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Social Security

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 […]

No Social Security COLA for 2016; Wage Base Unchanged as Well

Recently the Social Security Administration announced that there would be no Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) to recipients’ benefits for 2016.  This is the third time in 7 years that there has been no adjustment.  In 2010 and 2011 we saw the first ever zero COLA years since the automatic adjustment was first put in place in 1972. That dark period of time actually resulted in two years in a row with zero COLAs, after 38 years of increasing adjustments. Why? The Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) is based upon the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, or CPI-W.  If this factor increases year-over-year, then a COLA can be applied to Social Security benefits. This is an automatic adjustment, no action is required of Congress to produce the increase when there is one.  See How Social Security COLAs Are Calculated for details on the calculations. When […]

The Death of File & Suspend and Restricted Application

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015’s Aftermath Note: the original text had a placeholder date of May 3, 2016 as the final date for File & Suspend. This date has been finalized as April 30, 2016 and the text below corrected. — jb With the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, an era of flexibility in Social Security claiming strategies comes to an end. Long gone is the ability for one spouse to delay benefits while the other collects benefits based on the first spouse’s record. Also gone is the option of collecting spousal benefits while delaying your own benefits to accrue the delay credits. We’ll go over the actual changes below, based upon your date of birth – because some of the provisions will remain for a while, and could be useful if you’re the right age. Born in 1953 or earlier If you were born in […]

Get some now, get more later

Note: with the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Bill of 2015 into law, File & Suspend and Restricted Application have been effectively eliminated for anyone born in 1954 or later. If born before 1954 there are some options still available, but these are limited as well. Please see the article The Death of File & Suspend and Restricted Application for more details. When you have reached Full Retirement Age (FRA – age 66 if you were born between 1946 and 1954), you have the option to file for Spousal Benefits separately from your own benefit. This is known as a restricted application – and is often referred to as “get some now, get more later ”. Of course, you must either be married to another Social Security recipient who has filed for benefits, or you have divorced after 10 years of marriage to someone who is at least 62 years […]

The 52% Medicare Premium Increase by the Numbers

By now if you’re a Medicare recipient I’m sure you’ve heard all about the potential 52% Medicare Premium increase coming in 2016 for some recipients. This is due to a virtually-unknown (until recently) part of the law that allows no increase to Medicare premiums if there is no COLA adjustment to Social Security benefits being currently received. This happened in 2010 and 2011 when there was no COLA added for Social Security recipients – it just wasn’t the headline grabbing 52% number. As a result of this lack of increase for 70% of all Medicare Part B recipients, all other Medicare Part B premium payers must pick up the slack. The increase to premium is projected to be a maximum of 52% – from $104.90 to $159.40. Who is impacted? Primarily only those people who are over age 65, receiving Part B Medicare coverage and who are not currently receiving Social […]

Exception to the Divorced Spouse Remarriage Rule

Generally speaking, when a divorcee is receiving a Social Security spousal benefit based on an ex-spouse’s record, the recipient must remain unmarried in order to continue receiving the ex-spouse benefit. (For more details on this, see Coordinating Social Security Benefits in Matters of Divorce and Remarriage.) In many cases,when a divorcee remarries, the spousal benefit based on his or her ex-spouse’s record will end. However, there is an exception to this rule that I recently became aware of. It’s in part because the circumstances surrounding this exception have recently become more common – so let’s get to the exception. The Exception If the person who is receiving a spousal benefit based on an ex-spouse’s record marries someone who is currently receiving widow(er)’s, mother’s, father’s, divorced spouse’s, or parents’ benefits, the spousal benefit will continue. That’s a mouthful! Let’s play out an example: Jane is divorced from Gerald. Jane has been receiving […]

Timing of Delay Credits

When you delay filing for your Social Security benefits past Full Retirement Age (FRA – age 66 if you were born between 1943 and 1954) you earn Delay Credits for each month that you delay. The credit amount is 2/3% per month, or a total of 8% for every 12 months of delay. When you file for benefits after delaying, these credits are applied to your PIA. The timing of the application of your credits is not immediate, though. Delay credits are added to your benefit only at the beginning of a new year, so this can cause a bit of confusion as you begin receiving benefits. Example For example, Janice was born on September 14, 1949, so she will turn age 66 on September 14, 2015. Janice’s PIA is $1,000. If you’ll remember from this post (When is Your Social Security Birthday), Social Security considers Janice to have reached […]

Social Security Trustees Report – 2015

Every year, the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds release reports to Congress on the current financial condition and projected financial outlook of these programs. The 2015 reports, released on July 22, 2015, show that, despite some encouraging signs, both programs continue to face financial challenges that should be addressed as soon as possible, with the Disability Insurance Trust Fund needing the most urgent attention. What are the Social Security trust funds? The Social Security program consists of two parts. Retired workers, their families, and survivors of workers receive monthly benefits under the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) program; disabled workers and their families receive monthly benefits under the Disability Insurance (DI) program. The combined programs are referred to as OASDI. Each program has a financial account (a trust fund) that holds the Social Security payroll taxes that are collected to pay Social Security benefits. Other income […]

