What You Should Be Doing Now to Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA

What to do now to protect your heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA

What Should You Do Now About the Death of the Stretch IRA James Lange

This post is the fifth in a series about the Death of the Stretch IRA.  The four posts that precede this one spell out the details of the proposed legislation that will cost your family a lot of money.  In this post, I’m going to talk about some possible solutions to the problems that will be caused by the Death of the Stretch IRA that you should consider now.  As I said in my earlier posts, using Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan to take advantage of the existing minimum required distribution rules that allow inherited IRAs to be stretched will, for most of you, produce a much more favorable result than any other option available.  The Death of the Stretch IRA legislation is designed to accelerate income taxes on retirement plans, so the Charitable Remainder Unitrust should be your “Plan B” that you consider only after the law changes.

How can Social Security help with the Death of the Stretch IRA?

If you’re considering retiring, the very first thing you should do is evaluate your Social Security benefits.  Many people feel that the best age to take Social Security benefits is 62 – get back what you paid into the system before it collapses, etc!  I used to agree with that line of thinking until noted economist Larry Kotlikoff brilliantly pointed out the flaw in my logic.  Larry told me that the last thing I should worry about was not getting back what we had paid into the system if my wife and I die young.  If you die, he said, you will have no financial worries – because you’re dead!  Our fear, he told me, should be that we might live a very long time and possibly outlive our money.  Wow!  What an attitude adjustment!  But after thinking about it, I realized Larry was right.  Your Social Security benefits will give you a guaranteed income that will last for the rest of your life, so it makes sense to maximize them and get the most you can.  I wrote an entire book on that subject – you can get it for free by going to the first page of this website – so I’m not going to cover those techniques in this blog.  Or, check out an earlier blog post that talks about my latest Social Security book The Little Black Book of Social Security Secrets, Couples Ages 62-70: Act Now, Retire Secure Later.   But, getting the highest Social Security benefit is something that you should be evaluating now, because it will benefit you before and after the Death of the Stretch IRA.

How much can you afford to spend every year in retirement?

Second, know exactly how much you can afford to spend every year during retirement, without having to worry about running out of money.  Many financial advisors point to a rule of thumb known as the Safe Withdrawal Rate, which is the amount that you should be able to withdraw from your assets over the course of your lifetime without worrying about running out of money.  And while there is certainly validity in knowing how much you can spend during the retirement, the problem with rules of thumb is that they are just that!  I have proven that there is also a benefit to spending your savings strategically – I discuss it at length in my flagship book, Retire Secure! – but the idea, sadly, is usually not included in general discussions about Safe Withdrawal Rates.  The bottom line?  Don’t rely on estimates – talk to someone who is skilled in running the numbers, and then check your numbers regularly.  That way, you won’t have to worry about running out of money, no matter when the Death of the Stretch IRA passes.

Are you paying to much to invest your money?

Third, know how much you are paying to invest your money.  As more and more people become educated about investment fees, the trend (thankfully) has been to move away from high-cost products such as annuities and front-loaded mutual funds, and from stockbrokers who survive by constantly buying and selling in their client’s accounts.  Instead, more people are looking toward low-cost mutual funds that can provide diversification, income and even growth without having to pay huge fees.  The cost that you pay to earn a return on your money is so important that I’ve even been known to suggest that it should be included as part of your Safe Withdrawal Rate calculation.  In years past, there was an odd prestige associated with the idea of having your money managed by a broker who charged high fees.  That is not the case anymore!  Americans are moving in droves to low-fee investments because they now fully understand how much they save over the long term.  And doing the same will benefit you no matter when the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation passes.

Please stop back soon!


For more information on this topic, please visit our Death of the Stretch IRA resource.

Can a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT) Protect your Heirs from the Death of the Stretch IRA?

Can a Charitable Remainder Unitrust Protect Your Heirs From the New IRA Tax Rules James Lange

This post is the fourth in a series about the Death of the Stretch IRA.  If you’re a new visitor to my blog, this post might not make much sense to you unless you back up and read the three posts, How will your Required Minimum Distributions Work After the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?, Are There Any Exceptions to the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?, & Will New Rules for Inherited IRAs Mean the Death of the Stretch IRA? immediately before this one.  Those posts spell out the details of the proposed legislation that will cost your family a lot of money.  If you’re familiar with the specifics of the legislation, then please read on, because I’m going to talk about some possible solutions to the problems that will be caused by the Death of the Stretch IRA.

What is the best way to protect my IRA, once this Stretch IRA legislation is passed?

Many people have asked me, “What is the best way to protect my IRA, once this legislation is passed?  Well, the Senate Finance Committee did say that some people could be excluded from the new tax rules – my post of February 28th discusses them – so let’s look at how they might figure into your game plan.

I firmly believe in providing the surviving spouse with as much protection as possible, so I usually recommend that you name your spouse as your primary beneficiary and give him the right to disclaim your IRA to someone else.  If your spouse needs the money, that’s great.  He is excluded from the legislation, so he can still “stretch” your IRA after your death.

