Estate Planning Blog Articles

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What are Earnings Limits for Disability Retirees?

If you are 60 or older, there’s no restriction on the amount of income you can earn while receiving disability retirement.

However, if you’re under age 60, you can earn income from work while also receiving disability retirement benefits. Note that your disability annuity will cease, if the United States Office of Personnel Management determines that you’re able to earn an income that’s near to what your earnings would be if you’d continued working.

Fed Week’s recent article entitled “The Limits on Earnings for Disability Retirees” says that the retirement law has set an earnings limit of 80% for you to still keep getting your disability retirement. You reach the 80% earnings limit (or are “restored to earning capacity”) if, in any calendar year, your income from wages and self-employment is at least 80% of the current rate of basic pay for the position from which you retired.

All income from wages and self-employment that you actually get plus deferred income that you actually earned in the calendar year is considered “earnings.” Any money received before your retirement isn’t considered “earnings.”

The government says that income from wages includes any salary received while working for someone else (including overtime, vacation pay, etc.). Income from self-employment is any net profit you made from working or managing your own business—whether at home or elsewhere. Net profit is the amount that’s left after deducting business expenses and before the deduction of any personal expenses or exemptions as allowed by the IRS. Deferred income is any income you earned but didn’t receive in the calendar year for which you’re claiming income below the 80% earnings limitation.

If you’re reemployed in federal service, and your salary is reduced by the gross amount of your annuity, the gross amount of your salary before the reduction is considered “earnings” during the calendar year.

The following aren’t considered earnings:

  • Gifts
  • Pensions and annuities
  • Social Security benefits
  • Insurance proceeds
  • Unemployment compensation
  • Rents and royalties not involving or resulting from personal services
  • Interest and dividends not resulting from your own trade or business
  • Money earned prior to retirement
  • Inheritances
  • Capital gains
  • Prizes and awards
  • Fellowships and scholarships; and
  • Net business losses.

If you’re under age 60 and reemployed in a position equivalent to the position you held at retirement, the Office of Personnel Management will find you recovered from your disability and will cut off your annuity payments.

Reference: Fed Week (Nov. 4, 2021) “The Limits on Earnings for Disability Retirees”

Will Inflation Ruin My Retirement?

The 5.4% rise in the consumer price index in the last year is the highest inflation in almost 13 years. Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “How Big of a Threat Does Inflation Pose to Your Retirement? explains that even moderate inflation can have a big effect on a retiree’s savings. The Federal Reserve’s target inflation rate is 2%. However, it said it will let inflation rise above that mark for some time. Here’s how an average annual inflation rate of 3% over the next 20 years would affect your finances.

If you needed $60,000 for your first year of retirement, in 20 years you’d need more than $108,000 to match today’s purchasing power of $60,000. Said another way to look at it: at a 3% annual inflation rate, that initial $60,000 would be worth only $33,000 in 20 years.

You have to take into account inflation in your retirement plan because you can expect that everyday items, travel and other expenses will continue to rise in cost. Inflation decreases the value of savings and will continue to do so after you retire. As a result, it’s important to look at your investment strategy and retirement income plan to determine if you’re protected against inflation for the long term.

The Senior Citizens League estimates that the average Social Security benefit has lost almost a third of its buying power since 2000 because benefit increases have failed to keep up with the increasing cost of prescription drugs, food and housing. This has happened even with yearly cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for Social Security benefits that are designed to make benefit amounts keep up with inflation.

Think about what would happen if all your retirement income lost a third of its value over the course of 20 years. Would that scenario make it more likely that you’ll run out of money? How can you know how much income you will need in retirement, when inflation insists on complicating the situation? Here are some things to keep to consider

