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When Does WEP NOT Impact My Social Security?


Photo courtesy of Ståle Grut via

Recently we covered the Windfall Elimination Provision a bit more completely, including how to eliminate WEP and how WEP can impact your dependents. This prompted quite a few folks to write to me about their own situations, wondering if WEP would impact them.  So today we’ll cover those cases where you might be wondering about this, when WEP does NOT impact your Social Security.

First of all, if you have worked all your life in a job where Social Security tax was withheld, WEP does not impact your Social Security at all. This is true even if you worked in a government job – as long as your wages (earnings) were subject to Social Security tax withholding, WEP will not impact you.

As well, if you have worked and received substantial earnings from Social Security covered jobs for 30 or more years during your career, and you also have a pension coming from a non-SS-covered job, then WEP will not impact your Social Security benefit.

In addition, if you worked in a job where the earnings were not subject to Social Security tax withholding, but you didn’t work there long enough to generate a pension from those earnings, then WEP will also not impact your Social Security. This is to say, if you do not have a pension (of any type, lump sum, annuity, or other) coming from the non-Social Security-covered job, WEP does not impact your Social Security.

Also, if you are receiving a pension based on someone else’s work – your spouse for instance – that was not subject to Social Security taxation, this pension will not cause WEP impact to your own Social Security, or to a spouse benefit from Social Security. WEP is based upon a pension being received for YOUR work, and it would impact YOUR retirement Social Security benefit. In this case, the pension is not based on your work, it is based on your spouse’s work.

Another way that you could be receiving a pension from a non-Social Security-covered job where WEP would not impact you is if the pension is from a foreign (non-US) government that has a totalization agreement with the United States Social Security system. It’s highly unlikely that this situation would come about because the totalization agreement typically means that your credit in one government’s system is applied to the other government’s system and you only receive one of the pensions. I only mention this situation to complete the picture of possibilities.

Lastly, if you have received a lump sum payment of a pension from a job where Social Security taxes were not withheld, and you have lived past the actuarially-defined timespan that the pension was determined to last, then WEP will no longer impact your Social Security benefit.

I can’t say for sure that this is an exhaustive list – this is just the list that comes to mind at the moment. If you have other situations where WEP is not impacting you, please let me know in the comments section below.

How We Can Serve You

2649626409_7a07d66781_m1I wanted to write a short post this week letting our readers know that even though the majority of them may not be located in the state of Illinois, we are generally still able to help and work with you should you want to use or services. Here are a few ways that we can make your experience working with us as “local” and as professional as possible.

  1. We use email – a lot. This is arguably the main way we communicate with clients. It’s not that we’re above using the phone, but with our schedules we are frequently out of the office. Email lets us stay in contact with you regardless of where we’re at.
  1. We use video conferencing. Whether we’re in the office or traveling for business we can easily have a face to face conversation with you if you’d like to put a face with the name. This allows a more intimate conversation without the need of either of us being physically present.
  1. You see what we see. For clients that use our investment management services, they are set up with an online account where they are able to see exactly what we see on a daily basis when it comes to their assets. Transparency is so important in our role as fiduciaries.
  1. We serve you. One of the most important reasons why we value the fee-only compensation model is that we work for our clients. No other entity, product or individual compensates us for the work we do except directly from our clients. In other words, our clients are our employers.
  1. Regardless of location, we still have your best interests in mind. Let me be more specific, we must have your best interests in mind. We couldn’t agree with this business model and fiduciary standard more. It makes serving our clients much more enjoyable for us, and we think our clients enjoy it also.

How Does WEP Affect My Dependents?

Photo courtesy of Samuel Zeller via

Photo courtesy of Samuel Zeller via

We’ve reviewed how WEP impacts your own benefits in prior articles. Briefly, when you’re receiving a pension based on work that was not covered by Social Security, your own Primary Insurance Amount will be reduced by as much as $413 per month (2015 figures) or 50% of the pension, whichever is less.

But can this reduction to benefits affect my dependents’ benefits as well?

Since the nature of the WEP calculation is to reduce your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), that means any benefit that is based on your PIA will also be reduced.

So, if your spouse is planning to receive spousal benefits based on your earnings record and your PIA is reduced due to WEP, the spousal benefit available to your spouse will also be reduced.

