Five Ways to Maximize Your Social Security Benefits

Five Ways to Maximize Your Social Security Benefits

What would an income increase of 10% mean to your retirement?

Would it afford you more freedom? More opportunity to travel? The ability to spoil your grandchildren? Or even the ability to buy that vacation home on the lake you’ve always dreamed of?

For most Americans, Social Security benefits are an important part of their retirement income. In fact, according to the Social Security Administration, a whopping 97% of the total population aged 60-89 receive at least some Social Security benefits [1].

Maximizing your retirement income can be key to the healthy and happy retirement you have always wanted. When combining it with other retirement income, your Social Security benefits are an important part of making this a reality.

What many people don’t realize is there are some simple things you can do now to ensure when the time comes for you to take your benefits, your income is maximized. Below we have outlined six of the top Social Security maximization tips. If you follow all of these, you can potentially maximize your benefits and ensure nothing goes to waste.

Maximize your working income and work for at least 35 years.

Your Social Security benefits are calculated based on the 35 years in which you earn the most income. If you do not work for at least 35 years, each year less than 35 is counted as zero which can significantly reduce your benefits. The higher the income you earn up to $137,700 (as of 2020) the higher the Social Security benefits you will receive, so be sure to do everything you can to maximize your salary and earning potential.

Know your full retirement age and wait to collect Social Security benefits.

While the Social Security Administration technically allows you to start pulling benefits at age 62, this could dramatically reduce your benefits. For example, if you start taking payments at 62, you will only receive 75% of the annual amount you are eligible for. Worst of all, this reduction is permanent! 

It is important for you to understand your “full retirement age” as defined by the Social Security Administration. This is calculated by the age you are born and ranges between 65 and 67. You can find out your “full retirement age” by clicking here. It is at this age that you will receive 100% of eligible benefits. It is worth mentioning that you can also wait to take your benefits until up to age 70. If you wait until age 70, you will receive 132% of the benefits you are eligible for. In other words, for every year you delay past your “full retirement age”, your yearly benefits increase by about 8%.

Take advantage of spousal benefits.

When it comes time to start thinking about your Social Security filing strategy, it is important to understand what kind of spousal benefits you may be eligible for. If you are currently married, or if you are divorced and were married for at least 10 years, you may be eligible to reap spousal benefits. This means the ability to claim benefits based on up to 50% of your current (or ex) spouses benefit (at their full retirement age). This is especially important if one spouse earns significantly more money and is expected to see a much higher Social Security benefit. Being strategic on the timing that both you and your spouse claim your benefits is key. Be sure to find a trustworthy Social Security calculator online to determine the best course of action for you and your spouse to ensure that together, your lifetime benefits are maximized.

Claim family benefits.

When it comes time for you to file, if you have dependent children who are under the age of 19, they may qualify to receive up to 50% of your benefit. Note, this will not decrease your benefit amount, it will be added on top of it. You will want to keep this in mind when deciding on when to claim benefits as you should add this into your calculation for your lifetime benefit. For example, if you have one or multiple dependent children under the age of 19 when you turn 62, it may make sense for you to start claiming as soon as you are eligible vs. waiting for full retirement age. This is of course highly dependent on your unique situation, so be sure to crunch the numbers and find out what will work best for your family.

Minimize Your Taxes.

There is a common misconception that Social Security income is not taxed. Unfortunately, for many of us, this is not true. Depending on your overall retirement income, you could be required to pay taxes on up to 85% of your Social Security benefit. Taxes in retirement can add up to a significant sum of money and can greatly reduce your overall income in retirement. A key in maximizing your retirement income is doing everything you can to keep this as low as possible.

[1] https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/population-profiles/never-beneficiaries.html

Having a financial professional dive deep into each of these points while keeping your unique situation and financial history in mind is the key to maximizing your benefits. Simply Advised can put you in contact with a knowledgeable professional who can help.

Nine Questions to Ask a Financial Advisor in Your First Meeting

Nine Questions to Ask a Financial Advisor in Your First Meeting

Before you commit to hiring a financial advisor, it’s important that you ask the right questions. You’ll be working with this professional to achieve your financial goals—whatever they may be. You’ll want to feel confident that they’ll be able to guide you through important decisions and work with your best interest in mind. It’s crucial to be aware of their credentials, experience and knowledge.