But suppose you have no spouse, or that your surviving spouse will not need your IRA because he has sufficient assets of his own?  In that case, your IRA will likely go to your child or children.  And the problem with that is that children are not excluded from these new rules unless they are disabled or chronically ill.   So here is one possible solution that can protect your children from the harsh new tax structure.

Let’s assume that you have an IRA that is worth $1.45 million, and that your beneficiary is your child.  Under the proposed new rules, your child can exclude $450,000 of your IRA and stretch it over the remainder of her life.  The remaining $1 million, though, will be subject to the new rules and will have to be withdrawn from the IRA within five years.  Even if she tries to spread the withdrawals out over five years to minimize the tax bite, she’ll still have to include about $200,000 in her income every year.   Depending on her income from other sources, that will probably push her up into a higher tax bracket.  The current maximum tax rate is 39.6 percent, so it’s possible that your child would have to pay $400,000 in federal income taxes – even more, if the state you live in taxes IRA distributions.

Can a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT) provide a possible solution to the Death of the Stretch IRA?

Can a Charitable Remainder Unitrust (CRUT) provide a possible solution to the Death of the Stretch IRA, and protect your child from these taxes?  If you look at my post on February 28th, you’ll see that charities and charitable trusts are excluded from the five-year rule! And while the CRUT has to comply with certain IRS rules regarding how and when money can be withdrawn, the IRA that is inside the trust is not subject to tax UNTIL you take withdrawals from it.  So if your child receives the minimum possible from the trust every year, it is possible that he can avoid much of the income tax acceleration that will happen once this legislation is passed.

Will your child have more money over the long term with the income from the $1 million that goes into the trust, or if he has to follow the new IRA rules and has to withdraw your IRA and pay taxes within five years, leaving him with an after-tax amount of about $600,000?  I’ll answer like a lawyer – it depends.   One of the very real problems with a charitable trust is that, once the beneficiary dies, any money that is left over goes directly to the charity.  So if your child dies after receiving just one distribution from the trust, the charity will end up receiving more money from your IRA than your family will.  There are some possible ways to manage this risk, though, such as taking out a term insurance policy on the life of your child.  So if he does die prematurely, the proceeds of the life insurance can replace the money that will go to the charity.

For some people, a CRUT can be a bad idea.  There is a cost to draft the legal documents, but that cost is nothing compared to the cost of maintaining the CRUT over the long term.  The Trustee must file a tax return for the CRUT to show the IRS how much has been paid to the beneficiary.  The CRUT’s tax return produces a form that has to be included with the beneficiary’s tax return, just like a W-2 or 1099, and the extra paperwork means a higher tax preparation fee for the beneficiary every year.  My rule of thumb is that it’s not worth the money or headaches to establish a CRUT and name it as your beneficiary if your IRA balance is below $1 million.

I encourage you to watch this short video to learn more about the pros and cons of Charitable Remainder Unitrusts, and how they can be used to help shield your retirement savings from the Death of the Stretch IRA legislation.  However, do not take action and establish a CRUT until the final legislation has passed.  If you are using Lange’s Cascading Beneficiary Plan, the current Stretch IRA rules will produce a far more favorable result than the trust.

Please stop back soon,

For more information on this topic, please visit our Death of the Stretch IRA resource.


How will your Required Minimum Distributions Work After the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?

What does your required minimum distribution look like now and after the Stretch IRA is no more?

The Nitty Gritty Details of the Stretch IRA James Lange

Those of you who have read by books know that I am a believer in paying taxes later, rather than paying taxes now. Even if you do your best to stick to that game plan, though, you will eventually have to withdraw money from your IRAs and qualified retirement plans because the IRS wants their tax money. This post goes into the nitty gritty details of how those required minimum distributions are calculated, and how you can use the current rules to your advantage.

How do the required minimum distribution rules affect you?

As of this writing, you’re required to begin taking distributions from your IRAs by April 1st of the year following the year that you turn 70½. The IRS won’t let you decide how much you want to take out. In their Publication 590, they spell out the rules, provide factors that you have to use, and let you know how much it will cost you in penalties if you don’t do the math right. There are three tables that they have created that contain the factors you have to use. The most popular is Table III, which is for unmarried individuals and married individuals whose spouses are not more than 10 years younger. Table II is for IRA owners who have spouses who are 10 or more years younger, and Table I is for beneficiaries of IRAs. The factors in those tables are based on an average life expectancy and have nothing to do with your own health and life expectancy. So when you turn 70 ½, you have to look up the factor that you must use, divide it into your IRA balance as of December 31st, and that will give you the required minimum distribution you must take by April 1st.

