Tag Archives: social security benefits

Finding the Best Social Security Claiming Strategy – 3 Questions

My Comments: As you’ve heard me say many times, Social Security benefits have become an absolutely critical piece of the retirement income puzzle for most of us. If it’s not there to pay critical monthly bills, it’s there to allow us freedom of movement as we transition from the retirement go-go years to the slow-go years and ultimately the no-go years. What follows here are good insights for you.

Sean Williams | Nov 27, 2017

Here’s how you can get the most out of Social Security.

Many Americans will lean on Social Security pretty heavily during retirement. Data from the Social Security Administration finds that more than three out of five seniors currently rely on their benefits for at least half of their monthly income. Separately, a study from the Urban Institute estimates that an average-earning male ($47,800 in 2015 dollars) will net about $304,000 in lifetime benefits from Social Security if he turns 65 in 2020. That’s about $82,000 more in lifetime benefits than Medicare will provide for this same individual.

Yet in spite of the clear importance placed on Social Security income during retirement, deciding when is the best time to file for benefits is perhaps the greatest mystery for most workers.

Your retirement benefit from Social Security, assuming you’ve earned the prerequisite 40 lifetime work credits, is derived from four factors — three of which you can control. It’s based on your earnings history, length of work history, claiming age, and your birth year. This latter factor is what determines your full retirement age, or the age at which you’re entitled to receive 100% of your retirement benefit.

In its simplest form, if you sign up before your full retirement age, you’ll accept a permanent reduction in your payout of up to 30%, depending on your claiming age and birth year. Similarly, waiting until after your full retirement age to enroll could boost your payout by up to 32%, depending on your claiming age and birth year. You can begin receiving retired worker benefits at age 62, or any point thereafter, but be aware that your benefits grow by approximately 8% for each year you hold off on enrolling.

This is the dilemma that retired workers commonly face: Take the money now and accept a permanent reduction to your monthly payout, or wait and allow your benefit to grow.

Answering these questions will maximize your claiming strategy

The easiest way to figure out what the best Social Security claiming strategy will be for you is to answer the following three questions.

1. Am I in good health?

The first thing you’ll want to do is assess your long-term health outlook to the best of your ability. Admittedly, trying to guess our own expiration date is nothing any of us can do with accuracy. We can, however, factor in our own medical history, and that of our immediate family, to determine whether or not we’re in poor, good, or excellent health. Your overall health and longevity outlook will help determine whether claiming early, late, or somewhere in the middle makes sense.

People with chronic health conditions and/or those with immediate family members who haven’t reached the average U.S. life expectancy of 78.8 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are often best served claiming benefits earlier. While waiting would boost your monthly payout, claiming early and immediately receiving a payout will usually maximize what you’ll receive over your lifetime.

Conversely, waiting until ages 68 to 70 and boosting your payout well above your full retirement age benefit can be worthwhile for seniors in excellent health who’ve had parents or grandparents live into their 80s, 90s, or even 100s. Waiting can produce a significantly higher lifetime payout by ages 85 and up.

If you’re in good, but not great, health, then claiming around your full retirement age might be a wise decision. Again, it’s something of a crap shoot, but the smartest thing to do is take the information we have about our health and apply it as best as possible to our claiming decision.

2. Will this claiming decision affect anyone other than me?

The second question you’ll want to answer to ensure you’re making the best Social Security claiming decision possible is: How will this claiming decision affect those around me?

For instance, if you’re an unmarried elderly individual with no dependents, then your claiming decision really is your own to make. What you do should affect you alone.

On the other hand, if you’re married, your claiming decision could have implications on your spouse. As an example, if you’re the higher-earning spouse and file for benefits before reaching full retirement age, and you wind up passing away before your lower-earning spouse, the maximum survivor benefit that your lower-earning spouse may be eligible for will be reduced.

Elderly couples should also work on coordinating claiming strategies to maximize what they receive while they’re alive. Higher-earning spouses often benefit by waiting until their full retirement age or later to sign up for Social Security. Letting this larger benefit appreciate makes sense given that it’ll have the biggest positive impact on the couples’ household income later in life. Meanwhile, couples can sometimes gain by having the lower-income spouse claim early in order to generate some income for the household while the larger benefit grows.

Long story short, understand how your claiming decision will affect those around you.

