10 Weird Social Security Rules/Practices

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The Social Security program has a number of unique rules and practices that can make Social Security planning complex and challenging. In his exclusive LISI webinar Covisum® Founder and President, Joe Elsasser, CFP, will outline 10 of these rules and practices and talk about their impact.

Here are the odd Social Security rules and practices that Joe will review in his action-packed webinar:

  1. Throughout the month rule for initial eligibility:
    • Only people born on the second of the month can actually claim Social Security at age 62. Everyone else is actually claiming at 62 and one month.
  2. English Common law–attained age:
    • You attain an age on the day prior to your birthday. For example, if you were born on January 1, 1955, Social Security treats you as though you were born in 1954.
  3. Statement assumptions—continued work:
    • If you are planning to retire early, be careful about trusting the age 70 quote on your Social Security statement. You’re Social Security statement assumes that you work and earn your most recently reported earnings until the claim age.
  4. Annual earnings test:
    • Some advisors consider the annual earnings test a cliff (if you make more than $17,640 you can’t claim). In reality some people earning more than the limit should claim; they may forfeit a few checks of the beginning of the year, but they will receive checks for the remainder of the year.
  5. Monthly earnings test:
    • For one year you can elect to use the monthly earnings test, which may allow you to earn far more than the amount it would take to eliminate all Social Security benefits for the year and still collect checks for the months that your earnings are below 1/12 of the annual earnings test amount. This is specifically handy in the year of retirement.
  6. Annual earnings test in your full retirement year:
    • The calendar year that you reach full retirement age has a higher earnings test threshold. In 2019 the amount is $46,920, which only applies to the months prior to your birth month.
  7. Widow limit:
    • The widow benefit is dependent on when the deceased claimed and when the survivor claims. Due to the interaction between the two benefits, sometimes it doesn’t make sense to delay widow benefits beyond age 63 and 1 month.
  8. PIA “Notch year”:
    • Social Security benefits estimates can actually go down. People born in 1947 (who turned 62 in 2009) experienced this due to price fluctuations in 2008. Individuals born in 1947 were subject to inflation in 2008 but did not receive the 5.8 percent “windfall COLA” paid in January 2009.
  9. Medicare hold harmless spillover to those not held harmless:
    • Medicare beneficiaries who are receiving Social Security benefits are held harmless if the Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) does not exceed the increase in their Medicare premiums. A higher wage earner with modified adjusted gross income (over $85,000 for a single person or $170,000 for a couple) who is paying Medicare premiums directly while delaying Social Security is not held harmless from increases in Medicare premiums. If there is a low or zero COLA adjustment for Social Security, any premium increase that would have been paid by all Medicare beneficiaries is only spread over those not held harmless. This can lead to outsized premiums.
  10. Railroad Coordination:
    • A variety of switch strategies continue to exist for those in a household that has one member eligible for railroad retirement and another eligible as a spouse under railroad retirement benefits and Social Security benefits based on their own work record.

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Joe Elsasser, CFP® President & Founder Covisum. Covisum powers some of the nation’s largest financial planning institutions and serves more than 20,000 financial advisors. Based in Omaha, Nebraska, Joe co-authored “Social Security Essentials: Smart Ways to Help Boost Your Retirement Income,” is a regular speaker at industry events and is frequently interviewed by trade and national media. Joe developed Social Security Timing® in 2010 because, as a practicing financial advisor, he couldn’t find a Social Security tool that would help his clients make the best decision about when to elect their benefits. Inspired by the success of Social Security Timing, Joe founded Covisum®, a financial tech company focused on creating a shared vision throughout the financial planning process. In 2016, Covisum introduced Tax Clarity®, which helps financial advisors show their clients the hidden effective marginal income tax rates that can significantly impact cash flow in retirement. In early 2017, Covisum acquired SmartRisk™, software that allows advisors to model “what-if” scenarios with account positions and align a client’s risk tolerance with their portfolio risk. In January of 2019, Covisum launched Income InSight®, an income planning tool that deeply integrates with Covisum's other tools and helps advisors make better financial decisions, faster, while resolving conflicts in assumptions and conflicts in results that plague other financial planning tools.

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