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delay claiming social security

Should I Delay in Claiming Social Security?

Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “Waiting to File for Social Security Benefits Is Hard, but Payoff Is Sweet” asks you to imagine if, when you were a child, your mom baked your favorite pie and made you an offer. She could serve you a piece of pie right then and let you eat it. Alternatively, if you waited until after dinner, you’d get a bigger slice. Or, if you could wait until bedtime, your piece would be even larger. And not just that day, but for the rest of your life.

Every time you had pie for dessert, the size of your piece would be based on the decision you made that one day.

There are many justifications for taking the smaller piece of pie right away, when offered. Many people want to begin their retirement as soon as possible, and they want or need the Social Security income to do so. Some want to claim their benefits and invest the money to further grow their nest egg. Many people are concerned that the Social Security trust fund will be depleted before they get their share. Finally, there are some who just aren’t aware of how much bigger their monthly payment could be if they waited.

While you can get your benefits as early as 62, that choice, can mean a permanent reduction in benefits of up to 30% less than what you could receive by filing at your full retirement age (FRA). Retirees who file after their FRA receive a delayed retirement credit of 8% per year until they turn 70.

Admittedly, eight years (from 62 to 70) is a long time to wait to tap into this significant income stream. Most seniors would jump at the chance for more money, particularly as many baby boomers face these challenges that could put even the best-laid income plans to the test in retirement:

Longevity. The longer you live, the greater the chance that your savings will have to endure multiple financial storms, such as increased taxes, inflation and costly health care issues as you get older. The Social Security Administration estimates that the average 62-year-old woman born in 1958 can expect to live another 23½ years, and a man with the same birthdate can expect to live another 20⅔ years. That’s a long time to have to make your money last. However, if you maximize your Social Security benefits by earning delayed retirement credits, you’ll always have that guaranteed income.

Low interest rates. In the current low-interest environment, the return on “safe” investments, such as CDs, bonds, and money market accounts, won’t protect you from inflation. Thus, one of the best investments that retirees can make right now isn’t really an investment at all, but rather it’s growing their Social Security payments by delaying to take them.

Decline in employer pensions. The retirement savings system in the United States traditionally has been built on three pillars: Social Security, a workplace pension and individual savings. However, over the past two decades, many employers have stopped offering pensions. As a result, the full responsibility for retirement investing has been shifting to employees with defined contribution plans. However, 40.2% of older Americans now depend on Social Security alone for income in retirement. Only 6.8% receive income from a defined benefit pension, a defined contribution plan, and Social Security. Fidelity Investments also reports that the median 401(k) balance in the first half of 2019 was $62,000 for savers in the 60 to 69 age group.

Ask an elder law attorney who practices in Social Security matters to help you make some calculations to determine your “break-even” age, which is when you’d come out ahead by waiting instead of claiming early. If you haven’t already, sign up with the Social Security Administration to get an estimate of your retirement benefits at 62, 67, and 70, using their online benefits calculator.

If your objective is to land the biggest possible piece of pie — and you can manage it — waiting is the name of the game.

Reference: Kiplinger (Oct. 21, 2020) “Waiting to File for Social Security Benefits Is Hard, but Payoff Is Sweet”

social security changes

What Changes are Happening to Social Security in 2021?

The Social Security program undergoes a number of changes every year. Fox News’s recent article entitled “7 changes to Social Security in 2021” looks at the updates unveiled by the Social Security Administration (SSA) last week.

More money. The SSA recently announced a 1.3% COLA for the upcoming year. That means an extra $20 a month for the average retired worker. It is an estimated monthly payout of $1,543 a month by January 2021. With prices for goods and services dropping between March and May because of the coronavirus pandemic, a 1.3% COLA is a win for the program’s 64.8 million recipients.

Full retirement age going up. There’s an increase in the full retirement age (FRA), which is the age when they can receive 100% of their monthly payout, as determined by their birth year. In 2021, the full retirement age is going to go up by two months, to 66 years and 10 months for people born in 1959 (i.e., beneficiaries who can become newly eligible next year). Remember that claiming benefits at any age before your FRA results in your taking a permanent reduction to your monthly payout. The Social Security FRA will peak at age 67 in 2022 for anyone born in 1960 or later.