  1. Fixed-Income Sources. Look at any fixed-income sources in retirement that won’t keep pace with inflation. Consider the amount of interest you’re earning from money in a savings account or CD. It’s unlikely that we’ll see a substantial interest rate hike in the next few years, so be ready to continue earning little interest. Assess your investment strategy and retirement income plan to see if you’re protected against inflation for the future.
  2. Look at Your Nest Egg. See how much your nest egg is right now and factor in inflation over the next 10, 20, and 30 years. Know that while overall inflation rates may fall from what they are now, that might not be true for some of the specific goods and services that could take a large chunk of your income, like utilities, food, health care and long-term care costs.
  3. Will Your Strategy Need to Change? Think about whether your current investment strategy will need to be modified when you retire. You may want to contemplate a strategy that continues to grow your money in retirement, so when transitory events like inflation hit, you’re okay. A solid plan will make certain that your purchasing power needs are always satisfied. Some people may need to take on less investment risk when they are approaching and hit retirement. However, having the right risk asset allocations for your particular circumstances may help to thwart the eroding effects of inflation on your nest egg over the course of your retirement.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 3, 2021) “How Big of a Threat Does Inflation Pose to Your Retirement?

Does My Social Security Increase If I Work Past 70?

Many seniors choose to work later in life. It will have an effect on their Social Security benefits, says nj.com’s recent article entitled, “If I work past age 70, can my Social Security benefits increase?”

You must pay FICA (Federal Insurance Contribution Act) taxes, commonly called Social Security and Medicare taxes, if you have income that’s covered by Social Security.

The tax is imposed on your earnings up to a maximum amount. For 2021, that maximum amount is $142,800.

Your Social Security benefit at full retirement age (FRA) is determined by taking your highest 35 years of earnings on which Social Security tax has been levied, indexed for inflation.

The maximum amount of your benefit is capped because of the maximum amount of income on which Social Security tax is levied.

If you continue to work while collecting Social Security at any age, your benefit could increase, if your earnings are one of the 35 highest years you have earned.

The increased benefit is automatically calculated by the Social Security Administration and is paid to you in the December of the next year.

However, working while collecting Social Security benefits has other complexities you should consider.

If you’re younger than full retirement age (FRA) and you earn more than a certain amount, your benefit will be reduced.

For example, for 2021, if you’re below YOUR FRA for the whole year, your benefit will be reduced $1 for every $2 you earn over $18,960.

However, the benefit isn’t actually lost. That’s because when you reach your full retirement age, your benefit will increase to reflect the amount withheld.

If you have substantial income — any and all income that must be reported on your tax return — other than your Social Security income, up to 85% of your Social Security income will be taxable.

Reference: nj.com (July 26, 2021) “If I work past age 70, can my Social Security benefits increase?”

Do I Need Long-Term Care Insurance?

Women face some unique challenges as they get older. The Population Reference Bureau, a Washington based think tank, says women live about seven years longer than men. This living longer means planning for a longer retirement. While that may sound nice, a longer retirement increases the chances of needing long-term care.

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “A Woman’s Guide to Long-Term Care” explains that living longer also increases the chances of going it alone and outliving your spouse. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, in 2018 women made up nearly three-quarters (74%) of solo households age 80 and over. Thus, women should consider how to plan for long-term care.

Ability to pay. Long-term care is costly. For example, the average private room at a long-term care facility is more than $13,000/month in Connecticut and about $11,000/month in Naples, Florida. There are some ways to keep the cost down, such as paying for care at home. Home health care is about $5,000/month in Naples, Florida. Multiply these numbers by 1.44 years, which is the average duration of care for women. These numbers can get big fast.

Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare may cover some long-term care expenses, but only for the first 100 days. Medicare does not pay for custodial care (at home long-term care). Medicaid pays for long-term care, but you have to qualify financially. Spending down an estate to qualify for Medicaid is one way to pay for long-term care but ask an experienced Medicaid Attorney about how to do this.

Make Some Retirement Projections. First, consider an ideal scenario where perhaps both spouses live long happy lives, and no long-term care is needed. Then, ask yourself “what-if” questions, such as What if my husband passes early and how does that affect retirement? What if a single woman needs long-term care for dementia?

Planning for Long-Term Care. If a female client has a modest degree of retirement success, she may want to decrease current expenses to save more for the future. Moreover, she may want to look into long-term care insurance.