Asking these nine questions will give you a good idea if they’re someone you’d be interested in working with. 

1. Are you a fiduciary?

A fiduciary works in the best interest of their client and puts their needs first. Non-fiduciary advisors may be selling their firm’s products/services to earn commission, which could skew their recommendations away from what fits you best.

2. Do you hold any industry certifications?

There’s a wide range of certifications financial advisors can hold. It’s important to understand the background of the person you could potentially be working with.

3. How are you compensated for your services? 

Financial advisors are compensated differently depending on the firm they work for. Whether it be an hourly or a flat fee, this is always a good question to ask so you know what to expect. 

4. What is your investment philosophy?

An investment philosophy will usually determine how your money will be handled. While one advisor might focus on long-term investing in a globally diversified portfolio and may encourage choosing only low-cost exchange-traded funds, another advisor might have an entirely different philosophy. Asking this will make sure you’re both on the same page. 

5. Is there a niche that you work with?

Everyone has different needs from their financial advisor. Make sure you’re working with someone who specializes in the area(s) you’re focusing on.

6. Do you have any account or relationship minimums? 

Depending on your portfolio size, some advisors might be a better fit than others. 

7. How often will we meet?

While this is pretty straightforward, it’s important for you and your advisor to be on the same page  in regard to how often you’ll meet—whether that be annually, semi-annually or quarterly. 

8. How will I hear from you?

You may have a preference of how you’d like to communicate, whether it be phone, email, video conference or in-person. Most advisors are more than happy to communicate with you in whichever method you prefer, just let them know! 

9. Do you have any references? 

Similar to looking for a job candidate, when you’re looking to find the perfect advisor you’ll want to know what others who have previously worked with them have to say.

While you should do your research ahead of time and use search tools to look into someone you’re going to potentially work with, it’s still good to get this information from the advisor themselves and make sure they’re transparent and truthful. 

At the end of the day, you’re creating a relationship. If hired, you’ll be trusting this professional with your financial future. This means you’ll want to be certain that this is the right advisor for you. Asking these questions may be a little uncomfortable, but having a clear understanding of an advisor’s expectations, qualifications and philosophies will be beneficial to both of you in the long run.

401(k) vs. Traditional IRA vs. Roth IRA

401(k) vs. Traditional IRA vs. Roth IRA

Which retirement account is best for you?

The world of personal investing, finance and retirement is filled with acronyms: traditional IRA, Roth IRA, 401(k), RMD, APR, ETF, FDIC and so many more. While they may seem intimidating, a degree in finance is not required to understand the three key retirement accounts that you likely already have access to: a traditional IRA, Roth IRA and a 401(k) plan. 

All three of these plans are considered “tax-advantaged” plans. This means your investments offer tax benefits in the form of tax exemptions or tax deferrals. As many know, taxes can eat up a significant portion of your retirement income and your retirement strategy should account for this. 

Understanding the differences between these accounts and knowing which one (or combination) is best for you and your family could be the key to a long-lasting and stress-free retirement.

401(k)

This is a plan that is generally offered through an employer. You can make tax-free contributions to this plan through automatic payroll withholding. Essentially, this plan automatically contributes or invests a certain percentage of your payroll each month. Depending on your plan, you can then set up these contributions to be allocated to different investments that your plan offers. You can contribute any percentage of your salary to this plan, but there are annual contribution limits. For 2020, if you are under 50 years old, the limit is $19,500. If you are 50 or older, you can contribute up to $26,000.

401(k) Pros

  • Income grows tax-free allowing for larger initial investments and potentially larger growth.
  • Many employers will match a certain amount of your contribution—essentially free money for you.
  • There is a large annual contribution limit which offers the largest tax advantage compared to Roth IRAs and traditional IRAs.
  • Distributions are potentially taxed when you are in a lower tax bracket in retirement.

401(k) Cons

  • Limited investment choices.
  • Distributions are taxed as ordinary income.
  • Due to the costs of running a 401(k) program, they often include high account fees.
  • You are required to start taking Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) at age 72.
  • Early withdrawal fees if you take distributions prior to 59.5 years of age.

