What’s Your Strategy for Maximizing Your Social Security Benefits?

Deciding when to take social security is a bit like playing chess. You’ll need to strategize and think a few moves ahead to maximize your benefit because age and timing matter. Applying at the youngest age possible, 62, reduces a monthly benefit 25% to 30% for the rest of your life than if you had waited until full retirement age. Delay until the latest age possible, 70, and that monthly benefit increases 8% each year you wait past your full retirement age, a bonus of 24% to 32% depending on your birth year.

Your birth year matters because the full retirement age is rising — from 66 for people born between 1943 and 1954, to 67 for those born in 1960 or later. If your birth year falls between 1955 and 1959, the full retirement age rises two months every year.

The retirement age isn’t the only thing that’s changing. The rules for claiming Social Security are different for those born after Jan. 1, 1954. This includes the majority of people filing for benefits today, and the changes especially affect married, two-earner couples.

First, the basics: Individuals pay into Social Security their entire working life in order to receive a steady stream of income in the form of a monthly benefit once they retire. The benefits are based on the person’s 35 highest years of earnings. If you don’t have 35 years of earnings, then zeroes are entered for the remaining years, reducing the monthly benefit.

As pensions disappear and life expectancies rise, a guaranteed lifelong income that isn’t tied to the stock market has tremendous value. “Social Security is the best deal out there,” says Diane M. Wilson, a claiming strategist and founding partner of My Social Security Analyst in Shawnee, Kan. “It’s an annuity that lasts a lifetime, and it’s indexed to inflation.”

Maximizing that benefit has produced a cottage industry of claiming strategists to help retirees determine the best time to start taking benefits, but it’s not a simple calculus. “In the end, it’s a longevity decision,” says Kurt Czarnowski, who counsels clients about Social Security at Czarnowski Consulting in Norfolk, Mass. “If you knew when you were going to die, all this would be a snap.” Instead, people should understand their choices and make an informed decision, he says.

1 of 6

The Differences Between Restricted Filing and Deemed Filing

A stack of Social Security cardsA stack of Social Security cards

For married couples, that decision involves accounting for two people’s earnings and benefits, as well as the likelihood of one spouse outliving the other. Spouses are not only entitled to the benefit based on their own work history, but they also may be eligible for additional money when the spousal benefit is factored in, what Wilson calls “add-ons.” The spousal benefit equals 50% of the higher-earning spouse’s benefit if the lower-earning spouse takes it at full retirement age. The amount is reduced when taken early, and you can’t claim the spousal benefit until your spouse begins taking Social Security. To be clear, you do not get to take two benefits, but rather Social Security increases your benefit to equal half of your spouse’s if the one based on your own work history is smaller.

People born on or before Jan 1, 1954, can maximize benefits while still receiving some Social Security. By taking whichever benefit is lower — their own or a spouse’s — when they first apply, they let the larger benefit grow before switching to it at a later age. That option, known as “restricted filing,” isn’t available for people born after Jan. 1, 1954. For them, there’s no choice. Social Security simply bestows their own benefit and any add-ons the person is eligible for when they file for benefits, a practice known as “deemed filing.”

Let’s say the higher-earning spouse is the husband and the lower-earning spouse is the wife. Under deemed filing, when the wife applies for Social Security at her full retirement age, she is given the highest amount she is eligible for, which in this instance is 50% of her husband’s benefit, assuming he started taking it. If he hasn’t, she will be given only the benefit based on her own work history. Once her husband applies for his benefits, Social Security will increase hers so that it equals half of his. If the wife was the higher earner and her benefit was more than 50% of his, she won’t get any additional money when he starts claiming Social Security. She will simply continue collecting her own higher work benefit.

2 of 6

Maximizing Social Security Benefits for Married Couples

A couple looks at a laptop. A couple looks at a laptop.

