Tag Archives: financial planner

10 Social Security Terms To Know And Understand

My Comments: Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

For those of you still not signed up and receiving monthly benefits, here’s some useful things to know.

For those of you who attended my Social Security workshops, you’ll recall the acronyms that appear on every page. There’s even a couple more here for you to learn.

Maurie Backman – The Motley Fool – Nov. 10, 2017

Social Security serves as a key source of income for countless retirees and disabled individuals.

It’s also an extremely complex program loaded with rules and terminology. If you’re attempting to learn about Social Security (which is something you should do, regardless of how old you happen to be), here are a few key terms you’ll need to understand.

1. OASDI

OASDI stands for old age, survivors, and disability insurance, and in the context of your paycheck, it’s the tax used to fund the Social Security program. The current OASDI tax rate is 12.4%. If you work for an outside company, you’ll lose half that amount of your earnings up to a certain income limit, while your employer will pay the remaining 6.2%. If you’re self-employed, however, you’ll pay the full 12.4% up front.

2. SSI

SSI stands for supplemental security income, and it’s different from OASDI in that it’s a program funded by general tax revenues, not Social Security taxes. SSI is designed to help those who are over 65, blind, or disabled with limited financial resources keep up with their basic needs.

3. FICA Tax

FICA stands for the Federal Insurance Contributions Act. It’s the tax that’s withheld from your salary or self-employment income that funds both Social Security and Medicare. For the current year, FICA tax equals 15.3% of earned income up to $127,200 (12.4% for Social Security and 2.9% for Medicare), but those making above $127,200 will continue to pay 2.9% FICA tax on income exceeding that threshold. In 2018, the earnings cap will rise to $128,700.

4. Social Security credits

In order to collect Social Security benefits, you must earn enough credits during your working years. In 2017, you’ll receive one credit for every $1,300 in earnings, up to a maximum of four credits per year. For 2018, the value of a single credit will rise to $1,320 of earnings. Those born in 1929 or later need 40 credits to qualify for benefits in retirement.

5. AIME

AIME stands for average indexed monthly earnings, and it’s used to calculate your personal Social Security benefit. The amount you receive from Social Security is based on your highest 35 years of earnings. To arrive at your AIME, your past earnings are adjusted for inflation so that they don’t lose value.

6. Full retirement age

Your full retirement age, or FRA, is the age at which you’re eligible to collect your Social Security benefits in full. FRA is based on your year of birth, and for today’s older workers, it’s 66, 67, or 66 and a number of months. Though you’re allowed to claim benefits prior to reaching FRA (the earliest age is 62), doing so will cause you to collect a reduced benefit amount — permanently.

7. Delayed retirement credits

Though waiting until full retirement age will ensure that you collect your benefits in full, if you hold off on filing for Social Security past FRA, you’ll rack up delayed retirement credits that will boost your benefits. Specifically, for each year you wait, you’ll get an 8% increase in your payments. Delayed retirement credits stop accruing at age 70, so that’s typically considered the latest age to file for Social Security (even though you can technically wait even longer than that).

8. Trust Fund

The Social Security Trust Fund was established in the early 1980s to cover any future shortfalls the program might face. If Social Security has a year in which it collects more taxes than it needs to use, that money is placed in the Trust Fund and invested in special Treasury bonds. Once Social Security’s incoming tax revenue fails to cover its scheduled benefits, the Trust Fund will be tapped to make up the difference. Come 2034, however, the Trust Fund is expected to run out of money, at which time future recipients might face a reduction in benefits.

9. COLA

No, we’re not talking about a soft drink. In the context of Social Security, it stands for cost-of-living adjustment, and it’s designed to help beneficiaries retain their purchasing power in the face of inflation. Back in the day, those who collected Social Security received the same benefit amount year after year. But beginning in 1975, beneficiaries have been eligible for automatic COLAs based heavily on fluctuations in the Consumer Price Index. COLAs are not guaranteed, however. If consumer prices don’t climb in a given year, benefits can remain stagnant. Such was the case as recently as 2016.

10. Survivors benefits

Survivors benefits are designed to provide income for your beneficiaries once you pass. Those benefits are based on your earnings records and the age at which you first file for Social Security. Surviving spouses, children, and even parents of deceased workers are eligible for survivors benefits.
Clearly, there’s a lot to learn about Social Security, but familiarizing yourself with these key terms will help you better understand how the program works. It also pays to read up on ways to maximize your benefits so that you end up getting the best possible payout you’re entitled to.

