Retirement Planning

Roth vs. Traditional IRA: Which is best for you?

Kali Hassinger Contributed by: Kali Hassinger, CFP®

Roth vs Traditional IRA: Which is best for you?

If you’re planning to use an IRA to save for retirement, but aren’t sure whether Roth or Traditional is best for you, we can help sort it out. Before we break down the pros and cons of each, however, we need to make sure that you are eligible to make contributions.

For 2019 Roth IRA contribution rules/limits:

  • For single filers, the modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) limit is phased out between $122,000 and $137,000. (Unsure what MAGI is? Click here.)

  • For married filing jointly, the MAGI limit is phased out between $193,000 and $203,000

  • Please keep in mind that it makes no difference whether you are covered by a qualified plan at work (such as a 401k or 403b). You simply have to be under the income thresholds.

  • The maximum contribution amount is $6,000 if you’re under age 50. Those who are 50 and older (and have earned income for the year) can contribute an additional $1,000 each year.

For 2019 Traditional IRA contributions:

  • For single filers who are covered by a company retirement plan (401k, 403b, etc.), in 2019 the deduction for your IRA contribution is phased out between $64,000 and $74,000 of modified adjusted gross income (MAGI).

  • For married filers covered by a company retirement plan, the deduction is phased out between $103,000 and $123,000 of MAGI.

  • For married filers not covered by a company plan, but who have a spouse who is covered, the deduction is phased out between $193,000 and $203,000 of MAGI.

  • Maximum contribution amount is $6,000 if you’re under age 50. Those who are 50 and older (and have earned income for the year) can contribute an additional $1,000 each year.

If you are eligible, you may be wondering which makes more sense for you. Well, as with many financial questions…it depends! 

Roth IRA Advantage

The benefit of a Roth IRA is that the money grows tax-deferred. When you are over age 59 ½, you can take the money out tax free. However, in exchange, you don’t get an upfront tax deduction when investing in the Roth. You are paying your tax bill today, rather than in the future. 

Traditional IRA Advantage

With a Traditional IRA, you get a tax deduction for the year you contribute money to the IRA. For example, a married couple filing jointly with a MAGI of $190,000 (just below the phase-out threshold when one spouse has access to a qualified plan) would likely be in a 24% marginal tax bracket. If they made a full $6,000 Traditional IRA contribution, they would save $1,440 in taxes. To make that same $6,000 contribution to a ROTH, they would need to earn $7,895, pay 24% in taxes, and then make the $6,000 contribution. The drawback of the traditional IRA is that you will be taxed on it when you begin making withdrawals in retirement.

Pay Now or Pay Later?

It’s challenging to decide which account is right for you, because nobody has any idea what tax rates will be in the future. If you choose to pay your tax bill now (Roth IRA), and in retirement you find yourself in a lower tax bracket, you may have been better off going the Traditional IRA route. However, if you decide to make a Traditional IRA contribution for the tax break now, and in retirement find yourself in a higher tax bracket, then you may have been better off going with a Roth. 

How Do You Decide?

A lot depends on your situation, such as the career path you’ve chosen and your desired income in retirement. However, we typically recommend that those just starting their careers (who will most likely see their incomes increase over the years) make Roth contributions. If your income is stable, and you’re in a higher tax bracket, a Traditional IRA and immediate tax break may make more sense now.

Before making any final decisions, it’s always a good idea to work with a qualified financial professional to help you understand what works best for you.

Kali Hassinger, CFP®, CDFA®, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® She has more than a decade of financial planning and insurance industry experience.


UPDATED from original post on June 19, 2014 by Matt Trujillo, CFP®

This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Kali Hassinger, CFP®, CDFA®, and not necessarily those of Raymond James. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Roth IRA owners must be 59½ or older and have held the IRA for five years before tax-free withdrawals are permitted. You should discuss any tax matters with the appropriate professional.

The Power of Working Longer

Nick Defenthaler Contributed by: Nick Defenthaler, CFP®

The Power of Working Longer Center for Financial Planning, Inc.®

Saving 1% more towards retirement for the final 10 years of one’s career has the same impact as working one month longer.

Yes, you read that correctly. Saving 15% in your 401k instead of 14% for the 10 years leading up to retirement has the same impact as delaying retirement by only 30 days! Hard to believe but that’s exactly what the National Bureau of Economic Research found in their 2018 research paper titled “The Power of Working Longer”. To make your eyes pop even more, consider that saving 1% more for 30 years was shown to have the same impact as working 3-4 months longer. Wow!

