Category: Social Security

5 Strategies to Get the Most Benefits Out of Your Social Security

5 Strategies to Get the Most Benefits Out of Your Social Security

It’s human nature to want to get the most out of everything. That’s why “stretching your dollar” appeals work so well.  It’s also why people spend 15 minutes scrounging that last bit of toothpaste from the tube (you know you’ve done it).

 

As you are approaching retirement, you’ll want to do the same thing with your Social Security.

 

Of course, there are a lot of strategies to consider, and this list definitely won’t be exhaustive (unless you want a Encyclopedia Britannica-length blog post). But if you have just started thinking about Social Security and how you’re going to squeeze those last few dollar signs out of the tube…this is a good place start.

 

Boost Benefits While Your Income Has Peaked

Social Security bases your benefits on your income over 35 years. They pick your highest income years and do some mind-bending, brain-busting, soul-sucking math equations and bam! Out pops your PIA, which is your monthly Social Security Check. Here’s the moral of the story: higher average earnings over 35 years= higher PIA= more money in your Social Security check every month.

 

I take it you are earning more now than you did when you were 30? So what would happen if you would work a few extra years, making your peak income? Those lower income years (when you were just scraping by) could drop out of the equation, leading to a better Social Security check. According to Elaine Floyd, a Certified Financial Planner from Savvy Social Security Planning, waiting to retire until 70 as opposed to 62 will you earn you an extra $31,000 in increased Social Security benefits. It’s not a lot, but taken along with an extra eight years of fat income, it might very well be worth the extra work. Or—as Floyd put it—the extra $31,000 is like “icing on the cake.”

 

Maximize Your Money By Delaying Benefits

Good things come to those who wait. Delaying benefits until 70, 67, or even 65 can be difficult. It will take a strong financial situation, strong health, and a strong will. But your patience will be worth it in the end.

 

In fact, your benefit payment goes up by 8% for every year after full retirement age that you delay. That’s a lot of cash. So unless you can’t afford to wait or you have a low life expectancy, I recommend waiting.

 

Take Advantage of Spousal Benefits

Spousal benefits are 50% of the other spouse’s PIA (monthly Social Security check). For couples where one spouse is obviously the “breadwinner” of the two, this is especially beneficial to know. Because—a lot of times—half of the higher income earner’s Social Security check is way more than the full amount of the lower income earning spouse. And you can’t take both. But keep in mind, in order to claim spousal benefits, you have to have been legally married for at least one year and be at least 62. It’s also important to note that both the husband and wife cannot claim spousal benefits at the same time, and—it almost goes without saying—they stop when you are no longer married.

 

Collect Benefits From a Divorced Spouse

You may never want to see them again, but you may want to see their money. Don’t worry…this isn’t stealing! It won’t affect their benefits at all. It works exactly like spousal benefits. You get 50% of what your ex-wife or husband gets in their Social Security check. The only key here is that you have to have been married for 10 years and not be remarried.

 

Collect Survivor Benefits

If your spouse has passed on, you can collect his or her benefits on their behalf. You will have to forfeit your own check, but a lot of times your husband or wife’s check is better anyways.

So there you have it—5 ways to maximize your social security. But it is important to realize: Social Security (like all things involved with the government) is very complicated. It takes a person with a lot of expertise to help you get the most out of your social security, just like it takes a person with a lot of muscle to work out that last bit of toothpaste.

Wondering when you should start Social Security benefits? Have Social Security questions that need answered? Discover more about our free Social Security workshop designed to help you answer your most pressing questions.

When Should I Take Social Security? — 4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Making a Decision

When Should I Take Social Security? — 4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Making a Decision

Wow. That is a whopper of a question. And with social security getting a lot more media coverage lately, it is a question on the forefront of many minds just like yours. Most experts will answer with a resounding “wait!” “Wait until your full retirement age!” Or even “Wait until you are 70!”

 

And I am inclined to agree with them on many accounts, but this only tells a little bit of the story.

