In monitoring your Social Security profile, you may help to thwart fraud.

Could your personal information soon be stolen? The possibility cannot be dismissed. Sensitive financial and medical data pertaining to your life may not be as safe as you think, and thieves may turn to a vast resource to try and mine it – the Social Security Administration.

Consider three facts, which in combination seem especially troubling. One, Social Security’s databases contain sensitive personal information on hundreds of millions of Americans, both living and dead. Two, more than 34 million Americans interact with the SSA online. Three, nearly 100% of Social Security benefits are disbursed electronically.1

The more you reflect on all this, the more you realize that cybercrooks could take advantage of you by creating a bogus online Social Security account in your name, in order to steal your benefits and/or your personal data.

Creating and maintaining a MySSA account may lessen the threat. Last year, Social Security advised all current and future benefit recipients to set up and actively use an online profile. The agency’s blog noted that this simple move could “take away the risk of someone else trying to create [an account] in your name, even if they obtain your Social Security number.” This is a case where you want to be first rather than second.1

Setting up a MySSA account is easy; the first step is to visit ssa.gov. Whether you have an existing account or not, you will want to review your mailing address, date of birth, and other essential pieces of information. If they are not correct, they demand attention. 

Are you working full time in your late sixties? Then be vigilant. If you have reached Full Retirement Age (66 or 67) without filing for retirement benefits, your Social Security profile may be especially tantalizing to a cyberthief. In this circumstance, you are eligible to receive up to six months of benefits retroactively, as a lump sum. That could mean a payday of more than $10,000 for a criminal who assumes your identity.2

Make no mistake, cybercrooks have exploited Social Security accounts. While the SSA told Reuters this year that the incidence of fraud is “very rare,” a 2016 audit by the Office of the Inspector General found that during 2013, around $20 million in Social Security payments were directed to the wrong parties. That swindling involved about 12,200 MySSA accounts – less than 2% of the total in 2013, but certainly enough to raise eyebrows.1,2

The SSA tightened authentication standards in 2017. It added security codes to help certify the legitimacy of MySSA account users. It regularly analyzes MySSA transactions for fraud.1

What should you do if you suspect fraud? If you log in and it appears your monthly benefit has not been sent to you, contact the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 or call your local SSA field office. In addition, you can activate the “Block Electronic Access” option on your MySSA account; that will prevent anyone, you included, from accessing your Social Security records via computer or phone. Electronic access is only restored when you get in touch with Social Security to confirm your identity.1

Establish an online Social Security account and keep checking it. In logging on regularly, you may do your part to help the SSA detect and ward off criminals who could use your identity to collect or file for benefits.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – reuters.com/article/us-column-miller-socialsecurity/social-security-online-accounts-safe-from-identity-theft-idUSKBN1FE296 [1/25/18]

2 – tinyurl.com/yb4wqgka [2/8/18]

Just what is comprehensive financial planning? As you invest and save for retirement, you may hear or read about it – but what does that phrase really mean? Just what does comprehensive financial planning entail, and why do some investors request this kind of approach?

While the phrase may seem ambiguous to some, it can be simply defined.

Comprehensive financial planning is about building wealth through a process, not a product.
Financial products are everywhere, and simply putting money into an investment is not a gateway to getting rich, nor a solution to your financial issues.

Comprehensive financial planning is holistic. It is about more than “money.” A comprehensive financial plan is not only built around your goals, but also around your core values. What matters most to you in life? How does your wealth relate to that? What should your wealth help you accomplish? What could it accomplish for others?

Comprehensive financial planning considers the entirety of your financial life. Your assets, your liabilities, your taxes, your income, your business – these aspects of your financial life are never isolated from each other. Occasionally or frequently, they interrelate. Comprehensive financial planning recognizes this interrelation and takes a systematic, integrated approach toward improving your financial situation.

Comprehensive financial planning is long range. It presents a strategy for the accumulation, maintenance, and eventual distribution of your wealth, in a written plan to be implemented and fine-tuned over time.

What makes this kind of planning so worthwhile? If you aim to build and preserve wealth, you must play “defense” as well as “offense.” Too many people see building wealth only in terms of investing – you invest, you “make money,” and that is how you become rich.

That is only a small part of the story. Careful planning can involve minimizing taxes and debts as well as adjusting wealth accumulation and wealth preservation tactics in accordance with your personal risk tolerance and changing market climates .

Basing decisions on a plan may help prevent destructive behaviors when markets turn unstable. Quick decision-making may lead investors to buy high and sell low – and overall, investors may lose ground by buying and selling too actively. Openfolio, a website which lets tens of thousands of investors compare the performance of their portfolios against portfolios of other investors, found that its average investor earned 5% in 2016. In contrast, the total return of the S&P 500 was nearly 12%. Why the difference? As CNBC noted, most of it could be chalked up to poor market timing and faulty stock picking. A comprehensive financial plan – and its long-range vision – helps to discourage this sort of behavior. At the same time, the plan – and the financial professional(s) who helped create it – can encourage the investor to stay the course. 1

A comprehensive financial plan is a collaboration & can result in an ongoing relationship. Since the plan is goal-based and values-rooted, both the investor and the financial professional involved have spent considerable time on its articulation. There are shared responsibilities between them. Trust may strengthens as they live up to and follow through on those responsibilities. That continuing engagement can promote commitment and a view of success.

