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Those provisions, some of which date back as far as the Reagan New Era La administration, haven't been adjusted for inflation since they were implemented, says Ray Ferrara, a financial planner in Clearwater, Fla. "You're always getting more people every year whose Social Security payments are taxable," Ferrara says.

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To some extent, however, benefits are already means tested, via the tax code. Under current law, individuals don't have Adidas Cap For Women

MONEY WATCH: Maximizing your Social Security benefit

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If you make more than that, however, you'll pay income taxes on a portion of your benefits, and that portion rises as your income does.

MONEY WATCH: Is an annuity a good way to guarantee income?

Most planners recommend that you withdraw no more than 5% from your retirement savings in your first year, assuming you want to adjust withdrawals for inflation each year. Using that assumption, you'd need about $303,000 to generate an inflation adjusted income of $1,262 a month for the rest of your life.

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2. It's already means tested somewhat.

Nevertheless, that $1,262 a month would be tough for individuals to replace, especially because payouts are adjusted for inflation each year. How much?

5 things you need to know

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If you wanted a guarantee, you'd have to buy an immediate annuity with an inflation rider. An inflation adjusted annuity yielding the same amount would have cost a 65 year old $325,877 to $348,600 last year, according to Vanguard. That's without benefits to survivors or disability benefits, which Social Security also provides.

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Protesters in Doral, Fla., in December make their feelings known about potential cuts to Social Security.(Photo: Joe Raedle, Getty Images)

number of people do live nearly entirely on Social Security, however: For about 23% of all married beneficiaries, Social Security represents 90% or more of their income. That soars to 46% of all single beneficiaries.

You might not talk about Social Security very often, but it's an enormous part of the national debate and your retirement future as well.

to pay taxes on Social Security benefits if their total income is less than $25,000. For couples, the limit is $32,000.

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do you need to know about Social Security? As a potential retiree, everything you can. Here are five of the most important things:

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Individuals with income of more than $34,000 and couples with income of more than $44,000 may have to pay taxes on 85% of their benefits.

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Social Security was never intended to be a pension you could live on. Instead, it was designed to be a supplement to retirees' income. Currently, the average Social Security payout is $1,262 a month, according to the Social Security Administration (SSA). That's an annual income of $15,144.

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PLANNING: Online tool helps you estimate Social Security benefits

A common suggestion to make Social Security more financially solvent is to means test it give wealthier recipients smaller payouts and poorer recipients larger ones.

Individuals with income of $25,000 to $34,000 and couples with income of $32,000 to $44,000 may have to pay taxes on half their benefits.

1. It's not particularly generous.

Story HighlightsHere are five things you need to know about Social SecuritySocial Security was never intended to be a pensionA remarkable number of people live nearly entirely on Social Security

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