Delayed Retirement Credits for Social Security

When you delay filing for your Social Security retirement benefit until after your Full Retirement Age (FRA), your future benefit increases due to a factor known as Delayed Retirement Credits, or DRCs. These credits accrue at the rate of 2/3% for each month of delay, which equates to 8% for every full year of delay. It’s important to know a few facts about DRCs. For one – the delayed retirement credits are accumulative, not compounding. If your Full Retirement Age is 66 (if you were born between 1943 and 1954), you can accrue a full 32% in DRCs. This means that the amount of benefit that you would normally receive at FRA (which is your Primary Insurance Amount, or PIA) would be multiplied by 132% at your age 70. If your FRA is above age 66, your maximum delayed retirement credit is something less than 32% – as little as […]

Divorcee Social Security Planning

If you’re planning to retire and you’re a divorcee, you may be entitled to additional retirement benefits based on your ex’s earnings record. This can be quite a boon for an individual whose ex-spouse has had a significant earnings record over his or her lifetime. Especially so, if your own benefit is lower because you didn’t work outside the home for a significant number of years. You may be eligible for this additional benefit if you are at least age 62, your marriage lasted for at least ten years, and your ex-spouse is at least 62 years of age (and therefore eligible for Social Security benefits). If your ex hasn’t filed for his or her own Social Security benefit, the last factor is that your divorce must have been final for at least two years. If your ex has filed for benefits, this time limit is eliminated. How Can You […]

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 […]

Mandatory Retirement Plans

A few weeks ago I finished a paper arguing for mandatory retirement contributions from both employers and employees. Though arguably the paper will not come close to changing public policy on retirement plans, it did raise some arguments in favor of the United States adopting a mandatory savings plan. In the paper I explained that research has shown that individuals risk not having enough saved for retirement. This could be due to employees not having a retirement plan through work or because employees face an abundance of mutual fund options in the plan that they don’t know where to begin. Some of these employees choose the default option or simply go with what a colleague recommends. Another problem the paper addresses is the declination of defined benefit pensions. Such pensions are employer sponsored and funded, thus removing funding an investment risk from the employee. At retirement the employee receives a […]

Social Security Survivor Benefit Coordination

If you’re a widow or widower and you are eligible for Social Security Survivor’s Benefits based on your late spouse’s record, you may have some timing decisions to make that could significantly affect your overall benefits. This is especially true if you are also eligible for Social Security benefits based on your own earnings record. Timing the receipt of benefits is, as with most all Social Security benefits, the primary factor that you can control.  If you have worked over your lifetime and you have a  becomes even more important. The decision process is dependent upon the relative size of your own Social Security benefit as compared to the Survivor Benefit based on your late spouse’s record. Own SS Benefit Greater than Survivor Benefit  If your own benefit will be greater than the Survivor Benefit, it could be beneficial to you in the long run to take the Survivor Benefit […]

Complications with Social Security Filing for Divorcees

Note: with the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 into law, File & Suspend and Restricted Application have been effectively eliminated for anyone born in 1954 or later. If born before 1954 there are some options still available, but these are limited as well. Please see the article The Death of File & Suspend and Restricted Application for more details. Social Security filing decisions are tough enough – and so is being divorced. Add the two together and you have all sorts of complications. In this article we’ll review one type of complication with Social Security filing for divorcees that can work in your favor and one that can work against you. Let’s start with the provision that may work against you – Deemed Filing. Deemed Filing When you file for benefits prior to Full Retirement Age (FRA, which is 66 for folks born between 1943 and 1954, […]

Maximum WEP Impact

Rounding out our series of articles about the Windfall Elimination Provision, or WEP, I thought we should talk a bit about the maximum impact that WEP can have on you. In other articles we’ve discussed this in part, but it hasn’t necessarily been fleshed out completely.  As you may know, the maximum WEP reduction is equal to the lesser of 50% of the first “bend point” for each year or 50% of the amount of the pension from income that was not subject to Social Security taxation. In 2015 this is $413 per month at most. What’s important to know is that this reduction is against your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), not necessarily against your benefit amount. Depending upon when you file relative to your Full Retirement Age, the WEP impact to your benefit could be more or less than that amount. Wait – what? As you may recall, the […]

File & Suspend vs. Restricted Application

Note: with the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 into law, File & Suspend and Restricted Application have been effectively eliminated for anyone born in 1954 or later. If born before 1954 there are some options still available, but these are limited as well. Please see the article The Death of File & Suspend and Restricted Application for more details. These provisions in Social Security filing are, without a doubt, the two that cause the most confusion. Being very complicated provisions and also provisions that can be very helpful to folks wishing to maximize benefits, file & suspend and restricted application are often mis-used or completely misunderstood. So at the suggestion of a reader, seeing a comment response I’d given to another reader, I will provide some additional background on just what is the difference between these two, as well as when one is used versus the other. […]

When Does WEP NOT Impact My Social Security?

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 […]

How Does WEP Affect My Dependents?

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 […]