several years, the worker to retiree ratio has started to shift. Soon, we’ll reach a point where there is not enough money coming into the system to pay out to all the people claiming benefits. To make up this shortfall, the Social Security Administration will begin pulling money from the trust fund.

The Social Security Administration projects that the current trust fund balance will only last until 2035. Once it’s depleted, benefits can only be paid directly from Social Security taxes collected from the current workforce. The projections show that will only generate about 75% of what’s needed to pay all benefits3.

The Social Security Board of Trustees believes the most likely adjustments will come in the form of a reduction in benefits or an increase in taxes (or some combination of both). But Social Security will not go away.

When can you claim benefits?

When it comes time to begin receiving Social Security benefits, you have a range of options. You can begin receiving benefits anytime between ages 62 and 70. Your full retirement age is the age at which you can begin receiving 100% of your primary insurance amount (PIA), also known as your full retirement age benefit. Your full retirement age depends on your year of birth. For example, for those born in 1960 or later, the full retirement age is 67.

Birth Year Full Retirement Age
1955 66 + 2 Months
1956 66 + 4 Months
1957 66 + 6 Months
1958 66 + 8 Months
1959 66 + 10 Months
1960 and later 67


What Are the Trade-Offs If You File Earlier Versus Later?

If you file at an age other than your full retirement age, your benefit amount will be reduced or increased. Filing earlier gives you a reduced benefit. Filing later gives you an increased benefit. 

Should you take benefits earlier or later?

Everyone’s situation is unique, so it’s important to look closely at the trade-offs before making your decision. Here are some reasons you might want to claim benefits earlier:

  • You simply need the money to help pay living expenses.
  • You cannot work longer due to health reasons.
  • You have care-giving responsibilities for a family member.
  • You have been laid off or lost your job through downsizing or other action.

Here are some reasons you might want to claim benefits later

  • You don’t need the money right now, or have income from other sources to tide you over (such as a pension or 401(k) plan).
  • You believe you have a longer life expectancy, during which higher payments would be helpful.
  • You plan to work at some level during retirement.
  • You simply like the idea of getting higher benefits over the long term.

Money you can count on

According to the Social Security Administration, the average retired family receives 38% of their income from Social Security benefits. The amount of benefit income you receive may be higher or lower than average, but it’s likely that it will be your only income stream that:

  • Adjusts most years for inflation; in 2020, retiree benefits were increased 1.6%, known as a cost of living adjustment (COLA).
  • Is backed by the United States of America.
  • Will pay you for as long as you live.

Moving Forward with Your Social Security Planning

When it comes to planning ahead for Social Security, there’s a lot to know and understand. And many details are bound to change over time. Here are some tips to help you stay on top of Social Security and prepare yourself to make the best decisions for your financial future.

Continue to increase your knowledge

Be sure to check out these valuable resources you can access to help increase your knowledge about Social Security:

Keep a big picture perspective

According to the Social Security Administration, Social Security benefits will replace about 40% of an average employee’s pre-retirement income after retirement. This replacement percentage will be lower for people in upper income brackets and higher for people in lower income brackets. In addition, most financial advisers say that a typical person will need about 75-80% of their pre-retirement earnings to comfortably maintain their pre-retirement standard of living. That means that Social Security will provide about half of what the average person will need. How can you make up the difference?

  • Make sure you are saving as much as you can in any 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan available to you. Aim to save at least enough to receive the maximum employer matching contribution (if available).
  • If you are self-employed, save as much as you can in an IRA account.

Consider working with a financial professional

You may want to consider working with a financial professional to help you prepare to make the best decisions when it comes to Social Security. Your LPL Financial Professional can be a valuable resource for this and other financial planning issues. Here’s how they can help you:

  • Work with you to develop financial goals based on your needs and desires.
  • Develop an investment strategy to help you fund your goals.
  • Help you better understand what’s happening in the market and how it can affect your investment strategy.
  • Meet with you on a regular basis to track progress and make adjustments as necessary.

The financial professional edge

According to Nationwide Retirement Institute’s “2019 Annual Consumer Survey on Social Security,” retirees working with a financial professional report receiving 17% more in monthly benefits than those who do not ($1,551 vs. $1,324). In addition, they report being much more able to do the things they want in retirement (90% vs. 56%).


[1] As reported by Motley Fool, September 19, 2019

[2-3] 2019 Social Security Trustees Report

This material was prepared by LPL Financial. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.