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President Trump and Tribalism

My Comments: Some of you will see this as a political statement by me and perhaps recoil from it. I hope not.

We are in the midst of a national, if not global, re-evaluation of the values that underly society. On a personal level, I’m very troubled by Trump and how his values about life, about other people, about truthfulness, about the rule of law differ so greatly from my values. I’m less troubled by the political direction he’s pushing us.

That’s because, short of a global nuclear war, the outcome is very likely to be a re-affirmation of the assumptions that drove our nation and our economy toward greatness. Trump represents an effort to roll back the tides, and you know how that’s likely to play out. (See King Canute above.)

From an economic perspective, it’s a non-starter. Sooner or later, his narrow focus will doom him and those around him. Personally, I refuse to live in the past. I’m concerned about the now and tomorrow.

Ronald Brownstein on Nov 2, 2017

Although in dramatically different ways, Tuesday’s terrorist attack in New York and the Republican tax plan scheduled for release Thursday raise the same jagged question: In the Donald Trump era, is it possible for a deeply divided America to sustain any shared interest or common purpose?

The country obviously faced difficult divisions long before this president was elected. But he’s operated in a uniquely tribal fashion that has ominously, and even deliberately, widened those divides. In office, he has abandoned any pretense of seeking to represent the entire country. How deep a crevice he digs may turn on how much, if at all, the Republican congressional majorities resist his divisive tendencies.

Since announcing his presidential campaign, Trump has prioritized what I’ve called the “coalition of restoration”: the primarily older, blue-collar, non-urban, and evangelical whites who combine unease about America’s demographic and cultural change with anxiety about their place in an evolving economy.

Since January, Trump has repeatedly moved to show his coalition that he will resist the changes they fear. That impulse has been evident in his serial travel bans targeting mostly Muslim countries; his attempt to bar trans soldiers from the military; his forgiving reaction to the white-supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia; and his support for preserving Confederate monuments.

Trump displayed a similar instinct following the New York attack, appealing to fear of the assailant’s Muslim background. In a flurry of tweets on Tuesday evening, Trump immediately denounced, as a “Democratic” invention, the “diversity lottery” immigration program that allowed the attacker to live in the United States. Leave aside that George H.W. Bush signed the lottery program into law, or that all Senate Democrats (along with 14 Republicans) supported ending it during the 2013 debate over comprehensive immigration reform. The key is that Trump’s reaction betrayed two central components of his political identity: his instinct to view any crisis more as an opportunity to divide than to unite, and how reflexively he portrays immigrants as a threat.

Trump is far from the first Republican tugged toward that dark star. But the party has sent mixed signals about how far it will follow him. On the one hand, this year’s attacks from Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie on so-called “sanctuary cities” and the Central American gang MS-13 have set a template for Trump-like anti-immigrant messages that many Republicans are likely to adopt in the midterms. On the other, Trump has struggled to build momentum for a bill to cut legal immigration in half, and he’s had trouble unifying congressional Republicans behind his demand for a border wall (which faces majority public opposition).

On immigration, Republicans appear genuinely divided—mostly by geography, partly by ideology—over how closely to join Trump in targeting whites most uneasy about the new arrivals. That hesitance is understandable given that, by 2020, minorities are likely to constitute a majority of all Americans under age 18.

But on taxes, congressional Republicans are placing an equally narrow bet. With Trump’s intermittent support, the GOP is advancing a tax plan aimed at a few voters at the pinnacle of the income pyramid. Although the numbers may change somewhat in the new House plan, the most comprehensive nonpartisan analysis of the GOP’s original blueprint found that it would shower fully four-fifths of its benefits on the top 1 percent of earners by 2027.

By diverting so much federal revenue to that one group, Republicans are ensuring future conflict with others. That lopsided allocation leaves them offering only small tax cuts to working-class voters, as well as possible tax increases to many upper middle-class families already recoiling from Trump’s behavior and cultural agenda. Their plan ensures they will pursue deep cuts in domestic discretionary programs that invest in the productivity of the increasingly diverse future generations—including programs in education and scientific research. It also means they will face growing demands from their fiscal hawks to cut entitlements, which benefit the predominantly white older population whose votes underpin their electoral coalition.

How to pay for long-term care? Several funding options exist

My Comments: If you don’t think about it, maybe it’ll go away. But for millions of us, living longer than our parents, LTC is an insidious risk that needs to be dealt with. There is probably no best answer, just a better one.