Deemed filers may have fewer options, but there are other strategies to consider, such as when to start claiming and which spouse should file for Social Security first. Those decisions can change cumulative lifetime benefits substantially, sometimes by as much as six figures, says Wilson. When she advises couples affected by the new rules, she generally recommends the higher earner to delay as long as possible, ideally until age 70, while the lower earner can file, giving the retired couple some income.

The couple’s age difference matters, particularly if the younger spouse is also the lower earner, says Jim Blair, co-owner of Premier Social Security Consulting in Cincinnati. In that case, “if they’re five years or more apart in age, you want the younger person filing as early as possible, at 62, and the older person delaying as long as possible,” he says. “Odds are the younger person is going to receive a survivor benefit before they reach their breakeven point, which is about 12 years past retirement age.” The breakeven point is the age when the total value of cumulative benefits, whether taken early or later, is roughly the same.

If the situation is reversed and the younger spouse is the higher earner, “we’ll look at what the younger individual will need in retirement,” Blair says. “If taking that benefit early at age 62 means a 25% reduction, they’re going to have to live with that for the rest of their life.” There will need to be other income to compensate for the reduction, he adds.

Couples who straddle the 1954 birth year, with one spouse falling under the old rules and the other under the new, have more ways to move the pieces on the Social Security chess board. For instance, if the wife is the younger, lower earner, she may want to apply early, taking her own reduced benefit. That would allow the husband, who was born before the 1954 cutoff date, to use a restricted application and request only a spousal benefit. Meanwhile, his benefit based on his own work history continues to grow 8% per year from his full retirement age until he turns 70. He can switch to his own higher benefit later, whether at 70 or sooner.

3 of 6

Understanding Social Security Survivor Benefits

A man sits alone on a swing. A man sits alone on a swing.

Couples should try to postpone taking whichever spouse’s benefit is higher to ensure a larger survivor benefit. This is particularly important when the lower earning spouse is younger and likely to outlive the higher earner by many years. “You want that higher benefit to take care of the survivor,” says Wilson, who warns clients of expenses, like home health aides, that someone living alone will almost certainly have.

A spousal benefit turns into a survivor benefit when a spouse dies, but the benefits are not the same. A surviving spouse who is at least full retirement age can receive 100% of the deceased spouse’s benefit, as opposed to 50% for a spousal benefit. The amount is reduced if the surviving spouse claims the benefit before full retirement age. You can claim a survivor benefit as early as age 60 (50 if you are disabled). But you don’t have to take it early, and you may not want to if you’re still working.

Social Security imposes an annual earnings limit for anyone younger than full retirement age who collects benefits, a rule that also applies to surviving spouses. For every $2 earned above the limit, which is currently $18,960, Social Security will deduct $1 in benefits, with the money restored later in the form of a higher benefit when you reach full retirement age. The earnings rule is more generous the year you reach full retirement age with Social Security deducting $1 for every $3 in earnings above $50,520. There’s no limit on earnings once you are full retirement age.

A widow who is, say, 60 when her husband passes away could hold off and take the survivor benefit when she reaches her full retirement age and stops working. There’s no reason to wait beyond that age because the survivor benefit won’t increase.

A survivor benefit is also not subject to the deemed filing rule. Someone born after the 1954 cutoff date can choose to take either their own or the survivor benefit when applying for Social Security. That opens a whole new avenue of claiming strategies. A widower, for example, could take the survivor benefit first if he needs the income and let his own larger benefit continue accruing delayed retirement credits before switching to it at age 70. If his own benefit is smaller, he could take that early and switch to the larger survivor benefit when he reaches full retirement age. The survivor benefit won’t be reduced because he took his own benefit early. The survivor benefit is only reduced if he takes it before his full retirement age.