3. How reliant will I be on Social Security income?

Perhaps the most important question you’ll want to ask yourself is this: How reliant will you be on Social Security? Generally speaking, the more reliant you’ll be, the greater incentive you’ll have to wait before signing up.

One of the bigger mistakes made by enrollees is filing for benefits early if you have little or nothing saved for retirement. If your nest egg is practically nonexistent, then you’re probably going to lean very heavily on Social Security during your golden years. If this is the case, the last thing you’d want to do is file for benefits early and permanently reduce your monthly payout. Instead, you should be working during your 60s, assuming you’re in good enough health to do so, and allowing your wages to cover your living expenses. This way your Social Security payout can keep growing, thus allowing you to maximize your monthly payout.

How reliant should you be on Social Security? I believe the ultimate goal should be to have no reliance on Social Security income whatsoever. In other words, your ability to save and invest for the future allows your Social Security payout to be nothing more than icing on the cake. But for the average American, it’s designed to replace about 40% of working wages. As long as you have a primary source of income, and Social Security isn’t it, you’re doing something right and should be in decent shape during retirement.

If you take your health, your marital/dependent situation, and your expected reliance on Social Security income, into question when making your claiming decision, you’re liable to find the best claiming strategy for you.

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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.

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.

How to choose a health insurance policy

My Comments: Having health insurance is critical to maintain your financial well being, much less your long term health. Health care costs in this country are the highest in the world, and the long term outcomes are among the worst.

The budget passed by the House of Representatives includes a significant cut to Medicare, if the media is correct. Why do we keep electing people to Congress who fail to understand their reason for being there in the first place?

Oh, I guess I forgot. They’re there to make money, and the drug companies, the insurance companies, the hospital industry make sure they are properly prioritized.

P.S. – there’s a short window open to get coverage under the ACA. There’s also a short window open to buy a better Medicare Plan D (subscription drug coverage).

Wendy Connick, The Motley Fool Sept. 29, 2017

Given the high cost of major medical treatments, health insurance is a must for just about everyone. But health insurance policies vary wildly in cost, coverage, and other features, so it’s important to choose your plan with your individual needs, resources, and medical history in mind.

Identify your source

If you’re fortunate enough to have employer-provided health insurance, that narrows your options down to the plans that your employer offers. If you don’t have coverage through your job, perhaps an organization or association that you belong to will allow you to buy health insurance through them at a group rate.

Another option is to check your local Obamacare health insurance marketplace to see if you qualify for an upfront premium credit, which would get you reduced premium costs. Even if you don’t qualify for the credit right away, buying your health insurance through the marketplace means you may qualify for it when you file your tax return for the year.

If you can’t, or won’t, get health insurance from any of these sources, you’ll have to fall back on buying a private plan. It will give you the widest range of options, but likely will be far more expensive.

Decide which type of policy to buy

Health insurance policies come in a variety of basic types, although you may not have access to all of these options through your preferred source. Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) are a very common type of health insurance policy. With an HMO, you’re required to use healthcare providers within the policy’s network, and you have to get a referral from your primary care physician in order to see a specialist.

Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs) are also quite common. A PPO health insurance policy has a network, but you’re not limited to in-network care — although using network providers is cheaper — and you don’t need referrals to see specialists.

Exclusive Provider Organizations (EPOs) are a hybrid between HMOs and PPOs. You’re required to stick to the plan’s network, but don’t need referrals for specialists. Finally, Point of Service (POS) plans are a less common option that are essentially the opposite of an EPO. You’re not limited to the POS plan’s network, but do need a referral to see a specialist.

Of the four common types of plans, an HMO or EPO tends to be cheaper than a PPO or POS with the same level of coverage. However, if network coverage is poor in your area, or you’re uncomfortable limiting yourself to network providers, it may be worth paying a little more to get a PPO or POS policy.

High deductible versus low deductible

All things being equal, the higher a plan’s deductible is, the lower the monthly premiums will be. A high deductible means that you’ll have to pay a lot of healthcare expenses yourself before the insurance policy kicks in, but if you have few or no medical expenses in a given year, these plans can be a bargain. Very low medical expenses means that you probably won’t surpass the deductible, even of a low-deductible plan, so getting a high-deductible plan keeps your insurance costs as low as possible while still protecting you in case something catastrophic happens.