These required minimum distributions can cause huge problems for retired people because they can increase your tax bracket, cause more of your Social Security to be taxed, and even make your Medicare premiums go up. And while you can’t generally avoid them while you’re living (unless you continue to work), you can use the rules to your advantage to minimize the tax bite that your surviving spouse and children will have to pay. Under the current rules, your children are allowed to take only the required minimum distributions from your IRA after your death. The good news is that, since they have a longer life expectancy, their required minimum distributions will be lower. Keeping more money inside the tax shelter of the IRA for a longer period of time is what the Stretch IRA is all about.

If you’ve always been the kind of person who enjoys numbers, then you may find this short video interesting. It walks you through required minimum distribution calculations for your own IRA or retirement plan, as well as the calculations your beneficiaries will use after your death. It also discusses the tax implications of those distributions. The Senate Finance Committee, though, has voted 26-0 to eliminate the Stretch IRA for most beneficiaries. When it is enacted into law, your children will have to withdraw your IRA and pay tax on it within five years. Even your Roth IRAs aren’t safe – your children will have to withdraw the entire Roth account within five years of your death. And even though withdrawals from Roth accounts aren’t taxable, the greater loss is that the future growth on your IRA money will no longer be tax-free.

This is big news, and I want to make sure that you stay informed about the latest developments. Please stop back soon!







Are There Any Exceptions to the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?

What Are the Exceptions to the Death of the Stretch IRA Legislation?

Death of the Stretch IRA Who is Excluded From the Five Year Rule James Lange IRA Expert

If you’ve been following my blog, you know that the Senate Finance committee has voted 26 0 to eliminate the Stretch IRA. The idea makes sense – the billions of dollars they’d make in tax revenue would help the new administration pay for promises made on the campaign trail. I believe that it will pass, and so I wanted to spend a little bit of time today and discuss the exceptions to the proposed new Inherited IRA rules.

If there is any good news in this mess that Congress has dumped on us, it is the fact that they have protected your spouse from the new rules affecting Inherited IRAs. So everything that you read in Retire Secure! about taking minimum distributions from your spouse’s retirement plans still holds true. If you die and leave all of your IRA money to your spouse, she can still stretch it over the course of her lifetime. But don’t get too comfortable, because the new rules have a catch. Even though she can still stretch your IRA, it might not be the best idea to leave your spouse all of your money – a concept that is so complicated that I’ll have to devote an entire future post to it.

Some beneficiaries can still benefit from Stretch IRAs

Disabled and chronically ill individuals are excluded from the new rules, as are beneficiaries who are not more than ten years younger than you – such as siblings or an unmarried partner. The privilege isn’t extended to their beneficiaries. Once they die, their own beneficiaries will have to pay taxes according to the new rules. Minors are also excluded from the five year rule, but only while they are minors. Once they reach the age of majority – which varies depending on which state they live in – they have to pay accelerated taxes according to the new rules. This could open up a Pandora’s Box of problems during their college years, because the distributions they’d have to take from the inherited IRA could make them ineligible for any type of financial aid!

Charities and Charitable Remainder Unitrusts (CRUTS) are also excluded from the five year rule. This exception can provide some planning opportunities for the right individuals, but it’s also a topic so complicated that I’m going to devote an entire future blog post to it as well.

Current proposal about Stretch IRAs offers some protection with an exclusion

The other interesting news is that the proposed new rules give each IRA owner a $450,000 exclusion – meaning that their beneficiaries can exclude (and therefore, continue to stretch) a certain portion of the account. Granted, they may change this amount, but as it stands now, you have nothing to worry about if the total IRA balance in your family is less than $450,000. If you have a $1 million IRA, your beneficiaries will be able to stretch $450,000 but will have to pay accelerated taxes on $550,000. The exclusion has to be prorated between all of your retirement accounts – including Roths. And while distributions from Roth accounts aren’t taxable, the greater damage is that your beneficiaries will lose the benefit of the future tax free growth. You can’t even choose which of your beneficiaries gets to use the exclusion – it’s prorated between your beneficiaries!

These new rules for Inherited IRAs will be an administrative headache for all of your beneficiaries. The exceptions to the rules, however, provide planning opportunities that if possible, you should take advantage of while both you and your spouse are alive. I encourage you to watch the short video attached to this post, and stop back soon to learn more about the things you can do now to minimize the effects of this devastating legislation.


For more information on this topic, please visit our Death of the Stretch IRA resource.



Will New Rules for Inherited IRAs Mean the Death of the Stretch IRA?

New Rules for Inherited IRAs and the Death of the Stretch IRA

Death of the Stretch IRA

Now that the dust has settled from the election and President Trump has taken over the reins of the White House, voters are asking the question, “Just how does he plan to pay for his tax cuts?” At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m going to ask readers to refer to my latest book, The Ultimate Retirement and Estate Plan for Your Million-Dollar IRA. In that book, I warned readers about the legislation that proposed the Death of the Stretch IRA and offered solutions that you can implement to minimize its devastating effects.

