New SSA Commissioner Shares His Thoughts

Feb 25, 2020 /

When Andrew M. Saul, 73, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the new commissioner of Social Security last June, it brought to an end a six-year period in which the Social Security Administration (SSA) was run by a sequence of temporary appointees. Saul is now in charge of one of the most important operations in the federal government, an agency that pays out more than $1 trillion every year to more than 64 million Social Security beneficiaries. Saul—who started his career managing national retail clothing chains and also helmed the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board—is tasked with solving problems, such as slow customer service, that have troubled the SSA for years, and newer issues like scams run by people pretending to represent the agency. He spoke with the AARP Bulletin about what he's doing to help the SSA face these challenges, and here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

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New FICO Scores Could Affect Retirement Planning

Feb 21, 2020 /

Fair Isaac, the giant credit score company, recently announced the biggest change since 2014 in how it determines its FICO credit scores. This new FICO 10 system—expected to go into effect by year’s end—could affect your retirement in big ways, possibly for the worse and possibly for the better. Having good credit is especially important in retirement. It can save you thousands of dollars with a lower interest rate on a mortgage, car loan or credit card. And a high credit score could help you get a rewards credit card or a better interest rate with one, making travel in retirement less expensive. Insurance premiums, utility bills and apartment rents may also be more affordable when your credit is in good shape.

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Only 1 in 300 Seniors Know These 5 Social Security Rules

Feb 18, 2020 /

In 2019, 64 million Americans were estimated to have received Social Security benefits, and for more than half of elderly beneficiaries, Social Security represented over 50% of their income. Nonetheless, a recent SimplyWise survey found that less than one in eight Americans aged 60 to 70 considered themselves “very knowledgeable” on the topic. Worse, only one out of 300 people asked knew the correct answer to all five of the following questions. These questions are fundamental and confusions lead to people missing out on income they desperately need.

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This Word Describes Social Security—But Not Everyone Wants to Hear It

Feb 14, 2020 /

“Entitlement” often refers to Social Security and Medicare, but critics argue that’s the wrong way to describe it. Many Americans take to social media saying they’ve paid into the system their entire careers, and thus, the benefit they will receive belongs to them. And they’re right—which is a big part of the reason they’re called entitlements, experts say, because recipients are indeed entitled to them.

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Overwhelming Lack of Understanding Surrounding Social Security, Survey Finds

Feb 11, 2020 /

A recent Schroders survey on retirement trends found that there is significant concern of outliving one’s assets, with 42% of people classifying themselves as being concerned or very concerned about outliving their assets and 35% of those already retired being concerned or very concerned about outliving their money. Respondents are split 50/50 between men and women and are categorized into three age cohorts: 45-59 (336 respondents), 60-69 (335 respondents) and 70+ (333 respondents).

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A Need For Evidence-Based Retirement Policies

Feb 7, 2020 /

Retirement saving plays an important role in the U.S. economy. Americans hold more than $18 trillion in private retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs, while defined benefit pensions in the private and public sector hold trillions more. Social Security and Medicare comprise nearly 40 percent of the federal budget. The government also provides tax subsidies for retirement saving, and funds Medicaid. Yet despite existing research, policymakers do not have access to robust empirical consensus when making decisions that affect the retirement security of tens of millions of families. There are many major outstanding questions:

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Do 40% of Retirees Really Rely on Social Security for Their Entire Income?

Feb 4, 2020 /

Americans are concerned and even afraid for their retirement security. And the news headlines often don’t make them feel better. The latest is a claim from the National institute for Retirement Security that “A plurality of older Americans, 40.2 percent, only receive income from Social Security in retirement.” If true that’s very worrying. But does this frightening factoid hold up?

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Examining the Nest Egg

Jan 31, 2020 /

Retirement security is built on a foundation of secure income during retirement. For decades, researchers, financial advisors, and others have encouraged working Americans to pursue the so-called “three-legged stool” of retirement savings: Social Security, a defined benefit pension, and individual savings, typically through a defined contribution plan. This National Institute on Retirement Security report examines the actual sources of retirement income for older Americans to find out, in part, just how many older Americans actually achieve on the three-legged stool in retirement.

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Social Security Is a Great Equalizer

Jan 28, 2020 /

As the U.S. population becomes more diverse, it will be increasingly important for policymakers addressing Social Security’s solvency to understand the extent to which various racial and ethnic groups rely on Social Security versus other sources of retirement wealth. Yet, to date, studies on retirement wealth have tended not to focus on race and ethnicity and have largely ignored the role of Social Security. This Center for Retirement Research brief, based on a recent paper, uses data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) to document the retirement resources of white, black, and Hispanic households at various points in the wealth distribution for five cohorts of 51-56 year olds between 1992 and 2016.

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Another Item for the Financial To-Do List

Jan 24, 2020 /

Your clients may like to create a financial to-list for the year. And if they’re like most people, the list likely includes: pay down debt and save more for retirement. But there’s a lesser-known but equally important task that you should suggest they add to the list: Check your Social Security Statement.