If you decide to go the high-deductible route, getting a Health Savings Account (HSA)-enabled plan, and funding it with at least the equivalent of a year’s deductible, is your best option. An HSA plan neatly covers the biggest weakness of a high-deductible health insurance policy — namely, that you’d have to shell out a great deal of money on a major medical expense before the insurance would take over. If you have a full-year’s deductible tucked away in your HSA, you can just use that money to finance your share of the expenses, while simultaneously enjoying the triple tax advantage that an HSA offers.

Comparing coverage

There are two major factors that affect how well a particular plan will cover your medical expenses: the plan’s network and its coverage policies. Even if you choose a plan with out-of-network options, like a PPO, you’re still better off using in-network health providers as much as possible because doing so will reduce your costs. And the rules that a given health insurance policy uses to decide what’s covered and what’s not — and how much the co-pays will be — can make a huge difference in how helpful a particular policy really is for you.

For example, if there’s a rather pricey medication that you take every day, you’ll definitely want to get a health insurance policy that lists that medication on its formulary. If you travel a lot, stick to plans that offer good out-of-area treatment options. And if you already have a primary care physician, you’ll definitely want to pick a plan that includes your doctor in its network.

Finding the best deal

If you’re stuck between two or three different policies and can’t decide which one to choose, try this exercise. Multiply the monthly premium by 12 to get your annual cost for a plan, then add in the plan’s out-of-pocket maximum. The result is the most you would end up spending on health care if you had one or more major medical expenses during the year. Do this calculation for each plan you’re considering, then compare the results. The plan with the lowest total is likely the best deal for you.

X Marks the Spot Where Inequality Took Root: Dig Here

My Comments: You’ve heard me say that income inequality is the greatest existential threat to our society going forward. If we allow the disparity between the haves and the have nots to become wider and wider, it’s only a matter of time before chaos will reign.

People want what money will buy. Companies will manufacture and produce what people want to buy. But if you allow the want to overwhelm the ability to pay for it, it’s only a matter of time before chaos will reign.

In order to survive, companies will find ways to cut costs, not just to increase profits, but to assure they remain competitive in a shrinking market place.

But the trajectory is not infinite; sooner or later they will stop manufacturing and producing stuff if there aren’t enough buyers to justify the fixed costs.

How many hat makers are there these days compared with 100 years ago? I grew up in a time when every male owned a hat. I had one when I was in high school. When was the last time you saw a male person wearing a dress hat when entering a restaurant or going to church?

We need to identify who, among our future political leaders, those who understand economics. It’s not about empowering the existing poor; it’s about making sure there are enough of us with money left to spend.

by Stan Sorscher \ August 5, 2015

In 2002, I heard an economist characterizing this figure as containing a valuable economic insight. He wasn’t sure what the insight was. I have my own answer.

The economist talked of the figure as a sort of treasure map, which would lead us to the insight. “X” marks the spot. Dig here.

The graphic below tells three stories.

First, we see two distinct historic periods since World War II. In the first period, workers shared the gains from productivity. In the later period, a generation of workers gained little, even as productivity continued to rise.

The second message is the very abrupt transition from the post-war historic period to the current one. Something happened in the mid-70’s to de-couple wages from productivity gains.

The third message is that workers’ wages – accounting for inflation and all the lower prices from cheap imported goods – would be double what they are now, if workers still took their share of gains in productivity.

A second version of the figure is equally provocative.

This graphic shows the same distinct historic periods, and the same sharp break around 1975. Each colored line represents the growth in family income, relative to 1975, for different income percentiles. Pre-1975, families at all levels of income benefited proportionately. Post-1975, The top 5% did well, and we know the top 1% did very well. Gains from productivity were redistributed upward to the top income percentiles.

This de-coupling of wages from productivity has drawn a trillion dollars out of the labor share of GDP.

Economics does not explain what happened in the mid-70s.

It was not the oil shock. Not interest rates. Not the Fed, or monetary policy. Not robots, or the decline of the Soviet Union, or globalization, or the internet.

The sharp break in the mid-70’s marks a shift in our country’s values. Our moral, social, political and economic values changed in the mid-70’s.

Let’s go back before World War II to the Great Depression. Speculative unregulated policies ruined the economy. Capitalism was discredited. Powerful and wealthy elites feared the legitimate threat of Communism. The public demanded that government solve our problems.

