Americans have major doubts about the financial health of Social Security.
A new survey by Pew Research Center finds that 41 percent of Americans think there will be no Social Security benefits for them when they retire and nearly a third expect reduced levels of benefits. (Tweet This)
Some of those fears may be overblown. "People who think they will get zero benefits from Social Security are wrong and they should look at the facts," said Andy Landis, a former claims representative for the Social Security Administration (SSA) and author of "Social Security: The Inside Story."
There are concerns that benefits may be reduced, however.
The Social Security and Medicare Trustees' 2014 report projects that all the Social Security trust funds will be depleted by 2033. At that point, the agency will be able to pay out about 77 percent of retirement benefits from payroll taxes collected. By 2088, the trustees forecast the agency will be able to pay out 72 percent of benefits. (Studies from Harvard and Dartmouth project the trust funds could be depleted sooner than that and claim the Social Security Administration's actuarial forecasts have been consistently overstating the financial health of the program's trust funds since 2000.)
Of course, those projections assume that Congress does nothing to change the funding of Social Security. Landis expects lawmakers will act to raise taxes, cut benefits or a combination of both before the trust funds are depleted.
"Congress has a good track record of coming through on Social Security," Landis said. In 1983, when Congress last raised taxes and cut Social Security benefits, lawmakers said those measures would give the program an additional 50 years of solvency. "That takes us to 2033," he said. "We don't have an immediate shortfall and most plans to fix Social Security focus on younger workers, not people near retirement."