If you’re like me, you find these statistics absolutely incredible. This clearly highlights the impact that working longer has on your retirement plan. As we’re getting very close to retirement (usually five years or less), most of us won’t be able to make a meaningful impact on our 25-35 year retirement horizon by increasing our savings rate. At this point in our careers, it just doesn’t move the needle the way you might think it would.  

Without question, the best way you can increase the probability of success for your retirement income strategy in the latter stages of your career is to work longer. But when I say “working longer”, I don’t necessarily mean working longer on a full-time basis.  

A trend I am seeing more and more, one that excites me, is a concept known as “phased retirement”. This essentially means that you’re easing into retirement and not going from working full-time to quitting work cold turkey. We as humans tend to view retirement as “all on” or “all off”. If you ask me, that’s the wrong approach. We need to start thinking of part-time employment as part of an overall financial game plan.  

Let’s look at a real-life client I recently encountered (whose name was changed to protect identity):

Mary, age 62, came in for her annual planning meeting and shared with me that the stress of her well-paying sales position was completely wearing her down. At this stage in her life and career, she no longer had the energy for the 50-hour work weeks and frequent travel. Now a grandmother of three, she wanted to spend more time with her kids and grandkids but feared that retiring at 62, compared with our plan of 65, would impact her long-term financial picture.  

The more we talked, the more clear it became that Mary did not want to completely stop working; she just could not take the full-time grind anymore. When we put pen to paper, we concluded that she could still achieve her desired retirement income goal by working part-time for the next three years (to get her to Medicare age). Her income would drop to a level that would not allow her to save at all for retirement, but believe it or not, that had no meaningful impact on her long-term plan. Earning enough money to cover virtually all of her living expenses and not dipping into her portfolio until age 65 was the key factor.

Having conversations around your desired retirement age is obviously a critical component to your overall planning. However, a sometimes overlooked question is, “WHY do you want to retire at that age?”. As a society, we do a good job of creating social norms in many aspects of life, and retirement is not immune to this. I’ve actually heard several clients respond to this question with, “Because that’s the age you’re supposed to retire!”. When I hear this, I get nervous, because these folks usually make it three months into the retirement transition, only to find they are not truly happy. They found purpose in their careers, they enjoyed the social aspects of their jobs, and they loved keeping busy, whether or not they realized it at the time.

The bottom line is this: Don’t discount the effectiveness of easing into full retirement, both from a financial and lifestyle standpoint.

Some clients have found a great deal of happiness during this stage of life by working less, trying a different career, or even starting a small business they’ve dreamed about for years. The possibilities are endless. Have an open mind and find the balance that works for you, that’s what it’s all about.

Nick Defenthaler, CFP®, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® He contributed to a PBS documentary on the importance of saving for retirement and has been a trusted source for national media outlets, including CNBC, MSN Money, Financial Planning Magazine, and OnWallStreet.com.


The information contained in this blog does not purport to be a complete description of the securities, markets, or developments referred to in this material. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Opinions expressed in the attached article are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Raymond James. All opinions are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. Keep in mind that there is no assurance that any strategy will ultimately be successful or profitable nor protect against a loss.

Qualified Charitable Distributions: Giving Money While Saving Money

Josh Bitel Contributed by: Josh Bitel, CFP®

Qualified Charitable Distributions

The Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) can be a powerful and tax-efficient way to achieve one’s philanthropic goals. This strategy has become much more popular under the new tax laws.

QCD Refresher

The QCD, which applies only if you’re at least 70 ½ years old, essentially allows you to directly donate your entire Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) to a charity. Normally, any distribution from an IRA is considered ordinary income from a tax perspective; however, when the dollars go directly to a charity or 501(c)3 organization, the distribution from the IRA is considered not taxable.

Let’s Look at an Example

Sandy turned 70 ½ in June 2019, and this is the first year she has to take a Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) from her IRA, which happens to be $25,000. A charitably inclined person, Sandy gifts, on average, nearly $30,000 each year to her church. Because she does not really need the proceeds from her RMD, she can have the $25,000 directly transferred to her church, either by check or electronic deposit. She would then avoid paying tax on the distribution. Since Sandy is in the 24% tax bracket, she saves approximately $6,000 in federal taxes!

Rules to Consider

The QCD and similar strategies have rules and nuances you should keep in mind to ensure proper execution:

  • Only distributions from IRAs are permitted for the QCD. Simple and SEP IRAs must be “inactive.”

    • Employer plans such as a 401k, 403b, 457 do not allow for the QCD.

    • The QCD is permitted within a Roth IRA but would not make sense from a tax perspective, because Roth IRA withdrawals are tax-free by age 70 ½.*

  • You must be 70 ½ at the time the QCD is processed.

  • Funds from the QCD must go directly to the charity and cannot go to you first and then out to the charity.

