On This Episode
This is part 2 of our Social Security conversation. We will be debunking the remaining 5 myths on today’s show.
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Here is a transcript of today’s episode:
Marc: Back for another edition of the podcast. This is Retirement Planning redefined with John and Nick from PFG Private Wealth, serving folks all around the area here. So reach out to them on the podcast, pfgprivatewealth.com is where you can find them online for a lot of good tools, tips, and resources. You can subscribe to the podcast, book some time with the team, all sorts of good stuff. Again, stop by the website if you’re not already working with them at pfgprivatewealth.com. And if you haven’t subscribed to the podcast, consider doing so while you’re there. We’re on Apple, Google, Spotify, and all that good stuff. So you can check that out. And this week we’re going to follow up with the second half of our social security myths. We did the first five on the prior episode. You don’t have to have listened to that one to listen to this one, but it certainly isn’t a bad idea to go back and check that one out. So that one came out a little bit earlier in April. So we’re going to drop this one here and get into the second half of this, the next five myths. Guys, you doing all right this week, John? How are you buddy?
John: I’m doing good, having a little contract work done at the house, which is, as you know Mark is –
John: I’m dealing with that. It’s always a challenge and fun.
Marc: That’s right.
John: Looking forward to the project being complete.
Marc: Yes, we need more contractors, we need more people who are in the trade services. That is for sure as there is a major shortage all across the country, really I think globally actually as well. But Nick, what’s going on with you bud?
Nick: Staying busy for sure.
Marc: Spring is here and the weather’s nice. That’s always good.
Nick: Yeah. Although it has been warmer here than I feel like typical this time of year.
Marc: Could be a hot summer then.
Nick: Yeah. So hopefully it cools down just a little bit for the next month so we can enjoy the end of spring.
Marc: Have an actual spring, not skip it.
Nick: Yeah, that’s all I’m asking for.
Marc: There you go. Well, let’s jump into some myths here and see if we can help some folks out with some more of these. Again, we did the first five, which are kind of the big five I think that many people hear often, but I’ve got some other unique ones as well. So these might appeal to some folks who are thinking about social security or getting close to that age and are wondering about some of these things that they’ve heard maybe online or on the news or whatever. So let’s jump in, talk about a few things guys. Myth number six, out of the total 10 we were doing, you can’t work and receive social security benefits at the same time. I think this myth revolves around the fact that if this applies to people who take it early, because there are some limitations. So Nick, why don’t you break this one down a little bit?
Nick: Yeah, just like everything else, the devil’s in the details. So essentially the way that SSA, Social Security Administration, looks at this is kind of from a tiered perspective. So they break it down in essentially three sections. So from when you’re first eligible which is 62 up through essentially before the year that you reach full retirement age, and then the year that you reach full retirement age has its own section, and then the period of time after your full retirement age. So as an example to bring that all together and make it make sense, you can have income while collecting social security before your full retirement age, but there is a limit. That limit is about $21,000, little over $21,000. And for every $2 that you make over that amount, you have a $1 reduction or penalty on your social security.
Marc: So almost like part-time, you could do part-time work if you took it early, so to speak, right?
Nick: Yeah. And a lot of times that’s kind of the ticket for some people is to work part-time, keep them busy, help them transition into retirement, and to help prevent them from having to dig into their nest egg. They might file and collect social security and those numbers kind of balance out, they have income less than the amount that would cause a penalty, and so it works out for them. In the year that you reach your full retirement age, that amount goes up to about 56,000. So essentially what they’re saying is we understand that birthdays range and that from a calendar perspective it can get a little bit tricky. So they say that you can collect your benefit and earn up to the 56,000 without any sort of penalty. Once you’ve reached your full retirement age, there’s no income limit at all. So you can do a full double dip per se in that scenario.
Marc: Yeah I mean if you make $1,000,000 a year and you’re 69 years old, that’s fine, right? Let it rip.
