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Take responsibility for your retirement

Late last month, we learned again what bad shape Social Security is in.

This is getting old. No pun intended.

In their latest report, the trustees who oversee Social Security's two trust funds for disability benefits and retirees said Social Security will exhaust its reserves by 2033.

"Millions of Americans rely on Social Security and Medicare for income and health care, and millions more will do so in the future," said Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who also is managing trustee. "Pressures on these programs are mounting. Americans are living longer, and the number of retirees is growing."

The trustees sent a clear message to Congress.

"Lawmakers should not delay addressing the long-run financial challenges facing Social Security and Medicare," they said. "If they take action sooner rather than later, more options and more time will be available to phase in changes so that the public has adequate time to prepare.

"Earlier action will also help elected officials minimize adverse impacts on vulnerable populations, including lower-income workers and people already dependent on program benefits."

We all know by now that we shouldn't wait on Congress, so this is another exhortation from me to boost your retirement savings and to start saving now if you haven't already. Time is of the essence.

"How old will you be in 2033?" said Erin Botsford, president and chief executive of the Botsford Group, a financial planning firm in Frisco, Texas. "That is not that long time away. A lot of people will be very dependent on Social Security."

But Social Security was never meant to serve as your only income in retirement.

"If it is, as it is for many, it means you are not living very well in retirement," said Dallas Salisbury, president of the Employee Benefit Research Institute. "That is true whether the Social Security Administration" pays 100 percent or 75 percent.

But, Salisbury said, it's also true that Social Security "is essential income for the approaching 40 percent for whom it is the only income, because they have no savings and no added income, and the nearly two-thirds for whom most of their income is from SSA."

The financial planners I talked with don't even take Social Security into account when working with clients.

"As the optimistic estimates used in the funding projections break down in coming years, that drop-dead date will move closer and closer," said Rick Salmeron, certified financial planner at the Salmeron Financial Network in Dallas. "I'm several years from retirement, and I don't expect to see any meaningful Social Security money myself, nor do I incorporate those figures into retirement plan projections for 30- and 40-somethings."

The savings message is all the more urgent for young people.

"Those receiving benefits today or in the next few years probably don't have much to worry about, but younger workers have reason for concern," said Wade Chessman, president of Chessman Wealth Strategies in Dallas.

"This is another wake-up call that we need to take responsibility for our retirement."