As a bare minimum, you should consider contributing enough to get 100% of the money your company will match. This is essentially “free money” you can use to invest in your future.

Traditional IRA

Individual retirement accounts, also known as IRAs, are similar to 401(k) plans as they’re both tax-advantaged investment vehicles. There are two main flavors of IRAs, the traditional IRA, and the Roth IRA. With a traditional IRA, similar to a 401(k) plan, you contribute pre-tax dollars. This allows your money to grow tax-deferred, meaning you do not pay taxes on your original contribution or your earnings until you start taking withdrawals. Contributing a larger amount of money up-front due to taxes being deferred not only allows you to potentially achieve higher lifetime returns (due to the power of compounding), but it also opens up the potential to pay taxes when you are retired—often in a lower tax bracket.

Traditional IRA Pros

  • Income grows tax-free, allowing for larger initial investments and potentially larger growth.
  • No income limits.
  • Invest in any accounts offered by your brokerage (stocks, bonds, ETFs, mutual funds, etc.).

Traditional IRA Cons

  • Early withdrawal penalty if you withdraw before age 59.5.
  • Distributions are taxed as regular income.
  • Strict total IRA (Roth + traditional) contribution limit of $6,000 if under 50 and $7,000 if 50 or older per year.
  • Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) are required starting at age 72.

At the end of the day, determining which IRA makes the most sense for you likely comes down to the tax bracket you expect to be in during retirement. If you believe you will be in a lower tax bracket than you are now, it likely makes sense to max out a traditional IRA. This will allow your money to grow tax-free until you take distributions when you are in that lower tax bracket.

Roth IRA

The key difference between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA is the timing of the tax advantage. With a Roth IRA, you contribute your money post-tax, meaning you pay taxes on the income, and can then invest your money in the account. The benefit comes on the back end. When you withdraw your money, you generally do so tax-free. Another key difference is that Roth IRAs have income limits. This means that if your Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) is over $124,000, your total contribution limit phases out based on your income. If your MAGI is over $139,000 you are no longer eligible to contribute to a Roth IRA.

See the two charts below that display 2020 contribution limits for all three tax-advantaged accounts, as well as a breakdown of the income limit phase for Roth IRAs.

If your income or your joint income place you in the “phases out” category, you can learn how to calculate your Roth IRA contribution limit using the IRS formula here.

Contribution limits of IRA, Roth IRA and 401(k)

2020 Contribution Limits Traditional IRA Roth IRA 401(k)
Combined limits in all IRA accounts: $6,000 or $7,000 if 50 or older

If under age 50: $19,500

If 50 or older: $26,000

Roth IRA income limits and phase out

Filing Status 2020 MAGI Contribution Limit
Single Less than $124,000 $6,000 ($7,000 if over 50 years old)
$124,000 to $138,999 Phases out
$139,000+ Not eligible
Married Joint Filing Less than $196,000 $6,000 ($7,000 if over 50 years old)
$196,000 to $205,999 Phases out
$206,000+ Not eligible
Married Separate Filing Less than $10,000 Phases out
$10,000+ Not eligible

 

Roth IRA Pros

  • Earnings grow and are withdrawn tax-free.
  • Contributions can be withdrawn at any time tax-free.
  • No Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs).

Roth IRA Cons

  • Taxes are paid upfront, and earnings grow off of post-tax dollars.
  • Income limits may reduce the amount you can contribute.

If you believe you will be in a higher tax bracket when you are ready to withdraw from your account and your income level allows it, the common practice is to max out your Roth IRA. This will allow your money to grow and be withdrawn tax-free once you are ready in retirement.

The most common strategy people take when it comes to retirement accounts is to start with their 401(k) and contribute up to what their employer will match. From there, depending on their income situation, they generally max out their Roth IRA, traditional IRA or a combination of both. If they still have money left over, the next step would be to max out their 401(k) to the total limit. Finally, if they still have money left over to invest, it is recommended to explore a traditional investment (stocks, bonds, ETFs, mutual funds, etc.). However, these investments are not tax-advantaged.