 

The truth is that no one can offer you a definite yes or no, now or later, 62 or 70 answer. It depends on a great number of factors:  your personal goals, convictions, health, and financial situation. This is why—instead of trying (and failing) to answer the question for you myself—I am going to offer you some guidepost questions for you to ask yourself. If answered thoroughly, the questions will lead you down a path to a good decision.

 

1.  Will I Continue Working Full Time?

The first question you should ask yourself is whether or not you are going to continue employment.  Because if you retire prior to your full retirement age, income matters when it comes to Social Security benefits. If you make it over the $16,920 a year earnings-test amount, Social Security begins reducing your benefit check. Having a higher income over your lifetime actually helps your benefits, but while you are receiving them—not so much.  In fact, for every $2 over the earnings-test amount, $1 will be deducted from your benefits checks for the year.

 

Allow me to put this into perspective. This means that a $2000 a month check ($24,000 a year) can vanish very quickly. Let’s put it this way: a person making $64,920 a year (48,000 over the earnings-test amount) will have all of their benefits reduced to zero. It would be like they never signed up at all!

 

Part time work to keep you busy won’t usually reach the earnings-test amount, but—in almost every other case—I strongly recommend waiting.

 

2.  What Resources Do I Have?

If you decide that you have had enough of your stressful job and decide to retire, you will no longer have a steady source of income. This is where drawing Social Security earlier can come in handy.

 

But there are exceptions. For example, If you have a strong enough financial situation, you can get by without your social security check and maximize your benefits no problem.

 

So check your storehouses. Do you have a sufficient nest egg? A retirement plan like a 401(k) or IRA? Investments? Pension income? In other words, do you have something to live off of while you let your Social Security benefits accrue? If not, then you need to take social security. But if you do, it might be a good idea to delay.

 

3.  What’s My Life Expectancy?

It’s also important to remember that waiting to collect Social Security benefits is still a trade off. If you collect at age 66, for example, you will get more checks in the mail than if you wait until 70 (48 to be exact). But if you wait until 70, you will receive checks that are 32% bigger. The decision you are really trying to make is this: Do I want more, smaller checks now or fewer, larger checks later?

 

This is where life expectancy swoops in to help. If you live a long life, larger checks later is usually the better bet because you will likely reach your break-even point, the age when the larger check begins to benefit you. (For an in-the ballpark figure, the break even point for many people is 10-12 years after their full retirement age.) But if you don’t, taking more, smaller checks now is the right approach. You may not have time to wait.  In that case, reap the benefits now.

 

In order to determine life expectancy, you can consider your current health status and your family’s history with longevity, but this would be a shot-in-the-dark speculation.

 

Instead, I recommend using a highly customized life expectancy calculator like livingto100.com. It takes into account everything from exercise habits, family history, all the way to how you barbecue your meats (not sure how this affects life expectancy) to create a truly personalized calculation. Of course, this is still speculation, but at least it is speculation based on carefully- researched scientific data. Not as much a shot in the dark.

 

4.  Am I Married?

If you’ve been married for more than a couple weeks, you know that marriage changes everything. From finances to weekend plans to what you’re going to make for dinner, you’ve got someone else to think about.

 

Marriage also affects Social Security. For instance, you might have poor health and a bleak life expectancy. In this case, it might make sense for you to take out Social Security early. But what about your spouse? When you pass away, your spouse receives your full Social Security benefit. If he or she lives long, it may still be beneficial to delay.

 

And this is just one of quite a few examples.

 

A Final Thought

I would like to emphasize this point one more time: the question of when to take Social Security is not one-size-fits-all. It’s not strategic to delay benefits if you don’t have the means to do so. But the “I might die tomorrow anyhow, so I might as well take it now” approach is not the best either. In order to get to the right answer, you first have to ask the right questions.  So analyze your situation, learn all you can, and—at the end of the day—sit down with an expert you trust to put it all together.

 

Need some help making decisions about Social Security? We are offering a workshop on Social Security planning on September 7 in our Sidney office.  You can sign up by clicking here:  Social Security planning workshop or by calling our office at 937-492-8800.  As always, if you have any questions, feel free to call our office any time.