Short of dying early, most of us will need advanced care of some kind. And like shopping for groceries or going out to eat at a restaurant, it ain’t gonna happen without a money source.

The sooner you come to terms with this, the more likely your future years will be less stressful.

Oct 9, 2017 By Greg Iacurci

Roughly half of Americans turning 65 today will require long-term care. As life expectancy continues to rise and the cost of care creeps up, there’s a growing need for financial advisers to be knowledgeable about long-term-care funding mechanisms to help clients choose the best one — or combination.

Long-term-care coverage is delivered primarily through “private” means. Roughly 55% of expenditures from age 65 through death are via these private forms of payment, with 2.7% of that from insurance and the remainder from out-of-pocket expenses, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

About 45% of long-term-care funding is from the “public” sector, mainly from Medicaid.

Public and private options have respective benefits and drawbacks concerning expense, level of long-term-care benefits and quality of care.

INSURANCE

Traditional LTC
There are a few insurance options to hedge long-term-care risk: traditional long-term-care insurance, and life insurance policies and annuities with long-term-care features.

In 2017, the national median cost for a private room in a nursing home is roughly $8,100 per month, according to an annual report published by the insurer Genworth. An assisted living facility costs $3,750 a month.

Traditional LTC insurance is a stand-alone policy devoted specifically to providing benefits for long-term care if a need arises. This insurance delivers LTC benefits at the lowest cost and offer inflation protection, observers said.

Sales of these policies have dwindled over the past several years. While insurers sold 700,000 of these policies in 2000, the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance estimates the industry will close out this year with 75,000 policy sales.

There’s been negative consumer sentiment in the marketplace as insurers have had to raise premiums in recent years on in-force policies due to initial policy mispricing, following a misjudgment in lapse rates and interest rates, said Jesse Slome, executive director of AALTCI. A number of insurers also have abandoned the marketplace.

Advisers typically use traditional LTC insurance if clients have a tolerance for a potential premium increase in the future and if they don’t have a life-insurance need, said Phil Jackson, insurance planner at ValMark Financial Group.

Life insurance – LTC combination
Sales have shifted more to combined life insurance-LTC products. These products drew $3.6 billion in new premiums in 2016, a 500% increase over the $600 million in 2007, according to Limra, an insurance industry group.

Broadly, advisers like the flexibility of these policies. Mr. Jackson explains it in terms of “live, quit or die”: Clients get a long-term-care benefit while living, but can also surrender the policy for a portion of their premium or provide heirs with a death benefit. The latter options aren’t available for traditional policies.

Further, premiums and benefits are guaranteed, he said.

Combo policies come in two flavors: hybrid LTC, and life insurance with LTC riders. Hybrids provide more of a long-term-care benefit and have a “very small, very modest” death benefit, whereas policies with LTC riders are more life-insurance focused, Mr. Jackson said.

One key difference is hybrids typically have an inflation-protection feature allowing a client’s future LTC benefit to grow annually, whereas the benefits are fixed in policies with riders, Mr. Jackson said.

Among LTC-related sales year-to-date at ValMark, 45.9% have been hybrid, 49.5% LTC riders and 4.6% traditional LTC.

Annuities
Annuity products are the least-used among insurance products for providing LTC benefits. Combination annuity-LTC sales were $480 million last year, up from $285 million in 2011 but little-changed since 2014, according to Limra.

The products deliver a lifetime income stream, and increase that income in the event of a long-term-care need.

“Annuities are pretty much a last resort for long-term care,” said Jess Rorar, a planner at ValMark. Life insurance products provide more of a benefit and give more value for the money, she said.

However, in the event insurers decline a client from buying traditional LTC or combined life insurance-LTC, annuities can serve as a backup because the underwriting requirements are easier, said Jamie Hopkins, the Larry R. Pike Chair in Insurance and Investments at the American College of Financial Services.

MEDICAID

“Almost every adviser you talk to has clients that end up on Medicaid. It’s just the reality of aging and living a long time,” Mr. Hopkins said.

The government assesses income and asset levels when determining individual qualifications for Medicaid. Generally, individuals have to essentially run out of money before Medicaid kicks in, Mr. Hopkins said.

Clients often need the help of an elder-care attorney to structure their assets appropriately — for example, there are several exceptions for assets, such as a home, that get protected from a Medicaid spend-down calculation, and an attorney can help protect those to the largest extent possible, Mr. Hopkins said.