  • You can give, at most, $100,000 to charity through the QCD in any year, even if this figure exceeds the actual amount of your RMD.

The amount of money saved from being intentional with how you gift funds to charity can potentially keep more money in your pocket, which ultimately means there’s more to give to the organizations you passionately support.

Josh Bitel, CFP® is an Associate Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® He conducts financial planning analysis for clients and has a special interest in retirement income analysis.

Health Care Costs: The Retirement Planning Wildcard

Kali Hassinger Contributed by: Kali Hassinger, CFP®

Health Care Costs: The Retirement Planning Wildcard

When planning ahead for retirement income needs, we typically think about how much it will cost us to live day-to-day (food, clothing, shelter), and to do those things we want to do, like travel and helping grandkids pay for college. The costs we don’t often think about, those that could potentially wreak havoc on retirement income planning, are health care costs.

According to a recent article from the Employee Benefits Research Institute, the average 65-year-old couple will need $400,000 to have a 90% chance of covering health care expenses over their remaining lifetimes (excluding long-term care).

Longevity is a critical factor driving health care costs. According to the Social Security Administration’s 2020 study, a couple, both 66 years of age, has a 1-in-2 chance that one will live to age 90 and a 1-in-4 chance that one will live to age 95. And considering that Medicare premiums are means-tested, the more income you generate in retirement, the higher your Medicare premiums.

So, what can you do to plan for this potential large cost?

  1. If your goal is to retire early, plan on self-insuring costs from retirement to age 65. Some employers may offer retiree healthcare, or you can purchase insurance on the Health Insurance Exchange through the Affordable Care Act (still out-of-pocket dollars in retirement).

  2. Consider taking advantage of Roth 401(k)s, Roth IRAs (if you qualify), or converting IRA dollars to ROTH IRAs in years that make sense from an income tax perspective. You can use these tax-free dollars for potential retirement health care expenses that won’t increase your income for determining Medicare premiums.

  3. Work with your financial planner to determine whether a non-qualified deferred annuity or similar vehicle might make sense for a portion of your investment portfolio. Again, these dollars can be tax-advantaged when determining Medicare premiums.

  4. Most importantly, work with your financial planner to simulate retirement income needs for health care expenses and include this in your retirement plan. Although you will never know your exact need, flexible planning to accommodate these expenses may help provide confidence for your future.

Contact your financial planner to discuss how you can plan to pay for your retirement health care needs.

Kali Hassinger, CFP®, CDFA®, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® She has more than a decade of financial planning and insurance industry experience.


UPDATED from original post on March 11, 2014 by Sandy Adams.

Any opinions are those of Kali Hassinger and not necessarily those of Raymond James. This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or a loss regardless of strategy selected. Prior to making an investment decision, please consult with your financial advisor about your individual situation. Roth IRA owners must be 59½ or older and have held the IRA for five years before tax-free withdrawals are permitted.

Can you roll your 401k to an IRA without leaving your job?

Nick Defenthaler Contributed by: Nick Defenthaler, CFP®

Can you roll your 401k to an IRA without leaving your job?

Typically, when you hear “rollover,” you think retirement or changing jobs. For the vast majority of clients, these two situations will be the only time they complete a 401k rollover. However, another option for moving funds from your company retirement plan to your IRA — the “in-service” rollover — is an often overlooked planning opportunity. 

Rollover Refresher

A rollover is simply the process of moving your employer retirement account (401k, 403b, 457, etc.) to an IRA over which you have complete control, separate from your ex-employer. If completed properly, rolling over funds from your company retirement plan to your IRA is a tax- and penalty-free transaction, because the tax characteristics of a 401k and an IRA generally are the same.  

What is an “in-service” rollover?

Unlike the “traditional” rollover, an “in-service” rollover is probably something unfamiliar to you, and for good reason. First, not all company retirement plans allow for it, and second, even when it’s available, the details may confuse employees. The bottom line: An in-service rollover allows an employee (often at a specified age, such as 59 ½) to roll a 401k to an IRA while employed with the company. The employee may still contribute to the plan, even after the completed rollover. Most plans allow this type of rollover once per year, but depending on the plan, you potentially could complete the rollover more often for different contribution types at an earlier age (sometimes as early as 55).

Why complete an “in-service” rollover?

While unusual, this rollover option offers some benefits:

More investment options: Any company retirement plan limits your investment options. You can invest IRA funds in almost any mutual fund, ETF, stock, bond, etc. Having options and investing in a way that aligns with your objectives and risk tolerance may improve investment performance, reduce volatility, and make your overall portfolio allocation more efficient.

