Here’s Why Your Social Security Check Is Smaller Than You Expected

Social Security is a federal program that pays benefits to eligible individuals upon retirement, disability, or death. While Social Security benefits can be an important source of income for many Americans, the amount paid out each month may seem low to some. There are several reasons why Social Security pays relatively little.

First, the amount of Social Security benefits an individual receives is based on their earnings history. Social Security benefits can be calculated using a formula considering an individual’s highest 35 years of earnings. The more money an individual earns, the higher their Social Security benefits will be. However, this formula is capped at a certain point, which means that high earners will not receive Social Security benefits that are proportionally as high as their earnings.

Second, Social Security benefits are adjusted for inflation each year, but the formula used to calculate this adjustment does not always keep up with the rising cost of living. A cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) is calculated by the Social Security Administration using the CPI-W. However, the CPI-W may not accurately reflect seniors’ and retirees’ costs, such as healthcare and housing costs.

Third, the age at which an individual starts collecting Social Security benefits can affect the amount of their monthly payments. You may claim Social Security benefits as early as age 62. Still, if an individual chooses to claim benefits before their full retirement age (which is between 66 and 67, depending on the individual’s year of birth), their benefits will be reduced. Conversely, if an individual waits until after their full retirement age to claim benefits, they may be eligible for higher monthly payments.

Fourth, Social Security benefits are subject to taxes, which can further reduce an individual’s monthly money. Social Security benefits are taxed based on an individual’s “combined income.”  If an individual’s combined income exceeds a certain threshold (currently $25,000 for single filers and $32,000 for joint filers), up to 85% of their Social Security benefits may be subject to federal income tax.

Fifth, the Social Security program itself is facing financial challenges. Workers and employers contribute to Social Security through payroll taxes. However, as the population ages and the number of retirees increases, the ratio of workers to beneficiaries decreases. This means fewer workers are paying into the system to support each retiree receiving benefits. In addition, the Social Security trust fund, used to pay benefits, is projected to be depleted in the coming decades. This could lead to future benefit cuts or tax increases, which could further reduce the amount of money that Social Security pays out each month.

As a final point, Social Security was never intended to be the sole income source for retirees. Instead, it was designed to be one component of a retirement income plan that also includes personal savings, pensions, and other sources of income. Unfortunately, many Americans do not have enough retirement savings or access to pensions, so they rely more on Social Security to meet their basic needs. This can make the relatively low amount of Social Security benefits even more challenging for some retirees.

In conclusion, there are several reasons why Social Security pays relatively little. The formula used to calculate benefits, the cost-of-living adjustments, the age at which benefits are claimed, taxes, the financial challenges facing the program, and the role of Social Security in a retirement income plan all play a role in determining how much individuals receive each month. While Social Security benefits can be an important source of income for many Americans, individuals need to plan for retirement and save as much as possible to supplement their Social Security benefits and meet their financial needs in retirement. It may mean working with a financial advisor to develop a retirement savings plan, exploring options for employer-sponsored retirement plans, and considering other investment options.

In addition, policymakers and lawmakers are also considering ways to address the challenges facing the Social Security program and ensure that it can continue to provide benefits to future generations of retirees. This may involve raising the payroll tax rate, increasing the retirement age, adjusting the benefit formula, or implementing other changes to the program.