Shortly after the book went to press, the Senate Finance Committee proved to me that I am on the right track. In September of 2016, in a stunning bipartisan show of support, they voted 26-0 to eliminate the stretch IRA. The Senate, however, adjourned for the year before they could vote on the Finance Committee’s proposal, so the legislation will have to be reintroduced on their 2017 legislative calendar.

What is a stretch IRA?

What is a stretch IRA, and why should you care if it goes by the wayside? The stretch IRA refers to the ability of your heirs to continue the tax-deferred status of your retirement plans long after your death. The current inherited IRA rules permit your beneficiaries to take very small minimum distributions over the course of their lifetimes, allowing more of their inheritance to remain in the protected tax-deferred account for a longer period. The new rules for inherited IRAs, on the other hand, will require that your children and grandchildren remove the money from the account within five years and pay income taxes on the withdrawals. Depending on the size of your IRA and other factors, these harsh new rules could throw your beneficiary into a higher tax bracket. Ultimately, they may even make the difference between your child being financially secure for the rest of their lives, and going broke.

I think that the election of President Trump will spell the end of the stretch IRA as we know it. The idea was introduced every year since as part of Obama’s budget but never had quite enough support to become law. Our new president wants to cut taxes for the majority of Americans and needs to find a way to pay for his plan. Since most people don’t think about taxes unless they’re associated with money they’ve earned themselves, eliminating the stretch IRA could be an easy way for the government to force billions in previously untaxed retirement accounts into their coffers. I believe that the Finance Committee’s proposal will reappear in 2017, but as part of a much larger tax reform bill – which is precisely what our new president has promised. In previous years, a bipartisan and unanimous recommendation by a Senate Committee would almost guarantee passage by Congress, but whether that still holds true after one of the most bitter and contentious elections in history remains to be seen. In any event, I will be offering a series of short video clips over the upcoming months that keep you up to date on the status of the legislation and provide insights as to what a change to the inherited IRA rules will mean to your beneficiaries. Remember, the key to smart planning is not trying to avoid estate tax, but income tax.

Please stop back soon! Jim

For more information on this topic, please visit our Death of the Stretch IRA resource.




Will New Inherited IRA Rules Wipe Out your Retirement Savings?

The Ultimate Retirement and Estate Plan for Your Million-Dollar IRA BookAs election time nears, we’re being bombarded with the usual campaign promises from both sides: “Vote for me, and I will fix the country’s financial problems!” Sound familiar? Well, I listen to campaign promises with a cynical ear. Being a financial guy, I’m the one who always looks at the numbers to figure out how they’re planning to pay for all of these grand plans! So I wanted to let my readers know that there is a proposal in the works that just might allow these politicians to pay for all of these things that they promise us. There has been legislation has been written that, if passed, will funnel billions of dollars in revenue into the government coffers. It doesn’t create fair trade agreements or increase taxes on the wealthy. What it does do is accelerate the income tax on your previously untaxed IRAs and retirement accounts! And if this proposed legislation is passed, the cost to your beneficiaries could be devastating.

I am so concerned about the proposed change to the Inherited IRA rules that I have written a new book called “The Ultimate Retirement and Estate Plan for Your Million Dollar IRA.” The book discusses the government’s plan in detail and shows you why it will be so costly for your beneficiaries. Better yet, it offers solutions that you can implement if the proposed legislation is passed.

The book will be available through Amazon on Monday, November 28, 2016, and I encourage you to reserve a copy now by clicking here. I will be posting some general details on my blog about the proposed new inherited IRA rules, but you need to read the book to understand the scope of the problem.
Please stop back soon!








Four Ways Women Can Improve Their Outlook in Retirement

Women and Retirement Lange Financial Group Pittsburgh PA

Recent studies have shown that women, even those who worked outside of the home, are much more likely to slip below the poverty line in retirement than men are.

Recent studies have shown that women, even those who worked outside of the home, are much more likely to slip below the poverty line in retirement than men are. Approximately 8 percent of adults aged 65 and older must rely on food stamps to survive and, of those, two-thirds are women. Why is there such a financial inequity between men and women in their golden years?

In years past, women typically earned much less than men (fortunately, this has started to change). Because they earned less than men, women were not able to save as much for retirement. Federal law establishes the maximum percentages that workers can contribute to retirement plans. Assuming that two workers both contribute the maximum percentage to their retirement plans, a male worker who earns $60,000 will save more dollars than a female worker who earns $40,000. Women must also make what they can save last longer. According to the Social Security Administration, the life expectancy of a man who is 65 today is 84.3. The life expectancy of a female, who is 65 today, is 86.6—a difference of almost two and one-half years.

Many women who are now retired are not as educated about finances as women of subsequent generations. They let their husbands manage the money, and frequently are unintended victims of poor decisions made by their spouses. This is especially true when considering both defined benefit pensions and Social Security elections. Retirees generally have the choice of applying for a higher benefit that lasts for their own lifetime, or a reduced benefit that is paid over the course of both their and their surviving spouse’s lifetimes. Many insist on applying for the higher benefit under the premise that they need a higher income to live on. If they are the first to die, though, their spouses are cut off completely. Many of the primary wage earners also make bad decisions when applying for Social Security benefits, never considering how their actions will affect their spouses. The decisions they make can mean a difference of about $25,000 in Social Security income every year, for their surviving spouses.

