The devastating effects of COVID-19 are still making themselves known, as cities all over the world face longer lockdowns and restrictions in a bid to stop the spread of the virus. Life has certainly changed, with working from home now the new normal and public transport dwindling to a few people on each bus or train.
You may find that your life has been uprooted severely, and adjustments have had to be made in order to cope. With unemployment at an all-time high, there is a global concern for all of our futures. Many older workers were also looking to retire this year, but with the uncertainty surrounding when exactly life will return back to something resembling normal, seniors have been putting their plans on hold—and it might be time you followed suit.
Assessing retirement options
Currently, one in five American workers of retiree age have put their twilight-year plans on hold specifically due to COVID-19. With so many families’ finances taking a turn for the worse during this incredibly difficult time, delaying retirement could be a very smart idea.
The benefits of delaying retirement
Older workers may find employment more difficult to navigate due to the high level of young workers also vying for a small number of positions. With 13 applications for every 1 job available, recruiters and employers may find that the younger generation have more qualifications and are physically more fit than their senior counterparts. Older workers are often looked over despite their decades of experience; also, knowing retirement is on its way, it’s more cost effective for the business to hire someone who is guaranteed to be there for the long term.
Delaying retirement eliminates this issue. The employer you already work for and have been employed with for some time has been happy with your work; perhaps you’ve been in the same role for 15+ years. It’s a lot smarter to stay there and put your retirement on hold for now. Remember—it won’t be forever. Think of it more like a “putting in the last extra mile” situation.
Putting the brakes on your retirement plans for now also gives you further opportunity to add more funds into your superannuation account. Some super funds even have a clause that means you’ll receive more money by delaying withdrawing for a few years, with potentially up to 24% more benefits coming your way.
The differences between what a 65-year-old may receive once retiring in comparison to what a 70-year-old could receive may be as high as an 8% difference in funds per year. It’s a good idea to have a look at your super fund at this time, just in case you weren’t aware of such retirement clauses.
The cons of delaying retirement
By making the decision to delay retirement, there are a few cons to be on the lookout for. Firstly, your physical health is very important, and any issues that arise in the future could find you out of a job. Even if you look after yourself well, accidents and falls are statistically at a much higher level amongst older people. Regardless, many may find that they also need to leave work earlier to care for a partner or family member who has become too unwell to continue working.
It also might be tempting to get yourself further into debt throughout the pandemic as well. Taking out credit cards and personal loans might help in the short term to help you get back on your feet, but paying these off in the long term can result in even further debt. It’s important to have Plan Bs for all scenarios, just in case those retirement plans don’t pan out the way you expected them to.
Holding out on retirement a little longer
There is absolutely nothing wrong with planning for your retirement at this stage, but as 2020 has proven to all of us, it’s a good idea to ensure you stay flexible or have adaptable plans that can easily be changed. The future is so unexpected that it’s hard to stay one step ahead, but being as organized as you can will assist with navigating these uncertain times.
However, it’s also important to note that delaying retirement at this time might just not be possible, and you’ll need to look at every angle to see what an unexpected retirement might look like for you and your family.
Written Exclusively for Merriman.com by Madison Smith
Madison Smith is a personal and home finance expert at BestCompany.com. She works to help others make positive financial strides in their lives by providing expert insight on anything from credit card debt to home-buying tips.
Do you have a federal or local government pension? Don’t let the WEP or GPO surprise you. The Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset, often called the WEP and GPO, are two rules that can leave you scratching your head. Not only do many people find these rules confusing, but they are also often completely overlooked, which may result in a big surprise when filing for Social Security benefits. Unfortunately, this is not one of those good surprises.
What are the WEP and GPO?
The WEP reduces a worker’s own Social Security benefit while the GPO reduces spousal and survivor benefits received from another’s work record, such as a spouse.
Who is affected?
The WEP and GPO affect individuals who qualify for a pension from non-covered (did not pay Social Security tax) employment. These are typically your federal and local government workers, such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters. Whether these jobs are non-covered will depend on the state/employer. Overseas employees may also fit under this category.
For the WEP to apply, the individual must have an additional job with covered earnings (did pay Social Security tax) that qualifies them for Social Security benefits. Thus, the WEP applies to those who have a mix of covered and non-covered employment. Specifically, they qualify for Social Security benefits and receive a non-covered pension. The GPO applies when an individual with a non-covered pension receives a spousal or survivor benefit. Are you scratching your head yet?
