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Social Security: Will millennials get to cash in?

Anyone keeping tabs on that ticking time bomb known as Social Security knows that its long-term status could be risky at best. But it looks like millennials have just about given up on Social Security.

According to a 2014 Pew Research Center study, more than half of all millennials believe they won't see a dime from Social Security once it's their turn to retire.

Pay in, Get Nothing?

It'd be one thing if millennials didn't have to pay into the system, but most of us are liable for Social Security taxes. And yet we face an uncertain future as far as our own benefits are concerned.

Where Did Social Security Come from Anyway?

The Social Security Act was signed into law by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Aug. 14, 1935 as a social insurance program for retirees. When we pay Social Security taxes, that money is pooled in trust funds from which benefits are distributed to eligible recipients, like retired and disabled workers. But there's a flaw in the plan: Those trust funds are running out and some may be depleted entirely within the next 20 years.

However, while some individuals manage to live completely off their Social Security checks, in reality, Social Security is meant to replace only about 40 percent of an average wage earner's income. In other words, those retirees you see traveling the world aren't doing so thanks to Social Security. They're most likely living the dream because they worked hard and saved money.

A Silver Lining

Just because we may not get any money from Social Security
doesn't mean we're destined to live out our golden years in poverty. Here's what we can do right now to make up for the likely lack of Social Security down the line:

Save early. The more years you have to save, the better your chances of amassing some serious wealth. Don't put off retirement savings until your 30s or 40s, because doing so means losing out on a decade or two of growth. Save for retirement as early as possible -- ideally, as early as your first paycheck if you can swing it. If you aren't able to stash some of your cash right away, make a goal to start saving as soon as possible.

Take advantage of employer matching dollars. Many employers offer 401(k) matching contributions, which means you could get a certain amount of "free money" for every dollar you put in yourself. Unless you've got zero wiggle room in your budget, you're doing yourself a serious disservice by not cashing in on this benefit. And while you can't use that money until you're older, you can start saving on your taxes right away since the cash you put into your 401(k) is considered pretax dollars. That means you lower the amount of income you'll have to pay taxes on each year.

Invest wisely. Don't just dump money into a retirement plan; take an active role in managing your investments. If you don't know a thing about investing, talk to a financial advisor, or seek guidance from a relative or friend. Most financial experts agree that if you're several decades away from retirement, you should put much of your retirement money into aggressive-growth options like stocks, which come with more risk but could offer higher rewards. No matter your age, it's also important to diversify, which means instead of putting all your money into stocks versus bonds or cash, you'll want to mix things up a bit.

Let's Not Despair

The fact that Social Security, or at least the version we're all familiar with right now, may be dwindling is an unquestionable bummer. But let's not throw our hands up in defeat just yet. Time is on our side, so let's use it to save up some serious cash for the awesome retirement we all deserve.