How to Maximize Your Social Security Benefits

For most Americans, Social Security is a significant retirement asset. Although an ideal retirement scenario does not depend solely on Social Security, the importance of Social Security as part of a comprehensive retirement plan cannot be ignored. Getting your arms around Social Security can be very complicated. Let us help you deal with the complex benefit formulas and provide you with a calculated decision regarding when to claim benefits in order to maximize this valuable benefit. We will help you determine the optimal age to begin benefits.

We have the resources and skills to provide you with a comprehensive analysis and strategy for claiming Social Security.  We can provide:

  • An introduction to Social Security, explanation of key terms, and an explanation about how your benefits are calculated.
  • An analysis that compares you cumulative Social Security Benefits for different starting dates and life expectancies.
  • Help you determine how to optimize when to begin benefits. Should I start collecting benefits at 62 or wait until 66 or 70?
  • When can, or should my spouse begin taking the spousal benefit?
  • How can I get a 32% monthly Social Security benefits “bonus”?

Contact us today to discuss what information we will need to provide you with your Social Security Analysis and Strategy.

Protecting Yourself against Tax-Related Identity Theft

Tax-related identity theft continues to be an ever-growing national crisis.  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated that in tax year 2013, fraudulent tax refunds misdirected to identity thieves was about $5.8 billion and impacted over 2.4 million U.S. taxpayers.  Unfortunately, this fraudulent activity has continued to rapidly expand since 2013.  All taxpayers must be diligent in further protecting themselves from becoming identity theft victims.

As a valued client, we want to share with you some proactive steps and resources to help in your defense of tax-related identity theft. However, should you become aware that you are a victim of identity theft or that your private financial information has been compromised, please contact us immediately for additional information and assistance.

Suggestions to Protect You and Your Family from Identity Theft:

Secure private personal information. Safeguard family names and birthdates, account numbers, passwords, and Social Security numbers. Carefully consider all requests to provide your Social Security number before giving it out and don’t hesitate to ask why your private information is being requested. Secure your Social Security card in a safe or safety deposit box and never in your purse or wallet. Proactively shred all documents that contain personal data before disposing of them, even solicitations and “junk” mail that may unknowingly contain account numbers and personal information.

Monitor personal information shared on social media. Cybercriminals methodically gather data from online sources, including commonly used identifiers such as birthdate, maiden name, pet name, hometown, significant other, and/or children’s information. Be cautious who you communicate with online and be selective before accepting electronic invitations from people you do not know or recognize. Separate what you post publicly from what you post with your personal contacts. Do not post personal and family data.

Secure your computer. Use current versions of antivirus, malware protection, and firewalls and update these programs frequently. Consider having this software updated automatically, as well as using different computers for business and finances than you do for social media and personal matters. Use strong passwords, change them frequently, and do not share them with others.

Beware of impersonators. Criminals utilize sophisticated computer technology, such as dialers and automated questions, to contact thousands of targets daily. Do not provide personal information to callers you do not know. If any caller requests that you verify personal information, be extremely cautious and ask for further confirmation of their identity, such as their telephone number, website, email address, supervisor’s name, and mailing address. The IRS never initiates contact by telephone.

Beware of unsolicited emails and current phishing scams.Don’t open attachments or electronic links unless you know the sender. Internet sites should have a lock symbol to show the site is encrypted. Always beware of entering sensitive data. The IRS never initiates contact with taxpayers by telephone, email, text message, or social media channels.

Monitor your personal information. Review your bank and credit card statements often.

Consider electronic transmission of financial information.No sensitive tax or personal information should be sent via unsecured email, even information being transmitted to our firm or other CPAs, bankers, and/or financial advisors. A secure portal, encrypted email, or physical mailing of sensitive information is necessary.

Order your free annual credit report. Call 1-877-322-8228 or go to www.annualcreditreport.com to request your report and/or search for creditors you do not know. Choose to use only the last four digits of your Social Security number on your report. Consider placing a credit card freeze on your account so only creditors you approve are allowed to access your file.

