Thanks in part to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, don't bank on a big cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for your Social Security benefits in 2021.
Experts are looking for about a 1 percent increase starting in January 2021, and possibly less. “Obviously, the amount of the COLA hinges on the economy, which has picked up in the past month,” says David Certner, AARP's director of legislative policy for government affairs. “We have a shot at somewhere between 0.5 percent and even as high as 1 percent.”
Other experts’ projections are in the same ballpark as Certner's. Mary Johnson, Social Security and Medicare policy analyst for the Senior Citizens League, estimates a 1.1 percent COLA going into effect in 2021. Jim Blankenship, a financial planner and author of A Social Security Owner's Manual, has a more conservative estimate: 0.44 percent.
"It's small, as COLAs go,” Certner says. Based on the average Social Security retirement benefit of $1,514.13 a month, a 0.5 percent increase would be $7.57 a month; a 1 percent increase, $15.14.
Why is the COLA forecast for 2021 so low?
Social Security COLAs have been sparse the past 10 years. The average COLA over the decade has been a 1.52 percent increase, with the largest being the 2.8 percent rise that went into effect in January 2019. There were no COLA increases starting in January 2011 or January 2016.