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Social Security


Coming ‘Of Age’ – ‘Retirement Age’ That Is…As more and more of our ‘baby boomers’ come of age and near the time for applying for social security benefits, I thought it might be appropriate to review a little bit about our social security benefit program as it applies to everyone.

It is extremely important to understand what our social security options are before we make a potentially irrevocable decision about taking and receiving our benefits as the dollar amounts received over our lifetimes could be meaningfully more!

Taxes – Funding Benefit and Receiving Benefit
Social security benefits are funded by contributions made through payroll taxes that are half paid by the employer and half paid by the employee with self-employeds effectively paying both halves. When we receive social security benefits they are income tax free unless you ‘make too much money’.

So managing income recognition and managing the character or type of income (cash flow) received when we are drawing social security benefits can be extremely important in maximizing what we keep of this otherwise income tax free benefit!

Social Security Benefits Started Before Full Retirement Age (FRA)
If you start your social security benefits before FRA you will receive a reduced benefit of about 75% at age 62, about 80% at age 63, about 87% at age 64 and age 65 about 93%. Another complication of drawing social security before the year in which you turn FRA is that if you keep working you will have to give back some of your social security earnings.

In 2013 that $1 of ‘giveback’ for every $2 of earned income starts when you make more than $15,120. In the year you reach FRA the ‘giveback’ becomes $1 for every $3 of earnings above $40,080 (2013 amount).

Social Security Benefits Started At Full Retirement Age (FRA)
Social security benefits are calculated based on a minimum of 40 credits (quarters of covered work) to be eligible for benefits. Depending on your birth date, your age of retirement, FRA, will vary between 65 and 67 years of age (if you were born after 1960).

The Social Security Benefits Administration has a calculator for you to run some what-ifs about choosing a retirement date. They also have other calculators that can run estimated benefits, offset effects (see discussion below), etc., etc. Besides the when to take retirement question, there are other strategies to consider in maximizing the social security benefits to be received.

One such strategy is called ‘file-and-suspend’ which may allow a qualifying recipient to suspend payments while the spouse files for spousal benefits.

Another strategy comes available to us when we have been married to another for at least 10 years. In those cases, you may qualify for benefits based upon the former spouses earnings. If you wait until your FRA, you can file on your former spouses earnings for a spousal benefit and delay taking your retirement until age 70. This strategy will not work if you apply for the spousal benefit before FRA!

Social Security Benefits Started At Age 70 (Post-FRA)
By waiting until age 70 to draw upon our social security benefits a person born after 1943 would have their FRA benefit increase 8% per year by waiting until age 70! Very compelling, indeed!

Social Security Benefits Post the Windsor Supreme Court Decision
As a result of the US Supreme Court decision on same sex marriages the Social Security administration is no longer prohibited from recognizing same-sex marriages for purposes of determining benefit claims filed after June 26, 2013. The decision and its social security benefits impact are being discussed by the Administration and exact details on same-sex marriage benefits will be forthcoming.

Medicare Starts At Age 65
Social security is one matter, Medicare is another! If you do not sign up for Medicare at age 65, your Medicare coverage may be delayed and cost more!

‘Other Pension’ Offsets to Social Security Benefits Received
Two issues that could impact your benefit received are the following.

  • Government Pension Offset. If you receive a pension from a federal, state or local government based on work where you did not pay Social Security taxes, your Social Security spouse’s or widow’s or widower’s benefits may be reduced.
  • Windfall Elimination Provision. The Windfall Elimination Provision primarily affects you if you earned a pension in any job where you did not pay Social Security taxes and you also worked in other jobs long enough to qualify for a Social Security retirement or disability benefit. A modified formula is used to calculate your benefit amount, resulting in a lower Social Security benefit than you otherwise would receive.

Survivors Benefits and Benefits for Children
Benefits can be made available to others based on our benefit should we die or become disabled. Two of those are survivor benefits (spouse) and benefits for children.

  • Survivor Benefits. Your widow or widower may be able to receive full benefits at full retirement age. Your widow or widower can receive benefits at any age if she or he takes care of your child who is receiving Social Security benefits and younger than age 16 or disabled.
  • Benefits for Children. Children of disabled, retired or deceased parents may be entitled to a benefit. Your child can get benefits if he or she is your biological child, adopted child or dependent stepchild. (In some cases, your child also could be eligible for benefits on his or her grandparents’ earnings.)

To get benefits, a child must have:

  • A parent(s) who is disabled or retired and entitled to Social Security benefits; or
  • A parent who died after having worked long enough in a job where he or she paid Social Security taxes.
  • The child also must be:
    • Unmarried;
    • Younger than age 18;
    • 18-19 years old and a full-time student (no higher than grade 12); or
    • 18 or older and disabled. (The disability must have started before age 22.)

Concluding Thoughts.
Social security benefits have been providing a ‘safety net’ to our citizens since the program came into existence.

Pre-retirement benefit programs like ‘Benefits for Children’ and ‘Surviving Spouses’ provide support to those qualifying families who have lost a breadwinner.

Retirement benefit program options are diverse and not readily understood by many. For some households social security retirement benefits comprise as much as 85% of household income so ensuring that one receives as much as is legally possible of the benefits that they have earned the right to, is so important! Consult with your advisor before you make any decisions. You may well be bound to them for your lifetime!

David Bergmann, CFP®, EA, CLU, ChFC
Managing Principal
The David Bergmann Group
Marina Del Ray, CA