Waiting to Take Social Security. Women can also consider waiting to claim Social Security until age 70. If women live longer, the extra benefits accrued by waiting can help with long-term care. Women with a higher-earning husband may want to encourage the higher-earning spouse to delay until age 70, if that makes sense. When the higher-earning spouse dies, the surviving spouse can step into the higher benefit. The average break-even age is generally around age 77-83 for Social Security. If an individual can live longer than 83, the more dollars and sense it makes to delay claiming benefits until age 70.

Estate Planning. Having the right estate documents is a must. Both women and men should have a power of attorney (POA). This legal document gives a trusted person the authority to write checks and send money to pay for long-term care.

Reference: Kiplinger (July 11, 2021) “A Woman’s Guide to Long-Term Care”

Fraudsters Continue to Target Elderly

The National Council on Aging reports that seniors lose an estimated $3 billion to financial scams, which is the worst possible time in life to lose money. There’s simply no time to replace the money. Why scammers target the elderly is easy to understand, as reported in the article “Scam Alert: 4 Types of Fraud That Target the Elderly (and How to Beat Them)” from Kiplinger. People who are 50 years and older hold 83% of the wealth in America, and households headed by people 70 years and up have the highest median net worth. That is where the money is.

The other factor: seniors were raised to mind their manners. An older American may feel it’s rude to hang up on a fast-talking scammer, who will take advantage of their hesitation. Lonely seniors are also happy to talk with someone. Scammers also target widows or divorced older women, thinking they are more vulnerable.

Here are the most common types of scams today:

Imposter scams. The thief pretends to be someone you can trust to trick you into giving them your personal information like a password, access to a bank account or Social Security number. This category includes phone calls pretending to be from the Social Security Administration or the IRS. They often threaten arrest or legal action. Neither the IRS nor the SSA ever call people to ask for personal information. Hang up!

Medicare representative. A person calls claiming to be a representative from Medicare to get older people to provide personal information. Medicare won’t call to ask for your Social Security number or to obtain bank information to give you new benefits. Phone scammers are able to “spoof” their phone numbers—what may appear on your caller ID as a legitimate office is not actually a call coming from the agency. Before you give any information, hang up. If you have questions, call Medicare yourself.

Lottery and sweepstakes scams. These prey on the fear of running out of money during retirement. These scams happen by phone, email and snail mail, congratulating the recipient with news that they have won a huge lottery or sweepstakes, but the only way to access the prize is by paying a fee. The scammers might even send a paper check to cover the cost of the fee, but that check will bounce. Once you’ve sent the fee money, they’ll pocket it and be gone.

What can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones? Conversations between generations about money become even more important as we age. If an elderly parent talks up a new friend who is going to help them, a red flag should go up. If they are convinced that they are getting a great deal, or a windfall of money from a contest, talk with them about how realistic they are being. Make sure they know that the IRS, Medicare and Social Security does not call to ask for personal information.

For those who have not been able to see elderly parents because of the pandemic, this summer may reveal a lot of what has occurred in the last year. If you are concerned that they have been the victims of a scam, start by filing a report with their state’s attorney general office.

Reference: Kiplinger (June 10, 2021) “Scam Alert: 4 Types of Fraud That Target the Elderly (and How to Beat Them)”

Are You Clueless about Social Security?

If you haven’t a clue about Social Security, it’s vital that you learn, so you can be ready to grow and maximize your benefits.

Lake Geneva Regional News’ recent article entitled “35% of Near-Retirees Failed a Basic Social Security Quiz. Here Are 3 Things You Need to Know About It” provides several important things you should know:

Your benefits are determined by your top 35 years of earnings. The monthly benefit you get in retirement is based on your specific earnings during your 35 highest-paid years in the workforce. If you don’t work a full 35 years, you’ll have $0 factored into that equation for each year you’re missing an income. So, you can see how important it is to try to fill in those gaps. If you lost your job during the pandemic and are thinking about early retirement, check your earnings history before you do.

You’re only entitled to your full monthly benefit when you hit full retirement age. You can claim your monthly retirement benefit in full once you hit your full retirement age (FRA). However, many people don’t know what that age is. About a quarter (26%) of those aged 60 to 65 couldn’t correctly identify their FRA on the quiz. Your FRA is based on your year of birth.

You can claim Social Security as early as age 62 or wait until age 70 and grow your benefits in the process. However, you’ll need to know your FRA first.