Dan works as a public school teacher in California, one of 15 states where teachers do not pay Social Security tax. He qualifies for a pension through the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS). To make extra money for his household, Dan works an additional job during the summer, where he does pay Social Security tax. By the end of his career, he has worked enough summers to qualify for a Social Security benefit. The WEP will reduce Dan’s benefit since he has both a non-covered pension from his career as a teacher and qualifies for Social Security benefits from his summer job.
How will the WEP affect my benefit?
Understanding the details of the WEP is quite complicated. To simplify, the WEP tweaks the Social Security benefit formula, resulting in a reduction of the worker’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). The PIA is the benefit amount one would receive at full retirement age. The amount reduced depends on the number of years with “substantial earnings” in covered employment. The Social Security Administration provides the WEP Chart as a reference to understand the potential benefit reductions based on the number of years of substantial earnings. The maximum monthly reduction is capped at $480 in 2020. The amount reduced stays constant for the first 20 years of substantial earnings before decreasing incrementally per year until it is completely eliminated upon reaching 30 years of substantial earnings.
This offers an incredible planning opportunity for those who have already accumulated a number of years of substantial earnings. If you are thinking of retiring and have accumulated 20 years of covered work, it could make a lot of sense to work for ten more years to eliminate the WEP completely. Remember, you only need to have substantial earnings, so part-time work would count as long as you make what is deemed “substantial” in that year. For someone subject to the full WEP reduction and assuming a 20-year retirement, it could be worth more than $100,000.
It is important to note that the reduction is limited to one-half of an individual’s non-covered pension. This primarily comes into play when the majority of an individual’s earnings are in covered employment but have a small non-covered pension. For example, if you had a pension of $600 per month and your Social Security benefit was $1,200 per month, your benefit will not be reduced by more than $300 (half of your pension income).
How will the GPO affect my benefit?
This rule is more straightforward to understand than the WEP. The GPO will reduce an individual’s spousal or survivor benefit by two-thirds of their non-covered pension benefit.
Sarah qualified for a pension of $2,100 per month from a government job. Her husband, Drew, worked as an engineer for a large corporation. Drew applied for his Social Security benefit at his full retirement age and receives $2,600 per month. Sarah applies for a spousal benefit once she reaches full retirement age. This benefit would generally be $1,300 (50% of her spouse’s); however, the benefit is reduced by two-thirds of her non-covered pension. In this case, she would not receive anything since two-thirds of her pension ($1,400) is greater than what her spousal benefit would be.
Let’s say Drew passed away unexpectedly. Sarah would normally qualify for a survivor benefit equal to Drew’s entire benefit of $2,600. Because of the GPO, she will only receive $1,200 since the benefit would first be reduced by two-thirds of her pension ($2,600 – $1,400).
Keep in mind the GPO only applies to the individual’s own non-covered work. If a surviving spouse is a beneficiary of a non-covered pension, their Social Security benefits will not be reduced.
These rules are tricky to navigate and important to understand for those affected. What makes it worse is that your Social Security statement will not reflect the reduction in benefits from the WEP and GPO. This means it requires work and effort on your part to figure out! The Social Security Administration has provided an online WEP and GPO calculator to help with this. It will ask for a birthdate, non-covered pension benefit amounts, and other relevant information to calculate your new benefit factoring in the rule. If you have a family member or friend with a non-covered pension, they may be subject to these two rules. Please forward this on to them or anyone else who may find it useful.
The Tax Cut and Jobs Act (TCJA) passed at the end of 2017, and the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE) passed at the end of 2019. These both made significant changes to annual tax-planning strategies.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the CARES Act relief package that followed created a new layer of complexity. Unfortunately, many taxpayers miss opportunities for significant tax savings.
Here are six moves to consider making before the end of the year to potentially lower your taxes both this year and in years to come.
Take the Standard Deduction Later. The new tax rules nearly doubled the standard deduction and eliminated many write-offs, limiting the benefit of itemizing deductions for most taxpayers. However, you can optimize your deductions by “bunching” itemized deductions in a single year to get over the standard deduction threshold and then by taking the standard deduction in the following year.
Example: Instead of giving $10,000 to charity annually (which will likely leave you with the standard deduction anyway), gift $50,000 every 5 years. This will give you a greater tax benefit in the first year while still claiming the standard deduction in the other years to maximize tax savings.
Pre-Pay Your Medical Expenses. Have major medical-related expenses coming up? You can potentially maximize the tax deduction by paying out-of-pocket medical expenses in a single calendar year—either by pushing payments out to the next year or pulling later expenses into this year.
A surprising number of medical expenses qualify, including unreimbursed doctor fees, long-term-care premiums, certain Medicare plans, and some home modifications.
