26% of Older Americans Are Making This Huge Social Security Mistake

When we think about the various income sources we might have available in retirement, it's natural for Social Security to top that list. Those benefits are instrumental in helping millions of seniors today stay afloat financially.

Relying too heavily on those benefits, however, could spell trouble for those nearing retirement. But unfortunately, a large chunk of older workers may wind up doing just that.

An estimated 26% of Americans 50 and older think they can live comfortably on Social Security alone, according to new data from Nationwide. And that's an assumption that could prevent them from ramping up their savings game like they need to.

Social Security will only get you so far in retirement

You might think you'll get by in retirement on Social Security alone, but know this: Those benefits are only designed to replace about 40% of the average worker's preretirement income.

This figure, however, assumes that benefits won't get slashed in the future. There's already talk of a 20% reduction in benefits as early as 2035 once Social Security's trust fund is depleted. If that comes to pass, Social Security will replace an even smaller percentage of income.

Meanwhile, most seniors need a good 70% to 80% of their former income to live comfortably, especially when we account for essentials like housing, food, transportation, and healthcare -- and also entertainment and leisure, expenses that aren't needs per se but contribute to a decent quality of life. Therefore, relying on Social Security alone to cover the bills just isn't practical unless you're really willing to make major sacrifices. And even then, you still may find that those benefits don't suffice in covering all of your basics.

Start saving for your future now

If you've been neglecting your savings under the assumption that you won't need retirement income outside of Social Security, it's time to rethink that strategy and instead start playing catch-up. The good news? Workers 50 and over can sock away up to $25,000 a year in a 401(k) and up to $7,000 a year in an IRA. Max out the former for 15 years, and you'll be sitting on $628,000 in personal retirement savings, assuming your investments generate a 7% average annual return during that time. (That 7% is a few percentage points below the stock market's average, so it's a reasonable assumption if you load up on stocks.)

Even if you can't max out a 401(k) -- which, let's face it, isn't an easy thing for an average earner to do -- you can still accumulate a nice amount of savings by maxing out an IRA. Doing so for 15 years will leave you with $176,000, assuming that same 7% return.

If you're within a year or two of retirement, you obviously don't have a lot of time to make up for missed savings. What you can do in that case is prepare to downgrade your lifestyle to allow for a much lower level of income than you're used to. That could mean downsizing your home, giving up a car you can get by without, or even relocating to a less expensive part of the country. Working part time in retirement is an option as well, as doing so could nicely supplement your Social Security income.

Though Social Security might cover a nice chunk of your bills in retirement, it most likely won't cover all of them. If you want to enjoy your golden years, recognize this sooner rather than later and ramp up your savings -- or have a solid backup plan if there's truly no time to play catch-up.

The $16,728 Social Security bonus most retirees completely overlook If you're like most Americans, you're a few years (or more) behind on your retirement savings. But a handful of little-known "Social Security secrets" could help ensure a boost in your retirement income. For example: one easy trick could pay you as much as $16,728 more... each year! Once you learn how to maximize your Social Security benefits, we think you could retire confidently with the peace of mind we're all after. Simply click here to discover how to learn more about these strategies.

The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.