High earners will pay more taxes. A big change next year is an increase in the payroll tax earnings cap. The payroll tax generated $944.5 billion of the $1.06 trillion collected by Social Security. In 2021, all earned income up to $142,800 will be taxable, representing an increase of $5,100. For the roughly 6% of workers who are expected to hit this cap, it’s an increase in payroll tax of up to $632.40 next year.

Wealthy can get a larger monthly benefit. After the SSA capped monthly retirement benefits at $3,011 for persons of full retirement age in 2020, the maximum payout at full retirement age is going up to $3,148 a month in 2021. That’s an extra $1,644 a year for wealthy workers.

The disability income thresholds increase. About 9.7 million beneficiaries are receiving a monthly payout from the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust. In 2021, the income thresholds where benefits cease to disabled beneficiaries will be higher.

Withholding thresholds for early filers gets a bump. Social Security has a number of ways it penalizes early filers, one of which is the retirement earnings test. This lets the SSA withhold some or all of an early-filer’s benefit, if they earn more than a preset income threshold. In 2021, these income thresholds will be higher. Early filers who will reach full retirement age in 2021 will also see a bump in the withholding threshold. Next year, early filers who attain FRA at some point during the year will be allowed to earn up to $50,520 ($4,210 a month) before $1 in benefits is withheld for every $3 in earnings above this threshold. That’s an increase of $160 a month from this year’s levels. (The retirement earnings test isn’t applicable when you hit your full retirement age, no matter when you claimed benefits, and withheld benefits are returned as higher monthly payouts after hitting full retirement age.)

Must earn more to qualify for a retirement benefit. To qualify for a retirement benefit, you’ll need to have earned 40 lifetime work credits, of which a maximum of four credits can be earned each year. These credits are awarded according to an individual’s income in a given year. (Workers received one lifetime work credit in 2020 with $1,410 in earned income, so if a worker nets at least $5,640 in earned income or $1,410 X 4 this year, they’ll get the max of four credits). Next year, it’ll take $1,470 in earned income to earn one lifetime work credit, or $5,880 for the full year to maximize your Social Security work credits.

Reference: Fox News (Oct. 19, 2020) “7 changes to Social Security in 2021”

caring for a loved one

Caring for a Loved One from a Distance

Trying to coordinate care from a distance becomes a challenge for many, especially since as many as 80% of caregivers are working. Add COVID-19 into the mix, and the situation becomes even more difficult, reports the article “When your parent is far away and you are trying to care for them” from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The starting point is to have the person you are caring for give you legal authorization to act on their behalf with a Power of Attorney for financial affairs and a Health Care Directive that gives you authority to receive health information under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). It is HIPAA that addresses the use, disclosure and protection of sensitive patient information.

Next, have a conversation about their finances. Find out where all of their important documents are, including insurance policies (long-term care, health, life, auto, home), Social Security and Medicare cards. You’ll want to know where their tax documents are, which will provide you with information on retirement accounts, bank accounts and investments.

Gather up family documents, including birth, death, and marriage certificates. Make sure your loved one has completed their estate planning, including a last will and testament.

Put all of this information into a binder, so you have access to it easily.

Because you are far from your loved one, you may want to set up a care plan. What kind of care do they have in place right now, and what do you anticipate they may need in the near future? There should also be a contingency plan for emergencies, which seem to occur when they are least expected.

Find a geriatric care manager or a social worker who can do a needs assessment and help coordinate services, including shopping for groceries, medication administration and help with basic activities of daily living, including bathing, toileting, getting in and out of bed, eating and dressing.

If possible, develop a list of neighbors, friends or fellow worshippers who might create a local support system. If you are not able to visit with any degree of frequency, find a way to see your loved ones on a regular basis through video calls. It is impossible to accurately assess a person’s well-being, without being able to see them. In the past, dramatic changes weren’t revealed until family members made a trip. Today, you’ll be able to see your loved one using technology.

