The Social Security Trust Fund's Problem

Louis DeCuir |

The Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) benefits, known as Social Security, pay retirement and survivors benefits through The Social Security Trust Fund.

The U.S. Social Security Administration oversees this fund. Social Security (SS) taxes and other income are deposited into the trust fund accounts, and SS benefits payout from them. The only purpose for which these trust funds are used is to pay benefits and program administrative costs.

The Trust Fund’s Problem

The fund faces insolvency with fewer SS payroll taxes collected due to a declining workforce and longer life expectancy. With less collected, The Social Security Administration has been spending more on benefits than bringing in from payroll taxes.

Initially designed for retired workers and survivors, the program's funds depletion date is 2035. For Americans that will retire after 2035, the future of receiving their projected full retirement monthly benefit looks bleak. The Social Security Administration estimates the ability to pay 77% of promised benefits at that time. Here is Social Security's present situation:

  • $2.6 Trillion in the fund earning 2.3% in Special Treasuries (redeemable at face value like cash)
  • Currently Supports 50 Million beneficiaries through 150 Million workers paying social security payroll tax.
  • Inability to borrow funds to pay obligations. Benefits only payable out of reserves and current payroll tax inflows (UNDER CURRENT LAW)
  • By 2032 - 2037 (without changes), the Reserve is estimated to be exhausted.

The Social Security Administration continues to sell Treasury bonds to keep the fund afloat. However, the fund will significantly deplete in the next twelve years. Some proposed solutions from the fund's board of trustees include:

  • Increasing payroll taxes to help fund the Social Security program.
  • Reducing or eliminating annual increases in Social Security payments
  • Increasing the full retirement age from 67 to 69.
  • Increasing the required number of years participants must work before receiving Social Security retirement benefits.

The 2023 OASDI tax rate is 6.2% each for employers and employees; self-employed individuals pay the full 12.4% themselves. The tax is collected on wages up to $160,200.

A poll conducted by Gallup found that 38 percent of working U.S. adults thought Social Security would be a significant source of their income. Today, 57 percent of retirees rely on Social Security as their primary source of income. Here are additional strategies to help you get the most out of your Social Security Retirement Benefits:

  • Work 35 or more years and earn a higher salary year after year.
  • Do not claim Social Security retirement benefits until your full retirement age.
  • Use a Social Security spousal benefits strategy.
  • Maximize Social Security survivor benefits and claim survivor benefits for your children.
  • Estimate your longevity before taking Social Security Retirement benefits.

Those retiring after 2035 must rely more on other retirement savings and less on their Social Security benefits. Here are some ways to help you save for retirement:

  • Participate in your employer's retirement savings plan and contribute enough to receive the match.
  • Automate your retirement savings contributions to increase yearly to maximize your savings.
  • Contribute to a Traditional or Roth IRA and invest in stocks, bonds, real estate, mutual funds, and other strategies in addition to your employer's retirement savings plan.
  • Work with a financial professional to help you plan for retirement and evaluate your current retirement savings, goals, and timeline.

Whether Social Security retirement benefits are available at the current levels or not, planning for your future is essential.