Planning Through the Generations

Integrating Social Security Into Your Practice

More and more advisors look to broaden their expertise

by David G. Freitag, CLU, ChFC, CRPC

Mr. Freitag is a financial planning consultant with MML Investors Services, LLC, a subsidiary of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). In this role, Dave is focused on Social Security and retirement income planning. Connect with him by e-mail: [email protected]

It is a long-standing tradition, at this time of year, to make business-based resolutions for 2015. These “New Year’s” resolutions represent important ways to improve your practice and increase your value to your clients. For your consideration, here are ten different ways to use Social Security to do just that.

  •  Find some time to learn all you can about Social Security.
  •  Encourage all your clients to learn about their own Social Security benefits.
    This is much easier if they have created their own personal web sites with the Social Security Administration. Help them download their Full Social Security Statement from the site. According to the Social Security Administration, over 15,000,000 people in this county have enrolled for their own web sites.1 Here is some really good news. In September of this year, the Social Security Administration restarted their statement mailing program. This new mailing program is limited. Benefit statement mailings now take place every five years to workers attaining ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55. Mailings are made each year to those, age 60 and over, who are not currently collecting benefits. Have clients visit http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/ and open a Social Security myAccount. By the way, be sure you sign up for your own personal Social Security myAccount as soon as possible. It is easy and fun.
  • Find and use good Social Security modeling software.
    Commit to make it part of your practice. There are many good vendors in this space with tools. These software packages are affordable and for the most part easy to use. With over 500 different filing strategies available to married clients at any given mortality assumption, you can easily get lost in the weeds. Modeling software is the only logical way to keep all of these choices under control.
  • The Social Security modeling discussion opens the door to other opportunities and referrals.
    People want to talk about their Social Security benefits. Once you have helped them understand their options, it is a natural to transition into talking more broadly about their retirement planning and income needs, including talking about their 401(k), IRA rollovers, fee- based planning, life insurance, long-term care and annuity solutions. Try to schedule at least two interviews each week which specifically focus on Social Security modeling for clients approaching age 62.
  •  The Social Security Administration reports that over ½ half of the people in the country receiving Social Security benefits are women.2
    Decisions made today could have great impact on a surviving spouse 15 to 20 years from now. Visit www.socialsecurity.gov/women for more details and information about Social Security benefits for women. You will be glad you did.
  • Remind clients that with Social Security, “You have to be present to be paid!”
    As retirement begins, a married couple (not subject to the Windfall Elimination Provision and or the Government Pension Offset) initially receives two checks from Social Security. Eventually, however, when one partner is deceased, the survivor will only get a single check. There will always be a reduction in household income when this happens. This reduction in income can be a devastating blow to some households. The time to talk about this income loss is now. Defensive strategies (life insurance, annuities, and investment accounts) put in place early in retirement or before retirement, can help offset this certain income loss in the future.
  •  Even a modest amount of retirement income from other sources such as 401(k) distributions, IRA distributions, pension plan distributions and income from tax free bonds can create a Social Security income tax liability.
    When clients start receiving Social Security benefits, it is a good idea to encourage them to review their income tax withholding strategies with their tax advisor. Here is the link to the voluntary tax withholding form that clients need to use if they want income taxes withheld from their Social Security payments. http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw4v.pdf
  •  Remind clients that payments from Social Security are taxed with different rules than those applied to distributions from tax qualified accounts like IRA’s and 401(k)’s.
    At high income levels, up to 85% of Social Security benefits are reported as income. By comparison, distributions from tax qualified accounts are fully taxable. Social Security benefits are tax favored and should be maximized when and if possible.Find out if your state collects income taxes from Social Security benefits. Many states in the country do not collect income taxes on Social Security benefits, giving the client even more buying power in retirement. Here is a great map that shows Social Security tax status by state. Visit http://taxfoundation.org/blog/monday-map-state-income-taxes-social-security-benefits for more details about Social Security income taxes in states near you.
  • Social Security modeling can be a great source of referrals.
    Because of the large number of filing options available, most people do not know how to structure their benefit election. You can help them make the right call by providing information and answering their questions. These people have friends who also need help. Also, if you are working with a younger client base, remember to ask them about parents and older relatives.
  • If allowed by your company, use social media and other various forms of electronic marketing tools.
    Include information on your web site about Social Security. Provide electronic links for clients to download PDF forms that explain Social Security benefits. Share this type of educational information with everyone you know. Access to this material should be like air. It should be everywhere.
People want to talk about their Social Security benefits

 

The AARP reported in 2011 that 8,000 people a day turn age 65 in the United States.3 Most of these people will make a Social Security filing decision. Based on statistics from the Social Security Administration, over 70% of these people take benefits before their full retirement age. In some cases, taking benefits early is a justifiable decision due to economic need or declining health. However, for people with average or long life expectancy, taking benefits early can be a costly mistake. Given alternatives, clients will find the “sweet” spot for their plans for the future. However, without the proper information, clients could end up going down the wrong path. It is very possible that they will not discover their mistake until it is too late to make changes.

If you add these Power Tips to your practice in 2015, your clients will be well-informed as they move into a new and rewarding phase of their lives.♦

 

 

 

 

End Notes
1. Source: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount/
2. Source: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/women What every women should know.
3. Source: http://www.aarp.org/personal-growth/transitions/boomers_65/
Compliance Note:
The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual, its employees and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. Individuals are encouraged to seek advice from their own tax or legal counsel.
Final decisions about Social Security filing strategies always rest with the client and should always be based on their specific needs and health considerations.

Clients should acquire as much information as possible in order to make an informed Social Security claiming decision because one year after the Social Security claiming decision is made, it cannot be changed.
Some people, such as State and Local Government workers, may be subject to the “Government Pension Offset” and the “Windfall Elimination Provision” which could decrease their Social Security Benefits.
The Social Security program was created by an Act of Congress. It is subject to change. In the past, Congress has made changes to the law which has had an impact on Social Security benefits. Congress can make changes to the law at any time, which might impact benefits in the future.