The Depression and World War II defined that generation’s collective identity. Our national heroes were the millions of workers, soldiers, families and communities who sacrificed. We owed a national debt to those who had saved Democracy and restored prosperity. The New Deal policies reflected that national purpose, honoring a social safety net, increasing bargaining power for workers and bringing public interest into balance with corporate power.

In that period, the prevailing social contract said, “We all do better when we all do better.” My prosperity depends on your well-being. In that period of history, you were my co-worker, neighbor or customer.

Opportunity and fairness drove the upward spiral (with some glaring exceptions). Work had dignity. Workers earned a share of the wealth they created. We built Detroit (for instance) by hard work and productivity.

Our popular media father-figures were Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, and others, liberal and conservative, who were devoted to an America of opportunity and fair play.

The sudden change in the mid-70’s was not economic. First it was moral, then social, then political, ….. then economic.

In the mid-70’s, we traded in our post-World War II social contract for a new one, where “greed is good.” In the new moral narrative I can succeed at your expense. I will take a bigger piece of a smaller pie. Our new heroes are billionaires, hedge fund managers, and CEO’s.

In this narrative, they deserve more wealth so they can create more jobs, even as they lay off workers, close factories and invest new capital in low-wage countries. Their values and their interests come first in education, retirement security, and certainly in labor law.

We express these same distorted moral, social and political priorities in our trade policies. As bad as these priorities are for our domestic policies, they are worse if they define the way we manage globalization.

The key to the treasure buried in Figure 1 is power relationships. To understand what happened, ask, “Who has the power to take 93% of all new wealth and how did they get that power? The new moral and social values give legitimacy to policies that favor those at the top of our economy.

We give more bargaining power and influence to the wealthy, who already have plenty of both, while reducing bargaining power for workers. In this new narrative, workers and unions destroyed Detroit (for instance) by not lowering our living standards fast enough.

In the new moral view, anyone making “poor choices” is responsible for his or her own ruin. The unfortunate are seen as unworthy moochers and parasites. We disparage teachers, government workers, the long-term unemployed, and immigrants.

In this era, popular media figures are spiteful and divisive.

Our policies have made all workers feel contingent, at risk, and powerless. Millions of part-time workers must please their employer to get hours. Millions more in the gig economy work without benefits and have no job security at all. Recent college graduates carry so much debt that they cannot invest, take risk on a new career, or rock the boat. Millions of undocumented workers are completely powerless in the labor market, and subject to wage theft. They have negative power in the labor market!

We are creating a new American aristocracy, with less opportunity – less social mobility and weaker social cohesion than any other advanced country. We are falling behind in many measures of well-being.

The dysfunctions of our post-1970 moral, social, political and economic system make it incapable of dealing with climate change or inequality, arguably the two greatest challenges of our time. We are failing our children and the next generations.

X marks the spot. In this case, “X” is our choice of national values. We abandoned traditional American values that built a great and prosperous nation. Our power relationships are sour.

We can start rebuilding our social cohesion when we say all work has dignity. Workers earn a share of the wealth we create. We all do better, when we all do better. My prosperity depends on a prosperous community with opportunity and fairness.

Dig there.

Surprise! The Republicans’ Congressional Budget Resolution Would Trigger Social Security Reforms

My Comments: In light of what happened in Las Vegas and the death of Tom Petty, my comments here are woefully inadequate. But with many millions of us still trying to function on this planet, sooner or later our thoughts will return to Social Security.

While the above referenced Budget Resolution may have changed somewhat, the threats posed by both action and inaction to Social Security are real. 2034 is not really that far down the road.

Sean Williams Aug 19, 2017


President Trump may have to break his promise not to touch Social Security.

In 2016, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit policy institute, examined 2015 data to gauge the impact Social Security income has on our nation’s seniors and determined that without it some 22 million people, 15 million of whom are seniors, would be considered poor. Social Security is truly important in allowing our nation’s senior citizens to make ends meet; 61% of them rely on Social Security for at least half of their monthly income.

Social Security is coming to a crossroads

Yet, this crucial program is on a slippery slope toward disaster, and a lot of people, including lawmakers in Washington, know it. Demographic changes that include the ongoing retirement of baby boomers, the steady lengthening of life expectancies, and the rich notably outliving the poor — and collecting a larger Social Security check in the process — have weighed on America’s most important social program.