The good news is that, even if you are retired now, there are steps that you can take to improve your outlook in retirement. Consider some of these options:

1. If you are saving for retirement, take advantage of qualified retirement plans such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and IRAs. These plans offer tax advantages that, in the long run, will provide you with a much larger nest egg in retirement than buying identical investments inside a non-retirement account. Make sure that you manage the money that you do save, well. Many women are afraid to invest their money in anything other than CD’s, and never consider that the low rates of return they offer may cause them to run out of money before they run out of time.

2. If your spouse is entitled to a defined benefit pension when he retires, or if he will receive payments from an annuity, make sure that he chooses the payment option that covers your life as well as his own – especially if you are younger than he is. If he chooses the option that covers only his life, the payments will stop when he dies. If you can’t afford to live on the reduced benefit amount that covers both of your lives, then you can’t afford to stop working.

3. If your spouse earned more money than you did, ask him to think twice about applying for Social Security benefits at age 62. If he does, his benefit will be reduced by 25 percent for the rest of his life. Your spousal benefit, as well as your survivor benefit if he predeceases you, will also be permanently reduced. If it’s possible, encourage your spouse to wait until age 70 to apply for benefits. If he does, his benefit will be increased by 32 percent. If you survive him, the benefit you receive after his death will also be significantly higher.

4. Many women are not educated about financial and tax strategies they can use to make their money last longer. Consider making a series of Roth IRA conversions during the years after you retire, but before you start taking withdrawals or Required Minimum Distributions from your retirement plans. The money you save in a Roth IRA is not taxable, and so lasts longer than money that is in a traditional retirement plan.

It is important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this problem. In order to make sure that you are financially secure, it is imperative that you contact a financial professional that you can trust and discuss these points in detail. A good fee-based advisor will be able to guide you through the best possible choices for pensions, Social Security, investment planning, and retirement expenses.

For more information about the financial challenges affecting women in retirement, please listen to our radio show at “Women Don’t Ask: How Married Women Can Advocate for their Own Financial Protection





The Aftermath of Brexit

The Aftermath of Brexit

Pros and Cons: What Options Do Individual Investors Have?

The Aftermath of Brexit Pay Taxes Later Blog

What should you do about your own retirement plan in the aftermath of Brexit? Find out why now could be a great time to do a Roth conversion!

On June 23, 2016, a majority of British citizens voted to leave the 28-member European Union – an action referred to as the “Brexit”. The following day, Americans awoke to learn that global stock markets had not reacted well to the news. Our major domestic indices followed suit, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average declining more than 600 points in one day. Trillions of dollars in wealth were estimated to have been wiped out overnight, and more is likely to follow as the world adjusts to the news.

Prior to the historic Brexit vote, I watched with interest as the pollsters interviewed people on the streets and then confidently predicted that Britons would vote to stay in the union. The British pound made gains, and even the lethargic US stock markets seemed cheered at the news. Life, it seemed, would be good as long as the union remained intact. Investors throughout the world thought that the good citizens of Great Britain would never upset the apple cart, and placed their bets accordingly. And guess what? They bet wrong!

Time will tell, but I suspect that much of this market chaos is happening because the investors who relied on the pollsters got caught with their pants down. Plans were made and fund managers structured their portfolios assuming that the citizens of Great Britain would vote to stay – and they didn’t. Now these investors find themselves having to scramble to put their Plan B – assuming they even have one – in place. What does their mistake mean for you?

If you’re clients of ours, you know that we have always advocated using a balanced approach to money management. And we never advocate making changes to your portfolio based solely on what the market is doing. However, for many of you, now would be a great time for you to take that trip to London that you’ve always wanted to do. The US dollar strengthened on the news of the Brexit, and will stretch much further now than it would have a week ago. Or, consider establishing Roth IRAs or college tuition accounts for your grandchildren. If they have ten or more years to wait out a market recovery, you can fund those accounts with equities purchased at prices much lower than they were last week at this time.

What should you do about your own retirement plan in the aftermath of Brexit? If you hold any global funds in your IRA, now could be a great time to do a Roth conversion. By converting when the market value of the fund is low, you pay less in federal income tax than you would when the fund value is high. And if the market continues to drop even further, you can always recharacterize your conversion. I’ll be talking about some of these points on my next radio show on 1410 KQV. You can call in and ask questions during the live broadcast on Wednesday, July 6th, from 7:00 – 800 p.m., or catch the rebroadcast on Sunday, July 10th at 9:00 a.m. You can also read more about Roth conversions by clicking this link on my website: http://www.paytaxeslater.com/roth_ira/

Please call our office soon if you have been thinking about doing a Roth conversion, and we will run the numbers to see if it makes sense for you. And if you do go to London, send me a postcard!