Medicaid facilities, though, often aren’t as nice as those provided by private care; so private insurance would likely better protect one’s quality of life, he said.

SELF-INSURANCE

Clients concerned about asset flexibility and freedom, as well as those with an aversion to medical underwriting, are often candidates for self-insuring if they have the appropriate wealth, Mr. Jackson said.

“Generally, even if you have the assets to self-fund, you’ll get a better return on your dollars if you use an insurance solution,” he said.

Clients also “tend to have to hold a lot of assets hostage to that self-insurance,” Mr. Hopkins said. “You’re not really allowed to touch them,” which sometimes leads to a reduction of lifestyle when young people set assets aside in a separate account for LTC purposes.

Medicare open enrollment begins Sunday – and not just for those age 65 and up…

My Comments: Have you noticed a flurry of ads on TV recently talking about Medicare and all the benefits you are entitled to for one easy price per month? I have.

The ads promote the use of Medicare Plan C, also known as Medicare Advantage plans. They are a sop to the insurance industry, giving companies a way to make more money by selling you stuff you may or may not need.

Years ago I decided those extras had little value to me and only lined the pockets of agents and companies at my expense. That’s not to say you might find value with them but as a financial professional, I refused to play the game.

Last year during the open enrollment period, I checked my coverage for Part D, the prescription drug coverage plan. I went to https://www.medicare.gov/, found the spot where you can compare alternatives, and entered the drugs I’m taking for a price analysis. The result was signing up for a different provider and it saved me $85 per month. Not bad.

That being said, if you are already on Medicare or your 65th birthday is around the corner, I encourage you to visit the official Medicare web site. It has good information. Go here: https://www.medicare.gov/

Normally when I write one of these posts it’s to share an article written by someone else. This time I’m simply going to give you two active links to follow if you think any of this is important to you.

Link #1: https://goo.gl/p8nRiF

Link #2: http://flip.it/fg6foM

Remember, there’s also a link just to the right on this page where you can schedule a conversation with me as you wrestle with all this…

The End Of Capitalism Is Already Starting–If You Know Where To Look

My Comments: I argued last week (Is Capitalism Killing America?) that pure communism and pure capitalism are flawed economic models for society. They simply define the ends of a continuum along which we as a society are struggling to place ourselves.

I think this topic needs a better understanding. Mindful that economics is as easy to understand as Gaelic to any newcomer, an effort to get ones arms around it will go a long way toward solving the political riddle that is consuming us these days, not just in America but across the planet.

In terms of how the underlying economic model defines our lives, at one end, the individual has complete freedom to say and do whatever comes to mind. At the other end, the individual has virtually no freedom to say and do. Control instead lies with the state, which in today’s world means a geographically defined area administered by the state.

In times past, this might have been a kingdom, or perhaps a tribal group with loosely defined geographic borders. Today we are defined by areas with largely agreed upon boundaries which 99% of the world’s population accepts as reality.

The challenge for all of us it to determine just where on that continuum is the soft spot that defines a comfort zone for those living within those agreed upon boundaries. These comments by Eillie Anzilotti help us better understand the search for equilibrium.

By Eillie Anzilotti / Sep 18, 2017

These days, Richard Wolff is feeling pretty glad he stuck around teaching this long. Now in his 70s and lecturing at the New School University and having become, over the course of his nearly 50-year-long professorial career, one of America’s most prominent Marxist economists, Wolff is used to being fringe. That’s no longer a word that can apply to him, or to his ideas. Over the summer, inequality experts Jason Hickel and Martin Kirk launched a conversation on this site when they posed the theory that capitalism is at the core of the many crises gripping our world today. To Wolff, that’s not news. But it is new to him to see the same ideas he has taught for decades being met not with scorn or skepticism, but with genuine interest.

In 2011, the same year that Occupy Wall Street injected dissatisfaction with the financial system into the American mainstream, Wolff founded Democracy at Work, a nonprofit that advocates for worker cooperatives–a business structure in which the employees own the company, and share decision-making power over salaries, schedules, and where profits are directed. “If I had to pinpoint right now where the transition away from capitalism is happening in the United States, it’s in worker co-ops,” Wolff says. Though he’s been championing the cause of cooperatives–a radically democratic departure from the top-down capitalist business structure–for years, certain recent events, like the 2008 recession and the presidency of Donald Trump, poster boy for corrupt capitalism, have galvanized a distinctly anti-capitalist movement in the U.S.

