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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? What Can We Do About Fixing Social Security? As future recipients of benefits, we have some actions we can take to reduce our reliance on Social Security benefits. This won’t fix the problem with the underfunding of the system, but it may help your own situation. Push for pensions.  As workers, we may have some power to push our employers to consider offering pensions again. It can […]

File and Suspend in the Crosshairs?

Apparently in the President’s recent budget documentation there is a brief mention of a desire to curtail the availability of File and Suspend as an option for Social Security benefit filing. The reason, it appears, is that the Obama administration views this option as one used only by high income folks to take advantage of the government with this valuable option. The problem with that viewpoint is that it is used by folks of all income levels, and in fact if it is taken away this could cause some big problems for folks who can least afford to lose benefits. As if anyone can afford to lose benefits, right? Here’s what happens with File and Suspend: a Social Security benefit recipient has a spouse and/or children that would be eligible for benefits based on his or her record when he or she files for benefits.  If he or she happens […]

Notify Social Security of Major Changes in Your Life

You know how, after you’ve put your kids through college and they go off on their own, sometimes you don’t hear from them as often as you’d like?  Major things occur in your kids’ lives and you don’t know about them until after the fact, possibly long after.  So you get onto them about it, and ask the kids to call more often (or you call them more often) so that you can keep up with what’s going on… It’s kinda like that with the Social Security.  They want to know when major changes occur in your life, as soon as possible.  This is primarily due to the fact that, quite often, these changes will result in adjustment to your Social Security benefits. The first one that comes to mind is the death of a Social Security recipient.  Naturally you need to notify the Social Security Administration as soon as […]

Know Your Options When Talking to Social Security

When you get ready to file for your retirement benefits, it’s important to understand what options are available to you before you talk to the Social Security Administration.  There are many ways to get a good understanding of your options, including working with your financial advisor, reading up on the subject (this blog is a good place to start!), and talking to friends and relatives who have already gone through the process. The reason it’s important to know your options is because the Social Security Administration staff that you may encounter are not trained to help you maximize your lifetime benefits – they are trained to help you maximize the benefit that you have available to you today.  Often the options that the SSA staff present to you are not the best options for you in the long run.  In addition, SSA staff are absolutely overwhelmed by the volume of […]

2013 Social Security Wage Base Projected

jb update 10/16/2012: The wage base for 2013 was confirmed at $113,700. The Social Security Administration trustees recently projected the wage base for 2013.  This is the maximum amount of wage income that an individual earns for the year that is subject to Social Security withholding tax.  For 2013, this amount is projected at $113,700. The new amount is $3,600 more than the 2012 wage base, which is set at $110,100, for an increase of 3.27%.  Keep in mind that this is only the increase in the taxed wage base, and there is little correlation between this and any potential increase in benefits for the year. Future years’ estimated wage bases are projected as follows: 2014: $117,900 2015: $123,000 2016: $128,400 These are only projections, each year in October the SSA trustees will set the amount for the coming year.

SS Earnings Info Online; Plus Paper Statements Are Coming Back!

From “Why Social Security?” (1937) (Photo credit: Tobias Higbie) Remember way back in 2011, when the Social Security Administration used to send you a paper statement every year?  This was a useful statement, which included the estimates of your future benefit at age 62, full retirement age, and age 70, as well as a run-down of your year-by-year earnings information.  Ah the good ol’ days… Sometime in 2011 the SSA stopped mailing those statements, and instead made available on their website a series of calculators which would give you your Primary Insurance Amount (the amount you’d receive at Full Retirement Age) estimate, but little else.  This calculator was nowhere near as useful, and lots of folks were upset about it. Well, apparently someone at SSA listened, because now there is a new option on the SSA website, at www.socialsecurity.gov/mystatement, where you can create an account and receive essentially the same […]

