Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Social Security: Don't count on it.

Each week, we answer a question from a reader in this space. If you have a question for Dan Danford, post it in the comments section.

QUESTION: I’m 52 and looking at what I need to put away for retirement. How should I treat Social Security income? Should I include it in my calculations or plan as if I won’t have it?

ANSWER: The old "social security won't be there when I retire" myth. I hear this all the time, but I don't buy it at all. Social security is - more that anything else - a political issue. No substantive changes can take place because it's politically impossible to make them. We baby-boomers account for 70 million votes, and most of us get a bit indignant when someone threatens our retirement!

My colleague at Family Investment Center, Jason White, Ph.D., did his dissertation on social security and published it as a book. His premise is that the system is much more solvent than generally believed, and his arguments are compelling. As I said earlier, this is a political topic and much that is said is motivated by politics. It's hard to sort out the truth, but Jason does a nice job.

Having said all that, I consider social security to be an augmentation of retirement savings. The best of all worlds is to have enough that you don't need social security, and then to get it anyway. So, my default would be to plan and save as if it's not going to be there. Then, you'll have more than enough when you retire.

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