Nick: Yeah. What you’re giving up per se is the 8% increase per year on the social security benefit. So there is some sort of give up, but whether or not that has a big impact depends on somebody’s situation.
Marc: If you’re waiting till the 70, right?
Nick: Correct. Yeah. If you’re to wait until 70. So some scenarios that we see this work out really well are somebody hits their full retirement age, they plan on continuing to work, but maybe the mortgage isn’t paid off, so they’d like to turn on the social security with the goal of, when they retire at 70, these social security payments that are coming in, will go directly towards paying down the mortgage and they can retire without having a mortgage. Or maybe they’re behind on their retirement funds. And so they want to make sure that they can really maximize retirement savings, so they’ll collect and save it or just put the money away. So it’s like, I’m going to take this benefit, but instead of just spending it, I’m going to go ahead and save it and then I’ve had people say, this is going to be my vacation fund for our first five years of retirement. We’re going to save as much as we can, and then we’ll use that to pay for our vacations for those first five years where we’re most active in retirement, that sort of thing. So you can get strategic, but that’s kind of the breakdown of how it actually works.
Marc: Yeah and John, I think for many people that that’s where that confusion comes in, like my brother, for example, he’s already 65, but he is retiring before full retirement age, so he has to wait, so he can work part-time make up to that limit that Nick was just describing. But I think that’s where the confusion comes in. At least that’s what I’ve seen from my perspective. How about you?
John: Yeah, I’d agree with that. A lot of people confuse 65 Medicare eligible age to full retirement age and social security, so I’d agree with that. Something else that people typically miss with this or maybe just don’t fully understand is that this is based on the individual’s earned income, not household. So I’ve seen some scenarios where someone was thinking about drawing social security, they were retired, the other spouse was not, and I said, well, I can’t draw yet because our income is higher and our household income is much higher. It’s not based on household income, it’s based on the individual’s earned income.
Marc: Yeah, good point. All right, so that was myth number six. Myth number seven, I don’t think I’ve really heard this one before. Social security benefits are only for US citizens. This seems kind of like a no-brainer. That’s basically the case, wouldn’t it be?
John: Yeah this is definitely a myth, it doesn’t come down to whether you’re a citizen or not, it comes down to have you met the requirements to be eligible.
Marc: Okay, which is that 10 years, 40 quarters thing.
John: Yeah, 10 years, the 40 quarters there, and once you hit those, you are eligible for social security.
Marc: I wonder if some of this is for folks who retire abroad, so there’s some confusion there, because I even thought about it myself. My wife and I were joking. We were going to retire and live in Aruba part-time, and I asked myself, I wonder if you live in Aruba, can you still collect social security benefits? And I think if you have dual citizenship, I think you still have to maintain citizenship is my understanding. But it’s certainly something that you can have a conversation. That’s some of the questions that might make more sense when you’re going to the social security office versus saying, Hey, when should I turn it on? They’re probably better equipped to answer questions like that than they are answer questions about when’s the best time for you to activate it.
Nick: Yeah. One example that goes in with that too is you’ll have people that are considered permanent resident alien. So I can even give an example where in my family, my grandparents came from Cuba. My grandfather work was a professor at State University, and he spoke English and Spanish, but my grandmother had different issues and she never fully spoke English, so she never was able to do the citizen test, that sort of thing. But my grandfather was here his whole adult life and paid into social security, and so she was eligible for a benefit as a spouse and she has permanent resident alien status. So there’s different things like that that kind of come into play.
Marc: Yeah certain non-citizens then.
Nick: For sure.
Marc: Yeah. That’s cool. That’s a great example. Thanks for sharing that. All right, so myth number eight. This one is interesting, and I don’t know if this is state by state or why this myth is around, but see what you think about this one. If you have a pension, you’re not eligible for social security benefits. This just seems weird to me. I don’t think that one precludes the other.