You may need to purchase a smartphone or a tablet, but it will be worth the investment. A medical alert system will provide further peace of mind for all concerned. Regular conference calls with caregivers and your loved one will keep everyone in touch.

Caring from a distance is difficult, but a well-thought out plan and preparing for all situations will make your loved one safer.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Sep. 28, 2020) “When your parent is far away and you are trying to care for them”

social security benefits

Social Security Benefits: Timing Is Everything

Not knowing when you will be eligible to receive all of the benefits earned through your work history can hurt a retirement plan, says a recent article from CNBC.com titled “Here’s what to you need to know about claiming Social Security retirement benefits.” Equally problematic? It is letting fears of the program running out of money before you can get your fair share influence your decision.

If you get the timing right and use a combination of your retirement savings and Social Security benefits in the right time and the right order, your money may last as much as seven years longer. However, remember that there are many rules about Social Security and retirement fund withdrawals. Here are three big blind spots to avoid:

Not knowing when to take full benefits.

Age 62 is when you are first eligible to take Social Security benefits. Many people start taking them at this age because they don’t know better or because they have no alternative. If you start taking benefits at age 62, your monthly benefits will be reduced.

There is a difference between eligibility and Full Retirement Age, or FRA. When you reach FRA, which is usually 66 or 67, depending upon your birth year, then you are entitled to 100% of the benefits based on your work record. If you can manage without taking Social Security benefits a few more years after your FRA, those benefits will continue to grow—about 8% a year.

Most Americans simply don’t know this fact. If you can wait it out, it’s worth doing so. If you can’t, you can’t. However, the longer you can wait until when you reach your full amount, the bigger the monthly check.

How many ways can you claim benefits?

This is where people make the biggest number of mistakes. There are many different ways to take Social Security benefits. People just don’t always know which one to choose. First, once you start receiving benefits, you have up to a year to withdraw your application. Let’s say you need to start benefits but then you find a job. You can stop taking benefits, but you have to repay all the benefits you and your family members received. This option is a one-time only event.

Another way to increase benefits if you start taking them early, is to suspend them from the time you reach your FRA until age 70. However, you have to live without the Social Security income for those years.

Expecting the worst scenarios for Social Security.

Social Security headlines come in waves, and they can be disconcerting. However, a knee-jerk reaction is to take benefits early because of fear is not a good move for the long term. There are a number of proposals now on Capitol Hill to strengthen the program. Benefits may be reduced, but they will not go away entirely.

Reference: CNBC.com (Aug. 24, 2020) “Here’s what to you need to know about claiming Social Security retirement benefits”

elder law attorney

How Do I Find a Great Elder Law Attorney?

Elder law attorneys specialize in legal affairs that uniquely concern seniors and their adult children, says Explosion’s recent article entitled “The Complete Guide on How to Find an Elder Law Attorney.”

Finding the right elder law attorney can be a big task. However, with the right tips, you can find an experienced elder law attorney who is knowledgeable, has the right connections and fits your budget.

While, technically, a general practice attorney will be able to handle your retirement, Medicaid and even your estate planning, an elder law lawyer is deeply entrenched in elder law. This means he or she will have extensive knowledge and experience to handle any case within the scope of elder law, like the following:

  • Retirement planning
  • Long-term care planning and insurance
  • Medicaid
  • Estate planning
  • Social Security
  • Veterans’ benefits; and
  • Other related areas of law.

While a general practice lawyer may be able to help you with one or two of these areas, a competent elder law lawyer knows that there’s no single formula in elder law that applies across the board. That’s why you’ll need a lawyer with a high level of specialization and understanding to handle your specific circumstances. An elder law attorney is best suited for your specific needs.

A referral from someone you trust is a great place to start. When conducting your elder law lawyer search, stay away from attorneys who charge for their services by the hour. For example, if you need an elder law attorney to work on a Medicaid issue, they should be able to give you an estimate of the charges after reviewing your case. That one-time flat fee will cover everything, including any legal costs, phone calls, meetings and court fees.