4 of 6

How Death, Divorce and Remarriage Affect Social Security Benefits

picture of wedding photo cut in halfpicture of wedding photo cut in half

A divorced spouse is also eligible for benefits based on a former spouse’s earnings history. If your ex is still alive and both of you are at least age 62, you can collect a spousal benefit even if your ex hasn’t started collecting, provided that the marriage lasted at least 10 continuous years, the divorce was two or more years ago, and you haven’t remarried. Your ex won’t know you’re taking the benefit. A divorced spouse who is full retirement age can get 50% of the former spouse’s benefit; it’s reduced if taken early. Deemed filing rules still apply if you were born after New Year’s Day 1954, with only the highest benefit amount given to you.

If your ex has passed away, you can collect a survivor benefit as early as age 60, but the other requirements — a marriage that lasted at least 10 years and a divorce that was finalized two years ago — remain. You also can’t have remarried before age 60.

If you remarry after age 60, you are allowed to keep the survivor benefit from a former spouse whether you were divorced or not, but timing is everything. Wilson had a client, a widower, who was two months away from turning 60 and collecting a survivor benefit. He was also about to remarry. “I told him about the rule, and he said, ‘I can’t reschedule this now.'” He went ahead with the wedding as planned, sacrificing the survivor benefit at the altar. Wilson points out that her client could collect a survivor benefit from his first marriage if the second one ends for any reason.

As with any survivor benefit, there’s no deemed filing. A divorced spouse has the option of choosing which benefit to take first — their own or the survivor benefit — and let whichever is larger continue to grow before switching to it later on.

Remarriage brings other claiming strategies, such as applying for a spousal benefit based on the new spouse’s work record, but there is a waiting period. To collect a spousal benefit, you generally need to be married one year, Czarnowski says. An exception is made for someone who is already collecting a Social Security benefit and remarries. Then the waiting period is waived, he says. For example, a widow over age 60 who is collecting a survivor benefit and remarries is “immediately eligible to collect 50% of the new husband’s benefit, assuming he is collecting his benefit,” Czarnowski says. You will need to choose which benefit you want — the survivor benefit from an earlier marriage or the new spousal benefit.

5 of 6

When Singles Should File for Social Security Benefits

A man works on a computer. A man works on a computer.

For single people who never married, there’s no survivor to consider so the decision of when to claim is based on the need for income and how much they’ll get at any given age between 62 and 70. “It’s really which point along this continuum makes sense,” Czarnowski says. You can get an idea of how much your benefit will be at different ages based on your current earnings by using Social Security’s quick calculator. You can also enter your earnings history for a more precise figure.

Most of Wilson’s single clients start claiming at full retirement age so that their benefits aren’t reduced. Should they wait until age 70 to get the highest possible benefit? “They may want to if they’re still working and they don’t need Social Security,” Blair says. “The flip side is when they pass away, the benefits end. If they pass away at 72, they didn’t collect very long.”

6 of 6

You Can Pause Your Social Security Benefits

Someone pushes a red button that is labeled "No!"Someone pushes a red button that is labeled "No!"

Social Security also gives people who regret taking a benefit early the chance to reverse that decision. If you change your mind within the first 12 months of claiming your benefit, you can withdraw the application. All the benefits you received will need to be repaid, including any spousal benefits based on your work record, but you’ll get a higher monthly benefit when you restart later on.

The second way is to suspend your benefit, which you can only do once you reach full retirement age. You won’t need to repay the benefits you’ve received, and you earn delayed retirement credits of 8% per year until age 70, enabling you to reverse some of the damage from claiming early. Keep in mind, however, that when you suspend a benefit, you also suspend any other benefits based on your work record, such as a spousal benefit. If your spouse was getting $1,500 per month and $500 was based on your work record, she’ll only get her own $1,000 benefit when you suspend.

Source: kiplinger.com

How long does it take to get a credit card? – Lexington Law

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

If you’re considering getting a new credit card, you may be wondering how long you’ll have to wait before you can start using your card and building credit. Typically, it takes a few weeks from the time of application to receive the card in the mail. To determine the specifics, it’s important to understand the three stages of acquiring a credit card: application, approval and mailing.