One More File and Suspend Option

Image via Wikipedia We’ve discussed the file and suspend option in multiple articles, but did you know that there is one more option for file and suspend. This is one that provides you with the opportunity to earn delayed retirement credits (DRCs) on your Social Security benefits, even if you started receiving benefits early. File and suspend is generally an option that is used by a married couple – providing a method by which one of the two can receive Spousal Benefits while the other delays receiving benefits until later, earning DRCs.  (For more on this, see this article on Spousal Benefits.) This additional option is available at Full Retirement Age (FRA), just like otherwise.  But what’s different about this is that the suspend option is used when you’ve already been receiving benefits, most likely early at a reduced rate, and by suspending at FRA you make yourself eligible to […]

It Pays to Wait For Your Social Security Benefits

It’s usually best, for most things in the financial world, to act now rather than waiting around. The notable exception is with regard to applying for Social Security benefits. We’ve discussed it before (in fact part of this article is a re-hash of an earlier post) but it is an important point that needs more emphasis, in my opinion. As you’ll see from the table below, if you’re in the group that was born after 1943 (that’s you, Boomers!) you can increase the amount of your Social Security benefit by 8% for every year that you delay receiving benefits after your Full Retirement Age (FRA – see this article for an explanation). Delaying Receipt of Benefits to Increase the Amount If you are delaying your retirement beyond FRA, you’ll increase the amount of benefit that you are eligible to receive. Depending upon your year of birth, this amount will be […]

The Mystery of Social Security

Social Security has become a significant part of many retirees’ sustenance, ever since it was first introduced back in the 1930’s. As the traditional pension plan goes the way of the buggy-whip and common investor behavior leads to poor results in savings plans (if there are any savings at all!), the Social Security benefit becomes more and more important. Unfortunately, the way Social Security works is a mystery for most folks. There’s really not much in the way of guidance for using the system, and relying solely on the phone representatives from the Social Security Administration is bound to lead you to a less-than-optimal result. As with most financial activities, it pays to learn as much as you can about your options, possible strategies, and the pluses and minuses of various choices that you make. A Social Security Owner’s Manual is an attempt at providing you with the groundwork to […]

What Your Social Security Statement Is Telling You

Image via Wikipedia We covered the Social Security annual benefit statement in depth in another article, but there is a portion of the statement that is a constant source of misunderstanding – the projection portion at the top of page 2. If you’ll take a look at this portion of the statement, you’ll see a projection of your Social Security retirement benefits, at Full Retirement Age (whatever that is for you), at age 70, and at age 62.  Also listed are the amounts that you would receive for Disability Benefits, as well as amounts that your family would receive upon your death as survivors.  What gets missed for many folks is the part at the top which reads: At your current earnings rate, if you continue working until… With that short phrase comes a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding.  What this means is that, when you receive this document, […]

Boosting Your Social Security Benefit

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, your Social Security benefit is calculated based on your highest 35 years of earnings over your career, indexed to the current year.  So what impact can continuing to work past age 62 (or later) have on your Social Security benefits? Image by Arjan Richter via Flickr   Any year in your earnings history that had very little or no earnings covered by Social Security works against you – since the calculations assume 35 years of earnings.  If you only had, for example, 30 years of earnings on your record and five “zero” years, these years with no earnings will reduce your average earnings that are used for calculating your benefit amount.  Continuing to work, even for a minimal amount, will eliminate these zero years from your record for calculation. In addition, if you’re earning a higher salary relative to your earnings record, some of the lower […]

Proposed Social Security Wage Base Increases

October 19, 2011 update: the expected wage base increase has been confirmed as $110,100 for 2012.  For more information, see this article. The Social Security Administration has released the proposed figures for the increase in the wage base for taxation for 2012 and projected some figures for the years up to 2015.  This is the limited amount of income against which Social Security withholding tax is applied. For 2009 through 2011, the wage base has been static – at $106,800 for each year.  The amount did not increase for these years since the average wage index (AWI) actually decreased from 2008 to 2009, and the modest increase in the index from 2009 to 2010 did not make up for the decrease in the prior year.  For 2011, the AWI is expected to increase once again, by 3.08%.  This sets the projected wage base for 2012 at $110,100, up a total of […]