Ep 7: Social Security, Part 1

On This Episode

Today is the start of a multiple part series on social security. We’ll be discussing topics such as the state of the fund and reforms that are aimed to help the program and more, so tune in and catch up on social security.

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Here is a transcript of today’s episode:

Mark: Hey gang, welcome into another edition of retirement planning redefined with the boys from PFG Private Wealth Financial Advisors, John and Nick, once again here on the program with me as we talk about investing, finance and retirement. Always go to the website and check them out at pfgprivatewealth.com that is pfgprivatewealth.com. While you’re there, subscribe to the podcast. Give us a like and check us out and all that good stuff. Subscribe to it for past episodes as well as future episodes. And of course anytime you hear anything, you’ve got a question or concern, give them a call before you take any action. 813-286-7776 is the number to call. If you hear a useful nugget of information and you want to learn more, again, reach out to them at (813)-286-7776. Guys, I hope you’re doing well this week. Nick, what’s going on man?

Nick: Yeah, we’re doing well. Staying busy for sure. Today what we wanted to do is kick off a multi session on social security.

Mark: Okay. Cool.

Nick: And we just want to let everybody know. We know that some of the people that’ll be listening to this will have become familiar with us through either the more comprehensive classes that we put on around town or via a financial wellness workshop. And social security has been one of the hot topics for a long time and it continues to be as it is more in the news with the different pressures and some of the funding issues and those sorts of things. And then obviously with everybody, so many people and so many baby boomers getting closer to retirement, although we will be getting into it fairly comprehensively in this session, we just wanted to make sure that everybody knew that if they were interested in having us come in, whether it’s some sort of association or an employer based kind of program, we like to do the lunch and learns or some sort of financial wellness workshop.

Nick: And we’ve got about a 50 minute session that we’ll do on social security. And from the feedback that we’ve gotten, it’s been one of the most positively embraced sessions that we’ve done. So we just want to let people know that if they wanted a more comprehensive overview on this or they thought it might be beneficial for their employer or fellow employees or coworkers, that that’s something that’s available.

Mark: Awesome. Yeah. When we get into that we’ll have this multi-part series on the podcast regarding social security. And again, as Nick mentioned, if you want to talk with them, (813)-286-7776, (813)-286-7776.

Mark: John, how are you man? You doing all right?

John: I’m doing great. How are you doing?

Mark: I’m doing very well. Thank you for asking. And you know, Nick got us all set up there for the conversation. So what do you say we dive into it? How does it work? I mean, what’s the crux of the whole social security situation here we’re looking at?

Nick: Most people are obviously familiar with the fact that they are eligible for social security and they pay into the system, but not a lot of people are familiar with how it all works and ties together. We always like to start off in explaining people how the program is funded. A lot of people have seen on their pay stub where it might say FICA and they’re not really quite sure what that is. But out of that 7.62 that comes out of your paycheck for those FICA tax is 6.2% of that is for social security. And one of the things that we have found over the years is that many people are not familiar with the fact that the employer also pays in 6.2%. Some people have this idea that the program is fully funded by the government and really it’s fully funded by them and their employer.

Nick: Letting them know that about 12.5% of their income each year is going into the program towards them is something that is important for them to understand. And for some of the higher income earners, they may have noticed at a certain point of the year that their paycheck gets a little bit bigger. And usually that’s because payroll tax is capped, so people no longer pay in on earnings over … In 2019 on earnings over $132,900. And as we talk a little bit about some of the things that’ll change over time with the program, one of the things that’s in the news the most is that cap and removing that cap so that it’s similar to Medicare where people will pay on, no matter what their earnings are, they will continue to pay into the system.

John: That cap’s actually been going up aggressively. You know, I think a few years ago it was $112 Nick, and I think now they’ve jumped it up to one $132.

Nick: Yeah, yeah. They’ve definitely been indexing it up faster than inflation, that’s for sure.

Mark: Yeah. And depending on what happens in the elections coming up next year, you know, depending on who gets in, there’s conversations that that 6.2 could be raised as well. So if you’re still working, so that could go up substantially as well.

Mark: How much can somebody expect guys? I imagine that’s a big question that always comes up is, what are we looking at? I know you can get your estimates, obviously, from the website. They don’t even send those little papers out anymore I don’t think. They used to send them out every year, then it went to every five years. I’m not sure if they even still do that.

John: They do occasionally, and I’m not sure the exact how often, but I know that from our classes we’re starting to have guests say, yeah they’re getting the statements. But it’s based off of your earnings record. And one thing that’s important to understand, it’s actually your highest 35 years. So a lot of people when I first started working, I think the first year I was 18 I made like $12,000.