Most of the time, applying and getting approved for a card happens within a matter of minutes. The main holdup is waiting for the card to come in the mail, which may take up to 10 business days. You may also spend more time waiting if you applied for a card that requires exceptional credit, which requires issuers to manually review your application and credit history.

How long does it take to get a credit card? Application time takes less than hour, approval time ranges from minutes to weeks, and mailing time ranges from 5 to 10 business days.

Step 1: Apply Online

Total wait time: Less than an hour

How to Apply for a Credit Card

When you apply for a credit card online, you’ll need to enter personal information like your name, address, income, employment status and identification info, like a Social Security number. Within minutes, you’ll likely receive an approval or denial, because most credit cards have preset approval criteria.

Getting Preapproved

Getting preapproved or prequalified for a credit card will help you get a card faster because it automates the approval process. You may either receive a preapproval offer in the mail or complete an online form with some personal and financial information. Filling out preapproval forms doesn’t have any impact on your credit score and allows your credit card offers to be more personalized.

Step 2: Get Approved

Total wait time: Anywhere from a few minutes to a few weeks

How Does the Credit Approval Process Work?

If you are preapproved or apply for credit cards with preset criteria, you’ll likely know if you’re approved or denied within minutes. However, if you apply for a credit card that requires exceptional credit, you won’t receive an instant verdict. This is because the credit card issuer must manually review your application and credit history. This can take anywhere from a few days to a week or longer. They may look at:

  • Negative items: Derogatory marks like late payments and delinquent accounts
  • Debt load: Including your debt-to-income ratio and credit utilization ratio
  • Credit score: A high-level indication of your credit health

How to Check Your Application Status

If you’re waiting on a mail-in application or approval that’s hard to get due to high standards, you may be able to check your application’s status online. Most major credit card issuers—except Capital One, Chase and Synchrony—allow users to check their application status online. If that option isn’t available to you, or if you prefer talking to someone, call the issuer’s card services number.

How to Increase Your Chances of Approval

Make sure to only apply for credit cards with criteria that fit your credit health. For example, some credit cards are designed for people with bad credit, while others require excellent credit. Overall, if you don’t have much credit history or if you have bad credit, you likely won’t be approved for cards with great rewards and interest rates.

Step 3: Receive Card

Total wait time: Five to 10 business days

How Long Does It Take for Credit Cards to Come in the Mail?

Unless you applied for a card requiring excellent credit, most of the waiting time is eaten up by the mailing process, which typically takes five to 10 business days.

What to Do If My Card Is Taking Longer Than Expected

If you urgently need the card or are wondering what’s taking so long, consider doing the following:

  • Request an expedite. Expedited delivery for new and replacement cards is offered by many issuers—and sometimes, it’s even free.
  • Track the card. This won’t help the card arrive faster, but it will give you a better idea of its progress. You can either check the card’s status online or call the issuer using a tracking number. This will help you learn when the card was sent and when you can expect it to arrive.
  • Call the issuer. If it’s been more than 10 business days or the amount of time estimated for delivery, your card may have gotten lost in the mail, or even stolen. Consider calling your issuer and requesting that they cancel the old card and issue a new one. Even though this will take longer, it’s a wise safety measure.
Credit card taking longer than expected to arrive? Request an expedite, track the card, call the issuer.

Can I Use My Card Before It Arrives?

If you need to pay bills or make important transactions before your card is scheduled to arrive in the mail, you may be able to access your card number immediately after approval. Check with your issuer to see if it offers this feature, and request an instant card number as soon as you’ve been approved. Applying and getting approved for a credit card has never been easier, especially if you’ve been practicing good credit management. Remember to use your new card responsibly to keep your credit score in the best shape possible. And remember that we’re here to help with credit repair if things happen that are outside of your control, like unfair or inaccurate reporting. Talk to us today to get started.


Reviewed by Cynthia Thaxton, Lexington Law Firm Attorney. Written by Lexington Law.