Coordination with your other assets: Your financial planner can coordinate an IRA with your overall plan with much greater efficiency. How many times has your planner recommended changes in your 401k that simply don’t get completed? When your planner makes those adjustments, they won’t fall off your personal “to do” list.

Additional flexibility: IRAs allow penalty-free withdrawals for certain medical expenses, higher education expenses, first time homebuyer allowance, etc. that aren’t available with a 401k or other company retirement plan. Although this should be a last resort, it’s nice to have the flexibility.

Exploring “in-service” rollovers

So what now? First, always keep your financial planner in the loop when you retire or switch jobs to see whether a rollover makes sense for your situation. Second, let’s work together to see whether your current company retirement plan allows for an in-service rollover. That typically involves a 5-10 minute phone call with us and your company’s Human Resources department.

With your busy life, an in-service rollover may fall close to the bottom of your priority list. That’s why you have us on your financial team. We bring these opportunities to your attention and work with you to see whether they’ll improve your financial position! 

Nick Defenthaler, CFP®, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® He contributed to a PBS documentary on the importance of saving for retirement and has been a trusted source for national media outlets, including CNBC, MSN Money, Financial Planning Magazine, and OnWallStreet.com.


Rolling over your retirement assets to an IRA can be an excellent solution. It is a non-taxable event when done properly - and gives you access to a wide range of investments and the convenience of having consolidated your savings in a single location. In addition, flexible beneficiary designations may allow for the continued tax-deferred investing of inherited IRA assets. In addition to rolling over your 401(k) to an IRA, there are other options. Here is a brief look at all your options. For additional information and what is suitable for your particular situation, please consult us. 1. Leave money in your former employer's plan, if permitted Pro: May like the investments offered in the plan and may not have a fee for leaving it in the plan. Not a taxable event. 2. Roll over the assets to your new employer's plan, if one is available and it is permitted. Pro: Keeping it all together and larger sum of money working for you, not a taxable event Con: Not all employer plans accept rollovers. 3. Rollover to an IRA Pro: Likely more investment options, not a taxable event, consolidating accounts and locations Con: usually fee involved, potential termination fees 4. Cash out the account Con: A taxable event, loss of investing potential. Costly for young individuals under 59 ½; there is a penalty of 10% in addition to income taxes. Be sure to consider all of your available options and the applicable fees and features of each option before moving your retirement assets. Any opinions are those of Nick Defenthaler and not necessarily those of Raymond James. This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or a loss regardless of strategy selected. Prior to making an investment decision, please consult with your financial advisor about your individual situation. Please note, changes in tax laws may occur at any time and could have a substantial impact upon each person's situation. While we are familiar with the tax provisions of the issues presented herein, as Financial Advisors of RJFS, we are not qualified to re tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional. 401(k) plans are long-term retirement savings vehicles. Withdrawal of pre-tax contributions and/or earnings will be subject to ordinary income tax and, if taken prior to age 59 1/2, may be subject to a 10% federal tax penalty. Roth 401(k) plans are long-term retirement savings vehicles. Contributions to a Roth 401(k) are never tax deductible, but if certain conditions are met, distributions will be completely income tax free. Unlike Roth IRAs, Roth 401(k) participants are subject to required minimum distributions at age 70.5.

How to Deal with Financial Decisions When a Major Life Event Has You Feeling Stuck

Sandy Adams Contributed by: Sandra Adams, CFP®

How to Deal with Financial Decisions When a Major Life Event Has You Feeling Stuck

We’ve all had at least one. A major life event — some might even describe it as a trauma — that leaves us feeling like we’ve been run over by a freight train. For some of us, it may have been a divorce; for others, the loss of a spouse or other close loved one. It could be the sudden loss of a job, a terminal illness diagnosis or accident. Even unexpected “good news” events, like an inheritance or job promotion that comes with a move, can feel stressful when other aspects of your life are unsettled.

Times like these might leave a person unable to envision future goals or make ANY short or long term decisions. It’s common to feel stressed, numb, uncomfortable, anxious, confused — any of these, all of these — or just plain STUCK!

If “stuck” sounds like a place where you (or someone you know) might be, what can you do?

  • First, work with your financial decision partner (your financial advisor) to make sure that you are immediately okay and that any immediate cash flow needs are being met. Those are the only decisions that REALLY need to be made now.

  • Next, take an intentional “time out” (we call this the “DECISION FREE ZONE”) from making any major financial decisions or plans. This gives you time to deal with the life event that has happened or is happening to you.  Take time to take care of you — physically, psychologically, and emotionally — and get back to the business of future planning and decision making when your head is in a more clear place.

