“I think the thing that people make their mistake on is not remembering, first of all, that this is a lifetime benefit. So, when I start my Social Security, I'm going to receive it the rest of my life. Now that's a good thing. You don't have to worry about the benefits ending because you ran out of money, but if you start benefits at 62, you're going to take a reduction anywhere from 25 to 30% reduction over what you would receive at your full retirement age. That reduction carries through for the rest of your life. So, you not only want to look at, is the amount of money I'm going to be receiving sufficient now, but what about in the future? And then tack onto that, the fact that if my spouse is going to step into my shoes when I pass away, how important are survivor benefits? And that's something that people just don't think about.”
Jim Blair is a thirty-five year veteran of the Social Security Administration and upon retiring, is now the Vice President and Lead Social Security Consultant at Premier NSSA. Jim is going to give us an insider’s view into the best way to maximize your Social Security benefits in retirement, spousal benefits, strategies for couples, how to use and interact with the Social Security Administration local office staff, what to watch out for, when you need to pull in a Social Security consultant and a whole lot more!
Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Deezer, Podcast Addict, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Alexa Flash Briefing, iHeart, Acast or on your favorite podcast platform. You can watch the interview on YouTube here.
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“Overall, (the Social Security Administration is) a great organization. I'm not going to beat up on the folks I used to work with because I think they do a great job. They work really hard.
The issue that they are running into, and I think probably everybody is having this issue. A lot of people are retiring from the organization, people walking out the door with 30, 35 years of experience and service. And as the new people come in, they don't necessarily have a lot of the experience folks there with them. So, there is a little bit of a gap there, experience-wise. We do occasionally hear about some misinformation coming out of the local offices. It's not something you can't get fixed if that does happen. And we hate to hear when it does, but that's why it's also important to maybe talk to someone else, particularly if you have something a little different in your situation, that's not just I'm 62 and I'm going to take my benefits. But you want to make that plan and talk to someone outside of Social Security, probably before you file.”
“You have a small window of opportunity to change your mind. You have one year where you can tell Social Security, “Oh, I should not have applied. I want to withdraw my application.” Withdrawing your application is a pretty easy process. It's a one-page form you fill out, they're going to ask you why, but they don't care what the reason is. The tough part is though you must pay back every penny that they paid you, including money deducted for Medicare premiums, or money withheld for income tax if you have taxes withheld from your benefit. So, while you do have a year to change your mind, you also have to pay that money back. That's what makes it so important to make your decision based off a plan that you have made sure you looked at all your options, what's best for me?”
00:02:29 Social Security Office location overview
00:03:32 Jim and how he helps people decide when to take Social Security
00:04:27 What age to take Social Security
00:05:59 #1 mistake people make when to start Social Security benefits
00:07:31 Age 62 or age 70 Social Security benefits
00:08:17 Break-even point for waiting to elect Social Security benefits
00:10:04 Why people take Social Security at age 62
00:11:30 Is Social Security going broke?
00:14:35 Social Security strategy for couples
00:17:20 Social Security for couples close in age and farther apart
00:18:45 The importance of making a Social Security plan
00:21:08 Your local Social Security Administration office staff
00:25:04 Social Security Administration tips and tricks for using the local office location
00:27:01 Divorce, Ex-Spouses and Social Security benefits
00:29:18 Working while drawing Social Security
00:32:38 Undocumented immigrants and Social Security
00:34:26 Medicare and Social Security one time decision
00:37:26 DIY Social Security or hire a consultant
00:39:11 Social Security seminars
00:40:50 Questions to ask so-called Social Security experts
00:45:05 Last Social Security questions and show close
00:00:00 / 00:45:45
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Matt Feret (00:02):
Hello everyone. This is Matt Feret, author of the Prepare for Medicare book series and welcome to another episode of The Matt Feret Show, where I interview insiders and experts to help light a path to a successful retirement. Come say hello https://themattferetshow.com, for YouTube videos, show links, notes, websites referenced, quotable quotes, and the complete show transcript. Thanks in advance for liking, following, subscribing and rating the show everywhere you can listen and watch it. It really does help spread the word about The Matt Feret Show. Thank you. What's the number one mistake people make when filing for Social Security benefits? Is the Social Security Administration going broke? What's the best age to take Social Security retirement benefits? I'm publishing a new book this fall that answers those questions and a whole lot more. The book's title is Prepare for Social Security: The Insider's Guide to Maximizing your Retirement Benefits. It's a follow-up to my first book, Prepare for Medicare: The Insider's Guide to Buying Medicare Insurance.
I've spent more than 20 years in the Medicare health insurance industry. So I had an immediate advantage writing an insider's guide book on Medicare. That's not the case with prepare for Social Security, to be an insider I've had to spend months researching, interviewing, taking classes and investigating how the business around the entire Social Security infrastructure works. That's how I met my guest for this episode, Jim Blair. Jim has been a wealth of information for me and countless others, as he's worked for more than 35 years at the Social Security Administration, and for the last 10, he's helped financial planners, insurance agents, and the general public understand and maximize their Social Security benefits. This episode will give you an insider's view into the best way to maximize your Social Security benefits in retirement, spousal benefits, strategies for couples, how to use and interact with the Social Security Administration local office staff, what to watch out for when you need to pull in a Social Security consultant and a whole lot more. Enjoy. Jim, welcome to the show.
