Social Security May Already Be on Borrowed Time — What’s Keeping Your Social Security Checks Rolling In?

Social Security cards with cash and benefit amount numbers.
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You’ve probably heard the news that the Social Security Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund will run out of funding by 2033. The records show the fund still has $2.7 trillion — on paper.

But like banks that don’t necessarily hold all of your deposits in their vaults — only as much as they think they will need for customer withdrawals at any given moment — the Social Security fund doesn’t actually have $2.7 trillion in cold hard cash lying around.

Social Security uses current payroll taxes deducted from employee paychecks to pay current Social Security benefits.

If Social Security collects more taxes than it pays to retirees, it uses the surplus to purchase interest-earning Treasury notes. Congress uses that money while the Social Security Trust Fund earns the interest to pay future beneficiaries.

According to the Congressional Research Service, between 1984 and 2020 there was a surplus every year except one.

According to the CRS, “If, in any year, costs are greater than revenues, the cash flow deficit is offset by selling some of the accumulated holdings of the trust funds (U.S. government securities) to help pay benefits and administrative expenses.”

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In 2023, this is projected to happen — to the tune of $40 billion. The problem is that Congress doesn’t have the money. It was spent. So Congress will have to borrow the money to pay the trust fund, or the Social Security Administration will need to sell the equivalent value in government securities.

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Apart from reducing Social Security benefits, which has been discussed, there are three solutions:

  • Raise payroll taxes.
  • Reduce government spending in other areas.
  • Give Congress permission to borrow more money.

Congress is already in facing a $1.4 trillion deficit, and a $31.5 trillion national debt (as of February) per Pew Research, but the government has raised the debt ceiling before. That seems to be a likely scenario once again.

While the numbers sound disheartening, Social Security is a social safety net program that the government is likely to continue funding no matter what it takes, at least for now.

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About the Author

Dawn Allcot is a full-time freelance writer and content marketing specialist who geeks out about finance, e-commerce, technology, and real estate. Her lengthy list of publishing credits include Bankrate, Lending Tree, and Chase Bank. She is the founder and owner of, a travel, technology, and entertainment website. She lives on Long Island, New York, with a veritable menagerie that includes 2 cats, a rambunctious kitten, and three lizards of varying sizes and personalities – plus her two kids and husband. Find her on Twitter, @DawnAllcot.
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