Social Security often pops up as a Facebook meme on my feed. The posts are usually indignant either railing about Social Security being labeled an entitlement or comparing Social Security to a retirement account, sometimes both. Corollaries include a complaint against Congress for spending “my money” on illegal immigrants or unjust wars, depending on which sign you carry. Unlike most of my financial brethren, I support Social Security, bigly, but I disagree with these memes.
Here are some examples of how Social Security is dissimilar, but an improvement, to a conventional retirement account. In a divorce, an ex-spouse can be awarded half of your pension, IRA or 401K plan, but not your Social Security benefit. As frequently as divorce occurs, Social Security has an obvious advantage, particularly for those with multiple ex-spouses. It happens.
No matter how diligently someone saves, a parent who dies prematurely simply has not worked long enough to build a sufficient nest egg for young children. Social Security provides income to surviving children until they finish high school. The income often exceeds the amount the deceased paid. As a lifelong entrepreneur who pays both parts of Social Security, I have no problem with it. It’s bad enough losing a parent when you are young.
Pension benefits depend directly on your earnings history. Social Security factors income but replaces more income for workers with a lifetime of lower earnings. Very few of my clients, if any, benefit from this but society does, and too often we fail to see the big picture. While people like me and my clients don’t benefit directly from this provision, it is like the rising tide raising all the boats in the harbor.
Retirees have less capacity to bear financial market risk during retirement. For instance, the S&P 500 had a negative return for the first decade of the current century. From 1968-1974, the broad market index saw a negative return, as well. Florida recovered quickly from The Great Recession because so many Floridians receive Social Security.
Anyone who takes retirement planning seriously understands how portfolio variability affects results. Another critical component of retirement success is the timing of returns; poor returns early can devastate an investment portfolio. Social Security gives retirees an income stream independent of an investment portfolio’s performance.
Check Title II of the Social Security Act; Social Security is an entitlement. Popular culture, aided and abetted by Fox News, disparages entitlements but it is nothing more than a legal term. Don’t let it bother you. For instance, I’m eligible for Social Security benefits, but won’t be entitled until I apply for them.
Social Security is a form of social insurance that provides a minimum income for Americans in non-working years. Like all insurance, some receive less than they paid in, others receive more.
You can’t always get what you want, but Buz Livingston, CFP can help figure out what you need. For specific recommendations, visit livingstonfinancial.net or come by the office in Redfish Village, 2050 Scenic 30A, M-1 Suite 230.