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Filing for Social Security Benefits

My Comments: For millions of us, a predictable monthly income from Social Security has become critical for sustaining our standard of living. For many reasons, we should be increasingly worried about it. But that story is for another day.

Right now, I’m sharing with you what I hope is a simple overview if you have not yet applied for benefits. You can choose from any one of 97 months. The first one is when you turn 62 and the last one is when you turn 70. (you can wait beyond that but it’s pointless…)

Know this too: regardless of when you sign up, we’re talking about essentially the same amount of money spread over your lifetime. Starting early means you’re getting a smaller check for a longer period of time. Starting late means you’re getting a larger check for a shorter period of time.

The optimal month for most of us, is, in my opinion, the month when you reach what is known in Social Security jargon as your FULL RETIREMENT AGE or FRA. Unless you plan or expect to die before your full life expectancy, that date is your first target for signing up.

There are dozens of good reasons to sign up early. And there are dozens of good reasons to wait until your FRA. There are far fewer good reasons to extend your wait beyond your FRA. Here’s a summary of what you can expect.

by Maurie Backman / Apr 10, 2018

Age 62
Age 62 is the earliest point at which you can file for Social Security, and it’s also the most popular age for seniors to claim benefits. The advantage of filing at 62 is that you get your money sooner. The downside, however, is that you’ll face the greatest reduction in benefits by going this route.
If you’re entitled to a full monthly benefit of $1,500 at age 67, for example, then filing at 62 will knock each payment you collect down to $1,050. That said, if you’re unemployed come 62 or need the money for another reason, you’re better off taking benefits than resorting to credit card debt.

Age 63
Filing for Social Security at 63 still means taking benefits early and having them significantly reduced. Still, if you’re desperate for cash, it often pays to take that hit, which won’t be quite as bad as it would if you were to file at 62. Using our example above, a $1,500 benefit at age 67 would be whittled down to $1,125 at 63 — not ideal, but better than collecting just $1,050.

Age 64
Claiming Social Security at age 64 will also result in a sizable reduction in your full monthly benefit. But it won’t be as drastic as filing at an earlier age. In the case of a $1,500 benefit at 67, you’d only lose about 20% by filing at 64, thereby resulting in a $1,200 monthly payment.

Age 65
Once you turn 65, you’re eligible for coverage under Medicare. As such, some people get confused and assume that 65 is the age at which they’re able to collect their Social Security benefits in full. Not so. Still, if you retire at 65 once Medicare kicks in and decide to file for benefits simultaneously, you won’t face such an extreme reduction. Following the above example, a $1,500 monthly benefit at 67 would only be reduced to $1,300 at 65.

Age 66
Age 66 is a significant one from a Social Security standpoint because it’s when workers born between 1943 and 1954 reach full retirement age and are thereby eligible to collect their monthly benefits without a reduction. Your full retirement age is a function of your year of birth, as follows:

Year of Birth       Full Retirement Age
1943-1954                  66
1955                            66 and 2 months
1956                            66 and 4 months
1957                            66 and 6 months
1958                            66 and 8 months
1959                            66 and 10 months
1960                            67
Data source: Social Security Administration.

Therefore, if you were born after 1954 but before 1960, your full retirement age is 66 and a certain number of months. If you were born in 1960 or later and have a full retirement age of 67, filing for Social Security at 66 will reduce your benefits by about 6.67%. That means a full monthly benefit of $1,500 would go down to just $1,400 if you were to take them a year earlier.

Age 67
If you were born in 1960 or later, this is perhaps the age you’ve been waiting for, since it’s when you get to take your monthly benefits in full. In our example, age 67 is when you’d get that $1,500 we keep talking about. That said, you don’t have to file for Social Security at full retirement age. You can hold off and grow your benefits for a higher monthly payout.

Age 68
Though 68 is hardly a common age for taking Social Security, it’s a strategic one nonetheless. That’s because for each year you delay your benefits past full retirement age up until age 70, you get an 8% boost in payments, which, in our ongoing example, would take a full monthly benefit of $1,500 at 67 up to $1,620 at 68. That increase then remains in effect for the rest of your life. Of course, not everyone wants or can afford to hold off on benefits all the way until 70, but waiting until 68 is a decent compromise — you get a modest boost without having to wait too long.

