In a financial landscape that is ever-shifting, Social Security recipients are looking at a notably smaller increase in 2024. This change comes on the heels of an unprecedented 8.7% cost-of-living increase in 2023 as inflation soared, and it brings a mix of news—both reassuring and concerning—for retirees and disabled individuals who rely on these benefits.
The Smaller Raise: What’s Behind the Numbers
Recent trends indicate that inflation is cooling down, and as a result, Social Security checks are expected to rise by about 3% in 2024. This figure, derived from estimates by various analysts and nonprofits, is still slightly above the 2.6% average COLA (Cost-of-Living Adjustment) of the past two decades.
A 3% COLA will translate to an increase of roughly $55, making the average monthly check for retired workers about $1,892 in January 2024, up from $1,837 in 2023.
Why This Matters
For approximately 67 million retirees and disabled individuals, these annual adjustments are not a trivial matter. Social Security often represents the primary, if not sole, source of income designed to keep pace with inflation for many retirees.
While overall inflation may have reached its slowest pace in more than two years, the decline is uneven. Prices for certain goods and services continue to spike, putting added pressure on those dependent on a fixed income.
A Welcome Relief for the Government
The more modest 3% rise in monthly Social Security checks can be seen as good news from the government’s perspective. The unprecedented 8.7% increase in 2023 marked the largest adjustment in four decades and contributed to concerns about the program’s sustainability.
The Medicare Factor
For many retirees enrolled in Medicare Part B, the net increase may be less significant since premiums typically get deducted from Social Security checks. The standard Part B premium is expected to rise by $9.90 to $174.80 a month next year, effectively reducing the benefit of the COLA for some.
TheLining: Stock Market Performance
Retirees have a reason to smile when looking at their 401(k) balances. Following a tumultuous 2022, average balances for those aged 65 to 69 have risen by 5.3% to $223,100, thanks to a rebounding stock and bond market.
The Human Aspect
Julie Turner’s story reflects the real-life implications of these figures. The 68-year-old retired teacher, who relies on Social Security for her income, is optimistic about adjusting to a smaller COLA in 2024. Her simple lifestyle and relatively stable expenses mean the anticipated raise will likely suffice.
Sadly, not all are as fortunate. Among Americans age 65 and older, 40% rely on Social Security for half or more of their income. Around 14% depend on their benefits for 90% or more of their income.
Looking to the Future: Insolvency Concerns
This year’s 8.7% COLA has accelerated the date of potential insolvency for the Social Security trust fund to 2034. While the projected 3% COLA for 2024 is not likely to have a major impact on this date, the looming threat remains real. Congress must take action to ensure that beneficiaries continue to receive their scheduled benefits beyond this point.
One often overlooked factor is that the rise in monthly checks from a COLA can cause more people to owe federal income tax on a portion of their Social Security benefits. This threshold isn’t adjusted for inflation, and as a result, more retirees find themselves liable.
The anticipated 3% rise in Social Security COLA for 2024, though welcomed, brings with it a complex set of challenges and considerations. For those who rely on these benefits, careful planning, budgeting, and understanding the broader financial landscape are more essential than ever.
In a world where retiree needs are continually evolving, and economic pressures are unpredictable, ongoing vigilance, and advocacy for strengthening Social Security are vital to ensuring a stable future for millions of Americans.
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