What to Do if You Become a Victim of Tax-Related Identity Theft:

You may learn that your identity has been compromised by receiving a letter in the mail from the IRS. Alternatively, we may contact you when your personal income tax return is electronically filed and subsequently rejected. If you receive a notice indicating identity theft, please contact us immediately to receive assistance in taking the appropriate steps with the IRS to resolve the matter.

Other ways you may discover your identity has been stolen include:

  • Finding purchases on your credit card that you did not make
  • Discovering withdrawals from an account that you did not make
  • Seeing that your address has been changed for certain accounts, or no longer receiving your regular bills. (Cyber criminals may change your address when filing a return.)

The unfortunate reality is that personal data is already at risk everywhere, but we will work with you to reduce the likelihood of you being victimized by cyber criminals. As your CPA and trusted advisor, we understand the need to protect your privacy and take data protection very seriously. Our security and data integrity meets the highest industry standards established by the IRS and Federal Trade Commission. We have also established protocols to guard access to client files.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us with questions or concerns or if you would like to meet with us to discuss this issue or any of your financial or tax needs.

Social Security Planning Tips

More than two-thirds of Americans claim their Social Security retirement benefits early, many filing at age 62. Many people do not realize that they have given up a significant amount of future benefits over their remaining life. Claiming benefits early may also affect your survivor benefit amount. The most basic early eligibility requirements are that you have attained the age of 62 and have accumulated 10 or more years in a job in which you paid Social Security taxes. Depending on your age, there is a reduction of between 20% and 30% in benefits for filing early.

Planning Tip: Social Security do-overs are allowed within 12 months of commencing benefit payments. You are allowed a one-time do-over and must repay all benefits received.

Planning Tip: If you were born before January 1, 1954, the Restricted Application option is available to you. If you can forego your Social Security benefits for a few more years, you may be able to voluntarily restrict an application to only spousal benefits, for example while allowing your benefits to earn “delayed retirement credits”. If the benefit amount is suspended at age 66 until age 70, your monthly Social Security benefits will be 32% more.

Consider the following hypothetical example. George is 62 and his full retirement age (FRA) is 66. If he starts taking benefits at 62, he will receive $1,200 a month. If he waits until his FRA to collect, he will receive 33% more or $1,600 a month in Social Security. If George waits until 70, his benefits will increase another 32%, to $2,112 a month. If he lived to age 89, his lifetime benefits would be about $38,000 or 13% greater if he had waited until 70 to collect Social Security.

Planning Tip: Married or divorced, you should consider spousal benefits in either situation. Spousal benefits are an often overlooked source of income in divorce situations. A divorcee is entitled to benefits based on his or her ex-spouse’s earnings history (50% of your ex-spouses benefit). The basic requirements for divorce spousal benefits are:Social Security Planning Tips

  • You and your ex-spouse are eligible for Social Security benefits;
  • You remain unmarried;
  • Your marriage lasted at least 10 years;
  • You are at least 62 and;
  • Your spousal benefit is greater than your own benefit

For currently married spousal benefits you must be at least 62 and your spouse must file for their own benefits first. You are automatically entitled to receive the benefit that provides you the higher monthly benefit amount; either a benefit based on your own earnings history or 50% of your spouse’s benefit.

Planning Tip: If you are entitled to a spousal benefit and begin collecting this benefit before you reach full retirement age, your benefit will be permanently reduced. Depending on your specific circumstances, health, etc. you should consider the increased benefit amounts available by waiting until full retirement age.

When and how to claim Social Security may be one of the most important decisions you make regarding your retirement. We are here to help. We can prepare a Social Security Strategy and Analysis that will maximize your lifetime benefits based upon your personal circumstances, age and earnings history. Call us today if you think you may benefit from such an analysis.