What is right for you?

Where to contribute your retirement funds can be an incredibly complicated, but also a very important decision. What works best for one individual or family does not always work best for the next. Simply Advised works with hundreds of financial professionals nationwide who can review your personal situation and help recommend what the best solution is for you.

Six Common Social Security Questions

Six Common Social Security Questions

While the majority of Americans will collect Social Security at some point in their lives, not everyone fully understands the program. This program, which is often a vital part of a person’s retirement plan, is notorious for being confusing. Taking the time to gain a deeper understanding of Social Security can help you maximize your benefits and avoid benefit reductions. 

Whether you’re looking to claim your benefits in the near future, or you’re years away from retirement, it’s in your best interest to gain a fundamental understanding of Social Security.

While the majority of Americans will collect Social Security at some point in their lives, not everyone fully understands the program. This program, which is often a vital part of a person’s retirement plan, is notorious for being confusing. Taking the time to gain a deeper understanding of Social Security can help you maximize your benefits and avoid benefit reductions. 

Whether you’re looking to claim your benefits in the near future, or you’re years away from retirement, it’s in your best interest to gain a fundamental understanding of Social Security.

1. What is it?

Social Security is a program created in 1935 to provide retirement income to Americans. It’s still used today by most Americans once they reach a certain age. Some use it in conjunction with other retirement income sources and some use it as their only income stream.  

Currently, the system works like this: every time you receive a paycheck for working, a portion of the taxes you pay go towards Social Security. This money is then reallocated back to Americans who are collecting their benefits.

2. How are benefits determined?

Not everyone receives the same benefits. Your benefits are determined by how many credits you earn during your working years. Essentially, the more you make the more credits you receive. As of 2020, a credit is defined by $1,410 in income, and you need to earn 40 credits to qualify for benefits. 

Once you qualify, the Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a formula to determine your benefits. They look at your highest 35 years of average earnings. This is then used to determine your Average Indexed Monthly Earning (AIME). Once you have your AIME, you can apply it to the Social Security benefits formula. 

3. When should I claim?

When you claim your Social Security benefits is completely up to you and is different for each person based on their unique financial history. If you claim at your full retirement age (FRA) you’ll get your standard benefit. Your FRA is designated by the law and is based on the year you were born. Filing even a month early could lead to early filing penalties which reduce your benefits. Waiting to claim past your FRA has advantages, too. If you wait, you earn delayed retirement credits every month until you turn 70—leading to a bigger check from Social Security.

4. Does working affect benefits?

Many retirees choose to pick up a part-time job after they’ve claimed their benefits. If you’ve reached full retirement age, you can work without affecting your Social Security benefits. However, if you’re under FRA and receiving your benefits, you could forgo a portion of your benefits (temporarily) if you’re earning too much. In this case, once you do reach FRA, your monthly check will be recalculated to account for the lost benefits.

5. How do spousal benefits work?

As with any aspect of Social Security, spousal benefits are a bit confusing and come with many stipulations. If you’re unfamiliar with spousal benefits, they work like this: current spouses and ex-spouses (who were married for over 10 years and are not remarried) are eligible to receive equal to half of what their spouse earns if it’s higher than their own.

In certain cases, when someone dies, their Social Security benefits may be available to their current or former spouse. You can also collect spousal benefits without a death occurring. In order to qualify for spousal benefits, the spouse with a work record must already be receiving their benefits and the other spouse must be at least 62. If your spouse dies, you can collect a survivor’s benefit as early as age 60.

6. Do I owe taxes on Social Security benefits?

You may owe taxes on your Social Security benefits based on your income. If it’s above a certain threshold, you could be taxed on up to 50% of your benefits. 

If you’re a single filer, this threshold is $25,000 to $34,000 of countable income per year. If you make more than that as a single filer you could owe even more in taxes (up to 85% of your benefits). If you file jointly, this income threshold is $32,000 to $44,000. As with single filers, if you make more than that in countable income you’ll be taxed even higher. 

Again, with any aspect of Social Security, tax rules for benefits are complicated and conditional.

When to claim, deciding to work after claiming, tapping into spousal benefits and understanding how your benefits will be taxed are all extremely important if you’d like to get the most out of Social Security.

