On Retirement

Social Security cost-of-living adjustments projected to increase slightly in 2015

Typical expenses continue to outpace annual benefit hikes

Oct 1, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

By Mary Beth Franklin

Social Security benefits are likely to increase by 1.7% in 2015, slightly more than this year's 1.5% increase but still well below average increases over the past few decades, according to an unofficial projection by the Senior Citizens League.

The Social Security Administration will issue an official announcement about the 2015 cost-of-living adjustments for both benefits and taxable wages later this month.

Based on the latest consumer price index data through August, the advocacy group's projection of a 1.7% increase in Social Security benefits for 2015 “would make the sixth consecutive year of record-low COLAs,” Ed Cates, chairman of the Senior Citizens League, said in a written statement. “That's unprecedented since the COLA first became automatic in 1975.”

Inflation over the past five years has been growing so slowly that the annual increase has averaged only 1.4 % per year since 2010, less than half of the 3% average during the prior decade. In 2010 and 2011, benefits didn't increase at all, following a 5.8% hike in 2009.

Although the annual adjustment is provided to protect the buying power of Social Security payments, beneficiaries report a big disparity between the benefit increases they receive and the increase in costs. The majority of Social Security recipients said that their benefits rose by less than $19 in 2014, yet their monthly expenses rose by more than $119, according to a recent national survey by the advocacy group.

Social Security beneficiaries have lost nearly one-third of their buying power since 2000, according to a study by the organization. Low COLAs affect not only people currently receiving benefits, but also those who have turned 60 and who have not yet filed a claim. The COLA is part of the formula used to determine initial benefits and can mean a somewhat lower initial retirement benefit.

A 1.7% increase would increase average Social Security benefits by about $20 next year and boost the maximum amount of wages subject to payroll taxes by nearly $2,000 above this year's $117,000 level.

Despite the fact that Social Security benefits are not keeping up with inflation, COLA reductions remain a key proposal under consideration in Congress to reduce Social Security deficits. A leading proposal would use the “chained” consumer price index — which grows more slowly — to calculate the annual increase.

The group warned that the “chained COLA” proposal may come under debate again soon. The Social Security Trustees recently forecast that the Social Security Disability Trust Fund is facing insolvency by 2016, and that changes to the program will have to be made to avoid a reduction in disability benefits.

The organization supports legislation that would provide a different measure of inflation by using the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly, which would likely result in higher annual increases than under the current method.

(Questions about Social Security? Find the answers in my new e-book.)

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