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Social Security: Fears vs. Facts

What Social Security critics keep getting wrong

En español | I've been writing about Social Security for nearly two decades. But even I still have trouble wrapping my brain around some of the system's complexities — from how benefits are calculated to how the trust fund works. So it's not surprising that myths about Social Security persist, often fed by the program's critics. With the debate about Social Security's future once again heating up, these three myths need to be put to rest — so we can focus on the real issues.

See also: Your top 25 Social Security questions answered.

Illustration of man contemplating a large Social Security card

Social security myths abound. — Illustration by Peter and Maria Hoey

Myth #1: By the time I retire, Social Security will be broke.

If you believe this, you are not alone. More and more Americans have become convinced that the Social Security system won't be there when they need it. In an AARP survey released last year, only 35 percent of adults said they were very or somewhat confident about Social Security's future.

It's true that Social Security's finances need work, because over the long term there will not be enough money to fully cover promised benefits. But radical changes aren't needed. In 2010 a number of different proposals were put forward that, taken in combination, would put the program back on firm financial ground for the future, including changes such as raising the amount of wages subject to the payroll tax (now capped at $106,800) and benefit changes based on longer life expectancy.

Next: More myths: Are the trust fund assets worthless? >>

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