  • When you are ready to start thinking about planning again, take a step away from your current situation. “Getting on the balcony” can give you a more clear perspective. With the help of your financial decision partner, you can see your situation from a new point of view and begin the process of setting new goals for your new normal.

Getting “un-stuck” is not easy. And it cannot be done without patience, time, and the help of a good decision partner. 

What has you stuck?  What life event or life events have you feeling numb, stressed, and unable to make decisions?  Understand that this is likely to happen to all of us at some point in our lives, so do not feel alone.  And do not feel pressured to make decisions and or to move forward until you have taken care of yourself and feel comfortable moving ahead. 

We at The Center are trained to help clients with these types of difficult transitions. Please reach out if we can assist you or anyone you know and love.  Sandy.Adams@CenterFinPlan.com.

Sandra Adams, CFP®, CeFT™, is a Partner and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® She specializes in Elder Care Financial Planning and serves as a trusted source for national publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Research Magazine, and Journal of Financial Planning.


Any opinions are those of Sandra D. Adams, CFP® and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. The information contained in this report does not purport to be a complete description of the securities, markets, or developments referred to in this material. There is no assurance any of the trends mentioned will continue or forecasts will occur. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected.

5 Financial Tips for Recent College Graduates

Robert Ingram Contributed by: Robert Ingram

financial tips for recent college graduates

Congratulations Class of 2019! This is an exciting time for recent college graduates as they begin the next phase in their lives. Some may take their first job or start along their career path, while others may continue their education. Taking this leap into the “real world” also means handling personal finances, a skill not taught often enough in school. Fortunately, by developing good financial habits early and avoiding costly mistakes, new graduates can make time an ally as they set up a solid financial future.

Here are five financial strategies to help get your post-college life on the right path:

1. Have a Spending Plan

The idea of budgeting may not sound like a lot of fun, but it doesn’t have to be a chore that keeps you from enjoying your hard-earned paycheck. Planning a monthly budget helps you control the money coming in and going out. It allows you to prioritize how you spend and save for goals like buying a home, setting up a future college fund for children, and funding your retirement.

Everyone’s budget may be a little different, but two spending categories often consume a large portion of income (especially for younger people early in their careers): housing costs and car expenses. For someone who owns a home, housing costs would include not only a mortgage payment, but also expenses like property taxes and insurance. Someone renting would have the rental cost and any rental insurance.

Consider these general guidelines:

  • A common rule of thumb is that your housing costs should not exceed about 30% of your gross income. In reality, this percentage could be a bit high if you have student loans, or if you want more discretionary income to save and for other spending. Housing costs closer to 20% is ideal.

  • A car payment and other consumer debt, like a credit card payment, can quickly eat into a monthly budget. While you may have unique spending and saving goals, a good guideline is to keep your total housing costs and consumer debt payments all within about 35% of your gross income.

2. Stash Some Cash for Emergencies

We all know that unexpected events may add unplanned expenses or changes to your budget. For example, an expensive car or home repair, a medical bill, or even a temporary loss of income can cause major financial setbacks.

Start setting aside a regular cash reserve or “rainy day” fund for emergencies or even future opportunities. Consider building up to six months’ worth of your most essential expenses. This may seem daunting at first, but make a plan to save this over time (even a few years). Set goals and milestones along the way, such as saving the first $1,000, then one months’ expenses, three months’ expenses, and so on, until you reach your ultimate goal.

3. Build Your Credit and Control Debt

Establishing a good credit history helps you qualify for mortgages and car loans at the favorable interest rates and gets you lower rates on insurance premiums, utilities, or small business loans. Paying your bills on time and limiting the amount of your outstanding debt will go a long way toward building your credit rating. What goes into your credit score? Click here.

  • If you have student loans, plan to pay them down right away. Automated reminders and systematic payments can help keep you organized. To learn how student loans affect your credit score, click here.

  • Use your credit card like a debit card, spending only what you could pay for in cash. Then each month, pay off the accumulated balance.

  • Some credit cards do have great rewards programs, but don’t be tempted to open too many accounts and start filling up those balances. You can easily get overextended and damage your credit.

4. Save Early for the Long Term

Saving for goals like retirement might not seem like a top priority, especially when that could be 30 or 40 years away. Maybe you think you’ll invest for retirement once you pay off your loans, save some cash, or deal with other, more immediate needs. Well, reconsider waiting to start.

In fact, time is your BIG advantage. As an example, let’s say you could put $200 per month in a retirement account, like an employer 401(k), starting at age 25. Assuming a 7% annual return, by age 60 (35 years of saving), you would have just over $360,000. Now, say you waited until age 35 to begin saving. To reach that same $360,000 with 25 years of saving, you would need to more than double your monthly contribution to $445. Starting with even a small amount of savings while tackling other goals can really pay off.

