Dear Helaine: My husband and I are in our mid-60s, and we're finding it harder and harder to save money because our earnings from work are going down. We have retirement savings and accounts we could tap while waiting to collect Social Security at our full retirement ages, or even later when our benefits max out at age 70. But with all the uncertainty right now, we're nervous that the promise of full benefits in a few years might not be kept, and we would be spending down our savings for no good reason.
It's hard to trust anything, including assurances that any benefit cuts would be phased in over many years. I'm inclined to think it might be a smart idea to get in while the going is good. What do you think? -- Soon-to-Be Retiree
Dear Soon-to-Be Retiree: Please don't make financial decisions based on long-term political scare tactics and rumor-mongering. The odds of Social Security benefits getting cut in the future are just about nil.
So why do you hear so much about this? It's partly because the Social Security trust fund will likely run out of money without new sources of revenue in the mid-2030s, and at current levels, the money coming in could pay for only three-fourths of what needs to be paid out. But few political experts believe benefits will be cut.
It's quite possible the entire problem will be addressed long before that comes to pass, something that can be done by raising Social Security taxes, including ending the payroll tax cap, which is currently set at $132,900. It's also possible the retirement age would be raised for future beneficiaries.
But plenty of people have realized they can make money by scaring people. That includes any number of financial advisers who have figured out they can sell people on everything from saving more money to making sometimes shady financial investments if they tell people their Social Security payments are in serious danger. Don't fall for it.
As for what you should do, if you can hold out to age 70 to claim Social Security benefits, that would be ideal, but it wouldn't be ideal to drain your savings entirely to do that. In other words, your decision depends on your financial position, not some Social Security doomsday scenario.
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