Changes to Social Security Rules: File & Suspend vs Restricted Applications and Social Security Benefit Strategies for Married Couples

The Little Black Book of Social Security Secrets, James Lange

The Little Black Book of Social Security Secrets evaluates options for collecting Social Security benefits and recommends the most advantageous strategies for them.

Changes to Social Security Rules: File & Suspend vs Restricted Applications and Social Security Benefit Strategies for Married Couples

Social Security Options after the 4/29 Apply and Suspend deadline

A couple of people who have written in want to know why I’m taking such a passionate interest in the changes to the Social Security rules. “What’s in it for you?” they ask. When I wrote The Little Black Book of Social Security Secrets, my plan was to make it available as a resource to my own clients. It received such an overwhelming response, though, that I quickly realized that I should make it available to as many people as possible – even though it’s unlikely that I’ll ever derive a benefit from doing so.

I am a CPA and an attorney, and my area of expertise lies in retirement and estate planning. As part of our services, we have always evaluated our client’s options for claiming Social Security benefits. Social Security is an integral part of retirement planning. If your income from all sources is high enough, your Social Security benefits will be taxed. Required minimum distributions from traditional retirement plans, which begin at age 70 ½, will compound that tax problem. It seems obvious to me that, if I want to give clients good advice about the money they will have available to spend during their retirement years, I must evaluate their options for collecting Social Security benefits and recommend what I believe are the most advantageous strategies for them. From the feedback I’m getting, though, it seems that many of the professionals in my field are quite happy to refer their clients to their local Social Security office for advice. Frankly, this is one topic on which I’m more than happy to hold the minority opinion!

But let’s go back and look at some real-life questions presented by people who have read my book, and who want to know what they should do with their own Social Security benefits. Ralph is 67, and hasn’t applied for Social Security yet because he wants his monthly benefit to grow by Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs) of eight percent every year, and Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs). His Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) is $2,400. His wife, Alice, just turned 65. She worked for most of her life, and her PIA is $1,800. What is the best Social Security strategy for this couple?

Social Security Options

Ralph has several options. If he files for his own benefit now, he would be eligible to collect about $2,600 (his PIA, plus the years’ worth of DRCs that he has already earned, plus COLAs) every month. He can also delay filing for benefits until age 70. Not filing will allow his benefit to grow by additional DRCs and COLAs, but he will need to file when he turns 70 because he cannot earn additional DRCs after that. Ralph can even change his mind. If he started to collect his benefit at age 67 and later regrets his decision, he can suspend his benefit and earn DRCs every month that his benefit is suspended, until he turns 70.

What about Alice? She is eligible to collect a benefit based on her own record, but, if she wants to collect it now, her benefit will be permanently reduced because she has not reached her Full Retirement Age (FRA) of 66. If she waits until she is 70 to collect her own benefit, the outlook is much better. Like Ralph, she is eligible to earn DRCs and COLAs on her own benefit. Her PIA is $1,800 and, if she waits until 70 to collect it, her monthly benefit amount will be about $2,400. If she is already collecting her own benefit, she can also suspend it when she reaches FRA and earn DRCs until she turns 70.

Spousal Benefits Give More Options to Married Couples

Ralph and Alice have been married for at least a year, so both have another option – Social Security spousal benefits. Even if Alice had never worked outside of the home, she would be eligible to collect spousal benefits based on Ralph’s record. The general rule is that spousal benefits can be paid as early as age 62, but they will be reduced. In order for Alice to receive the maximum possible spousal benefit – which is 50 percent of Ralph’s PIA – she must wait until 66 to apply. (Note, Social Security has something called a deemed filing rule, discussed below, that could affect whether she will receive her spousal benefit or her own benefit.) There is no benefit to Alice waiting beyond age 66 to apply for spousal benefits.

Ralph can also apply for spousal benefits based on Alice’s earnings record. Why would he want to, when his own benefit would be higher? There are some situations where it might actually make sense for the person whose own benefit is higher than his spousal benefit, to apply for the lower spousal benefit. We’ll cover more about that in a minute.

Suppose Ralph and Alice were divorced, and that only Ralph has remarried. As long as their marriage lasted at least ten years, Alice would still be eligible to file for spousal benefits based on his record. Does that mean that his current wife can’t get spousal benefits? As long as they’ve been married at least one year, his current wife can, when she is eligible, also file for spousal benefits based on Ralph’s record. Ralph could have been married four or five times and, as long the marriages lasted at least ten years, all of his ex-wives would be able to collect spousal benefits based on his record. The interesting part is that none of his ex-wives’ spousal benefits will be reduced because others are claiming on the same record!

How are Spousal Benefits Calculated?