Age 69
Age 69 is a good time to take your benefits if you don’t need them sooner. Doing so will boost our aforementioned $1,500 benefit to $1,740, thus guaranteeing a higher payout for as long as you collect Social Security.

Age 70
The credits you accrue for delaying benefits past full retirement age stop accumulating once you reach 70. Therefore, it’s considered the latest age to file for Social Security. Granted, you don’t have to sign up for benefits at that time, but there’s really no financial incentive not to. If you’re dealing with a full retirement age of 67, filing at 70 means boosting your benefits by 24%, which would turn a $1,500 monthly payment into $1,860 — for life.
Which of the above ages is the right one for you to take benefits? It depends on a host of circumstances, from your savings level to your employment status to the state of your health. The key is to understand the pros and cons of filing at various ages so you land on the one that works best for you.

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What’s Next For Investments???

My Comments: You have not heard much from me lately. That’s because I’ve been spending hours and hours building an internet course on retirement planning. I’m not there yet but soon will be. Keep following this blog and you’ll get an announcement when it’s ready.

In the meantime, we’re at the end of Quarter 1 of 2018 and it was an interesting quarter for a lot of reasons. For those of you with time on your hands and sufficient interest to explore the details, the following article from The Heisenberg Report is revealing. Whether it helps you make money or helps you not lose money remains to be seen.

Go HERE if you are ready to wade through 8 pages of commentary and graphs. The conclusion you will discern is that market complacency is diminishing rapidly and that something uncomfortable is likely to happen soon.

Your Retirement Money

My Comments: If you’ve read my blog posts these past few months and years, you know that I have no idea what is coming next.

What I do know, however, is that anyone who says “it’s different this time” is full of s**t. It’s the nature of the beast for there to be corrections, and it’s just a matter of time for one to appear. On the other hand, telling everyone ‘the sky is falling’ soon gets old, and essentially useless.

My entire focus these days is helping people retire with more money, the opposite of which is to retire with less money. Personally, I’d rather have more money.

If you have any money fully exposed to what I call downside risk, and are uncomfortable with simply ‘staying the course’, here are three articles that appeared in my inbox in the past few days.

You should be interested in preserving your nest egg from a potential downturn, one that will make it harder to pay your bills in the future.

Making informed decisions about your money starts with paying attention and being able to tuck in your tail before the door slams shut.

I make no apologies for any political implications associated with the three articles.

Economics are never 100% divorced from politics. It doesn’t matter who is pulling the strings.

What matters is that the strings are being pulled, and how that pulling will affect you and your bank accounts. These three articles are worth reading if you have any doubts about having enough money when you retire…

The Albatross of Debt: a $67T Nightmare

6 Reasons For Another $6 Trillion Stock Market Correction

Enjoy The Final Ride, Because The Expansion Is Nearing An End

Guess How Many Seniors Say Life Is Worse in Retirement

My Comments: After 40 plus years as a financial/retirement planner, I’ve lost count of the number of people who, as they approach retirement, ask whether they’ll have enough money. Or the corollary, when will they run out?

If you expect to have a successful retirement, ie one where you run out of life before you run out of money, you had better have your act together long before you reach retirement age. Here’s something to help you get your arms around this idea. https://goo.gl/b1fG39

Maurie Backman \ Feb 11, 2018

We all like to think of retirement as a carefree, fulfilling period of life. But those expectations may not actually jibe with reality. In fact, 28% of recent retirees say life is worse now that they’re stopped working, according to a new Nationwide survey. And the reasons for that dissatisfaction, not surprisingly, boil down to money — namely, inadequate income in the face of mounting bills.

Clearly, nobody wants a miserable retirement, so if you’re looking to avoid that fate, your best bet is to start ramping up your savings efforts now. Otherwise, you may come to miss your working years more than you’d think.

Retirement: It’s more expensive than we anticipate

Countless workers expect their living costs to shrink in retirement, particularly those who manage to pay off their homes before bringing their careers to a close. But while certain costs, like commuting, will go down or disappear in retirement, most will likely remain stagnant, and several will in fact go up. Take food, for example. We all need to eat, whether we’re working or not, and there’s no reason to think your grocery bills will magically go down just because you no longer have an office to report to. The same holds true for things like cable, cellphone service, and other such luxuries we’ve all come to enjoy.