New Workshops Announcement

We are expanding our workshop offerings! Beginning in August, we will still be offering our Welcome to Medicare workshop, but we are adding in a Social Security Planning workshop, along with a 401(k) planning workshop. Our new series is titled “Life After Work” and will help people ages 62 and up start planning for retirement, as well as introduce them to the world of Medicare.

Visit our workshops page at www.seniormark.com/workshops to sign up for one or all of our workshops!

We look forward to seeing you there!

One Priceless Secret to Help You Find a Trustworthy Retirement Advisor

One Priceless Secret to Help You Find a Trustworthy Retirement Advisor

You can’t choose retirement help based on an agent’s smile or friendliness or wrinkleless pants. And contrary to popular belief, the handshake shouldn’t make or break your decision either. The truth is, even if he or she is a nice guy or gal, that doesn’t make the person any more trustworthy.

 

Not that those things don’t matter at all. I hope the person you work with during this crucial transition isn’t a jerk. All I am asking is for you to consider this as well: Is he a captive or an independent agent? Because knowing the difference…well…it can make a world of difference.

 

Tied Hands

A captive agent works for one company. Their job is to sell that one company’s products. They can’t lead you to the best-valued plan for your unique needs because they are limited to the insurance plans that their company offers.

 

Here’s something you’ll never hear a car salesman say: “Yeah, you know what you need, sir? You need to go visit the dealer down the street. He’s got exactly what you are looking for…and at half the price! Here, let me get the directions for you.”

 

It’s the same thing with captive agents. Even if there’s a better deal with another company, they’re not going to tell you that! Just like a car salesman, they have to sell what’s on the lot if they want to make a commission. In other words, their hands are tied. And when their hands are tied behind their back, it’s a bit more tempting for them to cross their fingers.

 

Hands Free Help

On the other hand (I promise I didn’t try that), independent agents are on their own. Since they don’t work for any one specific company, they can instead work for you, shopping plans from all the companies they represent. By analyzing your situation, they can find the one health care plan that is best suited to you. Or—if there are several—they can talk to you honestly about the advantages and disadvantages of your different options. It’s that simple!

 

And that’s why the captive vs. independent agent dichotomy is so vital when you are deciding who to work with. Because—when compared side by side—the independent advisor is the obvious choice…

 

Hands down. (I’m deeply sorry…I had to.)

 

Are you interested in working with an independent advisor with a passion for helping retirees? Then call Seniormark at 937-492-8800 to set up a free consultation.

 

 

Photo:  https://www.mogicons.com/en/stickers/emoticons/secret-emoticon-265/

 

Will I Be Able to Afford Medicare?

Will I Be Able to Afford Medicare?

The shortest and most honest answer is “I don’t know”. But I know this doesn’t help you answer the most pressing questions weighing on your mind as you approach retirement age. Am I ready? Or Should I delay my retirement? And most of all—how am I going to afford health care without my employer insurance?

 

So here’s what I am going to do. Using my 20 years of experience working with retirees, I am going to lay out a framework for what to expect when it comes to Medicare expenses. These will just be “in-the-ballpark” figures, but I believe they will help you come to a decision. You just might find that Medicare falls squarely into your budget.

 

So let’s get started with some good news.

 

Medicare Part A (Inpatient Care) Is Free

As long as you’ve paid into Social Security for at least 10 years, social security will return the favor with no associated Part A premium.

 

The Associated Part B (Outpatient Care) Monthly Premium is $134.00

This figure is adjusted for high income, but most people don’t fall into the high-income category. $134.00 will be your monthly premium unless you make $85,000 per year or more as an individual or $170,000 filing jointly.

 

From this point, the cost of Medicare is heavily affected by which path you take. You can boil down all the madness into two basic choices: Medicare Advantage or Original (traditional) Medicare.

