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How to Get Your Social Security Statement

One of the requests we make when doing retirement or Social Security claiming plans for clients is for the clients to bring in their Social Security statements. As many readers are aware, these statements can be retrieved online from the Social Security website. Below is a step by step process to retrieve your statement online. Go to https://secure.ssa.gov/RIL/SiView.do Click on “Create an Account” and agree to the Terms of Service Enter your personal information on the following page You will be required to answer questions related to your identity and background (be careful – answering these questions wrong will require you to call or go into the local office) Set up your account with a username and password. You should then be able to view and retrieve your statement, earning history, etc. If you’re leery of giving your personal information online, you can go into your local Social Security office […]

Interaction of Survivor Benefits with Your Own Benefits

Social Security Survivor Benefits can be a critical lifeline for surviving spouses. The interaction of survivor benefits with your own benefits can be a bit confusing though. Does starting to receive one benefit affect your future amount of the other benefit? How about vice-versa? There’s a lot written about the topic in Social Security’s POMS manual, but it becomes very simple after you study it a bit. The interaction of survivor benefits with your own benefits can be played out in one of two ways: either you take your own benefit first and the survivor benefit later; or vice versa, taking the survivor benefit first followed by your own benefit. We’ll look at each of these methods and review the interaction of survivor benefits with your own benefits. Note: in our examples, we are assuming that the survivor benefit has been calculated correctly per the late spouse’s circumstances. See How […]

Book Review: Making Social Security Work For You

This book, by my friend and colleague Emily Guy Birken, is a great book for gaining a better understanding of Social Security benefits. I recommend Making Social Security Work for You to anyone looking for answers about Social Security benefits. Birken is also the author of The Five Years Before You Retire, another excellent retirement planning tome. Birken’s style of writing is easy-to-follow. She has a subtle sense of humor that comes out in her writing. This makes the material enjoyable to read, even for a dry subject like Social Security. Making Social Security Work for You I especially like the way author Birken presents the material. Having written a book on the subject, I know full well the challenge she faced when putting this information together. It is difficult to make such a technical subject understandable and engaging. Birken presents the material in a cohesive manner, with a review (Takeaways) at the […]

Break Even Points for Social Security Filing Ages

Last week my article 3 Myths About Social Security Filing Age included some information about year-to-year break even points for the various Social Security filing ages. This prompted some questions about the break even points between all filing ages, not just the following year. So for example, what are the break even points between choosing to file at age 62 versus age 66 or age 70? This article shows the approximate break even points between all of the various filing ages. The first chart shows the break even points when your Full Retirement Age is 66. To use the chart, select your first filing age decision on the left, then move right to the second filing age you’re considering: So, for the decision between filing at age 62 versus age 66, you can see that the break even point is at the age of 78. Comparing filing at age 66 with […]

3 Myths About Social Security Filing Age

This article takes a long hard look at these three “facts” about Social Security filing age and shows the real math behind them. All three are only true to a point – and as you’re planning your Social Security filing age, you should understand the real truth behind these three items. First, let’s look at the concept of delay. You Should Always Delay Your Social Security Filing Age to 70 This one is the easiest to understand why it’s wrong – but the component of truth in it can be important because it could work in your favor to delay. Of course an absolute like this is going to be proven incorrect in some circumstances. If you happen to be able to delay your Social Security filing age and you live a long time after age 70, over your lifetime you will receive more from Social Security than if you […]

Everything You Need to Know About File & Suspend and the April 30 Deadline

By now if you’re of a certain age, you have probably heard about the end of the file & suspend option for Social Security benefits. If not, click on this link to learn more about this option and the April 30 deadline due to changes made by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015. However, as my email inbox indicates, you have lots of questions about file & suspend.  This article is my effort to cover all the bases with regard to everything you need to know about file & suspend and the April 30 deadline. For starters, if you and your spouse were born after April 30, 1950, this article does not apply to you, so you can stop reading. If one of you was born before April 30, 1950, the file & suspend option only applies to that individual, not to both of you. Of course, if both of you were born […]