When it comes to elder law attorneys, nothing says more than experience. An experienced elder law lawyer has handled many cases similar to yours and understands how to proceed. Reviewing the lawyer’s credentials at the state bar website is a great place to start to make sure the lawyer in question is licensed. The website also has information on any previous ethical violations.

In your search for an elder law attorney, look for a good fit and a high level of comfort. Elder law is a complex area of law that requires knowledge and experience.

Reference: Explosion (Aug. 19, 2020) “The Complete Guide on How to Find an Elder Law Attorney”

medicare deadlines

What are the Important Medicare Deadlines?

Here are the important dates for Medicare enrollment:

  • You can initially enroll in Medicare during the seven-month period that begins three months before you turn 65.
  • If you continue to work past 65, sign up for Medicare within eight months of leaving the job or group health plan or penalties apply.
  • The six-month Medicare Supplement Insurance enrollment period starts when you’re 65 or older and enrolled in Medicare Part B.
  • You can make changes to your Medicare coverage during the annual open enrollment period, from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.
  • Medicare Advantage Plan participants can move to another plan from January 1 to March 31 each year.

Yahoo News’ recent article entitled “Medicare Enrollment Deadlines You Shouldn’t Miss” takes a look at when you need to sign up for Medicare and the penalties that can be imposed for late enrollment.

Medicare Parts A and B Deadline. Individuals who are getting Social Security benefits, may be automatically enrolled in Parts A and B, and coverage starts the month they turn 65. However, those who haven’t claimed Social Security must proactively enroll in Medicare. You can first sign up for Medicare Part A hospital insurance and Medicare Part B medical insurance during the seven months that starts three months before the month you turn 65. Your coverage can start as soon as the first day of the month you turn 65, or the first day of the prior month, if your birthday falls on the first of the month. If you fail to enroll in Medicare during the initial enrollment period, you can sign up during the general enrollment period between January 1 and March 31 each year for coverage that will begin July 1. Note that you might be charged a late enrollment penalty when your benefit begins. Monthly Part B premiums increase by 10% for each 12-month period you delay signing up for Medicare, after becoming eligible for benefits.

If you or your spouse are still working after age 65 for an employer that provides group health insurance, you must enroll in Medicare within eight months of leaving the job or the coverage ending to avoid the penalty.

Medicare Part D Deadline. Part D prescription drug coverage has the same initial enrollment period of the seven months around your 65th birthday as Medicare Parts A and B, but the penalty is different. It’s calculated by multiplying 1% of the “national base beneficiary premium” ($32.74 in 2020) by the number of months you didn’t have prescription drug coverage after Medicare eligibility and rounding to the nearest 10 cents. That’s added to the Medicare Part D plan that you choose each year. As the national base beneficiary premium increases, your penalty also goes up.

Medicare Supplement Insurance Plan Deadline. These plans can be used to pay for some of Medicare’s cost-sharing requirements and some services that traditional Medicare doesn’t cover. The enrollment period is different than the other parts of Medicare. It is a six-month period that starts when you’re 65 or older and enrolled in Medicare Part B. During this open enrollment period, private health insurance companies must sell you a Medicare Supplement Insurance plan, regardless of your health conditions. After this enrollment period, insurance companies can use medical underwriting to decide how much to charge for the policy and can even reject you. If you miss the open enrollment period, you’re no longer guaranteed the ability to buy a Medicare Supplement Insurance plan without underwriting, or you could be charged significantly more, if you have any health conditions.

Medicare Open Enrollment Deadline. You can make changes to your Medicare coverage during the annual open enrollment period from October 15 to December 7. During this period, you can move to a new Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, join a Medicare Advantage Plan, or stop a Medicare Advantage Plan and return to original Medicare. Changes take effect on January 1 of the following year.

Medicare Advantage Open Enrollment Deadline. Participants can move to another plan or drop their Medicare Advantage Plan and return to original Medicare, including purchasing a Medicare Part D plan, from January 1 to March 31 each year. You can only make one change each year during this period, and the new plan will begin on the first of the month after your request is received.

Reference: Yahoo News (July 27, 2020) “Medicare Enrollment Deadlines You Shouldn’t Miss”

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