Note: Medical expenses are an itemized deduction, so this strategy may be best used with the “bunching” strategy described above, including possibly paying medical expenses in a year you maximize charitable donations.
Give Money to Your Favorite Charity Right Now from Your IRA. If you’re over 70 ½, you can make up to $100,000 of annual Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs) directly from your IRA to a qualifying charity. Even better, for retirees who don’t need to take their Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) each year, these qualified charitable distributions count toward the RMD but don’t appear in taxable income.
Even though the CARES Act allowed RMDs to be skipped in 2020, you can still make a QCD this year.
Note: QCDs must be made by December 31 to count for this tax year.
Take Advantage of Years in a Lower Tax Bracket with a Roth Conversion. A Roth conversion can permanently lower your taxable income in retirement by converting tax-deferred assets (IRA / 401k) into tax-free assets in a Roth account. It is best to do this in years where you are in a lower tax bracket than you expect to be in the future.
Example: If a taxpayer at age 63 is in the 12% tax bracket, then moving $10,000 from an IRA to a Roth account will owe an additional $1,200 in taxes. That same taxpayer at age 73 may be in the 24% tax bracket due to Social Security, pension, and RMD income they didn’t have at 62. Taking that same $10,000 from an IRA will now result an in additional $2,400 in taxes.
Optimize Your Investment Portfolio to Improve Expected After-Tax Return. Prior to the TCJA, you could write off some fees you pay for investment management. The TCJA did away with that deduction. There are still ways to pay fees with pre-tax dollars that may make sense depending on the types of accounts used.
Likewise, some investments will be more tax efficient, and other investments will be less tax efficient. Where possible, move the most tax-efficient investments into a taxable investment account and the least tax-efficient investments into a tax-advantaged retirement account. The goal is to determine an ideal overall allocation, even if each individual account has a slightly different allocation.
Both strategies above can potentially help maximize the after-tax return on investments.
Optimize Your Retirement Contributions. The most important step you can take right now to reduce your taxes this year may be to review how and where you’re making retirement contributions. You may be missing out on critical tax savings (and investment growth) if you’re not optimizing your contributions.
Potential retirement account strategies people often miss include Solo 401k for self-employed individuals, backdoor Roth contributions, or “mega” backdoor Roth contributions at certain large employers.
Everyone’s situation is different, and today’s retirement environment is complex. Working with a financial professional who coordinates with your CPA can help ensure you’re not missing any opportunities to optimize your portfolio and pay less in taxes.
Because of the pandemic, many companies are trying to rapidly reduce their workforces. Boeing recently offered their voluntary layoff (VLO) to encourage employees near retirement to do so. Other companies will resort to traditional layoffs.
What should you do when you find yourself unexpectedly retired—whether voluntarily or not?
Assess the Situation—Review Your Numbers
Retirement is a major life change for everyone—even more so when it happens unexpectedly. The first step financially is to get a clear picture of your assets. This includes investment accounts and savings. It also includes debts like credit cards and mortgages. In addition, you’ll want to identify current or future sources of income such as pensions or Social Security.
Next, you’ll want to be clear about how much you’re spending. Free or low-cost tools like mint or YNAB can help you easily track how much you’re spending as well as categorize your expenses. That may make it easier to see if there are ways to reduce costs, if needed.
Knowing your minimum monthly costs is a major part of determining if you have the resources to retire successfully or if you need to find another way to work and earn money before retirement.
If you’re unexpectedly retired, identify if you need to reduce your expenses. Some of those reductions may happen automatically—most families aren’t spending as much on travel right now—while other reductions may require more planning.
You’ll want to account for healthcare costs. For some, employers may continue to provide health coverage until Medicare begins at age 65. For others, health insurance will have to be purchased either through COBRA to maintain the current health insurance or through the individual markets. These policies can cost significantly more than when the employee was working, although by carefully structuring income, it may be possible to get subsidies to reduce this cost.
Identify if you need additional sources of income. This may come from part-time employment. It may also come from reviewing your Social Security strategy. Social Security benefits can begin as early as age 62, although doing so will permanently reduce your benefit. Take time to compare the tradeoffs of starting your Social Security benefit at different ages.
Finally, review your investment allocation. You’ll want to make sure you have an appropriate percentage providing stability (cash, CDs, short-term bonds) to protect you from the fluctuation of the market when you need the money. With a retirement period of 30 years or more, stocks will likely be an important part of your investment strategy, too.
