Huge increase in Social Security benefits is 'no free lunch,' expert says

·3-min read

The largest increase in Social Security benefits is a false windfall for seniors, according to experts, after they’ve spent a year already swallowing higher prices on everything from food to housing to new and used cars.

“There's no free lunch,” Rhian Horgan, founder of retirement planning platform Silvur, told Yahoo Money. "This is really a catch-up on this past year's inflation. Consumers have already experienced this inflation, they've been paying more for goods all year long."

Beginning in 2022, benefits will increase by 5.9% for a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, the Social Security Administration announced on Wednesday, marking the biggest increase since 1982.

That translates into an additional $92 a month for the average retiree, or $1,657 in total monthly benefits, according to the Administration’s estimations. One in 4 seniors depends exclusively on those benefits as their sole source of income.

How the COLA is calculated also leaves older Americans more vulnerable to inflation as they live longer. (Photo: Getty)
How the COLA is calculated also leaves older Americans more vulnerable to inflation as they live longer. (Photo: Getty)

“My guess is that most of [the adjustment] is actually going to be spent,” Horgan said. “I don't see this as this consumer is going to have lots of extra cash at the end of the day, once you factor in their higher health care costs, higher housing costs, [and] higher food costs.”

Given the increased cost of daily necessities, Sun Group Wealth Partners' Winnie Sun told Yahoo Finance Live (video above) that seniors shouldn’t expect a surplus of money.

“I don't know [if] there's going to be so much extra money because Social Security payments are going higher,” she said. “I think it's going to help them just cover their normal day-to-day costs."

How the COLA is calculated also leaves older Americans more vulnerable to inflation as they live longer, according to Horgan. COLA is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, or CPI-W. But Americans who are workers and those who are retirees spend their money differently, with seniors impacted by inflation on certain things more, like health care costs and basic needs.

Retirees and recipients will receive updated Social Security statements in November and December, which will indicate how much their benefits will increase starting in January. (Photo: Getty)
Retirees and recipients will receive updated Social Security statements in November and December, which will indicate how much their benefits will increase starting in January. (Photo: Getty)

“A lot of the inflation this past year has been around energy prices and car prices,” she said. “[Retirees are] less impacted by that than they are impacted by the rise in food prices.”

Retirees and recipients will receive updated Social Security statements in November and December, which will indicate how much their benefits will increase starting in January. Recipients should reevaluate their spending in the face of inflation before they think they have “an extra $92 a month in the bank” to spend.

“Before you get too excited, review your budget, see what you're really spending because you're likely you've probably already spent a lot of money,” she said.

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Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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