Get Organized: How To Improve Your Chances For A Successful Retirement

Get financially organized

One of the biggest hurdles to a successful retirement is financial organization. It’s easy for account statements, legal forms and other important documents to pile up in some hidden away desk or drawer. Before long, things are messy. Not just physically messy, but mentally messy too.

Before you can accurately plan for an awesome retirement, you need to clean this mess up. Having a clear system will help make all of your life easier.  It might take a little effort, but it will save you so much time and energy in the future.

Here’s how to get your finances organized in seven doable steps:

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Video: How To Calculate Spousal Benefits (the RIGHT way)

Social Security Spousal Benefits really aren’t that hard to calculate. However, they are just a little deeper than some of the stuff I see floating around on the internet.

The cases that are most often misunderstood are those where a lower earning spouse will collect benefits from his/her work record and an additional amount for a spousal benefit.

Here’s a video where I discuss the steps to calculating this “dual entitlement” of both types of benefits.


The 9 Social Security Basics That EVERYONE Should Know

Podcast Episodes Part 1 & 2

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:

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Social Security Survivor Benefits: The Complete Guide

social security survivor benefits

My new book is now a bestseller! Check out Social Security Basics on Amazon.

social security basics devin carroll

Whenever I’m asked about how Social Security survivor benefits work, I have a simple answer:

At death of the first spouse, surviving spouses receive 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.

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The Best Solution to Your Social Security Power of Attorney

Why Yours Won't Work and How to Fix It

POA Rejected by Social Security Administration


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.

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Social Security Benefits for Children: The 4 Most Important Things You Should Know

social security for children


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.

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Mailbag: Reduction of Social Security Spousal Benefits

answers to social security questions

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.

Hope this helps!

Making Sense of the SS Acronyms

list of social security acronyms

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.

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Social Security Spousal Benefits: What to Know About the Rules and Their Exceptions


social security spousal benefits

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.

Why? Because this specific benefit can help you boost the income available to you to live on once you hit retirement age.

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.

Others never worked outside the home or paid Social Security tax. They have no benefit of their own, but thanks to the Social Security spousal benefit available under their spouse’s work record, they can still receive payments.

This particular benefit doesn’t just provide retirement income, either.

As an eligible spouse, you could also receive premium-free Medicare benefits. Receiving these can help you reduce your out-of-pocket healthcare costs, allowing you to stretch your nest egg even further to create the retirement you want.

Clearly, Social Security spousal benefits offer serious value to those approaching the right age to file. So how do you access them, and what do you have to know to best work the rules?

Let’s take a look at what it takes to qualify as well as what benefits you may receive as an eligible spouse.

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Mailbag: Reducing Taxes By Choosing When To File For Social Security

answers to social security questions

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.

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