Nick: Yeah, so I can kind of explain this as well. So what some states used to do with their pension system, and a lot of times it was, again, in certain states or even certain kind of counties or municipalities in certain states, they would allow, or their structure would be, instead of the person who was working for them paying into social security, they would pay into the pension. And so it was both they and the employer were paying into the pension system in lieu of paying into social security. And there’s a clause for this, what would happen. I know I for sure had some people in Illinois that dealt with this. And so because of that issue, there was this calculation that would offset the amount that they were eligible for social security. And so where people got in trouble would be sometimes what people would do is they would say, I’ll use a teacher for an example. So this whole program is called the windfall provision. And so what they would do was, so say a teacher, they knew that they weren’t going to be eligible for social security because of the way that their pension was structured, so they might work a summer job so that they could start to build in their 40 quarters and be eligible for social security, but they didn’t realize that there was an offset with how this worked. So the windfall provision, or it’s called windfall elimination provision, is something where if this sounds familiar, it’s something that you want to look into. And it was because the main part wasn’t paying into the social security, but unfortunately when they would get the scenario with the second job or something like that, that’s where it would almost penalize them because they would subtract the amount that’s coming from the pension out of the amount that they’d be eligible for social security.
Marc: Interesting. Okay. So the windfall provision, interesting. All right. John, any thoughts on that one?
John: No, run into the same scenario in Massachusetts where I’ve had some clients up there that have paid into the pension system up there, and basically they got reduction of social security benefits.
Marc: So it sounds like it doesn’t preclude you, it just may alter benefits.
John: There’s different situations.
Nick: Significantly. Yeah.
Marc: Okay. Good to know. Interesting. You never know sometimes, there’s always some sort of kernel to these things which kind of gets distorted and pulled out. So again, if you’ve got questions around this, and especially if you’re on a pension, you may want to certainly talk with your financial professional about that. And John and Nick are here to do so. So again, reach out to them at pfgprivatewealth.com. All right. Good stuff. Let’s do myth number nine. Social security benefits, John, are based on your income and assets. This one’s an interesting one, I think because I guess the confusion of thinking, if you have a, I don’t know, whatever your salary is, but then if you have a $5 million home, it’s somehow different than someone who has a million dollar home.
John: Yeah, that’s not the case. I mean, it is based on your earnings, which I guess some people could say, well, is that my income? And we’re going to talk about this later, it’s based on your highest 35 years of earnings.
Marc: But it’s not means tested, at least not now, not yet anyway.
John: Not means tested, but I’m glad you mentioned that. That is something that has been discussed as doing some means testing to basically help the program out where let’s say if you’re above a certain income or asset level where they start to reduce your social security benefit.
Marc: I mean, could you see Elon Musk ever needing or Oprah Winfrey ever needing social security? but technically they’re eligible, right?
Nick: With the means testing, that’s a tricky thing because the way that it goes kind of hand in hand is that people that exceed the cap, which I think right now is around 150,000, something like that in income, they no longer pay into social security. So there’s almost like a built in kind of means testing.
Marc: But doesn’t that have a donut hole, Nick, where it kicks back in again after a certain higher amount, you start paying again after $400,000 or something?
Nick: They’re discussing that, but not currently for social security. And it’s that way for Medicare, so for example, the Medicare portion of the tax is in perpetuity, and then there’s an additional amount over a certain amount of income. So what could be interesting is almost giving people an option of, and again, this is just speculation, but hey, you have the option to over this cap, you can continue to pay social security or have a means test later on when you retire. That’s something that could be interesting, almost like one or the other, or just remove the cap completely and then just have a maximum amount that could be paid out. So going back to what we had talked about in the other session, there’s definitely a way to figure this out, but somebody’s got to have the guts to do it.
Marc: Well for us, regular folk, I guess. So to John’s point, it’s not really based on those things. Not exactly anyway, it’s more based on your work history and your salary through the years, right?