Does your employer offer a company match on your retirement plan? Even better! A typical matching program may offer something like 50 cents for each $1 that you contribute, up to a maximum percentage of your salary (e.g. 6%). So if you contribute up to that 6%, your employer would add an extra 3% of your salary to the plan. This is like getting an immediate 50% return on your contribution. The earlier you can contribute, the more time these matching funds have to compound. 

5. Get a Little More Educated (about money and finances)

Ok, don’t worry. Forming good financial habits doesn’t require an advanced degree or expertise in all money matters. To build your overall knowledge and confidence, spend a little time each week, even just an hour, on an area of your finances and learn about a different topic.

Start with a book or two on general personal finance topics. You can find reference books on specific topics, from mortgages and debt to investments and estate planning. Information offered through news media or internet searches also can provide resources. And you can even find a blog not too far away (Money Centered Blog).

Robert Ingram, CFP®, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® With more than 15 years of industry experience, he is a trusted source for local media outlets and frequent contributor to The Center’s “Money Centered” blog.

Could We See Changes Coming to Fix Social Security?

Robert Ingram Contributed by: Robert Ingram

Changes Coming to Fix Social Security

For the past several years, you may have seen story after story questioning the health of the Social Security system and whether the federal program can be sustained into the future. If you, like many clients, are thinking about your retirement plan, you’ve probably wondered, “Will my Social Security benefits be there when I retire?”.

Certainly, different actuarial or economic assumptions can influence Social Security’s perceived financial strength and solvency, but it’s clear some steps must be taken. With a system the size and scope of Social Security, one that affects so many people, it's hard to overstate the challenge of finding solutions on which lawmakers and experts can agree.

Funding Social Security - Money In, Money Out

Payroll (FICA) taxes collected by the federal government fund Social Security. How much do we pay? The first $132,900 of an individual’s 2019 annual wages is subject to a 12.4% payroll tax, with employers paying 6.2% and employees paying 6.2% (self-employed individuals pay the full 12.4%).

The government deposits these collected taxes into the Social Security Trust Funds, which are used to pay benefits. Social Security benefits are also at least partially taxable for individuals with income above certain thresholds. For more on Social Security taxation, click here.

U.S. demographic changes pose challenges for Social Security’s financial framework.  Americans are living longer, but birth rates have declined. One implication is that while a growing population draws Social Security benefits, a smaller potential workforce pays into the system.

In its 2018 annual report, the Social Security Board of Trustees projected that the total benefit costs (outflows) would exceed the total income into the trust funds, and the trust fund reserves will be depleted by 2034. Now, the report does not suggest that Social Security would be unable to pay benefits at that point. It estimates that with the trust funds depleted, the incoming revenues would be able to cover about 77% of the scheduled retirement and survivor benefits.

This is still concerning for the millions of retirees collecting their benefits and for future retirees counting on their benefits over the next 15 to 20 years.

So the question is, how can we correct this funding shortfall?

Possible fixes for Social Security?

Ultimately, as with any budget, fixing the imbalances between the Social Security system’s inflows and outflows would involve increasing system revenues, reducing or slowing the benefit payouts, or some combination of both.

There have been a number of proposals discussed in recent years, including:

  • Increasing the Full Retirement Age from age 67

  • Changing the formula for calculating benefits based on earnings history

  • Increasing (or even eliminating) the cap on income subject to the payroll tax

  • Reducing benefits for individuals at certain income levels (“means testing”)

  • Changing how the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for benefits is determined

This past January, the Social Security 2100 Act was re-introduced in the House of Representatives. This series of suggested reforms, originally introduced in 2014 and 2017, has several key items: 

  • Increase the Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) formula for calculating benefits at one’s Full Retirement Age

  • Change the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) calculation, tying it to the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E) rather than the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W)

  • Increase the special minimum Primary Insurance Amount for workers who become newly eligible for benefits in 2020 or later

  • Replace the current thresholds for taxing Social Security benefits, from a threshold for taxing 50% of Social Security benefits and a threshold for taxing 85% of benefits, to a single set of thresholds set at $50,000 (single filers) and $100,000 (married filing jointly) for taxation of 85%  of Social Security benefits, by 2020

  • Apply the payroll tax rate for Social Security (12.4% in 2019) to earnings above $400,000

  • Continue applying the the payroll tax to the first $132,900 of wages and exempting income from $132,901 up to $400,000, then apply the tax again to amounts above the $400,000 threshold

  • Increase the Social Security payroll tax rate incrementally from the current 12.4%  to 14.8% by 2043