 

The Traditional Medicare Route

If you choose the Traditional Medicare route, you will want Medicare Supplement Insurance to fill in the gaps of what Medicare doesn’t cover. Otherwise, there will be no limit to your out-of-pocket spending. The premiums for a Medicare Supplement range from $45-146 per month. However, we often recommend a plan G, which typically costs $110 per month. This is a fairly standard premium. It puts into perspective what you can expect a Medicare Supplement Plan to cost.

 

To cover your medications, you will also need a Part D prescription drug plan, which will cost in additional premium anywhere between $15 to $128 monthly. The average cost for a drug plan is $35.63 in 2017. The out-of-pocket costs associated with Part D vary greatly depending on your medications. It is impossible to estimate without knowing your specific situation.

 

The Medicare Advantage Route

Offered as an alternative to Traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage is often the cheaper option when it comes to premiums. They are offered for prices within the range of $0-163 monthly with the average premium being approximately $60 per month. The Part D prescription drug plan is almost always rolled into the plan.

 

Caution: Check For Possible Out-of-pocket Costs

At first glance, it looks like the Medicare Advantage route is the obvious choice. But this fails to take into account the risk of out-of-pocket costs. With a Medicare Supplement (only available with Original Medicare), the maximum out-of-pocket is only $166-366 annually for Plan G. However, in an advantage plan, it is more of a pay-as-you-go approach. There are less monthly premiums; but copays, coinsurance, and deductibles are much higher. The potential out-of-pocket for an advantage plan can be as a high as $3500-6000 per year or more!

 

The Costs At a Glance


So there you have it! This should give you a good idea of what Medicare costs for the average 65-year old. But—as I said before—the cost of Medicare is different for every person. If you are still concerned about being able to afford Medicare, contact us for a free consultation. We will assess your financial and health situation to find an overall plan that meets your needs, concerns, and pocketbook. Ensuring you a successful and secure transition into retirement is our number one priority.

 

There are a lot circumstances that may prevent you from retiring. But I believe that the affordability of health insurance shouldn’t be one.

 

Disclaimer: Numbers are based on Ohio 45365.

 

Turning 65 soon and not sure what to do? Click here to sign up for our free Medicare workshop. No high-pressure sales pitches here, just in-depth discussion about the ins and outs of Medicare!

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The Little Known Shortcut Out of an Advantage Plan You Hate

The Little Known Shortcut Out of an Advantage Plan You Hate

Buyer’s remorse. Everyone has been there. You might feel like you were misled, misinformed, or like you just plain missed it. But—regardless—it doesn’t feel good. And when you believe you’ve been locked into your purchase for a whole year—like people so often think after switching to an Advantage Plan—the regretful, trapped feeling only grows in intensity.

 

So you can imagine the relief when I tell my clients that there may still be a way out—a little known shortcut out of a seemingly costly dead end. This is exactly what I am telling you today.

 

It’s Called the Medicare Disenrollment Period

Extending from January 1st to February 14th every year, the Medicare Disenrollment Period offers you an outlet to drop the Advantage Plan you hate. All you have to do is call or write your Advantage Plan provider and notify them. From the time you drop your plan, the changes go into effect the 1st of the following month. No questions asked. You are then automatically signed up for traditional Medicare (Parts A and B).

 

Warning: Time Crunch Ahead

The vast majority of people will want to get on a Medicare Supplement before they dis-enroll from Medicare Advantage. If this is you, you want to plan ahead to ensure you have time to get it all done.

 

Although some people will have what is known as a “Guaranteed Issue Right” or a “trial right,” and therefore, won’t have to take the extra steps of getting approved, many people will not. In fact, most have a fairly cramped checklist to complete before February 14th arrives. They will have to

  1. Shop for a Medicare Supplement
  2. Apply for a plan (and undergo medical questioning)
  3. Receive letter of approval from the plan.
  4. Dis-enroll from their advantage plan.

All within the short 45-day disenrollment period! This is an especially difficult feat if the Medicare Supplement Company is running slow and the “receive letter of approval” portion of the to-do list takes 2 weeks or more.