You can collect Social Security, even if you never worked. If you are or were married to someone who’s entitled to Social Security, you may be eligible for spousal benefits that amount to 50% of what your current or ex-spouse collects.

MassMutual found that 30% of older Americans didn’t know that a person who’s divorced may be able to collect Social Security benefits based on a former spouse’s earnings history. Thus, it pays to read up on spousal benefits as retirement nears, even if you never held a job.

Being ill-informed about Social Security could make it more difficult to file at the right time and make the most of your Social Security income

Stay up to date on how Social Security benefits work, so you’re able to make wise choices for your retirement.

Reference: Lake Geneva Regional News (April 10, 2021) “35% of Near-Retirees Failed a Basic Social Security Quiz. Here Are 3 Things You Need to Know About It”

What Is Plan for Social Security Recipients, Who Haven’t Received Stimulus Money?

Democratic leaders on the House Ways and Means Committee are calling for the IRS and Social Security Administration to step up their efforts to get the funds to recipients of Social Security who have not received their stimulus money.

Congressional Democrats, including Representative Richard Neal of Massachusetts, who serves as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, sent a letter to the IRS and Social Security Administration on Monday calling for “immediate attention to this urgent matter.”

Other committee leaders who signed the letter include Representatives John Larson, D-Conn.; Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J.; and Danny Davis, D-Ill.

CNBC’s recent article “Lawmakers call for prompt payment of $1,400 stimulus checks to Social Security beneficiaries” reports that delays have been reported in sending $1,400 stimulus checks to Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Railroad Retirement Board and Veterans Affairs beneficiaries who don’t typically file tax returns.

“The American Rescue Plan was intended to provide much-needed economic stimulus and assistance to people across the country — immediately — and we are counting on your agencies to ensure that beneficiaries are not left behind in the seamless delivery of those payments,” the lawmakers wrote.

“Some of our most vulnerable seniors and persons with disabilities, including veterans who served our country with honor, are unable to pay for basic necessities while they wait for their overdue payments,” the lawmakers said.

The IRS has not given a timeline for those payments, according to the letter.

To date, the IRS has sent out about 90 million of the third stimulus checks, which amount to up to $1,400 per person, provided people meet certain income thresholds and other qualifications.

A second batch of those $1,400 checks is due to arrive via direct deposit as soon as Wednesday, while more payments have also been sent by mail as a paper check or prepaid debit card.

Reference: CNBC (March 23, 2021) “Lawmakers call for prompt payment of $1,400 stimulus checks to Social Security beneficiaries”

What are Most Costly Mistakes with Social Security?

Motley Fool’s recent article entitled “5 Social Security Oversights That Could Cost You Thousands” says that these five Social Security mistakes could cost you thousands in your retirement.

  1. Claiming Social Security early while you’re still working. You can claim your Social Security retirement benefit as young as age 62, but your benefits will be permanently reduced when compared with the amount you would receive if you waited until your full retirement age. Social Security will also penalize you for continuing to work while collecting benefits, if you are younger than your full retirement age.
  2. Failing to claim Social Security by your 70th birthday. Once you hit age 62, your benefit increases the longer you wait to claim, until you reach 70. You don’t have to claim your benefit by your 70th birthday, but there is no more benefit for waiting at that point.
  3. Delaying past your full retirement age to claim Social Security spousal benefits. If you’re claiming Social Security benefits based on your own income record, it’s smart to wait past your full retirement age to start taking benefits. However, if you’re claiming based on your spouse’s benefits, there’s no benefit to delay beyond your full retirement age to claim. As a result, married couples of similar ages who have vastly different earned incomes have a dilemma: for you to claim spousal benefits, your spouse also has to have begun claiming benefits based on his or her own earnings record. This combination makes it less worthwhile for the primary breadwinner spouse to wait to collect benefits, if the spouse is expecting to take spousal benefits.
  4. Taxes on Social Security benefits are not adjusted for inflation. Originally, Social Security benefits weren’t taxed. However, in 1984, the government started taxing Social Security benefits once a person’s combined income reached $25,000. Even now, the income level where Social Security starts to get taxed is still at $25,000. Because there is no adjustment for inflation, this makes more of people’s Social Security income taxable. This easily costs even moderate-income retirees thousands of dollars of spendable income over the course of their retirements.
  5. “Tax free” income counts toward making Social Security taxable. Even traditionally tax-free sources of income, like the interest from in-state municipal bonds, is included in the calculations to see how much of your Social Security will be considered taxable. Therefore, seniors who own tax free municipal bonds as part of their retirement portfolio may be surprised to find that those bonds are what’s causing their Social Security to be taxed. Seniors who find themselves in that situation may want to reevaluate their choice to be invested in those tax-free municipal bonds.