“Americans are getting closer and closer to understanding that they live in an economic system that is not working for them, and will not work for their kids,” Wolff says. Growing awareness that wages have been unable to keep up with inflated costs of living have left younger generations particularly disillusioned with capitalism’s ability to support their livelihoods, Wolff says, and with CEOs out-earning employees by sometimes as much as 800 to 1, it makes sense that public interest should be swinging toward a workplace model that encapsulates shared ownership, consensus-based decision making, and democratized wages.

Admittedly, Wolff acknowledges, a small boom in the number of worker-owned cooperatives in the U.S.–consecutive years of double-digit growth in co-ops since 2010 have brought the total up to around 350, employing around 5,000 people–does not exactly scream revolution. But perhaps that’s because historical precedents for alternatives to capitalism have conditioned us to expect its end to dramatic and cataclysmic.

But that might be mean we’re looking in the wrong places. “I don’t want people to think in terms of Russia and China,” Wolff says. In their pursuit of an alternative, Wolff says, those countries neglected to do the work of transition at the micro scale, instead initiating wide-sweeping reforms at the state level and leaving their populations in the lurch.

Instead, Wolff says, it’s instructive to look to the transition to capitalism, and understand that it’s the smaller waves and shifts in the way things are done that signal true change.

Before capitalism emerged in Europe, there was feudalism, a radically different system in which nothing–neither land nor labor–was for sale, and serfs orbited their feudal lord like ribbons tethered to a maypole. Feudalism’s inhumanity was different from capitalism’s: Instead of being unable to work and earn money to pay for rent and necessities, serfs were dependent on the lords for their livelihoods and their schedules and for a piece on land upon which to labor. Their stability was contingent on the lord’s generosity or lack thereof.

Sometimes, serfs would get squeezed, Wolff says–maybe a serf who was permitted to work his own land three days a week was cut down to two, and had to work on the lord’s the rest of the time, struggling to feed his family. Those serfs would run away. They’d jet off into the forests around the manors, where they’d encounter other runaway serfs (this is the origin of Robin Hood). That group of runaways, who’d cut ties with the feudal system, would establish their own villages, called communes. Without the lord controlling how the former serfs used their land and their resources, those free workers set up a system of production and trade in the communes that would eventually evolve into modern capitalism.

“The image of the transition from feudalism to capitalism was the French Revolution, and that was part of it,” Wolff says, “but it wasn’t the whole story. The actual transition was much slower, and not cataclysmic, and found in these serfs that ran away and set up something new.”

In the U.S., businesses converting to cooperative workplace models are the functional equivalent of those runaway serfs. Around 10 cities across the U.S. have, in recent years, launched initiatives specifically to support the development of worker co-ops, which have been especially beneficial in creating job and wage stability in low-income neighborhoods. Because workers are beholden to themselves and each other, rather than a CEO and a board of directors, the model parts ways with the capitalist structure and advances something that more closely resembles a true democratic system.

“This is the beginning of the end of capitalism,” Wolff says. “Whether these experiments–which is what we have to call them at this point–will congeal into a massive social transformation, I don’t know. But I do know that massive social transformations have never happened without this stage. This stage may not do it, but change won’t happen without it,” he adds. These subtle shifts away from capitalism are not just apparent in the development of more co-ops, Wolff says. Over the past year, he’s been called in to meet with CEOs at large financial firms, who seemed to Wolff to be steeling themselves for a dethroning. As CEOs continue to disproportionately outearn their employees, the call for a dismantling of the system has become loud enough that they seem to have no choice but to pay attention. While it’s a flimsy gesture, some have distributed their bonuses to their employees.

“The move toward co-ops and the change in consciousness I’ve witnessed in workplaces and among my students are the two mechanisms of transformation that are now underway globally, and I’d like to say–it’s more a wish than anything else–that it’s too late to stop them,” Wolff says. “And the sheer beauty of this is that nothing fuels this movement more than capitalism’s own troubles, and the displeasure, disaffection, and anxiety it produces.”

Of course, the thought currents and little blooms of democratic workplaces are not enough to engineer a new economic system. These developments are all happening outside of the political system; in the White House and in Congress, the presence of big capitalist businesses continues as strong asever. But the fact that local governments like New York City and Austin have launched incubator programs for worker-owned cooperatives indicates that they’re not incompatible with the current political system.