Mark: That’s pretty good for 18.

John: You’re [crosstalk 00:05:20]. Yeah, exactly. Your highest earning years are really later in life, once you hit your 50s and 60s. So that’s important to understand if someone’s thinking about retiring early to make sure that they look on the statement and see, Hey, what years do I have that are significant in here? Because if I stop working my last seven years, you know the benefit that I’m seeing on my statement’s actually going to be less.

John: Because when you get your statement, what it shows if you continue to work up until that age, not if you stopped. So that’s important. Another thing we tell our clients and anyone that comes to our classes is to make sure that you look at it, see if there’s any zeros in there. Because if you do have zeros in your highest 35 that will actually bring down your benefit and that’s something you may want to consider maybe working a couple of extra years to make sure that you maximize your social security retirement benefit as best you can.

John: And you’re right, you can go on social security.gov and pull up your statement. They’ll ask you a lot of funny questions. What was the color of your first car? Most likely most people get locked out unfortunately, but it’s good to go check it out if you haven’t done that in awhile.

Nick: Yeah. Another thing to just make sure that people know from the standpoint of those highest 35 years is that’s in relation to the cap. And so you know that cap that we mentioned earlier, that $132,900, it’s in relation to that. Just because there may have been a period of time, we’ve seen it in some circumstances, where maybe somebody took some time off to stay home with the kids and then they’re returning to work and before they took time off they were making a higher income. And although, from a pure dollar standpoint they may be making more dollars now as in relation to the cap, that may not necessarily be the case.

Nick: That highest 35 earning years is in relation to that cap. And with how social security date change the mailing out of the [inaudible 00:07:04] and that sort of thing, we absolutely recommend that people, although it can be a little bit of a pain from the process, to really get logged into the site, make sure they understand how to access that statement, make sure they understand how to read that statement. Especially from the standpoint of people that we have that are self employed. We have them double check their statements to make sure that their income is being correctly recorded because they may be paying in their self employment tax, which is essentially payroll tax. Making sure that that’s recorded properly so they’re going to get the benefits that they’re entitled to down the road.

Mark: Yeah. Now guys, I’ve heard through the years that if you see those zeros on there like John mentioned that that’s not really on the social security to fix that. That falls back on you in trying to follow up possibly with past and employers. Like if you know you earned something in a given year and you’re seeing a zero, is that still how it is? Is that the way that it goes? Do you need to talk with the social security office about that or do you need to track down that past employer?

John: You do need to reach out to them and Nick’s, I believe, grandfather did that and Nick can share that story.

Mark: Oh, all right.

Nick: And this was years ago, so I don’t know any details on it, but my grandfather was from Cuba and so he had a natural distrust for the government. And when he was a professor at the University of Rochester and when he went to retire and file for social security, he did not agree with the amount. And due to his non-trusting nature, he happened to have every pay stub that he ever had in the basement. And so he was able to figure that out. Luckily now we have things that are more electronic and we do have people try to keep some sort of record and haven’t had anybody recently deal with that in any sort of deeper way.

Mark: That’s good.

Nick: But usually a tax return will help. And tax returns are one of the things that we have people … We’ve got a portal for clients and we have them upload those tax returns so that they can be a really good resource down the road in case there’s any issues.

Mark: Well that’s cool. Yeah. I mean I’m 48 and I think about myself and I think God, if I had to go back and figure out who I worked for when I was 20 and what they owed me or whatever, or what I paid in, I don’t know where I’d start. So that was awesome that your grandfather actually kept all that stuff. Because I know that for a lot of people that would be definitely a challenge. But that’s just something I thought about and I wanted to bring that up and get your guys’ opinion on that.

Mark: So if you’re talking about things that are really important to people, obviously a big question for boomers, and I’m sure you get this at the wellness events that you do and just in general is the constant question of the health of the fund. Is it going to be around?

John: Yeah, that is a 100% the main question we get at the workshops and also when we’re doing planning for clients. But as it states today there’s actually a surplus and the fund is actually growing. There’s roughly $2.9 trillion in it and when you say trillion it doesn’t really in reality mean much, we have no idea what that actually equates to.

Mark: It sounds like a lot.

John: [crosstalk 00:09:56] Surplus, it is a lot. But the surplus is about $3 billion a year between money that’s coming into it through the payroll taxes and also the interest earned on the balance. Just to kind of give some people some numbers because they’re always asking. In 2023, 2024 that surplus actually will stop. So it’s actually going to be going into a deficit and then in 2034 the fund’s basically exhausted and then it’s just going to be paid through basically money coming in through payroll taxes and then the money’s going to come out. An then in 2034 when that happens, based on the numbers, the estimates, is looking like there’s going to be a 21% reduction of benefits. So you’re going to get 79% of the benefit owed to you. And again, that’s if no changes happen, which we’ll we’re going to go into shortly. Nick will start it up where we’re talking about some of the reforms that already have been happening and that will continue to happen.