Think of a comprehensive financial plan as your compass. Accordingly, the financial professional who works with you to craft and refine the plan can serve as your navigator on the journey toward your goals.

The plan provides not only direction, but also an integrated strategy to try and better your overall financial life over time. As the years go by, this approach may do more than “make money” for you – it may help you to build and retain lifelong wealth.

This is the time to arrange lifelong health coverage.

Age 64 is the age when you are reminded that you are a baby boomer growing older. Regardless of how young or old you feel at 64, you should make sure to sign up for Medicare.

The sign-up period will be here before you know it. In fact, you might already be within it, so act quickly if you are. Medicare gives you a 7-month window in which to enroll. That initial enrollment window opens three months prior to the month in which you turn 65 and closes three months after the month in which you turn 65. 

If you fail to enroll within that 7-month period, the chances are good that you will end up paying a late-enrollment penalty for not signing up for Part B coverage on time. That penalty is permanent. You will also have to wait until the next general enrollment period (January 1-March 31) to sign up.1,2
   
Are you already receiving Social Security retirement benefits? Have you received them for 24 straight months at any point? If your answer to either of those two questions is “yes,” then you will be enrolled in Medicare Part A and B, automatically. You will get your Medicare card in the mail about three months prior to turning 65.2
 
Are you currently covered under an employer or former employer’s health plan? If so, you may qualify for a special enrollment period. On the other hand, you may not.

The rules are complex here. If you are approaching your 65th birthday, your employer (or your health plan administrator) may require you to enroll in Medicare at the first opportunity.  Not all companies demand this. If yours does not, then you can sign up for Medicare coverage later, without being hit with late-enrollment penalties.2

If you are still working at 65 and have employer-sponsored health coverage, you face no requirement to sign up for Medicare until you retire or that coverage disappears. (This also applies if you are retired, but your spouse has employer-sponsored health coverage.)2
 
The month after your employment ends or your employee health benefits linked to that employment end (whichever comes first), an 8-month enrollment period will open for you to enroll in Medicare.2
 
By the way, COBRA does not meet Medicare’s definition of employer-sponsored health insurance. Neither does a health plan sponsored by one of your past employers. You will be allowed no special enrollment period under these coverage circumstances.2
  
You will need to decide what types of coverage you prefer. Parts A and B are the basic parts of Medicare. (Sometimes they are simply referred to as “Original Medicare.”) Part A is hospital insurance, and Part B is medical insurance.

Most people pay nothing for Part A; effectively, they have prepaid for the coverage by paying Medicare taxes during years on the job. Every Medicare recipient pays a monthly Part B premium. At this writing, the Part B premium for most Medicare recipients is $134. Should you still be working, this may be all the coverage you need if your employer offers health benefits.1

You may want more coverage than Parts A and B provide. You might be interested in a Medicare Supplement Insurance (Medigap) policy or a Part D plan to help you pay for medicines. Or, you could sign up for a Part C (Medicare Advantage) plan, offering all basic Medicare benefits, plus prescription drug and medical coverage.3

Contact a Medicare specialist before you enroll. Even with its user-friendly website and plenty of online third-party guides to help those new to it, Medicare remains intricate; its nuances, hard to grasp. A financial or insurance professional well versed in Medicare enrollment, benefits, and regulations may make the process simpler for you.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.
1 – medicare.gov/people-like-me/new-to-medicare/getting-started-with-medicare.html [11/20/17]
2 – fool.com/retirement/general/2016/05/14/do-i-get-medicare-when-i-turn-65.aspx [5/14/17]
3 – kiplinger.com/slideshow/retirement/T039-S001-10-things-you-must-know-about-medicare/index.html [5/17]
1-676698

Earning too much may cause portions of your retirement benefits to be taxed.

You may be shocked to learn that part of your Social Security income could be taxed. If your provisional income exceeds a certain level, that will happen.

Just what is “provisional income”? The Social Security Administration defines it with a formula.
Provisional income = your modified adjusted gross income + 50% of your total annual Social Security benefits + 100% of tax-exempt interest that your investments generate.1

Income from working, pension income, withdrawals of money from IRAs and other types of retirement plans, and interest earned by certain kinds of fixed-income investment vehicles all figure into this formula.

If you fail to manage your provisional income in retirement, it may top the threshold at which Social Security benefits become taxable. This could drastically affect the amount of spending power you have, and it could force you to withdraw more money than you expect in order to cover taxes.

Where is the provisional income threshold set? The answer to that question depends on your filing status.

If you file your federal income taxes as an individual, then up to 50% of your annual Social Security benefits are subject to taxation once your provisional income surpasses $25,000. Once it exceeds $34,000, as much as 85% of your benefits are exposed to taxation.1,2

The thresholds are set higher for joint filers. If you file jointly, as much as 50% of your Social Security benefits may be taxed when your provisional income rises above $32,000. Above $44,000, up to 85% of your Social Security benefits become taxable.2

The provisional income thresholds have never been adjusted for inflation. Since Social Security needs more money flowing into its coffers rather than less, it is doubtful they will be reset anytime in the future.