6 Strategies for Social Security Benefits That Are Still Available

Earlier this fall the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 was passed. This was important to folks looking to maximize Social Security benefits because two of the primary strategies for maximization were eliminated with the passage of this legislation. You may be wondering if there are any strategies left to help maximize benefits – and as it turns out, there are still a few things you can do. Four of these strategies apply to anyone, while the last two only apply to married couples. (Note: if you were born in 1953 or before, you have more options available to you as a result of the grandfathering of some rules. See The Death of File & Suspend and Restricted Application for more details.) Delay Delaying benefits beyond age 62 or your full retirement age (FRA) continues to provide a strategy for increasing your benefits.  In fact, this strategy alone is likely the most beneficial of […]

Social Security Bend Points for 2016

When the Social Security Administration recently announced that the maximum wage base and the Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) would remain unchanged for 2016, they also announced the bend points that are used to calculate both the Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) for Social Security benefits. In addition, the Family Maximum Benefit (FMax) bend points for 2016 were also announced. Wait a second! You may be wondering just why the bend points are changing when there was no increase to the COLA? Excellent question, as it shows you’ve been paying attention. This is because the bend points are based upon the Average Wage Index, which adjusts annually regardless of whether the numbers go up or down, whereas the COLA and the maximum wage base only goes up. Bend points can go down from one year to the next – it’s only happened once, in 2009, but it could happen again. For more on […]

Credit for Reduced Social Security Benefits When Subject to the Earnings Test

Continuing to work while receiving Social Security benefits may cause a reduction to your benefit – if you earn more than the annual earnings test (AET) amount. But this reduction isn’t permanent – you will get credit for reduced Social Security benefits when you reach Full Retirement Age. So how does this work? Earnings Test The earnings test limit is $15,720 for 2015 if you are under Full Retirement Age for the entire year. The limit is $41,880 in the year that you reach Full Retirement Age. Full Retirement Age (FRA) is age 66 if you were born between 1946 and 1954, ratcheting up to age 67 if your birth year is 1960 or later. So for 2015 if you were born after 1949 and you are receiving Social Security benefits, for every two dollars that you earn over $15,720, one dollar of your benefit is withheld. For example, if […]

Will Work After Retirement Age Increase My Social Security Benefit?

This question comes up every once in a while: Will work after retirement age increase my Social Security benefit due to the additional earnings going on my record? The answer, as with many of these calculation-type questions, is a fully-qualified “maybe”. The amount of your earnings from work in any year may have a positive impact on your benefit – not just work after retirement age. On the downside, depending upon your benefit amount it may not be much of an increase. The reason it’s not certain whether work after retirement age will increase your benefit is because of the nature of the calculations involved. If you’ll recall from the article on calculation of your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) – the foundation of this calculation is a figure called your Average Indexed Monthly Earnings, or AIME. The AIME is an average of the 35 highest indexed earnings years in your […]

Social Security Earnings Test

When you’re receiving Social Security benefits before your Full Retirement Age (FRA, which is age 66 ranging up to age 67 for folks born in 1960 or later), there is an earnings test which can reduce or eliminate the benefit you are planning to receive. If your earned income* is greater than $15,720 (2015 figure), for every $2 over this limit, $1 will be withheld from your Social Security benefit. So, for example, if you earn $20,000 in 2015, a total of $2,140 in benefits will be withheld – 50% of the over-earned amount of $4,280. If you are receiving a Social Security benefit of $1,070 per month, this means that 2 months’ worth of benefits will be withheld. This can come as a surprise if you’ve been receiving the full benefit and the earnings test is applied at the beginning of the following year, when you don’t receive a […]

Book Review: Get What’s Yours

This 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 […]

Why Social Security Decisions Are So Tough

If you’re facing the decision of when to file for your Social Security benefit, you’ve probably noticed just how confusing it can all be. There are so many decision-points in the system, it’s no wonder folks are confused.  Depending on your point of view and how you count the decision-points, each person facing this decision has thousands of possible combinations to consider as they decide when to pull the trigger and file for benefits. Recently I was going over a decision tree that I had built to describe the decision-making process for filing, and within this review I have counted that for a single, there are 14 decision-points and a total of 96 months in which a filing decision can be made, for a total of 1,344 combinations. 