For example, Jennifer, age 66 was a teacher for 25 years, and her employment was not covered by Social Security taxes. In addition to her teaching job, she also worked part-time and during the summer breaks in a job that was covered by Social Security. She earned 20 years of coverage as substantial earnings, not enough to reduce WEP, but enough to generate a Social Security retirement benefit.

Jennifer’s PIA (before WEP) is $1,400 per month, and since her pension from the teaching job is $1,500, the total WEP reduction factor for her PIA is $413. Her WEP-reduced PIA is $987.

Jennifer’s husband Scott is also 66. When Jennifer files for her own retirement benefit, Scott intends to file a restricted application for Spousal Benefits. Since Scott has not filed for benefits previously, he will be eligible for a Spousal Benefit equal to 50% of Jennifer’s PIA – $493.50 (50% of $987).

See How to Eliminate WEP for details on what happens to Scott’s benefit if Jennifer dies while he’s collecting Spousal Benefits (spoiler alert: it’s an increase).

How to Eliminate WEP

Photo courtesy of ahmadreza sajadi via

Photo courtesy of ahmadreza sajadi via

If you are receiving a pension from a non-Social Security covered job and you’re also entitled to receive Social Security benefits, the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) may reduce your Social Security benefit. There are ways that this WEP reduction can be eliminated.

How to Eliminate WEP

As discussed in other articles, it is possible to reduce the impact of WEP by working in a Social Security-covered job and earning “substantial earnings” ($22,050 in 2015) for 21 or more years. For the first 20 years, there is no reduction to the WEP impact. For each year of substantial earnings greater than 20, the impact of WEP is reduced by 10%. When a total of 30 years of substantial earnings have been recorded on your earnings record, WEP is eliminated completely.

Another way to eliminate WEP is when the primary numberholder (the individual subject to WEP) dies. This is because WEP only impacts your PIA when you are receiving a pension based on non-covered employment. If the primary numberholder dies, she is no longer receiving the pension – therefore, WEP no longer applies. If the surviving spouse chooses to continue (or begin) receiving a Spousal Benefit, the PIA against which the spousal benefit is calculated is restored to non-WEP impact.

In addition – when a pension from a non-covered job is received in a lump sum, SSA calculates a number of years over which the lump sum would have been spread had it been received as an annuity. The recipient can eliminate WEP impact if he or she out-lives that time span determined for the deemed annuitization of the lump sum. After that time has elapsed, your PIA will be restored to the pre-WEP level.

What to Do if You’re a Victim of Tax Fraud

5856708903_294549a95a_mHopefully this will never happen to you but in the unfortunate event you become of victim of tax fraud there are some steps that you can take to help alleviate the concern that someone has stolen your identity to file a fraudulent tax return in order to receive the refund.

Generally, the first sign of fraud appears when you try to file our return electronically. Most e-file providers receive acknowledgements from the IRS that the return was successfully e-filed. If a return is rejected, a code will return with the rejection indicating what the issue is. For example, a sign of fraud will indicate that the Social Security numbers used to file your return were previously used in the same tax year for another return. If you know you didn’t previously file, then fraud is likely.

If you feel you’re the victim of fraud, here’s what you can do:

  1. Contact the IRS immediately and let them know you feel you’re the victim of fraud.
  2. Generally, you won’t be able to e-file so instead you’ll paper file your return. You or your tax preparer can provide a statement as to why you’re paper filing and that you feel you’ve been a victim of fraud.
  3. Review all of you outside accounts and information to see if you can detect where the culprit got your information. Consider changing passwords and or limiting access to what information you provide.

Lastly, this is directly from the IRS:

The IRS has security measures in place to verify the accuracy of tax returns and the validity of Social Security numbers submitted.

  • If you receive a notice from the IRS that leads you to believe someone may have used your Social Security number fraudulently, please notify the IRS immediately by responding to the name and number printed on the notice or letter.
  • If you are an actual or potential victim of identity theft and would like the IRS to mark your account to identify any questionable activity, please complete Form 14039(.pdf), Identify Theft Affidavit. Mail or fax the form to the address or fax number listed on the notice with your tax return if your electronic filing was rejected or to the address/fax located in the instructions.
  • You may also contact the IRS’s Identity Protection Specialized Unit (IPSU) at 800-908-4490. IPSU employees are available to answer questions about identity theft and resolve any tax account issues that resulted from identity theft.
  • Review Publication 4535(.pdf), Identity Theft Prevention and Victim Assistance, for more information. It is available in both English and Spanish.
  • If you suspect someone else is using your Social Security number, or to secure information on how to prevent identity theft, you can contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Identity Theft Hotline toll-free at 877-438-4338.


