If you read many of the articles I write, you’ve probably noticed that I put a lot of emphasis on understanding the basics. Why? It’s the foundation! It’s what gives us the ability to spot mistakes, errors and general screw-ups before they turn into big problems.
Recently, on the Big Picture Retirement podcast we spent two entire episodes talking about Social Security basics.
Here are the episodes:
Part 1: The 9 Social Security Basics That EVERYONE Should Know
Social Security is a lot easier to understand if you know about 9 basic concepts. In this episode we discuss these four topics:
Over the past few years I’ve produced a lot of content that covers the complicated Social Security rules for educators and other public servants. Now, as my website has experienced massive growth, the content I’ve created can be hard to find. It occurred to me the other day that I should build a one-stop article that has links to some of my most read and requested material in this area.
This is the first, and most widely read article that broadly covers the topic of Social Security benefits for individuals with a non- covered pension (from a job where no SS tax was paid). This article has an overview of who is affected by the additional Social Security rules, the Windfall Elimination Provision and the Government Pension Offset.
Whenever I’m asked about how Social Security survivor benefits work, I have a simple answer:
At death of the first spouse, surviving spouses receives the higher of:
Their own monthly benefit, or
The monthly benefit of the deceased.
That’s the clean and straightforward answer, but it’s not quite that simple. Although Social Security survivor benefits really are pretty simple, every family is different. Unique situations and variables can introduce some complexity.
Have you ever tried to use a power of attorney (POA) for Social Security (SS) purposes? If you haven’t, save yourself the trouble. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will not accept it.
After multiple clients experienced frustration at the Social Security office, I reached out to John Ross, an elder law attorney and co-host of our podcast (Big Picture Retirement) for an explanation and guidance.
He said, “There is no Social Security Power of Attorney. Powers of Attorney are creations of state law and vary wildly from state to state. Since the federal agencies like the SSA do not want to have to separately review POAs based on both the facts and circumstances of their creation and the various state laws that may be applicable, these agencies have taken the position that they will not accept a POA under any circumstances. Instead, they have developed federal regulations related to incapacitated beneficiaries of federal programs and established criteria under who the agency will deal with. Since federal law trumps state law, there is nothing an agent under a power of attorney can do to alter this structure.”
How do you help someone with their SS issues if the SSA won’t accept a POA? Essentially a person wanting to assist a SS beneficiary will have two options.
Social Security benefits for children are a big deal. In January 2017, there were more than 4.2 million children receiving Social Security benefits because one or both of their parents are disabled, retired or deceased. These benefits payments to children total more than $2.6 billion every month.
Sadly, many children don’t get the benefits for which they are eligible. Most people don’t know about the qualifications and rules for this special benefit, so they don’t know to apply for the children in their lives.
A reader asks a question about the reduction of Social Security Spousal Benefits
Will my spouse’s Social Security benefits be reduced?
My spouse began collecting her Social Security benefits at age 64. I plan on retiring at 67, later in 2017. When I retire, I will begin collecting SS on my earnings. The plan is to have my wife switch from collecting on her earnings to collect half of mine because mine is greater. Will she be able to collect half of my benefit, or will her benefit be reduced because she started collecting early on her earnings?
Good question! It would seem relatively straightforward, but then again…we’re dealing with the Social Security Administration.
Here’s the short answer:
Your wife’s spousal benefit is actually comprised by two separate benefit payments. First, there is her own benefit. Second, she has the ‘spousal top off.’ She becomes eligible for her own benefit at age 62, and eligible for the spousal benefit when you file for your own benefits.
Here’s how it’s calculated.
Her FRA benefit is compared to 50% of your FRA benefit. If hers is less than that number, it is ‘topped off’ to bring the total up to 50% of yours. Since she filed early, her own benefit will be reduced. However, the spousal top off will not be reduced if you file for your own benefits at or after her full retirement age.
In order for her to receive a spousal benefit from your work record there is a trigger…you must file for your benefits. If you haven’t filed, she isn’t eligible to collect from your record. Once you file, she becomes eligible for a spousal benefit and her reduction for filing age is determined at her date of first eligibility. If she is full retirement age when you file (and she thus become eligible), there is no reduction.
The Social Security Administration LOVES to use acronyms. I’m sure you’ll agree if you’ve ever received a letter from them or spent much time on their website.
SS Acronyms like PIA, DIB, RIB & MOET probably makes sense to the people who use these terms every day, but for most of us…it’s gibberish. However, if you want to take control of your social security filing plan, you may need to familiarize yourself with some of these. Here they are alphabetically.
What’s one of the most generous benefits available to retirees? That’s easy. It’s Social Security spousal benefits! These benefits are some of the most important, too.
A recent Social Security report found that 2.3 million individuals received at least part of their benefit as a spouse of an entitled worker. Some of these spouses had benefits of their own, but were eligible to receive higher benefit because the spousal benefit amount was greater than their own benefit. Some of these individuals have never worked outside the home or paid Social Security tax. They have no benefit of their own and rely exclusively on the Social Security spousal benefit available under their spouse’s work record.
And it’s not just retirement income benefits. Eligible spouses also receive premium free Medicare benefits.
Let’s take a look at what it takes to qualify as well as what benefits you may receive as an eligible spouse.
A reader wants to know when he should file for Social Security in order to pay the least amount of retirement tax.
Should I retire at 66 years old and use my IRA for income before taking Social Security? My retirement income will come from my pension, RMD, Social Security and rental. I am a conservative investor. My RMD annual income at 4% will be the biggest piece of the pie. My gross retirement income will be more than my taxable income while employed. I don’t want to pay extra taxes. What should I do?
I don’t blame you for not wanting pay extra taxes! When viewed through a long term perspective, taxes in retirement may be one of your greatest single expenses. Although your tax advisor is the best resource for recommendations on an overall tax reduction plan, there is one strategy that is really easy and often overlooked…it could be as simple as structuring your income properly.