When the thresholds were put into place in 1983, just 10% of Social Security recipients had their retirement benefits taxed. By 2015, that had climbed to more than 50%.2

In 2017, the Seniors Center, a nonprofit senior advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., asked retirees how they felt about their Social Security benefits being taxed. Ninety-one percent felt the practice should end.2

How can you plan to avoid hitting the provisional income thresholds? First, be wary of potential jumps in income, such as the kind that might result from selling a lot of stock, converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, or taking a large lump-sum payout from a retirement account. Second, you could plan to reduce or shelter the amount of income that your investments return. Three, you could try to accelerate income into one tax year or push it off into another tax year.

Consult with a financial professional to explore strategies that might help you reduce your provisional income. You may have more options for doing so than you think.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

    
Citations.
1 – kiplinger.com/article/retirement/T051-C032-S014-can-you-cut-taxes-you-pay-on-your-social-security.html [9/13/17]
2 – fool.com/retirement/2017/03/26/91-of-seniors-believe-this-social-security-practic.aspx [3/26/17]
LPL Tracking 1-659036

This is happening in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

You may have seen this statistic before or one resembling it: the average 65-year-old retiring couple can now expect to pay more than $250,000 in health care expenses during the rest of their lives.

In fact, Fidelity Investments now projects this cost at $275,000, up 70% from its initial estimate in 2002. The effort to prepare for these potential expenses is changing the big picture of retirement planning.1

Individual retirement savings strategies have been altered. How many people retire with a dedicated account or lump sum meant to address future health costs? Very few. Most retirees end up winging it, paying their out-of-pocket costs out of income, Social Security benefits, and savings.

The older retirees are, the heavier this financial burden seems to be. According to a study from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, people aged 85 and older devote an average of 19% of their household expenses to health care, compared to 11% of household costs for those 65-74.1

People are starting to wonder if they should assign specific retirement assets to health care. The average man retiring today at 66 is projected to receive $280,000 in Social Security benefits over the balance of his lifetime. That would cover the $275,000 in projected costs referenced above. Fidelity notes that the average workplace retirement plan balance for someone in their sixties is $123,000. Right now, that would approximately cover one retiree’s projected health care costs.1

Few people approach retirement with savings large enough to permit these assignments. For the rest of us, the takeaway is to save even more. Some of us may want to consider a Health Savings Account (HSA), which is routinely used in tandem with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). Contributions to HSAs are tax free, and withdrawals are tax free when used for qualified medical expenses. Money in an HSA may also be invested, and the accounts feature tax-free growth. Current annual HSA contribution limits are $3,400 for individuals (with a $1,000 catch-up contribution allowed for those 55 and older) and $6,750 for families.1,2

While households have begun adjusting their retirement expectations in light of projected health care expenses, businesses have also quietly made some changes.

Employer matching contributions have been affected. A new study from employee benefits giant Willis Towers Watson says that company matches to retirement plan accounts decreased about 25% between 2001 and 2015 (from 9.1% of worker pay to 6.8% of worker pay). Why? It appears at least some of those dollars were shifted into health care benefits. In the same period, employer allocations to company health care programs more than doubled, rising from 5.7% to 11.5% of employee pay.3
             
There is no easy answer for retirees preparing to address future health care costs. Staying active and fit may lead to health care savings over the long run, but some baby boomers and Gen Xers already have physical ailments. Barring some sort of unusual economic phenomenon or public policy shift, the question of how to pay for hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical and drug expenses after 65 will confound many of us.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

    
Citations.
1 – marketwatch.com/story/how-to-plan-for-health-care-in-retirement-without-going-broke-2017-08-25/ [8/25/17]
2 – goerie.com/business/20170824/picking-right-health-savings-plan [8/24/17]
3 – towerswatson.com/en/Insights/Newsletters/Americas/Insider/2017/07/shifts-in-benefit-allocations-among-us-employers [7/14/17]
LPL Tracking 1-649969

For American’s looking forward to financial independence, the risk of Long Term Care (LTC) continues to represent the biggest risk to their financial independence. Look around you, and you will find either family members or friends with family where LTC has changed the dynamics of those impacted, and their loved ones.
To give some insight on the cost of this risk, I have access to an excellent resource that can provide costs of various long term care services, by submarket (ex. San Fran, Stockton, Amarillo TX, etc.). This is anywhere in the country, the info is real time, and the output can provide a breakdown of costs for
Skilled Nursing – Daily Averages

  • Semi-Private Rooms
  • Private Rooms

Home Health Care – Hourly Wages

  • Home Health Aid
  • Licensed Nurse
  • Registered Nurse

Assisted Living Facility – Monthly Averages

  • Studio Apartment
  • 1-Bedroom Apartment
  • 2-Bedroom Apartment

Big picture, the photo is a heat map of overall long term care costs. But like I said, I have access to this information by sub market. My office is also available to help with discussions on long term care (the risk, and insurance), life insurance, disability income replacement, and advanced estate planning. Please let us know if we can help.