Could it look something like inviting Medicare and Medicaid recipients into the legislating body that decides the future of healthcare in this country? Could it look something like involving women in the legal processes that determines what resources they can access to care for their own bodies? Something like a cooperativized Housing and Urban Development department that brings those people it aims to serve into the process of determining how best to do so?

Or what about developing a justice system that relies not on removing people from the formal economy via mass incarceration, but that emphasizes cooperative employment and job training at both points of re-entry and pre-incarceration? Kimberly Westcott, associate counsel in the New York-based Community Service Society, a 172-year-old anti-poverty organization, has begun a program through Democracy at Work to teach cooperative work within prisons. If the cooperatives that could form inside prisons could function just like those on the other side, are the walls necessary?

Is Capitalism Killing America?

My Comments: In the minds of many, capitalism is the antithesis of communism. And they are essentially right. In the minds of many, communism and socialism and fascism are one and the same. And they are essentially wrong.

Communism is an economic model where the state owns everything involved in providing goods and services to the members of society. All members of that society are bound by a framework that starts at the state and ends at the state. History has shown this to be a fatally flawed model.

At the other end of the continuum is capitalism, where the state has no say in the production of goods and services to benefit the members of society. Everything is determined by the individual first and then slowly upstream as determined by the collective will of many individuals. Rules and regulations are anathema and are to be opposed and vilified at every opportunity.

Into this mix appears religion and other social pressures that have evolved over the millennia to create a mechanism which allows us to survive and thrive. I argue that capitalism in it’s unfettered state is an equally flawed economic model.

Bring all this into the 21st Century and you have arguments pro and con.  How does society find that spot along the continuum between the two models to best meet the needs of ALL OF US. It matters not that it doesn’t have a convenient name. What matters is that we focus our time and energy on the creation of a balance between the rights of individuals and the rights of society. The goal is to preserve society such that both individuals and society can survive and thrive.

We are in the midst of such a discussion today. The emergence of Trump and the push back from the non-Trumps will structure the framework that our children and grandchildren will experience as they travel through life. Without an agreed upon balance resulting in an economically viable middle class, we are doomed to failure. Your voice needs to be heard.

September 18, 2017 | by Theodore Kinni

On August 2, 2017, the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a record-breaking 22,000—its fourth 1,000-point advance in less than a year. That same day, I read the first sentence in Peter Georgescu’s new book, Capitalists Arise! End Economic Inequality, Grow the Middle Class, Heal the Nation: “For the past four decades, capitalism has been slowly committing suicide.”

How does Georgescu, the chairman emeritus of Young & Rubicam (Y&R) and a 1963 graduate of Stanford Graduate School of Business, reconcile the Dow’s ascent with his gloomy assertion?

“The stock market has nothing to do with the economy per se,” he says. “It has everything to do with only one thing: how much profit companies can squeeze out of the current crop of flowers in the garden. Pardon the metaphor. But that’s what corporations do—they squeeze out profits.”

In the latter half of the 1990s, Georgescu shepherded Y&R through a global expansion and an IPO. He has served on the boards of eight public companies, including Levi Strauss, Toys “R” Us, and International Flavors & Fragrances. He also is the author of two previous books, The Constant Choice: An Everyday Journey from Evil Toward Good and The Source of Success. An Advertising Hall of Fame inductee, the 78-year-old adman is still pitching corporate leaders. Now, however, he is trying to convince them to fundamentally rethink how—and for whom—they run their companies.

The fault lines in capitalism

Capitalism is an endangered economic system, Georgescu says. He sees a dearth of demand across the global economy, even as American corporations record their highest profits ever. “How does this magic happen?” he asks rhetorically. “You engineer it. You buy back your stock at 4% and change. Your earnings per share go up and the market says, ‘We like that.’”

What does he mean? He cites the seminal research by economist William Lazonick, who studied S&P 500 companies from 2003 to 2012 and discovered that they routinely spend 54% of their earnings buying back their own stock (reducing the number of outstanding shares and driving up share prices) and 37% of their earnings on dividends—both of which benefit shareholders. That leaves just 9% of earnings for investment in their business and their people.

This financial legerdemain obscures two fundamental fault lines in capitalism, and particularly in the US economy, according to Georgescu. The first is a lack of investment by companies in their own futures. “Our companies are not competitive because they don’t invest in themselves,” he says. “Total R&D investment is down. Total basic research, which is the precursor of innovation, is down dramatically. Investment in infrastructure has fallen to critical levels.”