Hopefully this never happens to you, but if it does, there’s a way to fix it.

When is Your Social Security Birthday?

birthday cake
Image by freakgirl via Flickr

As you’re nearing the point when you intend to receive your Social Security benefits, it may occur to you to question just when do these milestones take effect?  Just when are you considered first eligible for benefits, when are you at Full Retirement Age, and when have you reached the maximum age? When is your Social Security birthday? (it’s not when you think)

For Social Security age purposes, the month of your birthdate is important – but that’s not the date at which you reach the milestone.  It’s actually the month after your birthday, the month when you are that particular age for the entire month.

For example, if your birthdate is January 15, 1954, you will actually reach age 62 on January 15, 2016 – but you’ll be eligible for benefits beginning with February of 2016.  Likewise, since your Full Retirement Age is 66, you will reach Full Retirement Age by Social Security’s records as of February, 2020.

The Twists

The maximum benefit age of 70 (for Social Security’s purposes) is the month that you actually have your 70th birthday. For our example, this would be January, 2024.

The other time that this doesn’t follow is when your birthdate is the first day of the month.  For Social Security purposes, when you have the first of the month as your birthdate, you are considered as having the month prior as your birth month.  See When Your Birthday Isn’t Your Birthday for more information.

To illustrate, if your birthdate is February 1, 1954, you will reach age 62 on February 1, 2016 and for Social Security benefits, you’ll be eligible for benefits on that date as well. Same goes for age 66 – you’ll reach that age on February 1, 2020 and you’re at Full Retirement Age on that date as well. You’ll reach age 70 on February 1, 2024, but for Social Security purposes you reach age 70 on January 1, 2024.

File an Extension if You Don’t Have All Your Information

extension above the clouds

Photo courtesy of Joshua Earle via

If you find yourself without all of the information to file your tax return on time, or if you just haven’t got the time to fill out the forms, you can always file for an extension of time to file.  This is an automatic extension of six months – to October 15 in most cases.

This is only an extension of the time to file your return, not an extension of the time to pay any tax due.  You should send the tax due (your estimate of course) by April 15.

In an earlier article, we covered the fact that you should file your tax return on time, even if you can’t pay. This applies here as well, but in general you should pay if you’ve calculated that you owe.

Here are seven important things you need to know about filing an extension:

  1. File on time even if you can’t pay. If you completed your return but you are unable to pay the full amount of tax due, do not request an extension. File your return on time and pay as much as you can. To pay the balance, apply online for a payment plan using the Online Payment Agreement application at or send Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request, with your return. If you are unable to make payments, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 to discuss your options.
  2. Extra time to file.  An extension will give you extra time to get your paperwork to the IRS, but it does not extend the time you have to pay any tax due.  You will owe interest on any amount not paid by the April 15 deadline, plus you may owe penalties.
  3. Form to file. Request an extension to file by submitting Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File US Individual Tax Return to the IRS. It must be postmarked by April 15. You also can make extension-related credit card payments, see Form 4868.
  4. E-file extension.  You can e-file the extension request using tax preparation software with your own computer or by going to a tax preparer who has the software.  You must e-file the request by midnight on April 15.  The IRS will acknowledge receipt of the extension request if you e-file your extension.
  5. Traditional Free File and Free File Fillable Forms. You can use both Free File options to file an extension.  Access the Free File page at
  6. Electronic funds withdrawal. If you ask for an extension via one of the electronic methods, you can also pay any expected balance due by authorizing an electronic funds withdrawal from a checking or savings account.  You will need the appropriate bank routing and account numbers. For information about these and other methods of payment, visit the IRS website at or call 800-TAX-1040 (800-829-1040).
  7. How to get forms. Form 4868 is available for download from the IRS website or you can pick up the form at your local IRS office.

Life Cycle Finance Theory

This is an excellent video on one approach to thinking about retirement. Dr. Wade Pfau and Professor David Littell of The American College of Financial Services lead the discussion.