Then there are those costs that are likely to climb in retirement, like healthcare. It’s estimated that the typical 65-year-old couple today with generally good health will spend $400,000 or more on medical costs in retirement, not including long-term care expenditures. Break that spending down over a 20-year period, and that’s a lot of money to shell out annually. But it also makes sense. Whereas folks with private insurance often get the bulk of their medical expenses covered during their working years, Medicare’s coverage is surprisingly limited. And since we tend to acquire new health issues as we age, it’s no wonder so many seniors wind up spending considerably more than expected on medical care, thus contributing to both their dissatisfaction and stress.

And speaking of aging, let’s not forget that homes age, too. Even if you manage to enter retirement mortgage-free, if you own property, you’ll still be responsible for its associated taxes, insurance, and maintenance, all of which are likely to increase year over year. The latter can be a true budget-buster, because sometimes, all it takes is one major age-related repair to put an undue strain on your limited finances.

All of this means one thing: If you want to be happy in retirement, then you’ll need to go into it with enough money to cover the bills, and then some. And that means saving as aggressively as possible while you have the opportunity.

Save now, enjoy later

The Economic Policy Institute reports that nearly half of U.S. households have no retirement savings to show for. If you’re behind on savings, or have yet to begin setting money aside for the future at all, then now’s the time to make up for it.

Now the good news is that the more working years you have left, the greater your opportunity to amass some wealth before you call it quits — and without putting too much of a strain on your current budget. Here’s the sort of savings level you stand to retire with, for example, if you begin setting aside just $400 a month at various ages:

You can retire with a decent sum of money if you consistently save $400 a month for 25 or 30 years. But if you’re in your 50s already, you’ll need to do better. This might involve maxing out a company 401(k), which, as per today’s limits, means setting aside $24,500 annually in savings. Will that wreak havoc on your present spending habits? Probably. But will it make a huge difference in retirement? Absolutely.

In fact, if you were to save $24,500 a year for just 10 years and invest that money at the aforementioned average annual 8% return, you’d be sitting on $355,000 to fund your golden years. And that, combined with a modest level of Social Security income, is most likely enough to help alleviate much of the financial anxiety and unhappiness so many of today’s seniors face.

Retirement is supposed to be a rewarding time in your life, and you have the power to make it one. The key is to save as much as you can today, and reap the benefits when you’re older.

Can the Country Survive Without a Strong Middle Class?

My Comments: Most of the recent talk about the Constitution comes in the wake of the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, for obvious reasons. The attention is well deserved but I’d have you think about more than just the 2nd Amendment.

At the national level, if not across the globe, society is re-evaluating itself. Are the values we hold dearly still valid? Are the roles played by the various participants serving our best interests? Are you willing to let the so called ‘elite’ change the economic and social landscape that most of us enjoy without allowing us to express our thoughts? Have we given them so much power that it now makes no difference?

If you’ve followed me for long, you’ve heard me talk about income inequality and the subtle effects it has on not just our society, but in virtually every society on the planet. I hope you will read this, regardless of your political leanings, as it will influence every aspect of the lives of your children and grandchildren. And the clowns in Washington, DC are not helping matters.

Rebecca J. Rosen / Mar 21, 2017

In a powerful new book, the legal scholar Ganesh Sitaraman argues that America’s government will fall apart as inequality deepens.

The U.S. Constitution, it is fair to say, is normally thought of as a political document. It lays out the American system of government and the relationships among the various institutions.

But in a powerful new book The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution, the Vanderbilt legal scholar Ganesh Sitaraman argues that the Constitution doesn’t merely require a particular political system but also a particular economic one, one characterized by a strong middle class and relatively mild inequality. A strong middle class, Sitaraman writes, inspires a sense of shared purpose and shared fate, without which the system of government will fall apart.

I spoke with Sitaraman about his book last week at The Atlantic’s offices in Washington, D.C. A transcript of our conversation, edited for clarity, follows.

Rebecca J. Rosen: Your new book, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution, is premised on the idea that the American Constitution is what you call a middle-class constitution. What does that mean?

Ganesh Sitaraman: The idea of the middle-class constitution is that it’s a constitutional system that requires and is conditioned on the assumption that there is a large middle class, and no big differences between rich and poor in a society.