Despite how simple Social Security may appear, these five situations show how mistakes can cost thousands of dollars.

Reference: Motley Fool (March 14, 2021) “5 Social Security Oversights That Could Cost You Thousands”

living longer

What are the Scariest Statistics for Retirement?

Think Advisor’s recent article entitled “11 Scariest Retirement Statistics: 2020” says that there is a lack of preparation, savings difficulty and general uncertainty that American retirees are facing. Here are those scary stats:

  1. Just a quarter of Americans are on a trajectory to maintain their lifestyles in retirement. The other 75% will need to work longer, move to lower-cost housing and cut spending to maintain their standard of living, largely due to the coronavirus downturn.
  2. The Social Security trust funds would be empty by 2023, without the payroll tax. While President Trump let employers temporarily defer the employee portion of payroll taxes, he said the deferred taxes could later be forgiven, or the cut made permanent. When he signed the order, he vowed to “terminate the tax,” if reelected. Republican lawmakers subsequently debuted a plan to fund any shortfalls from the Treasury.
  3. Social Security benefits will be decreased by 21% if the trust fund runs out. Congress will have to intercede, or it could happen 10 years from now, if not sooner.
  4. Those born in 1960 will have a big problem because of the complicated formula the Social Security Administration uses to calculate benefits. Pre-retirees born in 1960 will see a nearly 15% cut to their lifetime benefits from Social Security when it’s time to collect. If the pandemic suppresses the economy into 2022, those cuts will impact more pre-retirees. The impact to their Social Security benefits will also be permanent.
  5. The 2021 Social Security cost of living adjustment, or COLA, will be just 1.3%. Retirees should note that rising health care costs and a potential 6% increase in Medicare Part B premiums may absorb that benefit increase.
  6. More than 50% of Americans think the economy is worse now than in 2008, with 51% of Americans seeing the COVID slowdown as worse than the 2008 recession. A survey from Edelman Financial Engines also found that 26% had withdrawn money from retirement or savings for living expenses.
  7. About 60% of retirement savers have fallen behind, according to a TIAA study. Among these, 30% said it was directly due to the pandemic.
  8. Internet searches for “move out of the U.S.” have increased 16 times. International Living magazine says it had seen the jump in search traffic around the phrase since May. A total of 20% of respondents in a survey it conducted also said they wanted to move due to the pandemic. However, just 45% cited a desire to save money.
  9. Approximately 42% of investors sold stock, and most of them (88%) of them regretted it. In response to the drop in stocks in mid-March last year, 42% of investors in a survey by MagnifyMoney sold at least one stock and 24% sold all their holdings. About 69% of those who sold stock at the start of the pandemic greatly regretted it, and 19% said they were somewhat regretful.
  10. Roughly 80% of older Americans don’t understand retirement planning and don’t know the basics of how to successfully plan for a financially secure retirement, according to a study by The American College of Financial Services. The survey also found only 30% of respondents had a plan in place to fund long-term care needs, and just one in four actually had long-term care insurance.
  11. About 3 million workers may have been driven into early retirement due to the pandemic. From March to August of 2020, 2.8 million older workers might have been pushed out of their jobs prematurely, with economic turmoil and poor health making it hard for them to resume their careers elsewhere, according to by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School. The report found that 38% of unemployed older adults stopped looking for work and left the workforce, and an additional 1.1 million were expected to do likewise.

Reference: Think Advisor (Oct. 30, 2020) “11 Scariest Retirement Statistics: 2020”