Do Some Tax Planning
It’s important to identify what mix of accounts you have. IRA, Roth, and taxable accounts are all taxed differently. It’s often best to spend from the taxable account first, then the IRA, and save Roth accounts for last, although there may be times where it’s better to use a mix from different types of accounts each year.
Many early retirees temporarily find themselves in a lower tax bracket because they don’t have a salary and they haven’t yet started Social Security. This may be a time to take advantage of Roth conversions. Moving money from a traditional retirement account to a Roth account now, while you’re in a lower tax bracket, can significantly reduce taxes over your lifetime.
Planning Beyond Money
When a major change like this occurs, it’s important to take care of your finances. It’s also important to take care of your mental health. Retirees often have years to plan for this major life change. Because of the pandemic, many are making this change suddenly and unexpectedly.
It’s essential to take the time to set a new routine and identify new hobbies or other activities to incorporate into your life.
When retirement is unexpected, it doesn’t have to be scary. Building a financial plan to determine if you’re on track to meeting your goals, to discern what adjustments should be made to help you reach those goals, then to execute that plan can help provide the peace of mind brought about by a successful retirement—even when it comes sooner than expected. If you want help with this process, reach out to us.
On April 20, Boeing announced a Voluntary Layoff (VLO) program in response to recent economic events. For employees who qualify, this benefit may be an opportunity to meet the goal of retirement sooner than expected. Are you wondering if you should take advantage of this program?
At Merriman, we’ve been helping Boeing employees navigate decisions like this for over 30 years. Here are the main points you should consider:
For eligible employees, Boeing is offering a lump-sum payment of one week’s pay for every year of service completed, up to a maximum of 26 years in most cases.
Employees who accept the VLO offer may also receive a few months of subsidized health insurance benefits and access to other benefits.
While employees who accept the VLO may apply in the future for open employee or contractor positions, accepting the VLO forfeits any first consideration rehire or recall rights. This program is used as a permanent separation from Boeing, causing the employee to lose those rehire benefits.
Boeing has announced the following important dates for this VLO offer:
April 27, 2020 VLO Registration Opens
May 4, 2020 VLO Registration Closes
May 14, 2020 Formal Notification Sent to Employees
June 5, 2020 Last Day on Payroll
Am I in a position to retire?
Many people may be considering the VLO offer but are unclear what retiring now would mean for their future lifestyle. This is a major decision to make in a short amount of time, and there are many factors to consider. What retirement lifestyle are you dreaming of? Are the assets you have saved enough? Will you have other income sources like Social Security or pension benefits? To help weigh your options, we’re offering a complimentary financial analysis for Boeing employees considering the VLO program.
Visiting the Social Security Administration (SSA) office likely does not rank high on a list of enjoyable activities. The inconvenience, long waiting times, frustration with trying to implement a filing strategy, and difficulty in filing for first-time benefits are all reasons it’s usually not a positive experience. We’ve found that no matter how much analysis and thought we put into helping you find the most appropriate Social Security strategy for your household, we can’t control your experience when you visit the SSA office to implement those recommendations.
To eliminate many of these headaches, you can use a filing service provided through Social Security Advisors. Instead of visiting the SSA office, a specialist can walk you through the online social security application while you’re sitting at home. All you need is a phone, a computer with Internet access, and 30 to 45 minutes of time.
What to expect
You can schedule a meeting on your own and pay the $100 filing service fee on the Social Security Advisors website, or do it during a review meeting with your Merriman advisor.
Social Security Advisors then sends a confirmation email that includes a GoToMeeting invitation. GoToMeeting, similar to WebEx and other online virtual professional meeting services, allows the specialist to share their screen while working through the Social Security application with you. When you click the invitation, you’ll be prompted to download the GoToMeeting software. You can dial in for audio, or use your computer’s speakers and microphone.
Once the specialist submits the application, they’ll email you a copy for your records.
As an extra bonus, if the Social Security Administration misunderstands the application or an error is made, Social Security Advisors continues to provide support until the issue is fixed.
What are the limitations of this service?
The online application does not work for clients filing for Social Security death benefits and dependent benefits. Dependent benefits come about when a parent who has dependent minor children passes away. These children and the surviving spouse are then eligible to claim a portion of the deceased’s Social Security benefits. For both of these cases, the applicant still needs to visit the SSA office.
Who is Social Security Advisors?
Social Security Advisors has been in business for seven years, helping clients maximize their Social Security benefits and implement various strategies.
Merriman does not have a relationship with Social Security Advisors and doesn’t provide guarantees of their services, but we’ve found that their services do help improve clients’ experiences with the SSA.