Cynthia Thaxton has been with Lexington Law Firm since 2014. She attended The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Arabic. Cynthia then attended law school at George Mason University School of Law, where she served as Senior Articles Editor of the George Mason Law Review and graduated cum laude. Cynthia is licensed to practice law in Utah and North Carolina.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

What is a Credit Check

Credit checks have become extremely common these days, especially following the economic collapse several years ago, and it’s important that you know what a credit check is and how it can affect your credit score. Credit checks are performed by lenders, borrowers or other entity who may have something to risk or lose should you have poor credit worthiness. The credit check usually contains information about yourself, like your social security number, date of birth, employment history, and will also contain information about your credit history and credit worthiness. The lender or borrower will run a credit check on you to determine the level of risk involved in providing a loan to you.

Some of the most common reasons you be asked to agree to a credit check is when applying for a credit card, loan, or mortgage, buying a car or renting a car. There are numerous other reason, though, that you may be required to have your credit checked and it has started to become more and more common to see phone service providers, electric companies, apartment complexes, and even some employment opportunities require a credit check.

denied creditdenied creditBeing Denied After a Credit Check

A truly embarrassing and frustrating result of a credit check is when the credit check results in the lender denying you. This can happen for many reasons, most commonly due to a bad credit score, but could also be because of recent credit turbulence (bankruptcy, foreclosure, repo, ect…) or past problems with similar lenders (e.g. if you’re applying for a credit card and you have a history of late payments or outstanding balances with other credit cards, your credit check may come back declined).

If you’ve been denied credit or a loan due to a credit check, be wary of going to other lenders in an attempt to find one who will approve you. Each time your credit is checked your credit score could go down which would just hinder your chances of being approved even further. You should avoid having your credit checked more than once per year, otherwise it could negatively affect your credit score which is detrimental to getting approved and keeping your interest rates low.

How to Prevent Being Denied After a Credit Check

As you will find in any adult life, credit checks are almost always inevitable and you’re bound to have to deal with them one way or another. Naturally, when facing a credit check, you’ll want to make sure that your credit is pristine, leading to a positive result and an approved credit check. This may be easy if you’ve already built up a perfect credit score and have an all-around good credit history, however, if your credit score is low or you have had issues with your credit in the past, this may be more difficult. So how do you rebuild your credit score and repair past credit mistakes? You can and should certainly make sure to follow the best practices of rebuilding your credit but if you want to repair your credit quickly, the fastest way is to speak with a credit repair expert who can help you dispute negative items on your credit report to have them removed all together.

To learn more about how you can dispute negative items on your credit report and get them removed, resulting in a higher credit score and an increased chance of being approved on your next credit check, contact Credit Absolute for a free consultation.

Source: creditabsolute.com

The evolution of the good faith estimate

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

A good faith estimate (GFE) is a comparison of mortgage offers provided by lenders or brokers to a consumer. It was recently replaced by the loan estimate—a similar concept with a few small differences. 

What Is a Good Faith Estimate Designed to Do?

The GFE’s purpose was to present mortgage shoppers with all the details they need to know about their mortgage options to help them make well-informed decisions. This transparency ensures consumers are aware of all the costs associated with the mortgage—including fees, APR and other expenses.

Borrowers would receive a GFE three business days after submitting their mortgage application, and after thorough review, would then select which mortgage option they would like to move forward with. 

Are Good Faith Estimates Still Used?

The term “good faith estimate” is not used by lenders anymore, but the concept remains prevalent. In 2015, the GFE was replaced by the loan estimate. Anyone who purchased a home after October 3, 2015, received a loan estimate rather than a GFE. 

In October of 2015, the good faith estimate was replaced by the loan estimate.

If you applied for a reverse mortgage, HELOC, a mortgage through an assistance program or a manufactured loan not secured by real estate, you will not receive a loan estimate. Instead, you will receive a Truth-in-Lending disclosure. 