The second fault line is the lack of investment by companies in their employees. “Innovation is the only real driver of success in the 21st century, and who does the innovation? Our employees. How are we motivating them? We treat them like dirt. If I need you, I need you. If I don’t, you’re out of here. And I keep your wages flat for 40 years,” says Georgescu, who points out that growth in real wages has been stagnant since the mid-1970s.

The engines of capitalism are sputtering

The lack of investment by US corporations in their businesses and people is not only causing the engine that powers innovation gain to sputter, but also slowing the engine of demand that produces topline growth. Why? Median household income in the U.S. is less than 1% higher today than in 1989, according to the Census Bureau. “There’s no middle class, and the upper middle class has very little money left to spend, so they can’t drive the economy. The only people driving the GDP are the top 20% of us,” Georgescu says.

Today’s mantra is ‘maximize short-term shareholder value.’ Period. The rules of the game have become cancerous. They’re killing us.

Peter Georgescu

In Capitalists Arise!, Georgescu shows how these issues are impacting the American public. Nearly 60% of American households are technically insolvent and adding to their debt loads each year. In addition, income inequality in the U.S. is reaching new peaks: The top layer of earners now claim a larger portion of the nation’s income than ever before — more even than the peak in 1927, just two years before the onset of the Great Depression.

Georgescu lays the blame for all of these conditions on the ascendency of the doctrine of shareholder primacy. “Today’s mantra is ‘maximize short-term shareholder value.’ Period,” he says. “The rules of the game have become cancerous. They’re killing us. They’re killing the corporation. They’re helping to kill the country.”

Back to responsible capitalism

Georgescu is convinced he knows how to beat this cancer, and he’s pitching it to corporate leaders across the country. “The cure can be found in the post–World War II economic expansion. From 1945 until the 1970s, the US economy was booming and America’s middle class was the largest market in the world,” he says.

“In those days, American capitalism said, ‘We’ll take care of five stakeholders,’” he continues. “Then and now, the most important stakeholder is the customer. The second most important is the employee. If you don’t have happy employees, you’re not going to have happy customers. The third critical stakeholder is the company itself — it needs to be fed. Fourth come the communities in which you do business. Corporations were envisioned as good citizens—that’s why they got an enormous number of legal protections and tax breaks in the first place.”

In Georgescu’s schema, shareholders are the last of the five stakeholders, not the first. “If you serve all the other stakeholders well, the shareholders do fine,” he says. “If you take good care of your customers, pay your people well, invest in your own business, and you’re a good citizen, the shareholder does better. We need to get back to that today. Every company has got to do that.”

We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com. This post originally appeared on Insights, by Stanford Business. http://stanford.io/2wBV8Wd

A Majority of Working Americans Are Completely Wrong About Social Security

My Comments: The first monthly Social Security income benefit ever paid was to Ida May Fuller on January 30, 1940. Today, some 77 years later, it is a critical income source for millions of Americans.

This article by Sean Williams confirms the role Social Security plays in the lives of millions of Americans, and I’m one of them. If not already, you too will become a recipient of benefits from this 82 year old program.

I’m creating an internet course called Successful Retirement Secrets. It will have three major topic areas, one of them about Social Security.

The course will be a comprehensive and sophisticated outline for someone to follow as they slowly move through life toward retirement. I expect to have it ready to go before year end.

Sean Williams | Dec 10, 2016

In terms of retirement income, no program is more vital to seniors’ financial well-being than Social Security. For more than 75 years, Social Security income has been providing a financial floor for countless seniors, with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimating that elderly poverty rates in America are just 8.5% because of Social Security income, as opposed to 40.5% without it.

Data from the Social Security Administration backs up this reliance on benefits. According to the SSA, 61% of all beneficiaries are counting on their Social Security benefits to supply at least half of their monthly income. This figure was particularly high (71%) for unmarried elderly individuals. Even pre-retirees, which believe they’ll be less reliant on Social Security than the current generation of beneficiaries, would likely struggle to make ends meet without Social Security income.

While on one end Social Security has been a financial blessing for many retired workers, their spouses, and their families, it’s also a major cause for concern. Projections from the Social Security Board of Trustees suggest that the program could begin paying out more in benefits than it’s bringing in via payroll taxes, interest, and through the taxation of benefits by 2020, ultimately culminating in the program exhausting its more than $2.8 trillion in spare cash by the year 2034.