File your tax return on time, even if you can’t pay

wreckSo you’re up against the deadline for filing your taxes, and when you run the final numbers you discover that you’re going to have to pay a boatload of tax. Panic-stricken, you look at your bank account and see single digits, and there’s nowhere near enough left over on payday to make the tax payment. What should you do? Go ahead and file your tax return on time, even if you can’t pay.

If you have all of the information to file a correct tax return on time, you will avoid penalties for not filing. You’ll still have penalties for not paying on time, but at least you’re not compounding the problem by adding failure to file penalties as well. (In another article we’ll cover what to do if you don’t have all the information you need to file a correct tax return by April 15.)

Recently the IRS issued a Tax Tip (2015-53) which details some information about this situation. The actual text of this Tip follows:

File on Time Even if You Can’t Pay

Do you owe more tax than you can afford to pay when you file? If so, don’t fail to take action. Make sure to file on time. That way you won’t have a penalty for filing late. Here is what to do if you can’t pay all your taxes by the due date.

  • File on time and pay as much as you can.  You should file on time to avoid a late filing penalty. Pay as much as you can with your tax return. The more you can pay on time, the less interest and late payment penalty charges you will owe.
  • Pay online with IRS Direct Pay.  IRS Direct Pay is the latest electronic payment option available from the IRS. It allows you to schedule payments online from your checking or savings account with no additional fee and with an immediate payment confirmation. It’s, secure, easy, and much quicker than mailing in a check or money order. To make a payment or to find out about your other options to pay, visit
  • Pay the rest of your tax as soon as you can.  If it is possible, get a loan or use a credit card to pay the balance. The interest and fees charged by a bank or credit card company may be less than the interest and penalties charged for late payment of tax. For debit or credit card options, visit
  • Use the Online Payment Agreement tool.  You don’t need to wait for IRS to send you a bill to ask for an installment agreement. The best way is to use the Online Payment Agreement tool on You can even set up a direct debit installment agreement. When you pay with a direct debit plan, you won’t have to write a check and mail it on time each month. And you won’t miss any payments that could mean more penalties. If you can’t use the tool, you can file Form 9465, Installment Agreement Request instead. You can view, download and print the form on anytime.
  • Don’t ignore a tax bill.  If you get a bill, don’t ignore it. The IRS may take collection action if you ignore the bill. Contact the IRS right away to talk about your options. If you face a financial hardship, the IRS will work with you.

In short, remember to file on time. Pay as much as you can by the tax deadline. Pay the rest as soon as you can. Find out more about the IRS collection process on Also check out

Spousal Benefit Filing: Real World Examples


Photo courtesy of Maja Petric via

This business of filing for Spousal Benefits is complicated, as we’ve discussed in the past. The options available are difficult to understand, and the timing of the choices can make real dollar differences in benefits.

Recently I received a couple of messages from readers that illustrate very good examples of Spousal Benefit decisions in real life. I’ve changed a few of the facts to protect each reader’s identity, but otherwise these are real world examples.

I’m using these real cases because I often hear from readers (as in these cases) that their situations are just so unique that the examples provided can’t be applied. Hopefully these real-life situations will help you as well.

Restricted Application or just file for my own benefit?

This first email illustrates the great benefit of utilizing the Restricted Application instead of filing for (in this case the wife’s) own benefit. It might seem like you’re not getting much for the extra effort, but as illustrated, there’s a significant benefit to using the Restricted application:

I just finished reading your latest Social Security book, and have read your online articles about Social Security, in particular on the Restricted Application process.  I think I understand, but my husband and I don’t fall neatly into one of your examples. Most of the scenarios are for people who have not yet made a choice, or are younger.

My husband is now 73, and began taking Social Security benefits at 65, about 8 months before his FRA. We don’t know his FRA benefit amount, and haven’t found it on the SSA website. At the time he retired we were unaware of the various SS maneuvers, so he just began receiving benefits.  He currently receives $2,400/month. I will turn 65 in September, and would like to retire soon after that, and can probably wait until 66 to file a Restricted Application, but am not sure that would be the right thing for our situation. My FRA benefit amount will be $1,100, and the amount at 70 is projected to be $1,600. Since we don’t know his FRA benefit amount, it’s difficult to calculate whether or not it would be a good idea to use the Restricted App, or just start collecting.