Jim Blair (02:26):
Hey, great. It's good to be here. Thanks for having me.
Matt Feret (02:29):
So tell everybody what you do, how long you've been doing it and how you help people.
Jim Blair (02:34):
Sure. Well, just so people know, I worked for the Social Security Administration for 35 years. That's where I gain my knowledge of the program and did a number of jobs, including I took claims for retirement survivors, disability and health insurance for 10 years, moved to the management end of it, and was in there for a while, but spent the last nine years as a district manager of the Piqua Ohio office. Nice rural community about 30 miles north of Dayton, Ohio.
Matt Feret (03:04):
Yeah. I've noticed those Social Security offices are tucked in just about everywhere across the country.
Jim Blair (03:10):
There's about 1500 of them. It varies from time to time, but stays around 1500. So wherever you're at, there's one fairly close. I know some parts of the country, it's a little more spread out, but it is the most accessible government office out there.
Matt Feret (03:28):
And after your time at the Social Security Administration, what are you doing now?
Jim Blair (03:32):
Well, after I retired, you have to have something to do, and that's all I know. So I started a business where I help people decide when should I take my Social Security? You would think it would be a real easy decision. I'm 62, it's time for me to apply, but there's a lot of factors that you should take into consideration before you file that application. And maybe 62 is the right time, but maybe 70 is better or somewhere in between. So in that eight year window is when people are going to decide. I help them look at the different factors. Everybody's situation is different, and they're going to decide when is it best for me to take my Social Security?
Matt Feret (04:17):
So, let's start right there. So you can take Social Security as early as age 62, and the 66, 67 is when you're considered to have full Social Security, that you can go all the way up to age 70 to, I guess, "maximize your benefits." It's got to be the number one question you get asked, so I'll ask it to you. When is the best age and is that even a question anyone should ask? Is it really age based?
Jim Blair (04:48):
Well, you have to take a lot of things into consideration. So while that eight year window is where everybody is going to decide when to apply regardless of your full retirement age, whether it's 66, 67 or somewhere in between, between 62 and 70 is when you decide I'm going to start my Social Security. It's not just based on age. You're going to look at, of course, if you're working, how important are survivor benefits in your decision? Is your spouse eligible on your record? Do you have any children? So a lot of factors we have to look at when folks are going to decide, it's not just my age. It is important because you have to be at least age 62 to draw. But after that, a lot of other things factor in, maybe health insurance. If your health insurance is based on your work, you may have to wait till you're 65. If your spouse gets their health insurance based on your work, you may have to wait till your spouse is 65. So, a lot of things factor in to your decision other than just your age.
Matt Feret (05:59):
What's the number one mistake you see people making around when to elect or start your Social Security benefits.
Jim Blair (06:07):
I think the thing that people make their mistake on is not remembering, first of all, that this is a lifetime benefit. So when I start my Social Security, I'm going to receive it the rest of my life. Now that's a good thing. You don't have to worry about the benefits ending because you ran out of money, but if you start benefits at 62, you're going to take a reduction anywhere from 25 to 30% reduction over what you would receive at your full retirement age. That reduction carries through for the rest of your life. So you not only want to look at, is the amount of money I'm going to be receiving sufficient now, but what about in the future? And then tack onto that, the fact that if my spouse is going to step into my shoes when I pass away, how important are survivor benefits? And that's something that people just don't think about.
And when I used to take claims, that was one of the, I guess, saddest times during the claim taking that I would run into, because you would have a couple, their income was fine. One of them would pass away. And now you would tell the surviving spouse how much their Social Security is. And they'd say, well, that's just not enough. I need more than that. And at that point, it's too late, it's already locked in. You have to think of that before you apply.
Matt Feret (07:31):
You talked about 62 and then the eight year window, what is the difference, roundabouts in lifetime income that you give up by claiming them at age 62, compared to age 70?
Jim Blair (07:52):
It can be for an individual, it can be up to a 100,000, maybe a little more over your lifetime, a married couple, we've seen a 150, 200,000. The difference at age 62 versus age 70, you get a 75% increase in your monthly benefit by waiting until age 70.
Matt Feret (08:16):
Jim Blair (08:17):
Now that's the good news. Of course, what's the bad news? You have to wait till age 70, but the longer you wait the higher your benefit is going to be. And your break even point is before the average survivor rate for folks. A male in his sixties, they have a life expectancy on average of around 84, in a female in her sixties, it's around age 87. Well taking benefits at 62 versus full retirement age, it's about a 12 year break even point. So somewhere between 78 and 79, you've received the same amount of money from Social Security, whether you start at 62 or full retirement age.