The spousal benefit calculation can be complicated, so let’s look at an example. Let’s assume that Alice didn’t work much outside of the home, and that her PIA is only $400. Her full spousal benefit would be half of Ralph’s PIA, or $1,200. The difference of $800 is what is often referred to as the “spousal excess” – and the distinction between that and her PIA is very important if Alice wants to apply when she turns 62. If she does, and if Ralph is already claiming, she will receive 75 percent of her PIA ($300), plus 70 percent of the spousal excess ($560), for a total of $860. Of course, if Alice waits until FRA to apply, she’d get the equivalent of 50 percent of Ralph’s PIA ($1,200).

In our original scenario, though, Alice worked for most of her life and her own PIA is $1,800 – higher than the maximum spousal benefit to which she’d be entitled. Why would she apply for a spousal benefit if her own benefit is higher? We’ll cover the reasons why in the next section but, before we do we need to take a look at how much she’d be eligible to receive as a spousal benefit. If she applies at FRA, she’s eligible for the maximum – or 50 percent of Ralph’s PIA. Alice can certainly apply for benefits now, but her age (65) presents a complication. Social Security’s deemed filing rule says that, since she is not yet FRA (for our purposes here, 66), she will be “deemed” to be applying for both her own benefit and her spousal benefit. In other words, if she applies at 65, she has no choice – Social Security will figure out how much she would receive as a spouse, and how much she would receive based on her own record, and pay her the higher of the two. In this case, her own benefit, even reduced because she applied early, is higher than her spousal benefit. She’ll get $1,679 ($1,800 x 93.3%).

Maximize your Social Security benefits by Combining the Apply and Suspend Strategy with Restricted Applications

So how can Ralph and Alice use the options they have available to maximize the amount they receive from Social Security? Let’s look at some ideas.

Suppose Ralph is currently collecting his own benefit or that he applied for and suspended his benefit by the April 29, 2016 deadline. What happens if Alice waits one year, and applies for benefits when she is FRA (66)? If she waits until FRA, Alice’s application will no longer be subject to the deemed filing rule. She can submit her paperwork and specify that she only wants to apply for whatever spousal benefit to which she might be entitled. This is also known as filing a Restricted Application. Since she’s now FRA, she’d be eligible to receive 50 percent of Ralph’s PIA, or $1,200. She can collect her spousal benefit until she turns 70 and, in the meantime, the benefit based on her own earnings record will continue to grow by DRCs and COLAs. When she turns 70, she can switch to her own benefit, which will have increased by at least 32 percent – or, to almost $2,400 every month. Note, in order to be able to file a Restricted Application for spousal benefits, you had to have been at least 62 years old as of December 31, 2015. If you weren’t, you’ll be in the same boat as I am. We’ll be subject to the deemed filing rule regardless of when we apply for benefits.

Best Social Security Strategy for Married Couples

What does this mean in terms of money? If Alice applies for her own benefit at 65, she’ll receive about $1,679 every month, for the rest of her life. If she waits until age 66 to apply for just her spousal benefit – filing that Restricted Application – she’ll give up all the money she could have received from age 65 to 66 – a little over $20,000 ($1,679 x 12 months). Her spousal benefit of $1,200 every month will give her some income from the time she is 66 to 70, but not as much as if she’d applied for her own benefit at age 65. The difference between taking a spousal benefit and her own benefit during that four year period is significant – she’ll miss out on about $23,000 ($479 x 48 months). If you’re keeping track, she’s already missed out on about $43,000! But once she turns 70 and starts to receive her own benefit that has been increased by DRCs, the outlook is different. From that point on, Alice will get about $700 more ($2,400 – $1,679) every month than if she had applied at 65 – and she will get it for the rest of her life.

Confusing? You bet! But I hope you understood the general idea that, even though Alice collected no money when she was 65, and collected less money than she could have from the time she was 66 to 70, the handsome payoff that she received after she turned 70 made up for her sacrifice – and the payoff happened in a little over 5 years ($43,000 / $700 = about 61 months).

There is one catch. In order for Alice to be able to collect that 50 percent spousal benefit from the time she is 66 to 70, Ralph either has to be collecting his own benefit, or had to have applied and suspended by the deadline of April 29, 2016. Suppose Ralph is 70 years old but has not applied for benefits yet. He should go ahead and do so, because he won’t earn any more DRCs beyond this point. And once he files, Alice will be able to file a Restricted Application for spousal benefits.

Suppose Ralph just turned 66, and was not eligible to file for and suspend his benefit. Well, he can certainly apply for and collect his own benefit and Alice can file a restricted application for her spousal benefit, but then Ralph won’t earn those DRCs that can increase his check by 32 percent. Unless there were very unusual circumstances involved, it probably wouldn’t make sense for Ralph to collect when he is 66, just so Alice can get a spousal benefit for four years.