The purposes of a GFE, a loan estimate and a Truth-in-Lending disclosure are largely the same: providing transparency to borrowers. The main difference—and benefit—of a loan estimate is that there’s more regulation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Since the GFE was not standardized through regulations, they were sometimes difficult to decipher, especially for first-time homebuyers. Conversely, each loan estimate must contain the exact same information in a standardized way, which we’ll cover below. 

What Appears on a Loan Estimate?

According to the CFPB, a complete, compliant loan estimate should include the length of the loan term, the purpose of the loan, the product (fixed versus adjustable interest rate, for example), the loan type (conventional, FHA, VA or other), the loan ID number and indication of an interest rate lock. Additionally, the loan estimate will include the following:

  • Loan terms: A summary of the total loan amount, interest rate, monthly principal and interest and penalties, and whether these amounts can increase after closing.
  • Projected payments: A summary of monthly principal, interest, mortgage insurance, taxes and insurance. Broken down by years 1–7 and 8–30 for a 30-year mortgage.
  • Costs at closing: Estimated closing costs and the total estimated cash needed to close, which includes the down payment and any credits.
  • Loan costs: Origination charges—which is broken down by 0.25% of the loan amount, application fees and underwriting fees—and other fees.
  • Other costs: Taxes, government fees, prepaid homeowners insurance, interest and prepaid property, escrow payment at closing and title policy.
  • Comparisons: Metrics you can use to compare your loan to others. Includes the total principal, interest, mortgage insurance and loan costs you will have paid after five years.
  • Other considerations: Information about appraisal, assumption, homeowner’s insurance, late payment fees, refinancing and servicing.
  • Confirmation of receipt: A line at the end of the statement that confirms you have received the form. This does not legally bind you to accept the loan.

Your loan estimate will also include your personal information, including your full name, income, address and Social Security number. Make sure to double-check all of this information for errors, as they could cause potential problems later in the process.

To better understand your loan estimate, explore the CFPB’s interactive guide.

Closing Disclosure

For first-time homebuyers in particular, it’s important to understand the timeline of events so that you can be prepared for your home buying process and have all the information and necessary documents at hand.

Closing Disclosure Timeline

Lenders are required to send you a loan estimate form no more than three business days after receiving your application. Finally, at least three business days prior to loan consummation—when you are contractually obligated to the loan—you will receive a closing disclosure.

Lenders are required to send you a loan estimate no more than three days after receiving your application and a closing disclosure at least three days prior to loan consummation.

What Is the Purpose of a Closing Disclosure?

The purpose of a closing disclosure is to assign “tolerance levels” to fees listed in the loan estimate form. This means that fees cannot increase over their tolerance level unless a specific triggering event occurs. There are three different tolerance levels:

  • Zero percent tolerance: Fees in this category cannot increase from what is listed on the loan estimate. These fees are typically those paid to a creditor, broker or affiliate, such as origination fees.
  • 10 percent cumulative tolerance: Fees in this category are added together, and the sum of these fees are not to increase by more than 10 percent of the amount listed in the loan estimate. Fees include recording fees and third-party service fees.
  • No tolerance or unlimited tolerance: Fees in this category have no limits at all, and can increase by any amount, as long as they are disclosed “in good faith,” using the best information available. These are usually fees lenders have little to no control over.

Remember not to confuse “zero percent tolerance” with “no tolerance,” as they are quite different. Zero percent tolerance fees cannot increase, while no tolerance fees can increase by any amount as long as it is considered “in good faith.”

Does a Loan Estimate Affect My Credit?

The act of applying for a mortgage may temporarily cause your credit score to dip, as it requires a hard inquiry by lenders. However, you may shop around for different mortgages from different lenders to get multiple preapprovals and loan estimates. As long as you do this all within a 45-day window, these separate credit checks will be recorded on your credit report as one single hard inquiry.

