What does the Heritage Foundation have to say about saving Social Security:Study released May 10, 2011 (Part 5)

“Saving the American Dream: The Heritage Plan to Fix the Debt, Cut Spending, and Restore Prosperity,” Heritage Foundation, May 10, 2011 by  Stuart Butler, Ph.D. , Alison Acosta Fraser and William Beach is one of the finest papers I have ever read. Over the next few days I will post portions of this paper, but I will start off with the section on Social Security. I am also going to give attention to the thoughts of Milton Friedman on the subject too. Here is the fifth portion:

Limiting Social Security to Those Who Actually Need It. In addition to moving to a flat benefit over time, the plan makes Social Security a properly financed, true insurance program. It starts to do that immediately. This means that the program will concentrate on protecting the economic security of retirees rather than following the current approach of promising unaffordable benefits to all without regard to need.

This new approach means that retirees with substantial non–Social Security retirement income will start receiving a lower benefit on a sliding scale that gradually reduces Social Security checks to zero for those with the highest non–Social Security incomes. This transparent mechanism will apply to benefits received by affluent Americans under both the current system and the flat-rate system. This transparent, sliding-scale approach is a major improvement on today’s taxation of Social Security benefits.

Under the plan, income-adjusted benefits start in 2012 as individual retirees with non–Social Security incomes above $55,000 start to see a slight reduction in benefit payments. Those with higher non–Social Security income will see larger reductions in their checks. Individuals with more than $110,000 in non–Social Security income will receive no Social Security payments. Married couples who file taxes jointly would be subject to higher thresholds, with benefits beginning to phase out at a joint non–Social Security income of $110,000 and ending when income reaches $165,000. Married couples can decide whether they want to qualify for benefits as individuals or jointly as a couple. The income thresholds will be indexed for inflation.

Income-adjusting benefits is not new. It occurs in today’s Social Security system. But it is largely hidden today and hits lower-income seniors, not just the affluent. Seniors with as little as $15,000 in non–Social Security income, or even less in some cases, must pay tax on part of their benefits. Seniors with more income than that pay steadily higher rates of tax on more of their Social Security benefits. The Heritage approach, when fully phased in, would income-adjust benefits transparently and not tax the benefits a senior receives. It also would start income-adjusting at a much higher income. Today, about half of seniors have their checks eroded by taxation. Under the Heritage plan, only about 9 percent of seniors would see their checks reduced and only just over 3.5 percent of seniors would receive no check.

Real insurance also protects seniors from poverty if their financial situation changes. Retirees who suffer a sudden and permanent drop in non–Social Security income would find their benefits rapidly restored.

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