Keep in mind that we’ve provided surface level answers to these common Social Security questions. Having a professional dive deep into each of these questions while keeping your unique situation and financial history in mind is the key to maximizing your benefits. Simply Advised can put you in contact with a knowledgeable professional who can help.

Five Retirement Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Five Retirement Planning Mistakes to Avoid

Many of us spend years looking forward to and planning for retirement. It’s only natural to want to enjoy the fruits of your labor and spend your golden years stress-free. That’s why it’s important to avoid making mistakes that could throw a wrench in your plans. A secure retirement comes from meticulous planning and not leaving anything up to chance. 

Steering clear of these five mistakes can help you accomplish your long-term financial goals.

1. Not having a plan.

Not having a clear plan for your retirement is a huge mistake. Without a plan in place, your odds of having a stress-free retirement, or even one at all, is slim. Every person’s situation and goals are different, which is why you’ll want to calculate how much you’ll need and figure out how to get there. It seems counterintuitive to list something so basic, but nevertheless it’s true. Not planning at all is putting a nail in the coffin of your retirement. It’s not only important to create a plan, but to update it regularly to reflect your wants, needs and any lifestyle changes. 

2. Not utilizing tax-advantaged accounts.

Another mistake to avoid is not making the most of tax-advantaged accounts you may have access to, such as a 401(k), Roth IRA or a traditional IRA. All of these accounts are great vehicles to grow your retirement income over time. 

A 401(k) is a retirement option provided by your employer. With a 401(k), a specified amount of money is deposited into your account from each paycheck. The money is from your income before taxes are taken out. These plans can vary vastly depending on your employer. Some companies offer a matching program, which can be very beneficial. 

An IRA, which stands for Individual Retirement Account, allows you to save money outside of any options offered by an employer. A Roth IRA puts dollars that have been taxed into your account, they grow tax-free and you can usually take money out tax and penalty free after the age 59 ½. With a Traditional IRA, you can contribute taxed or untaxed money into the account, your money will grow tax-deferred and withdrawals are taxed.

Deciding which type of account is best for you can be confusing, and knowing the differences and benefits of each type of account is a good start. Getting professional help is a great way to determine what you should do or if you’re on the right track. Again, each person has a unique situation and they’ll require a different plan. However, not utilizing any tax-advantaged accounts to save for retirement is a huge mistake! 

3. Underestimating the length and cost of retirement.

Many aim to retire by 62-65. If you do, this means you’ll probably need your funds to last you anywhere from 20-25 years. Because of this, you’ll also want to plan for inflation. As time goes on the cost of living could rise. Not taking this into consideration could leave you without money later in life, or needing to delay retirement. 

Other aspects people tend to underestimate are costs such as healthcare and long-term care. Even if you’re enrolled in Medicare, it only covers a portion of healthcare costs. So, you may have to plan to purchase supplemental insurance or pay out of pocket. Without taking these costs into consideration, you could blow through your retirement savings.

4. Cashing out your 401(k) savings.

Most people have more than one job throughout their lifetime. This means they may be contributing to more than one 401(k) throughout the years. It’s common to cash out this account as you’re leaving a job, however, you may not want to. If you withdraw money from them too early you can be hit with harsh penalties—not to mention the taxes you’ll pay on the income. So, if/when you change a job where you’ve been contributing to a 401(k), you’ll want to be aware of all your options.

5. Not taking care of your health.

Because healthcare can be so costly, it’s imperative that you protect your health now. This means exercising, resting, keeping stress levels low and eating a nutritious diet. Also, getting check ups regularly can help you prevent disease or catch problems early. 

Taking these steps can allow you to work longer, enjoy your life and help prevent you from having to pay for long-term care early. Another benefit of being healthy is the potential to secure more affordable rates for coverage such as life insurance, disability and long-term care.

It’s never too late to start, rethink or change your retirement plan. Not only avoiding the mistakes above, but leaning on advice from a trust and vetted financial professional can help immensely. The thought of figuring out how to set up a successful financial future post-retirement can be overwhelming. Simply Advised can match you with a local professional to make the process as easy as possible.