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The 2020 Presidential Candidates’ Proposed Changes to Social Security

Jan 21, 2020 /

Everyone can agree that the Social Security program is in trouble. By approximately 2035, the trust fund will run out and only 80% of benefits can be paid. But that’s still 15 years away, and Congress isn’t likely to do anything about it soon. That doesn’t stop the 2020 presidential candidates from having opinions about various changes to Social Security. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has rounded them all up in a helpful chart.

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Retiree Living Standards, Ranked State by State

Jan 17, 2020 /

How well you will live in retirement will depend on two things: your income and the local cost of living. A new study that ranks each state based on how many of its retirees can meet a basic standard of living comes up with an interesting combination of places that are financially friendly—or not—to people over 65. For example, who would expect Mississippi to be in the same company with California?

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OIG Warns of New Twist on Social Security Scam

Jan 14, 2020 /

The Inspector General of Social Security is warning the public that telephone scammers may send faked documents by email to convince victims to comply with their demands. The Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has received reports of victims who received emails with attached letters and reports that appeared to be from Social Security or Social Security OIG. The letters may use official letterhead and government “jargon” to convince victims they are legitimate; they may also contain misspellings and grammar mistakes.

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Will the SECURE Act Help More Americans Buy Annuities?

Jan 10, 2020 /

The most consequential retirement policy reforms in more than a decade was recently signed into law, including a key reform designed to make more annuities as an option in 401(k) plans. But will access to annuities be beneficial to consumers? Economists tend to favor annuities because they are one of the only ways to handle the greatest uncertainty in retirement: how long each retiree will live. But consumers have been far less enthusiastic. Indeed, economists have coined the term the “annuity puzzle” to describe the gap between expected and actual demand for the products.

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Why Claiming Social Security Early Could Be More Popular Than Ever This Decade

Jan 7, 2020 /

Data from the SSA shows that a vast majority of Social Security beneficiaries (around 3 in 5) claim their payouts prior to turning 66. This means most retirees are knowingly accepting a permanent reduction in their monthly payout for life. And the crazy thing is, this trend of filing early for Social Security benefits could actually accelerate throughout the 2020s. If you’re wondering why beneficiaries would purposefully take their payouts early knowing full well that their benefits would be reduced for life, look no further than the annually released Trustees report. Since 1985, the Trustees report has cautioned that long-term revenue generation would be insufficient to cover program expenditures.

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What Happens If Social Security’s Reserves Run Out?

Jan 3, 2020 /

A number of ongoing demographic changes such as increased longevity, the retirement of boomers, growing income inequality, declining net immigration, and lower birth rates are all taking their toll on the Social Security program. Whether in 2019 or perhaps 2020, the likelihood appears very high that Social Security’s nearly $2.9 trillion in asset reserves will shrink for the first time in close to four decades. The intermediate-cost model suggests that by 2035, a mere 15 years from now, persistent outflows will have completely the asset reserves. The question is: What happens then?

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Financial Planning Continues After Retirement

Dec 31, 2019 /

So much about retirement planning is about making smart money decisions to get you to the time when you’ll retire. But what about managing your money after you retire? Decisions like: When should I start claiming Social Security? How much should I withdraw from my retirement funds this year? Is this the time to downsize and move to a smaller, more affordable home with fewer stairs and less maintenance? The latest “Friends Talk Money” podcast episode has some advice on finanical planning after retirement.

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Expect a Little Better Service From Social Security Soon

Dec 27, 2019 /

If you’ve ever experienced a long wait to get help from the Social Security Administration, the agency has some good news for you: the pace is about to pick up a bit. Last week, Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul announced two steps that should help make a dent in the problem: Social Security will re-open field offices nationwide on Wednesday afternoons starting on January 8, restoring closings that were put in place in 2012. The agency also will hire 1,100 new employees to provide service on the national 800 number and in its processing centers, where paperwork is handled. The agency is currently bringing on board 100 new processing center employees and approximately 500 new teleservice representatives for the 800 number. Some additional hires will be made later in 2020.

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’Twas the Week Before Christmas

Dec 24, 2019 /
Holiday Special: With Christmas right around the corner, here is an advisor-themed take on the classic Christmas poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas” to help you get into the spirit. Read more ...

The Decade in Retirement: Wealthy Americans Moved Further Ahead

Dec 20, 2019 /

Retirement in America has become a tale of two very different realities in the decade now drawing to a close. A robust economic rebound has put some Americans back on solid footing for retirement, but progress has been uneven. Despite the gains made in employment, wage growth has only recently begun to recover—and remained flat for older workers. Retirement wealth has accumulated almost exclusively among higher-income households, while middle- and lower-income households have only held steady or lost ground, Federal Reserve data shows. Trends in Social Security and Medicare also are troubling. The value of Social Security benefits—measured by the share of pre-retirement income they replace—is falling, and the cost of Medicare is rising.

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