Thanks, P

Here is my response:

Hello P –

Even though you don’t know for sure what your husband’s FRA benefit amount would be, you know that it’s at least $2,400 since that’s his reduced amount. So if you file a restricted application your spousal benefit would be $1,200 (and probably a bit more, but we’ll remain conservative).

This by itself should help you to make the decision: if your own benefit at age 66 is projected at $1,100, of course at that time if you filed you would also file for the spousal excess benefit, taking your total benefit up to our calculation of at least $1,200. So – why would you *not* file a restricted application, and take the exact same $1,200 for 4 years, and then when you reach age 70 give yourself a bonus of $400 per month?

I used your projected age 70 benefit of $1,600 minus the $1,200 to come up with $400. Your actual age 70 benefit might be a bit less since you’re retiring at age 65 and not earning any more on your Social Security record after that point. Remember that the projection at age 70 from SSA assumes you’ve worked up to that age.

I think this is a pretty clear example of how knowing what to do can really pay off – in this case to the tune of $4,800 per year once you reach age 70.

Which of us should file for Spousal Benefits?

The second email is another example of the confusion that reigns with regard to the concept of Spousal Benefits. As you’ll see, you may need to do some calculations to understand if it makes sense for one spouse or the other to file for Spousal Benefits, and the timing of those filings.

My wife is 4 years older and I am.  She reached FRA (66) in June 2014 and had enough work credits so she filed for SS and began received benefits ($800/month).  I reach FRA in June 2018 and at FRA my SS retirement benefit is projected to be $2600.  I planned to delay receiving benefits until I turn 70.  When I reach FRA the spousal benefit for my wife ($2,600 x 50%=$1,300) would be greater than the $800 she receives now based on her earned benefits.  Can she switch from her benefits to spousal benefits when I reach FRA?  If I defer my benefits until I turn 70 can I file for spousal benefits until I turn 70 and then switch to my own SS benefits?

Thanks for your help – L

And here is my response:

Dear L –

Yes, your wife can file for spousal benefits based on your SS record when you file for your own benefit. If you are at or older than FRA when you file you can suspend at that time as well, allowing your benefit to increase by the delay credits up to your age 70.  That covers your first question.

With regard to your second question, if you file for your own benefit to enable your wife to receive the spousal benefit increase described above, you will not be eligible for a spousal benefit based upon her record. On the other hand, if you do not file for your own benefit, thereby delaying your wife’s receipt of the spousal benefit increase until you reach age 70, you could be eligible for a spousal benefit based on her record when you reach FRA.

In your case, it appears to make the most sense for you to file and suspend, allowing your wife to receive a total benefit of $1,300 (50% of your FRA benefit amount of $2,600).

If you went the other route, she would continue to receive $800, and you’d receive $400, which totals to $1,200. After you reach age 70 and file for your own benefit your wife would be eligible for the increased Spousal Benefit for a total benefit of $1,300.

The first option (for you to file and suspend) will result in $100 per month more in benefits over the 4 years between your age 66 and 70 versus the second option, a total of $4,800 that you’d leave on the table.

How to Save on Auto Insurance

Photo courtesy of Kyle Szegedi via

Photo courtesy of Kyle Szegedi via

No, this isn’t a plug for a specific insurance company. It’s more of a plug on how you can put more money into your pocket by following a few simple steps to lower your auto insurance premium without sacrificing the importance of liability coverage.

  1. Consider raising your deductibles. If you’ve never been in an accident or it’s been quite a long time since your last accident then chances are you’re paying too much if your deductibles are low – anywhere from $0 to $250. Raising your deductibles can lower your premiums and generally the higher the deductible the lower your premium.
  1. Consider dropping full coverage. If you’ve got an older vehicle – roughly 10 years old or older – you may consider dropping comprehensive and collision coverage and save some money. Generally, as the age of your vehicle increases its value decreases. This may also be a good option for those folks with teen drivers. Get them a reliable, but inexpensive vehicle and only carry high liability limits.
  1. Bundle your coverage. Many insurance companies will give pretty significant discounts if you insure your auto, home (or renters) and other insurance policies with them such as life or business. Not only will you save money buy having a multi-policy discount, it may be easier to keep track of your coverage and policies with the ease of dealing with one carrier.
  1. Shop around. I’m not condoning that you switch carriers every 6 months or every year, but there may be an advantage to finding the best coverage at the best price. Although low price may be important, consider the value you’re getting for the price. Some carriers beat the competition on price but when it comes to claims handling or customer service, you may be wishing you paid a few more bucks for the additional value of those services.