This is because lenders realize that you are only going to buy one home, so they categorize all of the actions you take under one umbrella of applying for a mortgage. Note that you may want to consider the 45-day rule loosely. Prioritize finding the best mortgage deal possible. Even if this means processing a hard inquiry outside of the 45-day window for a better deal, you’ll likely end up saving more money in the long run.

To learn more about what affects your credit and how to work toward improving your credit profile, contact our team at Lexington Law.


Reviewed by Kenton Arbon, an Associate Attorney at Lexington Law Firm. Written by Lexington Law.

Kenton Arbon is an Associate Attorney in the Arizona office. Mr. Arbon was born in Bakersfield, California, and grew up in the Northwest. He earned his B.A. in Business Administration, Human Resources Management, while working as an Oregon State Trooper. His interest in the law lead him to relocate to Arizona, attend law school, and graduate from Arizona State College of Law in 2017. Since graduating from law school, Mr. Arbon has worked in multiple compliance domains including anti-money laundering, Medicare Part D, contracts, and debt negotiation. Mr. Arbon is licensed to practice law in Arizona. He is located in the Phoenix office.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

Source: lexingtonlaw.com

Why Today’s Retirees Need to Pursue Tax-Minimization Strategies

Today’s retirees face many obstacles, from an unpredictable market to a lack of guaranteed income in retirement. While these are important challenges to address, they would be remiss to ignore their future tax burdens. We’ll likely see increased taxes in the future, and this will affect today’s retirees more than tax increases have affected retirees in the past.

Retirement Then vs. Now

Today’s retirees are the first IRA generation: Whereas previous generations could primarily rely on Social Security benefits and pensions to cover their retirement expenses, many of today’s retirees find themselves having to fund a much larger portion of their retirement through their own pre-tax retirement accounts. And while retirement accounts such as 401(k)s and IRAs have significant benefits, they also come with downsides, namely that all of the withdrawals in retirement are taxable as ordinary income at the current tax rates in our country.

This means that if tax rates were to rise, the retiree living off of IRAs will have to pay more in taxes and therefore live off of less after-tax income. Previous generations saved their money in after-tax accounts, meaning if tax rates were to rise, it would not affect them the same way it will for this IRA generation. When we look at the history of taxes and the Biden administration’s tax-increasing proposals, it’s clear that retirees need to have a tax-minimization plan.

Could We See Taxes Increase?

We need to plan for the tax rates of the future, not the present. Previously, tax increases primarily affected wage earners. The Social Security payroll tax and income tax increases had little effect on Social Security beneficiaries and retirees who saved in after-tax accounts. However, those who take distributions from a tax-deferred retirement account and who invest in the market are affected by both income tax increases and new taxes.

These could include:

  • The possible elimination of the favorable long-term capital gains taxes rates for the wealthiest investors. This could mean those with incomes of $1 million or more might pay up to 39.5% on their gains, rather than the current top rate of 20%.
  • Lowering of the current standard deduction. Many retirees don’t itemize their deductions and rely on the standard deduction.  Therefore, if the current standard deduction is lowered, people’s taxes could go up.
  • Imposing the Social Security payroll tax on workers or households earning over $400,000 annually. This tax — in which employers and employees each pay 6.2% and the self-employed pay the full 12.4% — helps pay for Social Security benefits.
  • Lowering the federal estate tax exemption amount, which could affect estates above about $5 million.

Retirees should note that we may be experiencing tax rates at 100-year lows now, and that this could end in light of recent increased government spending. Our already large national debt increased during the pandemic, with the CARES Act of 2020 costing $2.2 trillion and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 costing $1.9 trillion. We will have to pay for this eventually, and retirees with large tax-deferred IRAs could be the ones to do it.

When we look at history, we see that after a period of increased government spending during World War II, income tax rates in the following decades were much higher than they are now. In 1944, the top rate peaked at 94%, and by 1964 it had only gone down to 70%. This doesn’t mean that an individual’s tax bracket will go from 22% to 70%, but there is a lot of room in between where retirees could feel the effects.

