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Opinion: 3 ways Social Security benefits could change in the future

Social Security has been a vital safety net for retirees, disabled individuals, and surviving family members for decades. However, the program is facing financial challenges that may necessitate changes in the coming years. Let’s explore three potential ways Social Security benefits could change in the future.

Adjustments to the Full Retirement Age

One possible change could involve adjusting the full retirement age (FRA), which is the age at which individuals can receive full Social Security benefits. Currently set at 67 for those born in 1960 or later, some experts argue that increasing the full retirement age could help address the program’s funding shortfall. However, this change could mean longer working lives for future retirees and careful consideration of how it impacts individuals with physically demanding jobs or limited job opportunities later in life.

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This change would also result in a smaller benefit for the earliest filers at age 62, since the reductions are based on the amount of time between your filing age and the Full Retirement Age. If the FRA is increased to 68, for example, filing at age 62 would result in a benefit that is only 65% of your Full Retirement Age benefit amount.

In addition, unless the maximum filing age is adjusted, Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs) would also be limited under such a scenario. Currently when your FRA is 67 you have the opportunity to increase your benefit by 24% (8% per year for DRCs), but if the FRA is 68, the increase would only be 16% at maximum.

Means-testing benefits

Another potential change is means-testing Social Security benefits. Means-testing would involve adjusting benefit amounts based on an individual’s income or assets. Supporters argue that this would ensure benefits are targeted to those who need them most, potentially reducing the strain on the program’s finances. However, critics express concerns about the potential impact on middle-income earners who have paid into the system throughout their working lives and rely on Social Security as a significant part of their retirement income.

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An interesting concept I’ve recently seen bandied about involves a trade-off between Social Security benefits and Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) from retirement plans. Essentially an individual could forgo Social Security benefits (at least partially if not fully) in exchange for looser restrictions on RMDs – allowing for further deferral of taxation on retirement accounts.

Benefit reductions

In order to sustain the Social Security program, benefit reductions might be considered. This could involve various approaches such as adjusting the formula used to calculate benefits or implementing a scaling factor to reduce benefit amounts. While benefit reductions would aim to preserve the long-term viability of Social Security, they could pose challenges for retirees who rely heavily on those benefits to cover essential living expenses.

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Most benefit reduction proposals in the pipeline are in concert with expanding the tax base, while at the same time limiting benefits to the upper echelons of earnings levels. In these cases the taxable wage base is either expanded or removed altogether, and the amounts above the current wage base are credited for benefits at a minuscule rate.

It’s important to note that any changes to Social Security benefits would likely be accompanied by broader discussions and careful consideration from policy makers. The goal would be to strike a balance between ensuring the program’s financial stability and protecting the well-being of current and future retirees.

As an individual planning for retirement, it’s crucial to stay informed about potential changes to Social Security benefits. Keeping track of legislative proposals and staying engaged in the conversation can help you adapt your retirement plans accordingly. Consider consulting with a financial adviser who specializes in retirement planning to assess the potential impact on your retirement income and explore other strategies to supplement your savings.

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Social Security benefits may undergo changes in the future as policy makers grapple with the program’s financial challenges. Adjustments to the full retirement age, means-testing benefits, and benefit reductions are among the potential changes that could be considered. By staying informed and seeking professional guidance, you can navigate these potential changes and make informed decisions to secure your financial well-being during retirement.

This story originally appeared on Marketwatch

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