Start by asking your current carrier how you can save money. You may also find it beneficial to ask other carriers. Be careful of bait and switch tactics that come in with a very low price to start, but drastically increase your premiums at the first 6 month or annual renewal.

Book Review: Get What’s Yours

get whats yoursThis book, subtitled “The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security” is written by Laurence J Kotlikoff (Professor of Economics at Boston University), Philip Moeller (of PBS NewsHour) and Paul Solman (also of PBS NewsHour). With this lineup of heavyweights in the Social Security commentary space, you are right to expect a very comprehensive, easy-to-understand, explanation of the subject – and that’s just what you get.

This book covers every component of the Social Security retirement and disability benefit landscape with the aim toward taking action on those components that you have a degree of control over, in order to maximize your lifetime benefits. The authors are extremely well-versed in the ins and outs of the system, providing insights not found in many other texts.

In addition to the authors’ own lifetimes of experience in covering the subject, every fact in the book has been reviewed by former Social Security veterans for accuracy. This book is the real deal.

Get What’s Yours is conversational in style, providing many examples of real-life situations that the authors have dealt with in their own lives and those of readers/listeners in the past. Sprinkled throughout the book are examples of actual text from official Social Security rules, which are usually incomprehensible, often laughable, but these drill home the point that relying on Social Security’s official documents will leave the average person’s head spinning. This book interprets these rules so that the spinning can stop. The outcome is an excellent guide for all facets of the Social Security retirement benefit arena.

The only thing that could have improved the experience (albeit at the cost of lengthening the book considerably) would be to increase the type-size. I know many of my readers have commented on the fact that they love the 14-point font that I use in A Social Security Owner’s Manual for the ease of reading by “experienced” eyes.

With so much on the line, literally a lifetime of benefits, folks who are nearing or in the range of Social Security retirement benefit filing age can’t go wrong by investing in the valuable education provided by Get What’s Yours.

I Have the CFP®, Now What?

220px-Cliff_Clavin_in_CheersThis week, several anxious individuals will sit in front of a computer screen at a testing center and will answer 170 questions over a six hour span. These folks are sitting for the national CFP® exam that’s given every March, July, and November. Question topics range from life insurance and annuities to taxation, investment planning, estate planning and ethics. Successful exams takers will be allowed to use the prestigious marks (assuming all other requirements are met).

If you’re one of these folks – first of all congratulations! You put in a lot of hard work, studying, and relinquished personal time in order to be successful. You should be proud. But I would also encourage you to not fall to the temptation of thinking, “you’ve made it.” In other words, I hope the exam has taught you that there’s so much we don’t know as planners and the CFP®  is merely a stepping stone (albeit a big one) in our career as financial planners.

What I mean is that you should continue to put in the effort and strive to be successful in acquiring more knowledge that complements or goes above what your CFP® studies taught you. Don’t be afraid to earn other designations such as the ChFC® and CLU® or to become more specialized in a field such as taxation by becoming an Enrolled Agent or CPA. There’s nothing holding you back from earning a Master’s degree or law degree.

The point is that once you’ve gotten this far, don’t settle. We owe it to our clients, or colleagues and the industry to hold ourselves out as professionals that are continually striving to make our profession and clients better off – and that can only come with more knowledge.

Again, congratulations! Now the real work begins.

Analyze your assets to avoid missing the mark

financial fitnessWhen we talk about financial fitness, one of the measures that is most important to the conversation is the value of our assets. There are really five different kinds of assets that we should consider:

Personal Assets. Clothing, furnishings, and jewelry fit into this category. Most of this “stuff” decreases in value to less than half what we paid for it before we even get it home.

Household Assets. This includes real estate, cars, and appliances. Most of these items either appreciate in value over time or provide a fair value over their life (in relation to renting the service). The total value of these assets must be reduced by any loans that we have against them – such as mortgages and auto loans. This will produce a net value of Household Assets.

