It’s time for Millennials to face a grim reality – you will need to plan around Social Security’s projected insolvency.
The Social Security Act turned 83 on August 14, and without significant changes, the prognosis is terminal for the ailing program. Too many years have passed without any major steps taken to address the problems with the system.
As a quick refresher, Social Security provides monthly payments to 62 million Americans – including retirees, disabled workers and dependents – yet 173 million are paying into the system. By most estimates, the program will only be able to pay out ~75% of currently stated benefits by the year 2034.
With the prospect of reduced Social Security benefits, Millennials must be proactive to prepare themselves for retirement. The overwhelming amount of student debt they face today has endangered both their parents’ ability to retire and their own ability to buy homes and start families. Millennials can learn from prior generations by taking a different approach.
Start saving for retirement earlier
Without a pension or Social Security to depend on, Millennials must assume they will be solely responsible for creating their own retirement income stream. That means jumping into available retirement plan options as soon as possible. The average worker who has contributed to their 401(k) for the past ten consecutive years has about $286,700 saved today, according to the latest report from Fidelity.
Even those with debt should take the free money associated with a company’s match program – it might mean a 100 percent return in addition to the tax benefit.
Consider the Roth 401(k)
The Roth 401(k) might be a great option for Millennials, especially those who are in the early stages of their careers and presumably, in a lower tax bracket. Because Roth 401(k) contributions are taxed upfront, Millennials will be paying less in taxes when making contributions and will benefit from the income tax-free distributions when it comes time to withdraw. There may also be the option of rolling this money to a Roth IRA to avoid Required Minimum Distributions.
For decades, the conventional wisdom has equated retirement with age 65 because that is what Social Security projections indicated. In many cases, that has led to bad decisions, including individuals taking Social Security benefits early or retiring completely without the proper preparation.
Instead, Millennials should focus on “retiring slowly.” This means not just focusing on a retirement age, but also considering a “semi-retirement” age. For example, they could focus their accumulation phase of age 30 through 60 on trying to save as much money as possible, and at semi-retirement, there’s a shift to endeavors more befitting strengths and passion. Working those extra years and producing extra income greatly reduces the prospect of running out of money.
Starting early and taking advantage of all available options is the best path for financial security.