How raising the retirement age could help or hurt seniors

When it comes to Social Security, will raising the retirement age help or hurt American seniors?

  • By Kate Stalter,
  • U.S. News & World Report
  • Facebook.
  • Twitter.
  • LinkedIn.
  • Print

Social Security is a top concern for older voters and with good reason. According to the nonpartisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, in 2022, Social Security benefits replaced about 37% of past earnings for Americans who retired at age 65.

Former presidential candidate Nikki Haley recently called for changes to Social Security, including raising the age at which workers in their 20s would be eligible for the full benefit.

Here's how raising the retirement age could affect retirees.

How likely are changes to Social Security?

In its 2023 annual report, the Social Security Board of Trustees said the Social Security trust fund may come up short in 2034 unless Congress makes changes.

Specifically, the fund’s annual tax revenue would cover just 80% of benefits. Although politicians are loathe to address that reality, Congress is aware of the looming problem.

The last significant change to Social Security was in 1983 when Congress increased the full retirement age to 67 for Americans born in 1960 or later. Congress is now proposing to raise the FRA to 69, with increases occurring incrementally over eight years, beginning in 2026.

Some changes may be more acceptable than others

With Social Security being such a lightning rod, almost any changes would be widely publicized and draw plenty of criticism. However, one idea that might be more politically palatable would be increasing the wage base limit.

In 2024, that limit increased to $168,600 from $160,200 in 2023. That means workers who earn more than $168,600 this year won’t incur the Social Security payroll tax on the amount above that limit.

"We are likely to see some combination of raising the retirement age and Social Security maximum in the next decade," said Jay Zigmont, a certified financial planner and founder of Childfree Wealth in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, in an email.

"I worry more about politicians not addressing the issue at all until it is too late," Zigmont said.

The problem, he added, is that any fix to Social Security is unpopular politically.

"For those planning on retiring soon, raising the retirement age is likely to be a reason to change their vote, either way," Zigmont said. "If the retirement age is raised on the younger generations, they won't feel the immediate impact, but younger generations are a growing voter block, one which both parties are trying to engage."

When would an increase on the full retirement age occur?

Given how unpopular changes to entitlement programs are among voters, raising the age for full benefits is unlikely to happen quickly.

"Some experts toss around dates like it's a game of darts," said Cliff Ambrose, founder and wealth manager at Apex Wealth in Danvers, Massachusetts, in an email. "Some say it could happen in the next couple of decades, others think it might take longer than a presidential term to sort out."

American workers born in 1957 or earlier are already eligible for their full Social Security benefit.

The full retirement age is 66 if you were born between 1943 and 1954, and it gradually increases if you were born from 1955 to 1960 until it reaches 67. For anyone born in 1960 or later, full retirement benefits are payable at age 67.

Who would an increase in the full retirement age affect?

Raising the retirement age would cut benefits for those claiming Social Security benefits for the first time.

"These cuts could be deep, and they would fall hardest on lower- and middle-income beneficiaries because they rely most heavily on Social Security benefits," said Kathleen Romig, director of Social Security and disability policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in the District of Columbia, in an email.

"Moreover, they have not seen the life expectancy gains that higher-income people have experienced and that are often used as the rationale for raising the retirement age," she added.

Is a retirement age increase more likely to affect younger workers?

When Congress raised the FRA in 1983, the oldest people affected were 23 at the time. Most 23-year-olds aren’t paying attention to their Social Security benefit, which they won’t collect for another four decades, and are unlikely to become very upset about the change.

In addition, many younger workers today don’t believe Social Security will exist by the time they’re old enough to collect it, meaning they may be even less interested in potential changes.

"The only politically acceptable solutions would affect people taking Social Security in the future, not those already drawing Social Security benefits," said Robert Johnson, CEO of New York-based Economic Index Associates, in an email.

"In addition to pushing out the full retirement age further, another likely path is means testing for Social Security," Johnson said. "That is, people with other significant income sources may either be eligible for lower Social Security payments or not at all."

Hurdles to raising the full retirement age

Entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid constitute a significant portion of the Federal budget. However, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for tax revenue to cover those programs’ spending.

Meanwhile, voters typically don’t take kindly to any candidate who says they want to slash benefits.

"An aging population that is not saving enough or preparing for aging and retirement creates a perfect fiscal storm that is now blowing," said Chris Orestis, founder and president of Retirement Genius, an online retirement resource based in Portland, Maine, in an email.

"The need to deal with the ramifications of this reality will eventually force the government to increase age eligibility, decrease the amounts being paid out as benefits and increase taxes being collected to fund these critical programs," he said.

While some proponents of a higher retirement age cite increased longevity as a mitigating factor, not everyone can extend their working years.

"It's a tough pickle we're in," Ambrose said. "On one hand, people are living longer, which strains the system. On the other, not everyone has the luxury of working until they're 70. It's a balancing act between fiscal responsibility and ensuring folks can enjoy their golden years without feeling like they're in a circus juggling act."

  • Facebook.
  • Twitter.
  • LinkedIn.
  • Print
Copyright 2024 © U.S. News & World Report L.P.
Please enter a valid e-mail address
Please enter a valid e-mail address
Important legal information about the e-mail you will be sending. By using this service, you agree to input your real e-mail address and only send it to people you know. It is a violation of law in some jurisdictions to falsely identify yourself in an e-mail. All information you provide will be used by Fidelity solely for the purpose of sending the e-mail on your behalf.The subject line of the e-mail you send will be " "

Your e-mail has been sent.

Your e-mail has been sent.