Employment Assets. Some employers still provide for a pension for their employees’ retirement. This pension has a value, and should be considered an asset. Since most companies have under-funded their pension plans, you might discount the value of this asset, but you should still consider it if you have a pension available to you. In addition to the pension value, consider the value of your employability – this is an asset as well. If you are able to work and earn an income, this asset (your skillset and therefore your earning power) is one of your most valuable, especially in your earlier years.

Social Security Assets. Given that Social Security’s solvency is in question these days, often we don’t even think about this benefit as an asset. Unless it is eliminated entirely, though, we should still consider the value of this future income stream as an asset. It would be wise to discount it somewhat, due to the fact that the system is vastly underfunded and will become overburdened over the next several years as the Boomers continue retiring and drawing benefits.

Financial Assets. This is the 401(k) plan, IRA, brokerage, mutual fund and savings accounts that you’ve established. This one usually gets the most attention, because it tends to trump all the other types of assets. When you have plenty in this category, you don’t tend to worry about the other categories, because you can always use the money from here to buy the goods and services to cover those other categories. This is also one of the primary types of assets that we have some degree of control over.

Now for the good news – even though most of us don’t have anywhere near enough set aside in the financial assets category, it’s not impossible to build things up in order to make your future a little brighter.

The problem is that we have built up some unrealistic expectations about some of our asset types, and we need to deal with these in order to ensure a comfortable future.

The first of these illusions is that our personal assets will somehow contribute to our future security. Take a stroll through the Goodwill store and you’ll see the illusion of what those things are worth, should you ever need to sell them.

Secondly, and possibly the most harmful of these illusions, is that our household assets can be quickly turned into financial assets. This illusion is harder to break, because past generations have done this successfully: most retired residents of Florida and Arizona had very little in financial assets before they sold their household assets in New York or Chicago or Los Angeles. It doesn’t work as well for those of us in the great Midwest, where property doesn’t “bloom” in value every year. And as we saw in the Great Recession, these property values can be nothing more than an illusion.

So – how can you tell if you’re doing the right thing with your assets? Here are some basic benchmarks to consider:

  • If your monthly budget focuses more on Personal Assets than your Financial Assets, your focus is in the wrong place and trouble is on the horizon.
  • If your Household Assets are growing faster than your Financial Assets, you’re fortunate to live where you do. But you may be heading for a problem in the future, having to sell your home in order to provide funds to live on, because that’s where your money is.
  • And a sign that you’re headed in the right direction – if your financial decisions revolve around reducing your mortgage or increasing your financial assets rather than purchasing or paying for Personal Assets, then you’re doing the right things. Keep up the good work!

The two primary places that you should place focus on in order to improve your overall financial condition are your employment skillset and your personal Financial Assets.

There is no better way, at any point in your life, to improve your financial condition than to increase your earning power by taking on new skills. This earning power will translate in to more discretionary earnings each month, allowing you to add more to the savings plans that you have available to you. Handled carefully, both of these types of assets can serve you well for a long time into the future.

Should You Delay Retirement?

decisionThe question of delaying retirement may arise as you get closer to your “goal year” of when you want to retire. For some individuals’ fortunate enough to be covered under a company or state pension, it can be tempting to retire as soon as possible and collect the pension benefit. The same may be true for folks wanting to start taking Social Security at age 62.

Before making the decision to retire or retire early an individual should consider the effects on delaying retirement and continuing to work. This is assuming that they can accrue extra pension benefits for the extra years of service. For Social Security, this would be delaying past an individual’s normal retirement age as long as to age 70.

For example, let’s say an individual has the opportunity to be eligible to retire at age 55 and receive a pension of $5,500 per month. However, if the individual decides to wait until age 60 to retire their pension will increase to $7,500 per month, a difference of $2,000 or $24,000 per year.

Recently, I had just such a scenario presented to me. The individual came to me with the above retirement ages and pension amounts and asked which one I recommended. My response seemed to throw them off. I asked them what would make them the happiest. We then dove into possible scenarios and future goals they wanted to achieve.

After about an hour of conversation the individual decided to delay retirement in exchange for the extra benefit. The reasons were that they were still young enough to re-enter the workforce doing something else, but they would always have the $7,500 coming in. f they chose to work at another job, the extra income was gravy. However, they also felt happiest with their decision based on if they didn’t want to work another job; they would have enough income to not work if they chose.