  • The rate would increase by 0.1%age point per year, from 2020 until 2043

  • Combine the reserves of the Social Security retirement and survivor benefits trust fund and the reserves of Social Security’s disability benefits trust fund into a single trust fund

(Note source data: Estimates of the Financial Effects on Social Security of the “Social Security 2100 Act” ssa.gov/OACT/solvency/LarsnBlumenthalVanHollen_20190130.pdf) 

Interestingly, the first four provisions in the proposed bill are actually intended to increase the benefits for recipients. The first provision would slightly increase the benefit amounts paid to recipients through the new formula. The change to CPI-W gives more weight to spending items particularly relevant for seniors, such as health care, resulting in a potentially higher COLA than under the current structure. The third provision increases the current minimum benefit earned, and the fourth item allows for a higher level of income before Social Security benefits become taxable.

To address Social Security’s long-term solvency, this bill focuses on boosting Social Security revenues by increasing the payroll tax rate over time and making more earned income subject to those payroll taxes. That approach is in contrast with other proposals that would focus on managing the outflow of benefits, such as raising the full retirement age from 67 to 70.

This illustrates the philosophical differences in how to address the problems facing Social Security, and what makes reaching consensus on a long-term solution so difficult. 

Should I plan for changes to the Social Security system?

With so many factors at play and strong voices on different sides of the issue, the specific reforms Congress will adopt and exactly when they will occur remain unclear. For most clients, Social Security is part of their overall retirement income picture, but a meaningful source of income.

It is important to have at least a basic understanding of your benefits and what affects them under the current system (benefits collected at full retirement age, changes to benefit amounts based on when they are collected, and the potential impacts of taxation on your benefits, just to name a few factors).

Understanding how your Social Security benefits fit within your own retirement income plan can help you stay proactive as you make decisions in the face of uncertainty, whether controlling your savings rate, choosing investment strategies, or evaluating your retirement goals. If you have questions about your retirement income, we’re always here to help!

Robert Ingram, CFP®, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® With more than 15 years of industry experience, he is a trusted source for local media outlets and frequent contributor to The Center’s “Money Centered” blog.


*Repurposed from 2016 blog: Will Social Security Be Around When I Retire?

This information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of the author and are not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize or sponsor the third party website listed or their respective sponsors. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website's users and/or members.

Consider these options and strategies to pump up your Social Security benefits

Nick Defenthaler Contributed by: Nick Defenthaler, CFP®

As a frequent speaker on Social Security, I’ve had the pleasure of educating hundreds of retirees on the nuances and complexities of this confusing topic. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that, unfortunately, many of us do not take the decision about when to file as seriously as we should.

your social security benefits

In 2018, the average annual Social Security benefit was roughly $17,000. Assuming a retiree lives for 20 years after receiving that first benefit check, you’re looking at a total of $340,000 in lifetime benefits – and that’s not accounting for inflation adjustments along the way!

We work to help our clients receive nearly double that amount each year – $33,500 – which is close to the maximum full retirement age (FRA) benefit one can receive. Assuming the same 20-year period means nearly $700,000 in total lifetime benefits. It’s not unreasonable for a couple with earnings near the top of the Social Security wage base to see a combined, total lifetime benefit amount north of $1,500,000 as long as you are award of the decision process.

As you can see, the filing decision will be among the largest financial decisions – if not THE largest – you will ever make!

Longevity risk matters

Seventy-five percent of Americans will take benefits prior to their full retirement age (link #1 below) and only 1 percent will delay benefits until age 70, when they are fully maximized. In many cases, financial and health circumstances force retirees to draw benefits sooner rather than later. But for many others, retirement income options and creative strategies are oftentimes overlooked, or even taken for granted.

In my opinion, longevity risk (aka – living a really long time in retirement) is one of the three biggest risks we face in our golden years. Research has proven, time in and time out, that maximizing Social Security benefits is among the best ways to help protect yourself against this risk, from a retirement income standpoint. Each year you delay, you will see a permanent benefit increase of roughly 8 percent (up until age 70). How many investments offer this type of guaranteed income?

Let’s look at the chart below to highlight this point.

20190409a.jpg

You can see a significant difference between taking benefits at age 62 and at age 70 – nearly $250,000 in additional income generated by delaying! Keep in mind, this applies for just one person. Married couples who both had a strong earnings history or can take advantage of the spousal benefit filing options receive even more benefits.

Mark’s story

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a gentleman named Mark after one of my recent educational sessions on Social Security. As we chatted, he made a comment along the lines of, “I have just close to $1.5 million saved for retirement, I just don’t think Social Security really matters in my situation.” I asked several probing questions to better understand his earnings record and what his benefit would be at full retirement age.