Prior to the American Constitution, most countries and most people who thought about designing governments were very concerned about the problem of inequality, and the fear was that, in a society that was deeply unequal, the rich would oppress the poor and the poor would revolt and confiscate the wealth of the rich.

The answer to this problem, the way to create stability out of what would have been revolution and strife, was to build economic class right into the structure of government. In England, you have the House of Lords for the wealthy, the House of Commons for everyone else. Our Constitution isn’t like that. We don’t have a House of Lords, we don’t have a House of Commons, we don’t have a tribune of the plebs like they had in ancient Rome.

At the time, people debated having a wealth requirement for entry into the Senate, but that didn’t happen. That would have been a common thing in the generations and centuries prior to the creation of the U.S. Constitution. So there’s actually a radical change in our Constitution that we don’t build economic class directly into these institutions. The purpose of the Senate, with its longer terms, is to allow representatives to deliberate in the longer-term interest of the republic, and that’s the goal of the Senate.

What we have is a constitutional system that doesn’t build class in at all, and the reason why is that America was shockingly equal at the time in ways that seem really surprising to us today.

Rosen: Of course, the point here isn’t only that class is ignored, or left out of the Constitution, but that the Constitution actually relies on a kind of equal society in order to function. Could you explain the premise there?

Sitaraman: That’s exactly right. The idea is that the Constitution relies on a relatively equal society for it to work. In societies that are deeply unequal, the way you prevent strife between rich and poor is you build class right into the structure of government—the House of Lords, House of Commons idea. Everyone has a share in government, but they also have a check on each other.

In a country that doesn’t have a lot of inequality by wealth, you don’t need that kind of check. There’s no extreme wealth, there’s no extreme poverty, so you don’t expect there to be strife, to be instability based on wealth. And so there’s no need to put in some sort of check like that into the Constitution.

That’s how our Constitution works. The reason why it works this way is that when the founders looked around, they thought America was uniquely equal in the history of the world. And I know that seems crazy to say, but when you think about it, it makes sense. If you imagine in the late 18th century, America is a sparsely populated area, just on the coast of the Atlantic, with some small towns and cities, and lots of agrarian lands, and it’s really at the edge of the world, because the center is western Europe. It’s London, it’s Paris, and when Americans look across the ocean at those countries, what they see is how different it is. They see that there’s a hereditary aristocracy, something that doesn’t exist in America. There’s feudalism, which doesn’t exist in America. There’s extreme wealth, there’s extreme poverty, neither of which really exists in America. As a result they don’t need to design a House of Lords and a House of Commons, they don’t need a tribune of the plebs in order to make their constitution work.

“The assumption of our original Constitution was that society would be relatively equal.”

Rosen: Of course, there was slavery at the time—and it was built directly into the Constitution.

The Market Is Finally Getting the Joke

My Comments: I struggle, day to day, just like you, to figure out what the markets are going to do because so many of my friends and clients are exposed to market risk. Are you exposed to market risk? Does it worry you at all?

If not, you don’t need to read this. But if it does worry you, then perhaps a few minutes reading these comments from Scott Minerd will be good for you. And oh yes, there are ways to shift the risk of a downward correction to an insurance company and by so doing, preserve your principal and market gains from a crash.

Scott Minerd, February 21, 2018

The last two weeks have been pretty exciting, certainly a lot more interesting than anything we’ve been through over the last year. Given the recent market dislocation, there is a basis to rebalance portfolios and do trades to take advantage of relative repricing. At a macro level, it should not surprise anyone that rates have begun to rise—we have been talking about the Federal Reserve (Fed) tightening, we have been talking about how the Fed is behind the curve, how the market has not believed the Fed, and that someday this was going to have to get resolved, probably by the market having to adjust to the Fed’s statements. The market has now gotten the joke. I still don’t think the yield curve is accurately priced, but it is a lot closer today than where it was at the beginning of the year.

The concern, as I explained in A Time for Courage, is that now the market is moving from complacency—where it really did not believe the Fed was going to do what it said it was going to do—to a time when it has begun to realize that the Fed may be behind the curve. The market is now coming to believe that the Fed is not going to make three rate increases this year, it is going to make four. And so, rates start to rise and the whole proposition that the valuation of risk assets is based upon, which is faith in ultra-low rates and continued central bank liquidity, comes into question. As markets lose confidence in that view, investors have started to rearrange the deck chairs by repositioning portfolios.