Social Security Filing Strategies for the Single Person

You can listen to this article by using the podcast player below if you’re on the blog; if you’re reading this via RSS, there should be a “Play Now” link just below the title to access the audio. If you’re receiving this article via email, there should be a “Download Now” link within the text of the message to retrieve the audio file. Most Social Security filing strategies are focused on married folks, or those who have been married and are now divorced or widowed. Single folks who have never been married seem to get short shrift – but it’s not because the decisions are any less important. The reason Social Security filing strategies for the single person are not often reviewed is because there are very few things that can be done strategically for the single person’s Social Security filing. We’ll go over the primary options for a single person […]

Coordinating Social Security Benefits in Matters of Divorce and Remarriage

Social Security has a way of making decisions very difficult. In the simplest of circumstances, the choices can be tough. But what if you’re in a tough spot, such as if you’re divorced and now involved with someone else, considering remarriage? Social Security benefits in matters of divorce can become very complicated. The Decisions Social Security benefits can be taken as early as age 62. You can also delay taking benefits to any age after you’ve reached age 62. Delaying to your full retirement age will result in a larger benefit, but of course you will have to go without benefits for a few years in order to receive that larger benefit. Delaying further to age 70 will result in a maximized benefit for you, but again, you have to figure out how to get by without the monthly benefits for a few years while waiting for the maximum benefit […]

Making Every Month Count – Excerpt from A Social Security Owner’s Manual, 3rd Edition

You can listen to this article by using the podcast player below if you’re on the blog; if you’re reading this via RSS, there should be a “Play Now” link just below the title to access the audio. Did you realize that even delaying a few months can have a significant impact on your Social Security benefit? This is the case for all Social Security benefits, including your own, a Spousal Benefit, or a Survivor Benefit. This applies whether you are taking the benefit before FRA or after, since your age is always calculated by the month. Increase or reduction factors are applied for each month of delay or early application, respectively.

Fixing Social Security

For quite a while now we’ve been reading the reports from the Social Security Administration’s reviews of the status of the trust fund – where the prediction is that we’ll end up in the year 2033 with only enough money to pay 77¢ on the dollar of the promised benefits from Social Security. So far this revelation has not resulted in policymakers’ taking any actual steps to fix things, but sometime someone has to act. What can be done about fixing Social Security?

Understand Deemed Filing to Avoid a Surprise in Your SS Strategy

There’s nothing worse than feeling as if you have your Social Security filing strategy all lined out, when a rule like deemed filing rears its ugly head to throw your strategy off track. Here’s an example: Steve and his wife Edie are ages 66 and 61 respectively. The plan is for Steve to file for his Social Security benefit now (at his Full Retirement Age), and for Edie to file for her own benefit when she reaches age 62. Then Edie will wait until she reaches Full Retirement Age of 66 to file for the Spousal Benefit based on Steve’s record, which will increase her benefit by $500 at that time.

Minimize taxes by adjusting your portfolio

Since the markets have had some downturns lately, now could be a good time to make some adjustments to your portfolio, rebalancing and the like, that may help to minimize taxes. In doing so you can possibly get a bit of advantage in your tax bill from a loss you’ve experienced in your investments. If you have taxable accounts, that is, accounts that are not tax-deferred (like IRAs or 401(k) plans) when you sell your investments there is capital gains treatment on your gains and losses. If you have losses and gains in your taxable account, when you realize these losses and gains by selling the holdings, your losses are subtracted from the gains, and if the result is positive (net gains), these gains are taxed at the preferable long-term capital gains rates. I say this is preferable as the rate is less, often much less, than ordinary income tax […]

Paper Social Security Statements are Back

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men Gang aft agley — Robert Burns To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough As with many great ideas, in practice the concept of exclusive electronic delivery of Social Security benefit statements seems to have gone “agley”. Apparently a very small percentage of folks actually took advantage of the online version of these statements (primarily my client base, I’m guessing). As a result of this and apparent feedback from customers, advocates and Congress, Social Security is resuming the physical delivery of paper Social Security Statements. The new delivery schedule will be based upon the age of the potential Social Security benefit recipient, with statements being sent automatically 3 months before your 25th, 30th, 35th, 40th, 45th, 50th, 55th, and 60th birthdays. You will only receive this statement if you are not currently receiving Social Security benefits AND […]

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