According to the 2017 report from the Social Security Board of Trustees, $3 trillion in asset reserves is expected to start being depleted in 2022, leading to its total exhaustion by 2034. The trustees forecast a further $12.5 trillion budgetary shortfall between 2034 and 2091. When the excess cash is officially gone, Social Security benefits may need to be slashed by up to 23% to preserve payouts through the year 2091.

President Donald Trump pledged during and after his campaign not to touch Social Security, which was a big reason why seniors turned out in favor of Trump during the campaign. Trump instead plans to utilize tax reform, via cuts in corporate and individual tax rates, as a means to boost U.S. GDP growth, expand wages, and generate more payroll tax revenue for Social Security. In 2016, payroll tax revenue accounted for 87.3% of the $957.5 billion collected.

Trump may have to break his Social Security promise

But could Trump break his promise not to touch Social Security? If the Republicans’ 126-page congressional budget resolution, released in July, is anything to go by, we could see Social Security reforms triggered sooner than later.

As pointed out by The Senior Citizens League, budget resolutions are not laws, but they do set forth a blueprint of legislation that lawmakers tend to follow, providing the American public with some guidelines of what to expect from Congress.

In particular, the Republicans’ budget resolution for the 2018 fiscal year devoted a section to policy statements on Social Security (Sec. 516, pages 102-107, for those interested). The first two pages discuss the apparent problems with the program, then the concept of a “reform trigger” is introduced:
It is the policy of this concurrent resolution that the House should work in a bipartisan manner to make Social Security solvent on a sustainable basis. This concurrent resolution assumes, under a reform trigger, that–

(1) if in any year the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund annual Trustees Report determines that the 75-year actuarial balance of the Social Security Trust Funds is in deficit, and the annual balance of the Social Security Trust Funds in the 75th year is in deficit, the Board of Trustees should, no later than September 30 of the same calendar year, submit to the President recommendations for statutory reforms necessary to achieve a positive 75-year actuarial balance and a positive annual balance in the 75th year, and any recommendations provided to the President must be agreed upon by both Public Trustees of the Board of Trustees;

(2) not later than December 1 of the same calendar year in which the Board of Trustees submit its recommendations, the President should promptly submit implementing legislation to both Houses of Congress including recommendations necessary to achieve a positive 75-year actuarial balance and a positive annual balance in the 75th year, and the majority leader of the Senate and the majority leader of the House should introduce the President’s legislation upon receipt;

(3) within 60 days of the President submitting legislation, the committees of jurisdiction should report a bill, which the House or Senate should consider under expedited procedures.
In other words, point one above suggests that Social Security reform legislation should already be triggered. Remember, there’s an estimated $12.5 trillion deficit that needs to be dealt with between 2034 and 2091.

In the 2017 Board of Trustees report, the actuarial deficit for the next 75 years rose by 17 basis points from the 2016 report, to 2.83%. This suggests that a 2.83% increase to Social Security’s payroll tax, which currently sits at 12.4% for earned income between $0.01 and $127,200, would need to be passed along to workers and businesses in order to completely eliminate the expected $12.5 trillion budgetary shortfall. But as Trump has noted, direct changes to Social Security are off the table in his mind.

Yet, according to the budget resolutions from the GOP, Trump would be compelled to present legitimate solutions to fix Social Security to the House and the Senate, both of which are under Republican control for the time being.

It’s worth pointing out that the resolution embraces bipartisan cooperation and expediency in passing legislation. However, in light of the partisanship that exists in Congress today, across-the-aisle efforts are highly unlikely. The language also calls for protections of low-income and disabled folks, as well as those who lean on Social Security heavily during retirement, during the reform process.

This isn’t the first time Republicans have hinted at Social Security reforms. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin suggested a few months ago that if Congress were to take up Social Security reforms, the president may have no choice but to consider signing them should a consensus be reached.

Reforms are needed, but they should be bipartisan

It’s pretty evident from the trustees’ data that Social Security reforms are needed, yet it’s been 34 years since any truly major legislation regarding Social Security has been passed. With a 17-year timeline until possible benefit cuts, something needs to be done.

On Capitol Hill, a lack of ideas isn’t the issue. We’ve witnessed dozens of solutions proposed that would, in many cases, eliminate the $12.5 trillion budget shortfall over the next 75 years. The primary issue is that the core fixes for Republicans and Democrats are at opposite ends of the spectrum, yet both resolve the budgetary shortfall. In effect, neither party will remotely consider working with the other (as outlined in the budget resolution above).

