What Will Social Security Look Like When You Retire?

February 25, 2016 — 10:33 AM EST

 Many Americans have lost hope in Social Security, and according to a 2015 Gallup survey, 46% of individuals surveyed worry a great deal about the current Social Security system. The same survey also revealed that 36% of individuals also believed Social Security was going to be a major source of their income in retirement.

So what will Social Security realistically look like in the future? Should workers be concerned?

The Future of Social Security 20 to 30 Years Down the Road

Social Security will look drastically different in the next few decades, especially since the Social Security Administration estimates that the funds will be depleted in 2041 based on the current law. Some financial analysts predict the funds will be depleted even sooner.

Since the current laws do not allow for Social Security to continue in the future, changes have to happen. Many have speculated on what these changes will be, and the most likely changes will be that benefits will be less, and the age of retirement will be raised. (For more important retirement news, see: 4 Unusual Ways to Boost Social Security Benefits.)

Who Is Affected the Most?

The high earners, aged 25 to 40 are going to feel the failings of the Social Security system the most. They will be contributing the most to the system, yet they will not see the benefits they deserve later down the road. Even if Congress implements changes immediately, younger workers and individuals who earn more will still be hit the hardest. These two groups will still contribute the most to the fund and will reap the least amount of benefits.

Individuals who are retiring in the next 10 to 15 years will still earn Social Security without any issues. Even if the funds were to technically “deplete,” individuals would still be paid about 75% of benefits rather than full benefits, according to Forbes. However, if you are retiring in the upcoming decade, it is important to use the time you have left wisely. Boost your retirement savings as much as possible while also decreasing debt and expenditures drastically. Social Security payments alone will not cover an average mortgage or living expenses when you are saddled down with debt. (For more, see 5 Ways to Supercharge Your Retirement Savings.)

The Anti-Social Security Retirement Plan

Even if Social Security gets a huge makeover from Congress, workers should not consider Social Security as a wise retirement plan. Even now, Social Security barely covers living expenses for retired individuals.

According to the Social Security Administration, “In 2015, over 59 million Americans will receive almost $870 billion in Social Security benefits.” This might seem like a lot, but break down those numbers and retired individuals are earning on average $1,335 per month and disabled individuals are earning $1,165 per month. Individuals who live off of Social Security benefits alone would be technically living below the poverty line.

So what is an individual to do when retirement is still 20, 30, or even 40 years away? The best answer is to start saving now. Take advantage of the time you have now and save as much as you can into your 401(k) and Roth IRA. Maximize your company’s retirement matching to the fullest, even if it is a small match. If your company does not currently offer retirement matching, still contribute to your retirement account and keep your eye out for positions that offer a better benefits package.

Workers in their twenties should especially consider saving for retirement now, even if they feel that they cannot afford it or if they are not in their dream job. If possible, have retirement savings taken out automatically before you receive your paycheck. This way, you won’t miss the money. Another option is to learn to live off of 98% of your paycheck and invest the other two percent. Gradually increase the percentage each month while cutting back some of your spending costs. (For related reading, see: 10 Social Security Questions Everyone Asks.)

The Bottom Line

Many believe that Social Security will not even be in existence in 20 to 30 years. This conclusion is not likely, as it is more plausible for Congress to tweak the policy to extend the life of Social Security. Most likely, in 20 to 30 years, there will be a higher retirement age and fewer benefits. It is best for individuals aged 25 to 40, to secure other financial security and to not rely on the hope of Social Security benefits.