Anytime we see strength in economic data, we are going to see upward pressure on rates. Upward pressure on rates is going to result in concern over the value of risk assets, and we are going to have a selloff in equity markets, or the junk bond market, or both. Credit spreads will widen. The reality of the situation, however, is that the amount of fiscal stimulus in the pipeline, the U.S. economy fast approaching full employment, the economic bounceback in Europe, and the pickup in momentum in Japan and in China are all real. Against this backdrop, even a harsh selloff in risk assets is not going to derail the expansion.

The Fed knows this, and for that reason the Fed is shrugging its shoulders and saying, “Okay, we don’t have a mandate around risk assets, but we do have a mandate about price stability and full employment. And it looks like we’re at full employment or beyond full employment, and the thing that seems to be at risk now is price stability. We’ve got to raise rates.”

What does that mean for investors? Markets are engaged in a tug of war between higher bond yields and the stock market. In the near term, the two markets will act as governors on each other: Higher bond yields will drive down stock prices, and lower stock prices will cause bond yields to stop rising and to fall.

________________________________________
“The market is moving from complacency about the Fed to realizing that it may be behind the curve.”

Scott Minerd

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An analogue to today may be 1987. That year began against the backdrop of 1985/1986, which had seen a collapse in energy prices. In 1986 oil prices were very low, and concerns around inflation had diminished. The Federal Reserve had dragged its feet on raising rates. As we entered 1987, in the first few months of the year the stock market took off. By the time we got to March, stocks were up 20 percent. In April there was a hard correction of approximately 10 percent. As fear overtook greed, market participants became cautious on stocks. Going into that summer the stock market rallied another 21 percent from the April lows. By August we were at record highs; interest rates started to move up; the Federal Reserve was raising rates; the dollar was under pressure; and there were increasing concerns over inflation. The concern was the Fed was behind the curve as it accelerated rate increases. By October things were becoming unhinged. Bond yields had risen in the face of an extended bull market in stocks. The market reached a tipping point and began its infamous slide. By the time we got to the end of the year, the stock market for the year was up just 2 percent. That was the stock market crash of 1987, which wiped out about a third of the value of equities in the course of a few weeks.

Today, investors have the same sorts of concerns they had in 1987. For now, the market has gotten a reprieve. Soon, investors will start to have confidence in risk assets again. Risk assets like stocks will start to take off. Eventually, the perception will be that the Fed is falling behind the curve because inflation and economic pressures will continue to mount. Eventually the Fed will acknowledge that three rate hikes will not be enough, but it is going to raise rates four times in 2018, and market speculation will increase that there may be a need for five or six rate hikes. That will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

This is a highly plausible scenario for this year, but who knows how these things play out in the end. The reality today is that the economy is strong, interest rates are rising, and equities look fairly cheap. The Fed model right now would tell you the market multiple should be 34 times earnings. That is just fair value, not overvalued. And based on current earnings estimates for the S&P this year, the market multiple is closer to 17 times earnings. If stocks go down by 10 percent, the market multiple would drop to 15 times earnings. This would be getting into the realm of where value stocks trade. If there were a 20 percent selloff, you’re at a 14 times multiple. These market multiples don’t make sense. Markets do not price at 14 times earnings in an accelerating economic expansion with low inflation.

What’s Happening This Week In The Markets?

My Comments: Somewhere in the news cycle there is always a story about what’s happening in the stock and bond market and whether or not there’s a reason to get freaked out.

Media companies these days are overwhelmed with crisis after crisis and spending much time on this issue is a waste of energy and limited resources. Only a retirement planning junkie like me is willing to pay attention. It’s a miracle you’ve read this far…

Anyway, from time to time I find in my inbox a report from J. P. Morgan, a global asset management firm with solid information. At the bottom is a link to their two page report that appeared this morning.

Here are two excerpts if a quick summary is all you have time for:

January’s inflation
report confirms that deflationary fears are
easing, and that an aggressive rise in
inflation is not materializing.

…risks stemming from rising (interest) rates and higher
wages will build as the economy moves
later into the business cycle…

What I infer from the report is that the recent volatility was healthy in the short term but that long term, all bets are off. Here’s the link to their report: https://goo.gl/By6P5E