A majority of working Americans have this all wrong

If you’re among the many retirees reliant on Social Security, the idea of the program “exhausting its spare cash” probably sounds terrifying. The TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies, which regularly surveys Americans to get a feel for their retirement preparedness and knowledge, found earlier this year that 77% of workers are concerned that Social Security will not be there for them when they retire. Yet the truly terrifying fact here isn’t that Social Security’s spare cash is expected to be depleted in less than two decades; it’s that a majority of working Americans are just plain wrong about Social Security.

One of the near-surefire guarantees of Social Security is that it will be there when baby boomers, Generation X, millennials, and Generation Z retire. In other words, Social Security won’t be going bankrupt anytime soon, if ever.

The reason Social Security will be able to provide benefits to America’s retired workforce, the disabled, and survivors of deceased workers lies with the payroll tax. Even if the more than $2.8 trillion current in spare cash is depleted as the Trustees report has predicted, payroll tax revenue — a 12.4% tax that’s often split down the middle between you and your employer, or which is paid in full by the self-employed — will continue to be levied and collected on America’s workforce. As long as Americans keep working, the program will continue to generate revenue.

Social Security can, in theory, continue forever as a budget-neutral program that pays out benefits based on what is collected via payroll tax revenue and the taxation of benefits. Interest income earned from its spare cash is the only component of the program set to essentially disappear once that excess cash has been exhausted.

Two steps for working Americans to take now

The true worry for working Americans should be that their future Social Security benefit may be reduced from its current trajectory. The Board of Trustees estimates that when the spare cash is depleted, across-the-board benefit cuts of 21% may be needed to sustain the program through 2090. This would put three in five retirees who count on Social Security for a majority of their monthly income in a very precarious position.

This estimate serves as a wake-up call for working Americans to both (1) have a working budget and retirement budget ready, and (2) have alternative channels of income for retirement.

1. Have a working and retirement budget

Budgeting is critical for a variety of reasons but none more important than that it helps you understand your cash flow. If you don’t have a firm grasp of where your money is being spent once it’s deposited into your account by your employer, then your chances of maximizing your saving habits or minimizing your discretionary spending is low.

Creating a budget can be done entirely online these days with the use of free software, and the biggest challenge is no more involved than adding and subtracting and sticking to your plan. Some of the most helpful hints for budgeting with the goal of saving as much as you reasonably can for retirement include:

• Getting everyone in your household involved, since it’ll encourage you and those around you to stick to the household budget.
• Meeting up with like-minded individuals once or twice monthly to share your ideas and progress.
• Using separate accounts for different spending categories, such as food and entertainment.
• Most importantly, analyzing your data monthly to assess your progress.

Having a retirement budget is just as critical as the budget working Americans use to save money. Retirement probably means giving up a consistent working wage for good, and for many Americans that can mean a sudden drop in monthly income. If you’re nearing retirement and haven’t thought about a retirement budget, you could be in for a shocking surprise when your income drops 10%, 20%, or even more once you retire, especially if you’re still working with your old budget from when you were working.

Furthermore, not having a retirement budget in place could lead to you depleting your nest egg faster than expected or pulling out more than you need from your retirement accounts each year and paying more in taxes as a result.

2. Have alternative channels of income

Working Americans also need to ensure that they have alternative channels of income beyond just Social Security when they retire. If you have other forms of income, then a 21% cut to Social Security benefits may not be crippling to your financial well-being.

Arguably the most popular retirement income channel is the employer-sponsored 401(k). According to StatisticBrain.com, 52.5 million Americans have a 401(k), with the value of assets held by 401(k)s totaling about $4.5 trillion. A 401(k) is a tax-deferred retirement plan, meaning the money is taken out pre-tax and can lower your current-year tax liability. However, you’ll owe federal tax once you begin making withdrawals during retirement. A 401(k) can be particularly attractive if your employer offers to match a percentage of your contribution, which is essentially free money.

For those of you who work for an employer that doesn’t offer a 401(k), either a traditional IRA or Roth IRA is always available. The popularity of the Roth IRA has grown particularly quickly in recent years since eligible distributions are completely tax-free. Unlike a traditional IRA or 401(k), which provide that aforementioned up-front tax benefit and deferred taxation until retirement, a Roth IRA is funded with after-tax dollars — and since you’ve already paid your taxes on those dollars, any subsequent gains on that money is free and clear of taxation as long as you make a qualified withdrawal.

Long story short, there are ample ways for working Americans to save money and diversify their income stream during retirement. Social Security will be there for you when you retire, but that doesn’t mean you should rely on it to be your primary or sole source of income.