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For many of the 36 million Americans who are sixty-five and older, Social Security is the primary source of retirement income. Social Security is the first resource that most Americans turn to when saving for retirement; however, most younger Americans, who will not face retirement for many years, will not have access to the benefits of the Social Security program, at least not in its present form. The Social Security administration has given the following forecast:

Unless action is taken soon to strengthen Social Security, in just 14 years we will being paying more in benefits than we collect in taxes. Without changes, by 2042 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted. By then, the number of Americans 65 and older is expected to have doubled. There will not be enough young people working to pay all of the benefits owed to those who are retiring. We need to resolve these issues soon to make sure Social Security continues to prove a fund of protection for future generations as it has done in the past. (JoAnne B. Barnhart, as printed in individual Social Security Statements, 2005, 1)

It is important for you to understand Social Security, its history, its processes, and its current form. Likewise, it is important for you to understand the challenges related to Social Security. The purpose of this section is to help you understand these topics.

Social Security is not an investment. Social Security is a social insurance program that provides not only retirement income but survivors insurance for children and spouses, disability insurance for people who are unable to work, and Medicare insurance for the elderly.

You are eligible to receive Social Security benefits if you have paid money into the Social Security program through your employment. Most experts expect Social Security to replace only about 42 percent of your current average earnings; therefore, although Social Security may be the first resource you turn to for retirement income, it should definitely not be your only source of retirement income.


When you have completed this section, you should be able to do the following:

  1. Describe how the Social Security program works.
  2. Describe the benefits of the Social Security program.
  3. Answer frequently asked questions about Social Security.
  4. Describe the future of Social Security.

Understanding Social Security is an important aspect of retirement planning. Social Security should be a part—but only a small part—of your retirement plan.


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