 

So start early and finish the course way before Valentine’s Day. Because—although it may not say I love you—nothing kills romance like being stuck on a shoddy Advantage plan.

 

Any issues or concerns with your Advantage Plan? Contact Seniormark at 937-492-8800 for a free consultation.

 

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2017 Medicare Numbers Announced

2017 Medicare Parts A & B Premiums and Deductibles Announced

 

Yesterday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released the 2017 premiums for the Medicare inpatient hospital (Part A) and physician and outpatient hospital services (Part B) programs.

 

For 2017, the Part B premium (for those already on Medicare and having their premium deducted from their social security check) will have an average of $109.00 per month. For those just coming on to Medicare in 2017, the part B premium will be $134.00 per month. The Part B deductible will go up slightly ($183). There are some changes to the numbers which are listed below, but if you have a Medicare supplement policy, it will take care of some, if not all, of these expenses.

 

2016 2017
Part B Premium $104.90 $109.00
Part B Premium for those just enrolling in Part B for the first time in 2017 or those not having their premium deducted from their social security check $121.80 $134.00
Part B Deductible $166 $183
Part A Hospital Deductible $1288 $1316
Part A Hospital Coinsurance Days 61-90 $322/day $329/day
Part A Hospital Coinsurance Lifetime Reserve Days $644/day $658/day
Skilled Nursing Coinsurance Days 21-100 $161/day $164.50/day

 

For more information on the 2017 Medicare Parts A and B premiums and deductibles, please contact our office at 937-492-8800, or RSVP here for our next workshop.

 

Warning: Confusing Medicare and Social Security Eligibility Could Cost You Thousands!

Warning: Confusing Medicare and Social Security Eligibility Could Cost You Thousands!

Medicare and Social Security eligibility used to be the same. The full retirement age was 65, and you could receive full benefits for each program at that time.

 

However, it’s not that simple anymore. The full retirement age (FRA) is evolving. Ever since Ronald Reagan signed the 1983 SSA Amendments, the full retirement age has been creeping up. For people of the baby boomer generation, the FRA is now 66. So—in order to get full Social Security benefits—you now have to wait until age 66 to sign up.

 

But here’s what throws people for a loop: The time to sign up for Medicare is still 65, despite the change for Social Security. Not only will you be rewarded full Medicare benefits at 65, but you will also avoid costly penalties for signing up on time.

 

If you wait until 66 to sign up for Medicare (barring a qualifying reason), it’s already too late. The penalties that you have accrued will likely add up to well over $3000 throughout your lifetime.

 

Don’t believe me? Let’s crunch the numbers together.

 

We’ll Start With The Part B (Medical Insurance) Penalty.

The Part B penalty is an extra 10% added on to your monthly premium for every year you were late. In 2016, the Part B premium for most people is $121.80. So this is an easy calculation: 10% of $121.80 is an extra $12.80 per month.

 

This doesn’t sound too menacing, right? If you look at it in the right light, it’s actually kind of cute.

But don’t get too close. This cute and fuzzy fee will eat away at your lifesavings every month for the rest of your life. According to the SSA’s life expectancy calculator, the average 65 year-old can expect to live another 20 years—give or take a couple years. This comes out to 240 months. S0…take that $12.80 and multiply it by the 240 months of life expectancy, and you’ve got yourself $2,923 in penalties.

Nope…not nearly as cute.

 

But that’s not all.

 

You’ve Also Got the Part D (Drug Plan) Penalty.

Here’s how this one works: for every month that you were late, an extra 1% of the average drug plan cost in the U.S ($34.10 in 2016) is added on to your premium. So if you signed up a year late, you’ve got 12% of $34.10 in penalties. If you had a calculator handy, you will know that this number comes out to $4.09 per month. Again…not very scary. But multiply 4.09 by 240 months like we did previously, and it has grown into a terrifying $982 beast.

 

Adding It All Together

Ready for the grand reveal?

$2,923 Part B Penalty + $982 Part D Penalty = $3905.

Ouch!

