It’s an unsettling reminder for anyone staking too much of their retirement on Social Security.
Retirees whose survival depends largely on those checks from the government will see a mere 0.3 percent bump in their benefits in 2017, which amounts to just $3.92 a month for the typical recipient.
That’s one of the lowest cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) ever, though still an improvement from last year when there was none. And it demonstrates why it’s critical to have other assets available so that your ability to pay the electric bill isn’t in jeopardy.
“Some people think of Social Security as the retirement cure-all, and it’s not,” says John Eikenberry, president of Eikenberry Retirement Planning (www.EikenberryRetirement.com), a wealth-management firm.
“Social Security was never meant to be a pension plan. It’s supposed to be supplemental to your other retirement assets.”
Unfortunately, too many retirees have minimal savings, leaving them vulnerable, Eikenberry says.
“The statistics on this aren’t reassuring,” he says.
For example, among the elderly who are Social Security beneficiaries, 48 percent of married couples and 71 percent of unmarried individuals depend on Social Security for half or more of their income, according to the Social Security Administration.
And those checks represent a whopping 90 percent of the income for 21 percent of the married couples and 43 percent of the unmarried individuals.
Regardless of how much of your retirement income is generated by Social Security, you want to make sure you’re making the right decision about when and how to start drawing the checks, Eikenberry says.
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to that, which is why consulting with a financial adviser who understands the ins and outs is important.
Here are just a few things – but by no means all – to know or consider about Social Security as you near retirement, he says:
• Don’t expect advice from Social Security employees. They can provide basic information about how much money you would receive at what age, but they aren’t going to review your entire financial picture and provide a strategy for maximizing your benefit. Nor should they, Eikenberry says. “They aren’t licensed financial advisers,” he says. “Overall, the people with the Social Security Administration do a fine job, but they aren’t there to coach you on financial decisions.”
• When you claim your benefit makes a difference. The age most people qualify for full Social Security benefits these days is from 66 to 67. But you can draw reduced benefits as early as 62. You also can wait until 70 and draw more. So what’s the right age? It depends. For some, taking Social Security at 62 is the absolute correct decision, Eikenberry says. For others, that could prove problematic. “Your financial situation and your personal needs all come into play,” he says.
• Marital status matters. If you’re a widow or widower, for example, you can delay your own benefits and claim your survivors benefit as early as age 60. Then you can switch to your personal benefits later if that would be a higher amount.
“Baby boomers have paid more into Social Security than any generation up to this time,” Eikenberry says. “They also have the opportunity to get the most out of it, but only if they plan properly.”