We were able to determine that at age 66, his benefit would be nearly $33,000. Mark was 65, in good health, and mentioned several times that his parents lived into their early 90s. Longevity statistics suggest that an average 65-year-old male has a 25 percent chance of living until 93. However, based on Mark’s health and family history, he has a much higher probability of living into his early to mid-90s!

If Mark turned his benefits on at age 66, and he lived until age 93, he would receive $891,000 in lifetime benefits. If he waited until age 70 and increased his annual benefit by 32 percent ($43,500/yr.), his lifetime benefits would be $1,000,500 (keep in mind, we haven’t even factored inflation adjustments into the lifetime benefit figures).

I then asked, “Mark, if you had an IRA with a balance of $891,000 or even $1,000,000, could we both agree that this account would make a difference in your retirement?” Mark looked at me, smiled, and nodded. He instantly understood my point. Looking at the total dollars Social Security would pay out resonated deeply with him.

All too often, we don’t fully appreciate how powerful a fixed income source can be in retirement. It’s astounding to see the lifetime payout provided by Social Security. Regardless of your financial circumstance, it will always make sense to review your options with someone who understands the nuances of Social Security and is well educated on the creative ways to draw benefits. Don’t take this decision lightly, too many dollars are at stake!

Feel free to reach out to us if you’d like to talk through your plan for Social Security and how it will fit into your overall retirement income strategy.

Nick Defenthaler, CFP® is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® He contributed to a PBS documentary on the importance of saving for retirement and has been a trusted source for national media outlets, including CNBC, MSN Money, Financial Planning Magazine, and OnWallStreet.com.


Sources: 1) https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/retirechart.html 2) https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/social-security/articles/2018-08-20/how-much-you-will-get-from-social-security The information herein has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. This information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making a decision and does not constitute a recommendation. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional.

What happens to my Social Security benefit if I retire early?

Kali Hassinger Contributed by: Kali Hassinger, CFP®

Did you know that the benefit shown on your Social Security estimate statement isn’t just based on your work history?

what happens to my social security benefit if I retire early

The estimated benefit shown on your statement assumes that you’ll work from now until your full retirement age.  And, on top of that, it assumes that your income will remain about the same that entire time. For some of our clients who are still working, early retirement has become a frequent discussion topic. What happens, however, if you retire early and don’t pay into Social Security for several years? In a world where pensions are quickly becoming a thing of the past, Social Security will be the largest, if not the only, fixed income source in retirement for many. 

Your Social Security benefit is based on your highest 35 earning years, with the current full retirement age at 67.

So, what happens to your benefit if you retire at age 50? That is a full 17 years earlier than your statement assumes you’ll work, which effectively cuts out half of what is often our highest earning years.

We recently had a client ask about this exact scenario, and the results were pretty surprising! This client has been earning a great salary for the last 10 years and maxing out the Social Security tax income cap every year. Her Social Security statement, of course, assumes that she would continue to pay in the maximum amount (which is 6.2% of $132,900 for an employee in 2019 - or $8,240 - with the employer paying the additional 6.2%) until her full retirement age of 67. She wanted to make sure her retirement plan was still on track even after stopping her income and contributions to Social Security at age 50.

We were able to analyze her Social Security earning history, then project her future earnings based on her current income and future retirement age of 50. Her current statement showed a future annual benefit of $36,000. When we reduced her income to $0 at age 50, her estimated Social Security benefit actually dropped by 13%, or $4,680 per year. That’s still $31,320-per-year fixed income source would still pay our client throughout retirement. Given the fact that she’s working 17 years less than the statement assumes and she has the assets necessary to support the difference, a 13% decrease isn’t too bad. This is just one example, of course, but it is indicative of what we’ve seen for many of our early retirees. 

Social Security isn’t the only topic you’ll want to check on before making any final decisions about an early retirement.

You’ll also want to consider health insurance, having enough savings in non-retirement accounts that aren’t subject to an early withdrawal penalty, and, of course, making sure you’ve saved enough to reach your goals! If you’d like to chat about Social Security and your overall retirement plan, we are always happy to help!

Kali Hassinger, CFP®, CDFA® is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® She has more than a decade of financial planning and insurance industry experience.


Any opinions are those of Kali Hassinger, CFP and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. The information contained in this report does not purport to be a complete description of the securities, markets, or developments referred to in this material. There is no assurance any of the trends mentioned will continue or forecasts will occur. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. The case study included herein is for illustrative purposes only. Individual cases will vary. Prior to making any investment decision, you should consult with your financial advisor about your individual situation. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Raymond James and its advisors do not provide tax or legal advice. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM, CFP® (with plaque design) and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements.