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Social Security Will Be Around When You Retire, but Don't Expect to Live Off It

Christy Bieber, The Motley Fool

Just over half of Americans who are still working expect they'll get no Social Security benefits because the program will be bankrupt by the time they retire.

This is simply not true. But just because you're going to get Social Security benefits doesn't mean you don't have to worry about saving for retirement. In fact, there's ample reason to believe these benefits will provide only a small portion of the funds you need for financial security as a senior.

Image source: Social Security card with money sitting on top of it.

Image source: Getty Images.

Social Security isn't going bankrupt

So, how can you be sure Social Security is going to be there when you retire? The trustees' report for the program says so, and experts affirm Social Security isn't going anywhere.

Some benefits are paid out of tax revenue collected from current workers. When more money goes out than comes in, the Social Security Trust Funds make up the shortfall. Each year, a trustees report details the state of these trust funds. And the 2018 report shows there is enough money to last until 2034. Even if it runs out, Social Security will still be able to pay 79% of promised benefits from incoming revenue.

The Center for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College put this trustees report into perspective. According to the CRR, the shortfall is more than manageable, and simple steps -- such as small Social Security tax increases -- would ensure that full benefits continue to be paid well beyond 2034. And given the overwhelming popularity of Social Security, some action is likely to be taken so no benefit cuts occur.

So don't worry that you won't get benefits. Social Security will be there for you, even if you're decades away from retiring.

But you can't live on it

Now the bad news: Social Security alone isn't enough.

The program is designed to replace just 40% of pre-retirement wages for most retirees. That's not enough to have a comfortable life as a senior. Most experts suggest you need around 80% of your pre-retirement salary in retirement. And many retirees will actually need 100% of that figure or more .

Not only is Social Security not designed to provide enough income to support you, but the value of benefits is also eroding. In fact, a report from the nonpartisan Senior Citizens League found that benefits have lost around one third of their buying power since 2000 . Benefits buy less each year because c ost-of-living adjustments -- annual raises Social Security recipients get some years -- aren't keeping pace with the actual cost increases seniors face . The eroding buying power of benefits means you'll get poorer as you get older if you're trying to live on benefits alone.

Benefits are eroding in value in large part because healthcare is so expensive and care costs grow quickly. Projected healthcare needs are, in fact, a big reason you can't live on Social Security alone. The Employee Benefit Research Institute reports that a senior couple may need as much as $370,000 for care in retirement, even with Medicare. And research by the Nationwide insurance company shows that 64% of Social Security benefits could go to health costs for those who claimed benefits at 62. Obviously, you're going to need supplementary savings to spend so much on care.

Plan on Social Security -- but save to supplement it

While you can count on Social Security to be there for you as a senior, you need to plan to supplement your benefits with other income. Benefits combined with income from investments will allow you to enjoy retirement without going broke.

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