Democrats want to approach fixing Social Security by raising additional tax revenue from high earners. Earned income above $127,200, as of 2017, isn’t subject to the payroll tax. Democrats want to adjust this such that the payroll tax is reinstituted on earned income above $250,000 or $400,000, as an example. This would add fresh income to the program.

On the other hand, Republicans want to adjust Social Security for increased longevity. They plan to do this by increasing the full retirement age, or the age at which people become eligible for 100% of their benefits. The full retirement age is on track to hit 67 years by 2022 for those born in 1960 or later, but the GOP would like to see it gradually raised to 68, 69, or 70 years, requiring seniors to work longer and wait to claim Social Security, or accept a steep reduction in benefits by claiming early.

Combined, these core proposals would work to resolve Social Security’s long-term issues. But can Republicans and Democrats play nice in Washington? That remains to be seen.

Retirement Planning Strategies for Clients in Their 50s

My Comments: If you are already retired, don’t bother with this. If you haven’t yet retired, there may be something here for you.

Waiting for retirement is like watching grass grow, or watching a car rust. You lose interest in a hurry. The problem is it’s going to happen, whether you pay attention or not.

Retirement is much the same for someone with many years left to work. But unless you die first, it will arrive. Count on it.

And when it does, it really helps if you’ve paid some attention to it along the way.

By Tahnya Kristina | February 23, 2017

No one knows how long they’re going to live. What we do know is that over the last 50 years the average life expectancy has increased. According to the World Bank the average life expectancy in 1960 was 70 and in 2014 it was 79. Thanks to medical advancements and the surge of healthy living awareness, people are living longer. That’s great for people, but it also means they need to plan for retirement savings to last longer – maybe longer than expected.

How does a financial advisor help clients plan for life during retirement? There are a lot of questions that need to be asked, including where will the retirement income come from to how long will retirement savings last? If clients have been saving, but not planning for retirement it’s never too late to get started. Here are three ways financial advisors can help 50-somethings plan for retirement.

1. Maximize Retirement Contributions

Ideally, this is the time in a client’s life when they are at their highest earning potential and that presents a big opportunity for retirement planning. With a high salary and low amount of debt (because the mortgage is paid off or close to being paid off) clients can take advantage of maximizing their retirement contributions.

If you’re in your 50s and have unused contribution room in an IRA, now is the time to take advantage. If employers offer a 401(k) plan, employees should increase their contributions to take advantage of any matching contributions. This will help boost retirement savings in the years leading up to retirement. Clients can also inquire if their employer offers non-registered group savings plans such as stock plans to help boost their savings and maximize their contributions.

2. Find a Balance Between Growth and Preservation

Retirement planning in your 50s poses an interesting challenge. On one hand, this age group wants to squeeze as much growth out of their investments as possible during the last of their contribution years. At the same time, they might now want to take a lot of risk with their accumulated retirement savings because in a few years they will need to live off the income. That’s where the assistance from a professional financial advisor comes in.

As a client’s planned retirement date approaches, it’s important to rebalance their retirement portfolio – or at least review their goals and asset allocation on a yearly basis to determine if rebalancing is needed. When 20-somethings invest for retirement they have many years to recover from market downturns. Unfortunately, that is not the case for retirement planning in your 50s. Reviewing investments to ensure clients are comfortable with the level of risk and the time horizon is still on track is crucial for successful retirement planning in your 50s.

3. Start Thinking About Lifestyle in Retirement

For 50-somethings retirement can be anywhere from five to 15 years away. The best way for financial advisors to help clients plan for retirement in their 50s is to ask clients to think about the lifestyle they want to have in retirement. The key to successful retirement planning is to be realistic.

Clients should consider factors such as where they want to live, if they want to travel, will they have dependents and how they plan to spend their time. From there advisors can create a retirement projection based on current and future savings, income sources and monthly obligations such as debt and living expenses.

Thinking ahead about estate plans and future tax brackets also plays an important role when planning for retirement in your 50s. These are all discussions financial advisors should have with their clients to help set realistic retirement goals and create an attainable retirement plan.

PS – I’m building an internet course called The SECRET(s) to a Successful Retirement. I’ll touch on all of this and dozens of other retirement planning issues, all wrapped in a convenient package that someone can reference year after year. Watch for it to be launched in the coming weeks. Tony