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 […]
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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 […]
We hear all kinds of things about Social Security filing age – that we should always delay as long as possible, that we will gain 8% every year that we delay, and that the “break even” point is 80 years of 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 […]
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. Recently the Social Security Administration provided some guidance regarding how the end of file & suspend will be handled, in light of the changes that were brought about by the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (BBA15). If you’ll recall, the option to suspend your Social Security benefit (part of File & Suspend) allowed one member of a couple to establish a filing date which would then provide the other member of the couple with the eligibility to file for a spousal benefit. The first […]
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 […]
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 […]
The 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 […]
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.
In this blog we’ve covered the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) from many different angles. Here we’ll go into some more depth on the actual calculation of the WEP, including how some of the factors are determined. As you are likely aware, the Windfall Elimination Provision or WEP impacts your Social Security benefit when you are receiving a pension based on work where Social Security tax was not applied to the earnings. The point of WEP is ostensibly to act as an offset, since the reason no Social Security tax was applied to the earnings is because the pension is intended to replace Social Security benefits for that worker. WEP impact is applied as a reduction to the first bend point of the calculation of the Primary Insurance Amount. (Calculation of the PIA is explained further here.)
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. By now you should be somewhat familiar with the File & Suspend strategy, where an individual files for Social Security benefits and then immediately suspends them. This strategy is often used so that the individual can enable other dependents’ benefits (such as spousal or children) based upon his or her record, while delaying receipt of his or her own benefits in order to accrue delay credits on his benefit. What you may not realize is that you don’t have to file & suspend at the same time. These […]
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 […]
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.
So you’ve seen your statement from Social Security, showing what your benefit might be at various stages in your life. But not everyone files for benefits at exactly age 62 or 66 – quite often there are months or years that pass before you actually file. This article will show you how to compute your monthly Social Security benefit, no matter when you file. Computing your monthly Social Security benefit First of all, in order to compute your monthly Social Security benefit, you need to know two things: your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) and your Full Retirement Age (FRA). The PIA is rather complicated to define, but for a shorthand version of this figure, you might use the figure that is on your statement from Social Security as payable to you on your Full Retirement Age (or “normal” retirement age).
Suspending benefits is a facet of Social Security filing that usually only gets written about in connection with filing – File and Suspend is often referred to as a single act, but it’s actually two things. First you file for your benefits, which is a definite action with the Social Security Administration, establishing a filed application on your record. Then, you voluntarily suspend receiving benefits. If this happens all at once, the end result is that you have an application filed with SSA, but you’re not receiving benefits. Since you have an application filed (in SSA parlance, you’re entitled to benefits), your spouse and/or dependents may be eligible for a benefit based on your record. Since you are not receiving benefits, your record earns delayed retirement credits (DRCs) of 2/3% per month that you delay receipt of benefits past your Full Retirement Age (FRA). (Note: you can only suspend receipt […]
If you’re receiving Social Security benefits, either for disability, retirement, or survivor’s benefits, when you file your tax return you will need to figure out if the benefits you’ve received during the prior year are taxable to you. You’ll receive a Form SSA-1099 from Social Security sometime in the first months of the year, showing what your benefits were in the prior year, as well as any deductions that were made throughout the year – including Medicare premiums (Part B and/or Part D) if applicable, and federal income taxes withheld. But are the benefits taxable to you? At most, 85% of your benefit might be taxed – and it’s possible that none of your benefit is taxable, all dependent upon your total income for the year. See this article for a detailed explanation of How Taxation of Social Security Benefits Works. The IRS recently published their Tax Tip 2014-23, which […]
Given the way that Social Security benefits are calculated, it should come as no surprise that increasing your income over time will make a difference in your eventual Social Security retirement benefits. But how much of a difference does it make when your income is increased? Of course, this is going to depend upon what your current income is, and how many years you have left before you’ll begin receiving benefits. Keep in mind how your benefits are calculated – see this article for information about Computing Your Social Security Monthly Benefit – it’s based on your average monthly income over your lifetime. Increasing that average will increase your PIA, which will in turn increase your benefit. It’s definitely not a simple calculation to figure out what difference each increased dollar of income will have on your benefit. Let’s walk through a few examples to see how it plays out. […]
The decision of when to begin receiving Social Security benefits can be a bit daunting, because there are many things to take into account when making this decision. The basic concept of the lifetime value of benefits taken at various ages is the most common thing to consider, when this is really not as important as you might think. This is especially true for single person – since the benefit reduction and increase factors are designed to achieve a similar lifetime result for the average lifespan. In other words, if you are an average person with an average lifespan, it won’t make much difference at what age you file for benefits, as you’ll receive approximately the same amount by the end of your average life, whenever you begin receiving the benefits. However. Another factor that you need to keep in mind is how Social Security benefits are treated, tax-wise. At […]
I often hear from people who, for whatever reason, decided to file for their Social Security retirement benefit immediately upon reaching 62 (or 66, or whatever age), and now they have found out that this wasn’t necessarily the best option for them to maximize their lifetime Social Security benefits. There are several things that you can do about this – three that come to mind at the moment. Below we’ll work through each of these ways to fix a situation where you filed too soon. Pay it back If it’s been less than 12 months since you filed, it’s possible for you to withdraw your application for benefits and pay back all that you’ve received to date. Once you’ve done this, as far as Social Security is concerned, you never filed. All of your benefit options are intact, just as if you hadn’t filed in the first place. If your […]
In prior articles we have discussed the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) which has the effect of reducing a portion of your Social Security retirement benefit if you’ve worked in a job that was not covered by Social Security which also provides a pension. This article deals with two ways that you can remove the impact of the WEP from your benefit – neither of which is simple, and neither of which can be done after you’ve retired. The two methods are: Add years of “substantial earnings” to your record Take a lump sum distribution from your pension before you are eligible to receive the pension. Adding Substantial Earnings Years If you have the opportunity to work in a job that is covered by Social Security withholding and you have “substantial earnings” from that job, each year that you work in this SS-covered job adds to your ability to begin eliminating […]