Will social security be your only income?

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Many seniors have only Social Security for income when they retire: 22 percent of married couples and 47 percent of unmarried people have no additional income. Maybe it’s a matter of not having saved over the years, or maybe it’s having lost everything in recent years due to layoffs and unemployment.

But if you have five more years until retirement, there are steps you can take now to make living on only Social Security a bit easier.

• Clear off your debts, especially your credit cards and vehicle. If possible, pay off your home or at least get the balance down. Keep your credit score high in case you need a loan for a large purchase – the interest rate will be lower.

• If you own your home, look at long-term maintenance. If you’ll need a new roof in the next five years, do it before you retire. The same goes for big-ticket items like appliances, central air conditioning and furnace.

• If you’re willing to move, investigate states that don’t tax Social Security income and/or have a lower cost of living.

Assume that retirement won’t mean actual retiring. Be prepared to take a part-time job somewhere. You’ll be able to earn a bit before it cuts into your Social Security benefit at the rate of one dollar for every two you make.

The Social Security Administration no longer sends out the annual statement of earnings, but you can get a ballpark estimate online of what your future income will be. You can open a MyAccount, or you can use one of the calculators to estimate.

Before you make the jump and quit work, do a test experiment for at least six months. Spend only the amount you would receive under Social Security. Create a strict budget and stay with it. Can you do it? It will be better to know sooner rather than later.

Matilda Charles regrets that she cannot personally answer reader questions, but will incorporate them into her column whenever possible. Send email to columnreply2@gmail.com