 

Sure, it’s a big number. But what makes this number so tragic is not its size. It’s the fact that it was based on one, simple mistake. One mix-up. One aspect of Medicare left unexplored.

 

This is why Seniormark is so committed to educating our clients and the general public about Medicare. According to a Merill Lynch Retirement Survey, Less than 7% of people ages 55-64 feel very knowledgeable about their Medicare options. This is staggering! Knowledge saves retirees money!

 

So do yourself a favor and sign up for Medicare when you turn 65 unless you have a qualifying reason. And while you’re at it, learn as much as you can about your options. Knowledge is valuable. And you never know when a nugget of information will be pure gold, saving you thousands of dollars in mistakes.

 

Want to avoid costly Medicare mistakes and coast into your retirement hassle and penalty- free? Call Seniormark at 937-492-8800 for a free consultation. Our Medicare experts will walk you through the whole process at not cost to you.

 

Or, sign up for one of our free workshops — held in three convenient locations — Sidney, Troy, and Vandalia, Ohio.  You can sign up for one of them here:  workshop signup.

 

Warning Retirees: 5 (or 6) Annual Enrollment Dates You Don’t Want to Miss

Warning Retirees: 5 (or 6) Annual Enrollment Dates You Don’t Want to Miss

Clip these dates up on your fridge. Write them on your calendar. Sticky note them to your bathroom mirror or your spouse’s forehead (or maybe not). Annual enrollment is approaching!

 

But before we get into the dates, you’ll first want to know…

 

What Is Annual Enrollment?

Annual enrollment is the busy time of the year for Insurance agencies such as ours. Department stores have their black Friday. Local ice cream shops have their last day of school. And Insurance companies have the Annual Enrollment Period. During this roughly 3-month time frame (October 15- December 7), all Medicare beneficiaries are free to change their plans. They can switch from:

  • An Advantage Plan to a Medicare Supplement
  • A Medicare Supplement to an Advantage Plan
  • One Advantage Plan to another
  • One Part D Drug Plan to another
  • One Medicare Supplement to another (Although you can do this at any point during the year)

The Annual Enrollment Period is for any existing Medicare beneficiary. For those just turning 65 and joining Medicare, you have a different enrollment period called the Initial Enrollment Period, which is the 7-month time frame that surrounds your 65th birthday month. But for those of you who have already enrolled for the 1st time, this is for you!

 

There are 6 very important dates for you to remember.

  1. October 1

This is the day we get all the plan changes, details, benefits, and prices for the following year. It is also when we can start talking to you about which ones will best fit your needs.

  1. October 15

Let the games begin! Annual enrollment is officially started. You can now enroll in a new plan.

  1. December 7

I hope you like the choices you’ve made because, at this date, you are locked into your plans for another year. Annual enrollment is closed.

  1. January 1

It’s a new year, a new resolution, and—quite possibly—new insurance. This is the date any changes you made during the open enrollment period go into effect.

  1. January 1

I apologize for the unsettling déjà vu. I know this is a repeat, but I want to emphasize why this date is doubly important: It is also the first day of the Advantage Plan disenrollment period. Just in case you’ve got some buyer’s remorse, Medicare set up a disenrollment period where you can get out of your Advantage Plan.

  1. February 14

All good things must come to an end. This is the last day of Medicare’s disenrollment period. If you are in an Advantage Plan and don’t like it, this is your last chance to drop it!

BONUS: February 14th is also Valentine’s Day. You’re welcome.

 

And that’s it! I hope you commit these dates to memory or you write them down somewhere. If you forget it, you might regret it!

 

To be sure you have covered ALL of your bases, be sure to download our AEP Checklist by clicking here.

 

Look to switch plans during open enrollment?  Call Seniormark at 937-492-8800 for a free consultation.

Next “Solving the Medicare Puzzle Workshop” date set!

workshop solving the medicare puzzle

Announcing our next Solving the Medicare Puzzle Workshop, Tuesday, March 15, at 5:30 pm at our Troy office. Please call our office at 937-492-8800 to reserve one or more seats for yourself or a friend!