When running a financial plan, retirees need to calculate how much taxable income they will have and how much of that will be left after taxes. If tax rates rise, retirees could need to withdraw more from their taxable retirement accounts to be left with the same amount of income, ultimately drawing down their savings faster.

RMDs

Taxes on retirement income can become more burdensome starting at age 72. Most retirees must take RMDs (required minimum distributions) from their traditional retirement accounts starting at age 72, and the amount they must withdraw is based on their age and account balance.

RMDs could force someone to withdraw more than they normally would from their tax-deferred retirement account, causing them to jump into a higher tax bracket. Retirees under the age 72 should look to do careful planning that may minimize this effect by the time they reach this age.  (Keep reading for an idea on how to help do that below.)

Taxes and Your Legacy Goals

RMDs can also potentially increase a beneficiary’s tax burden due to the SECURE Act passed in 2019. It ended the “stretch IRA,” which allowed beneficiaries to stretch out distributions from an inherited retirement account over their lifetimes. Now, most non-spouse beneficiaries must empty traditional accounts within 10 years of the original owner’s death.

Those who want to pass on their retirement accounts should consider tax minimization strategies when creating an estate plan. One possibility is a charitable remainder trust.

What Can Retirees Do Now to Prepare for Higher Taxes Later?

Those who will draw a significant portion of their retirement income from taxable retirement account should take note, and work to minimize their overall tax burden. There are many strategies they can employ, including converting part or all of their traditional 401(k) or IRA to a Roth IRA. This involves paying tax on the amount converted and eventually withdrawing it from the Roth tax-free. If we see taxes increase in the future, a Roth conversion at today’s rates could potentially be a good strategy for those whose tax burden won’t substantially decrease in retirement.

In addition to providing tax-free income, a Roth is also exempt from RMDs. This means that the money in a Roth IRA can continue to grow throughout the owner’s lifetime tax-free. When it’s inherited, the beneficiary will have to drain the account in 10 years, as with a traditional IRA. However, distributions from traditional IRAs, distributions from Roth IRAs are not taxable and will not incur an early withdrawal penalty as long as the account is at least five years old.

The Bottom Line for Retirees

Retirees who have both traditional and Roth IRAs can strategically withdraw from each to avoid going into a higher tax bracket, continue to reap the tax-advantage benefits of a retirement account after age 72, and pass on potentially tax-free wealth to their beneficiaries. Those who think tax hikes are on the horizon and who don’t plan to live on significantly less income in retirement should consider tax-minimization strategies such as a Roth conversion.

Investment Advisory Services offered through Epstein and White Financial LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor.  Epstein & White Retirement Income Solutions, LLC is a licensed insurance agency with the state of California Department of Insurance (#0K53785).  As of March 31, 2021, Epstein and White is now a part of Mercer Global Advisors Inc. Mercer Global Advisors Inc. (“Mercer Advisors”) is registered as an Investment Adviser with the SEC. The firm only transacts business in states where it is properly registered or is excluded or exempted from registration requirements. The information, suggestions and recommendations included in this material is for informational purposes only and cannot be relied upon for any financial, legal, tax, accounting, or insurance purposes.  Epstein and White Financial is not a certified public accounting firm, and no portion of its services should be construed as legal or accounting advice. Please consult with your own accountant and financial planning professional to determine how tax changes affect your unique financial situation. A copy of Epstein & White Financial LLC’s current written disclosure statement discussing advisory services and fees is available for review upon request or at www.adviserinfo.sec.gov.

Founder and CEO, Epstein and White Retirement Income Solutions

Bradley White is founder and CEO of Epstein and White. He’s a Certified Financial Planner™ and has a bachelor’s degree in finance from San Diego State University. He’s an Investment Advisor Representative (IAR) and an insurance professional.

Source: kiplinger.com