In 2022, seniors on Social Security will be getting their largest raise in decades. Beneficiaries will be privy to a 5.9% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), which is far more generous than the COLAs seniors have received in recent years.
In spite of that, there’s a good chance your upcoming raise won’t be much to write home about. Here’s why.
1. Inflation is rampant
The whole reason Social Security benefits are getting such a large boost for 2022 is that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose substantially during this year’s third quarter. The CPI measures fluctuations in the cost of common good and services, and given recent levels of inflation, it wasn’t shocking to see higher numbers than usual.
Now, let’s get back to that 5.9% COLA. It may seem like a nice boost to benefits. But in October, the CPI rose 6.2%, which already indicates a higher level of inflation than what next year’s COLA accounts for.
Furthermore, seniors aren’t likely to get much buying power out of that 5.9% COLA because the cost of everyday living expenses has soared. These days, consumers are paying more for groceries, gas, apparel, and just about everything. And so they’re not going to get ahead by virtue of a 5.9% bump.
2. Soaring Medicare premiums will wipe out much of that COLA
Seniors on Social Security and Medicare pay their Part B premiums directly from their benefits. It’s not uncommon for Medicare Part B costs to rise from year to year. But in 2022, Part B is climbing in a very big way.
Next year, Part B costs are rising from $144.60 to $170.10 a month. That’s an increase of $29.60. And it’s also a high enough increase to wipe out about one-third of seniors’ upcoming COLA.
Now to be clear, $170.10 represents the standard monthly Part B premium for 2022. Higher earners will pay more for Part B, though to be fair, those subject to Part B surcharges may be far less dependent on Social Security as an income source than those eligible for the standard monthly premium.
Still, rising Part B costs, and medical costs in general, could render next year’s Social Security raise less meaningful. This especially applies to seniors whose Part D drug plan costs are also increasing.
How to get ahead
Social Security COLAs are supposed to help seniors maintain their buying power as living costs rise. Most years, COLAs fail in that regard. In 2022, they may allow seniors to keep up with growing expenses, but they’re unlikely to make it possible for beneficiaries to get ahead.
Seniors looking to shore up their finances shouldn’t rely on COLAs to help them do so. Rather, they may need to take steps like finding a part-time job to boost their income and free up money to sock away for a rainy day.
That said, seniors who own homes may have more options. Home value are up right now, and those who sell and downsize have a prime opportunity to walk away with a nice amount of profit. That money can then be invested to serve as a supplemental income source to take the pressure off of Social Security. It could also come in very handy if COLAs aren’t as substantial in future years, which is a distinct possibility based on the way they’ve trended over the past decade and change.
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