The same thing can be done if a person delays their Social Security benefit past their normal retirement age. Delaying Social Security can increase the benefit by as much as 8% per year.

Essentially what we’re doing by delaying the pension and Social Security is increasing the income floor. Think of an income floor as a guaranteed stream of income that will never decrease throughout your lifetime. In other words, no matter what happens to the stock market, your future job (after retirement), or the economy, the income floor represents income that will never go away.

Think of it this way. If an individual needs approximately $5,000 per month for expenses in retirement and they have an income floor (from pension and or Social Security) of $3,000 then they only need to find $2,000 per month from other income sources such as employment or retirement savings in a 401k or IRA. The individual may also create their own income floor by purchasing longevity insurance (annuities) with some of their retirement savings. If their floor is exactly $5,000 their income matches their expenses. A floor higher than $5,000 and they have a surplus – a good situation to be in (and also less stressful).

The decision of whether or not to delay retirement should be carefully considered. Talk to a competent financial professional to see if you may be leaving money on the table. Look at your recent Social Security statement to see how much your benefit increases by delaying or talk to your HR department (if you have a pension) to get an estimate of your benefit should you decide to delay retiring.

Get your billion back, Americans – time’s running out

Photo courtesy of Josh Felise via

Photo courtesy of Josh Felise via

Oftentimes folks with low incomes don’t see the need to file a tax return. Much of the time this is the correct way to go – after all, why go through the hassle and expense of filing a tax return for no purpose?

Unfortunately, many of these folks who didn’t file a tax return are actually due a refund of withheld tax, and possibly even tax credits that they weren’t aware of. The IRS has compiled a list of approximately 1 million taxpayers who didn’t file a tax return in 2011, and this group is due a total of approximately $1 billion in refunds.

The problem is that in order to claim these refunds, the tax return for 2011 has to be filed by April 15, 2015 – 3 years after the original filing date. If you don’t file by then, the refund is lost to you forever.

Recently the IRS produced a Newswire IR-2015-44 which details the information about these unclaimed tax refunds. Below is the text of the Newswire:

Keep reading…

Missing your SSA-1099? Here’s How to Get It

Photo courtesy of Kyle Szegedi via

Photo courtesy of Kyle Szegedi via

The Social Security Administration has a lot on their plate. Along with handling the tax rolls from some 150 million-plus wage earners, servicing around 50 million retirees and surviving spouses and 11 million-plus disabled workers and dependents, there are 10,000 baby boomers reaching retirement age each day. These folks (current recipients of benefits and newly-eligible) are generating nearly half-million phone calls a day to SSA’s 800 number, and nearly 200,000 per day visiting the local offices. Every day.

And they’re doing all this on administrative expenses of less than 1% of all the money they handle.

Much has been written about what the SSA is not capable of doing – such as advising folks on the best way to file – but little has been written about what they are doing well. One of those things is their website.  Keep reading…

Should You Invest Dollars or Percentages?

119499471383482357percent.svg.medIn many employer sponsored plans such as a 401k, 403b, 457, or SIMPLE employees are generally given the option of deferring a fixed dollar amount or fixed percentage of their income. The question becomes which category to choose when initially enrolling in the plan and whether or not to change the original decision.

Generally, the wiser decision is to choose (or switch to) the fixed percentage. The reason is that by choosing a percentage, you really never have to worry about increasing your contributions. For example, an individual starts a job earning $50,000 annually and decides to contribute 10% annually to his retirement plan which is $5,000 per year.

Keep reading…

Book Review: Finance for Nonfinancial Managers

finance for nonfinancial managersThis recently-released Second Edition is a wonderful book for folks who find themselves in the position of needing to understand financial reports, when the last time you looked at a balance sheet was in your first year of high school accounting.

Author Gene Siciliano has produced an excellent guide to the primary concepts of finance, written from the point of view that you have no background at all in finance or accounting.

Managers of all levels in today’s business organizations need to have at minimum a basic understanding of financial systems in order to be effective. Day-to-day decisions are influenced by information found in financial reports, and without being able to interpret these financial reports, you’re flying blind. Maybe you’ve been thrust into a management position without any training – and you need to have an understanding of financial reports to do your job. Gaining a better understanding (after you’ve got the basics down) of financial systems and reports can be an entree’ to advancement, as well.  Keep reading…