Suppose Ralph is 65, and Alice is 64 – so neither has reached FRA yet. Both are allowed to apply now, but, if they do, we know that each will receive the benefit based on his or her own record, and that their benefits will be permanently reduced. But what happens if they wait until next year, when Ralph turns 66 and Alice turns 65? Ralph can apply for his own benefit and receive his PIA of $2,400. Alice, though, has to be FRA in order to submit a Restricted Application for spousal benefits. If she waits until she’s 66, she’ll get the maximum spousal benefit of 50 percent. But because she restricted the scope of her application to her spousal benefit, she can collect about $1,200 every month until she turns 70. Once she turns 70, she can switch from her spousal benefit and collect her own benefit, which by now has grown to $2,400 every month.

In reality, these calculations are oversimplified. Before we make specific recommendations to our clients about Social Security, we take in to consideration such factors as life expectancies, income taxes, other sources of income, and COLAs. But the one thing I wanted to make sure you understood by these examples is that the ability to file a Restricted Application and collect spousal benefits might be able to provide one of you with a source of retirement income while your own benefit still continues to grow. And, as long as you were at least 62 years old by 12/31/2015, it is an option that you can take advantage of when you finally do apply for Social Security benefits.

My next post will give some additional examples of how Restricted Applications can be useful. If you have questions or comments, please feel free to write them below. Stop back soon!

Go to www.paytaxeslater.com/ss to get your free digital copy of The Little Black Book of Social Security Secrets, and then talk to a professional about your options before it’s too late.



New Social Security Rules Causing Confusion Among Retirees

New Social Security Rules Causing Confusion Among Retirees

What’s the deadline for filing and suspending? Should I do it online or in person? What’s the difference between Apply and Suspend versus Restricted Applications? Should I take Social Security now or wait?

Confusion among retirees with the new Social Security rules

We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls about the impending changes in the Social Security rules. Before I tell you about some of those calls, and explain how real people like you are dealing with potentially confusing Social Security decisions, I wanted to give you a quick update on some important dates.

Deadline for File and Suspend (or Apply and Suspend) for Social Security

If you plan to file for your own benefits and then suspend them, April 29, 2016 is an important date. If you file and suspend by that deadline, your spouse, when eligible, can then file for and collect spousal benefits from Social Security while your own continue to grow by Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs).

Applying for Social Security Online or In Person

Many of the people we’ve talked to are concerned because they can’t even get an appointment with their local Social Security office until well after the deadline One way to apply is to call your local Social Security office before April 29, 2016 and schedule an appointment for after the deadline. The act of scheduling the appointment creates what is called a protective filing date, a concept which is covered in detail in my blog post of April 13, 2016. As I said in that post, I’m a little nervous about relying on a protective filing date. I am encouraging my own clients who are eligible, to just file online by April 29, 2016. I’ve had several clients report back to me that they applied online, and thought that the process was fairly simple. If you want to apply online, please note that there is no specific form that you need to fill out, that is titled “Apply and Suspend”. When you get to the very bottom of your application, there is a comment box. You need to write a comment in the box and say something like “It is my intention to file for and then suspend my benefits. I do not want to receive any checks until I turn 70.” That’s all that is required, but you do need to spell out your intentions very clearly. Please be sure that you print a copy of your application for your own records.

Apply and Suspend Vs Restricted Applications

Are you confused about whether Applying and Suspending is the best option for you? It’s not the right answer for everyone. My blog post of April 8, 2016 covers some situations where it might do more harm than good. One of those includes scenarios where it is more beneficial for one of the spouses to file a Restricted Application. Some examples of how Restricted Applications can be beneficial are covered in my blog post of April 22, 2016.

Is it Better to Take Social Security Now or To Wait?

Are you concerned about suspending your benefits because you were planning on using the money to live on? If you have been accumulating money in IRAs and retirement plans, it might actually make more sense for you to spend that money first, and allow your Social Security benefits to grow. This idea is covered in my blog post of April 12, 2016. This particular strategy isn’t for everyone, and there are so many variables to consider that we have to go through a lot of calculations before we can make specific recommendations about it. Do you think there’s a possibility that it might make sense for you to spend your retirement money first? If so, you should apply for and suspend your Social Security benefits now assuming that it is the right technique for you. Although we can’t possibly do it by April 29, 2016, we’d be happy to have our team do the math for you to see how spending your retirement money first might benefit you. If we find that you’re better off to spend your Social Security money and leave your retirement plans untouched, then you can always unsuspend your benefit.

We’ve had many calls from people who have questions about Social Security. Please check back tomorrow, when I’ll discuss some more of the real-life situations readers are wrestling with.


Are you confused about how the Apply and Suspend strategies can benefit you? Please do not ask your local Social Security office for advice, because they can only present your options about government benefits! The decisions that you make about this affect far more than just your Social Security benefits, and could have unintended complications and/or repercussions if they are not made considering the big picture.

Getting your Social Security decision right is important, but it is even more important that you have the right strategies for all of your planning. To find out if your entire financial house is in order, fill out this pre-qualification form by clicking here to see if you qualify for a free consultation. Western PA residents only please.

Don’t delay. Go to www.paytaxeslater.com/ss to get your free digital copy of The Little Black Book of Social Security Secrets, and then talk to a professional about your options before it’s too late.