John: Yeah. How many years you’ve paid into it and what those numbers were.
Marc: And so that just walks us into the number 10 here. So we’ll do that one. John, I’ll let you start with it then. So your social security benefits are based on your last jobs salary. And you kind of alluded to it, it’s really based on the highest 30 years, correct?
John: 35 years of earnings.
Marc: Sometimes I hear advisors say, hey, make sure you go to ssa.gov and take a look and make sure that your numbers are being reported correctly. Heard a lot of this during COVID, especially for folks who may have been laid off or things are kind of wonky to make sure those numbers do get reported correctly because that kind of thing can make an impact. And if you think about your highest earning years, John, many of us, that’s going to be between the ages of 40 and 60 or 45 and 65. So you want to make sure those numbers are correct.
John: Yeah, typically those are the highest earning years, and it’s always good to do a checkup every two or three years, especially after you’re hitting the 40-50 mark you really want to take a look at what did they put in there for me last year? I’d say more often than not, it’s accurate. If there are any issues, sometimes we’ll see them with someone that’s self-employed, so this comes always to the person that is self-employed and I don’t want to say determine their W2 income. It’s kind of like, how much income do you want to show for social security when you’re talking to your accountant? But that could be a negative if you’re doing some accountant stuff and showing lower income.
Marc: It could bother you for your earnings later, for your social security draw later on. I think about the highest 35 years when you’re talking about that, you could hear someone saying, well, I don’t remember what I made at Wendy’s when I was 16, 40 years ago. That one probably gets dropped off. So the idea of being the highest, again, 35 years versus maybe that first job way back when.
Nick: Just to kind of add to that context, because that social security cap has continued to go up over time with inflation it’s the highest 35 years in relation to the cap. So that’s something to understand because effectively your income income today, let’s say in theory, for example, $100,000 today compared to $75,000 20 years ago, that 75 may actually be a higher percentage compared to the cap. So there’s a little bit of nuance in there, but that’s just in general, that’s how it works.
Marc: Okay. All right. Well, some good stuff. John, any other thoughts as we wrap up this podcast on Social Security myths? Anything else you’d like to chime in with?
John: No I think we’ve hit all the points. I think we’re good. I think we did a good job debunking all these myths.
Marc: Certainly some good stuff in there. I think there’s a few things that might catch people by surprise. Nick, anything else before we go?
Nick: No, just the additional emphasis that it is a complicated decision and the good part of that is that there’s usually strategy involved and that you can do things to improve the overall planning for yourself. So just like a lot of things, the gift and the curse per se, but we’d rather have people have the ability to be able to adapt their decision making process to help make this a decision that improves their overall situation than be forced to do just the same old thing.
Marc: I like on the prior episode we were talking, John said that you guys can break things down a couple of ways. You can look at social security in a vacuum, but then also look at it as it applies to everything else that you have going on from a retirement standpoint. And I think that’s going to be a real advantage when folks are trying to sit down and figure out the best ways to handle something that can be actually a lot of money. I mean, social security could be a lot of income, total dollars applied to your retirement nest egg. So you certainly want to make sure you’re getting it right, and that’s what the team can help you with. So again, if you got some questions, need some help. As always, we appreciate the time on the podcast, but don’t forget to subscribe to them. And so you can catch new episodes and check out past episodes. But also just in case you need some help, stop by the website and schedule some time. Have a conversation with John, Nick and the whole team there at PFG Private Wealth. Find them online at pfgprivatewealth.com. That’s pfgprivatewealth.com to get started today. A lot of good tools, tips, and resources. And of course you can also, again, find the podcast and subscribe there on the website as well. Find us on Apple, Google, Spotify, under Retirement Planning Redefined. Guys, thanks for hanging out. As always. I appreciate your time. I’ll sign off for us. But for John and Nick, I’m your host, Mark. We’ll catch you next time here on Retirement Planning Redefined.