Nick: And we do tend to … Some of these will probably be repeated throughout the series about social security. And earlier I mentioned the increase in max earnings, removing that cap. That’s probably one of the lowest hanging fruit from the standpoint of people getting on board with making higher income earners continue to pay into the system. Right now, the earliest retirement age that somebody can collect benefits from is 62. So that’s an age, especially with the longevity of people’s lives and people just living longer overall, that 62 will probably start to increase. I’m sure people will be grandfathered in at a certain age or certain, your worth and before it will be grandfathered in, but-

Mark: It seems like that’s a really-

Nick: John and I suspect that our-

Mark: Yeah, that seems like the easiest one too for a lot of things. Right? Just push it back for people under a certain age, like 50 and under or something, just push it back.

Nick: Yeah. And social security … The trickiest thing and probably one of the biggest reasons that not much has been done with it is because, frankly politicians are worried about not getting voted back into office, so-

Mark: Yeah, it’s a political poker chip for sure.

Nick: They [inaudible 00:11:53] can down the road and try not to tick people off at least to a certain extent. So raising that initial retirement age from 62 probably upwards of … They’ll probably ease it in, but I wouldn’t be surprised if John and I, our initial retirement age is closer to 65 or higher.

Nick: They’ve talked about doing means testing from the standpoint of if people have a certain amount of income on that they wouldn’t collect their social security. I think that one will probably be a little bit more difficult because usually that’s income focused and honestly there’s a lot of ways around that.

Nick: But another thing would be that cost of living adjustment, and that’s been tinkered with a little bit really over the last decade as inflation stayed low for a little while and interest rates were really low. But that could be something that they adjust. But realistically what we think will be the easiest things to do will be to take up on the payroll tax, potentially have employers put in a slightly larger percentage than the actual employee. It’s something that they can do. Increasing that cap or the earning cap or removing the cap in general, and bumping back that initial retirement age, are all things that we think will be a big deal.

Nick: The other thing could be the, really the increases, the percentage increases that social security provides for people that defer taking their benefits. So if they wait, any year after full retirement age, there’s an 8% increase. And so that’s something that’ll probably drop as well.

Nick: The good news is that this is pretty actuarial and really all you have to do is math to figure it out. It’s just going to take people being willing, people being the government, being willing to make the changes.

John: Yeah. And they’ve already, in 2015 they actually closed some of the loopholes which we’ve been seeing a lot of in planning some strategies that people were using are going away, which helped the program out. They’re already doing some things. And the big thing that … One of the things Nick talked about was the cost of living adjustments. To me that’s one of the ones we need to keep an eye on because when we’re doing planning, it really helps out the plan when you have some type of guaranteed income that actually goes up with inflation.

John: Historically, social security has gone up about 2.6%. It’s been low over the last five or six years due to inflation, but that’s actually a pretty nice benefit when you look at what you start with at let’s say 66 and what you end up with that age 85. It’s a big amount. When you look over that 20 year period.

Nick: Probably the one people want to fight for the most to maintain from the standpoint of anybody that’s likes to be active or have a vested interest in the topic, that cost of living adjustment’s really, really important for them.

Mark: Absolutely. Well, let’s take that point and segue into an offer for you guys. If you’re listening and you want a free maximization strategy and the social security guide to anyone who emails in, just email john@pfgprivatewealth.com that’s john@pfgprivatewealth.com. Again to get that free maximization strategy and social security guide here on the program.

Mark: And I that’s going to do it for us this week on the podcast guys. Really good information to start this week, talking about social security here on the show. We’re going to continue on, as Nick mentioned earlier on, and do a multi-part series on this next time here on the program. We’re going to talk about integrating social security into your retirement plan, making that part of the plan and some things to look for and think about in regards to that.

Mark: You’ve been listening to retirement planning redefined with John and Nick financial advisors at PFG Private Wealth. Again, that’s PFG Private Wealth and that you can find them online at pfgprivatewealth.com and subscribe to the podcast while you’re there. Don’t forget to email John if you’d like to get that social security maximization or give him a call at (813)-286-7776. If you’ve got some questions about your own social security, get on the horn with them. Come in for a consultation and a conversation. (813)-286-7776. This has been retirement planning redefined for John and Nick. I’m Mark and we’ll see you next time.