Now, if you wait till 70, yeah, it's a little tougher. That gets a little closer, especially for the males. It's about still 12 year break even point, 12, 12 and a half years. So it's about 82, 82 and a half. But half of the people, according to Social Security, are going to live into their upper eighties, early nineties. And a quarter of the folks will live to 95 year old, unfortunately, maybe fortunately, I don't know, they don't tell us which one of us those are, but you look at your health, your family history, but it's not just yours if your spouse is going to step into your shoes, what's your spouse's health and family history? You can receive benefits for many, many years, taking it at 62, you're going to receive the least amount. And you know who wants you to take it at 62? The federal government.
So if the government wants you to do something, whose advantage do you think that's for? It's not you. My advice to people is, and I'm not saying always wait till age 70. That's not the best thing for everybody, but to delay it as long as possible for your particular situation.
Matt Feret (10:14):
So why do so many people take it at age 62 is because they think, the life expectancy piece you mentioned, in most people's brains, and even in mine, until you really start looking at statistics, you think average lifespan of man and a woman in the United States is 75, 76, but that's not true because once you reach age 62, you've avoided death so far. Then you actually, your life expectancy goes up to what you were saying in your mid to upper eighties and even low nineties. Is that right?
Jim Blair (10:49):
That's correct. The lower amount, the 75 to 78, it's moved around, especially since the pandemic, but that includes everybody. So that's the young folks, the older folks, and all the folks in between. So that's the average for everyone, but the longer you live, the longer your life expectancy is. So if you get into your sixties and there's a lot of reasons, I guess maybe once you're in your sixties, you stop doing some crazy stuff and that might help too. But your life expectancy is longer if you can make it to your sixties.
Matt Feret (11:30):
I got to imagine, another reason, big, popular reason people take Social Security right at age 62 is because they hear, or they read all this stuff about Social Security's going broke. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Jim Blair (11:46):
Sure. If you watch TV, listen to the radio, Social Security's out of money. Congress stole the money, all sorts of things out there about Social Security. Taking your benefit at 62 because Social Security's going broke is the worst reason to use to take your benefit early. Currently, the Social Security Administration has assets, they have $2.8 trillion in assets. Now it is in the form of US treasury bonds. And that's where they say Congress stole the money. By laws, Social Security has to take any surplus they have and a and purchase US treasury bonds. And they had a surplus every year until last year. And it did go down a little bit. They had 2.9 trillion, now 2.8, but that will eventually be gone. And if nothing is done, they still have money coming in. People are still working. You're still paying Social Security tax on your wages. Nobody wants to hear this, but Social Security is subject to federal income tax.
The good news with this, if there is any good news about taxes, is that the Social Security Trust Fund gets the credit of the tax people pay on their Social Security benefits. So those two together don't cover the amount that Social Security owe, it doesn't cover their obligation, covers about 80% of it. And by law, Social Security is not allowed to operate in the red. And if nothing is done, everybody's going to see a 20% pay cut. Well, I guess the good thing with this is, yes, money's still coming in and you're still going to receive something, but nobody wants a 20% pay cut. And I just, I really can't see Congress letting that happen. We had a similar situation back in the seventies and at that point, the Congress and the president were able to get together and make changes. Those changes affect everybody that's listening to this podcast. That's when they move the full retirement age from 65, eventually up to age 67.
And so every year there's proposals out there. And eventually Congress will make the changes because, are you going to vote for somebody who gives you 20% pay cut? No, and they're not going to let that happen. Plus about 40% of the people who receive Social Security, that's their only source of income. It's a very important program for a lot of people and they're not going to let it go by the wayside. So yes, there are issues and they do need to be addressed, but don't use that to determine when to start your Social Security benefits.
Matt Feret (14:35):
Can you talk a little bit about... I think we've been talking a lot about Social Security election for an individual, but can you talk about strategies for spouses, for couples that may be different than if you're just an individual filing for Social Security?
Jim Blair (14:53):
Sure. One thing that I like couples to think about is consider Social Security a household income. When you're looking at taking your benefit, look at it in connection with your spouse at the same time. Technically yes, your Social Security benefit is yours. Your spouse's is theirs. You can take yours whenever you want, they can take theirs when they want, but you want to look at it as a couple. This is the income we're going to receive together. And then also how important, and what will we receive in survivor benefits? So you're going to look at different options, say for example, you could have one member of the couple, maybe the lower earner files at age 62, brings money into the household. And that may allow the higher earner to delay taking their Social Security, to a point a little further down the road. And then in that way, they'll receive more money.
In the long run in your household you're receiving more money. When one passes away, the survivor receives more money. Other options could include, and somebody wanting to wait to age 70, if their spouse is eligible off of their work record, they may go ahead and file a little earlier, maybe file a full retirement age instead of waiting until age 70. I think everybody knows, or most people do, if you wait till age 70, you increase your Social Security benefit, but it does not in increase any spousal benefit. That's based off of a person's benefit at their full retirement age even if you wait till age 70. So you might want to start yours a little earlier, so your spouse can receive their benefits.
So all sorts of factors will factor in if you have any children that are eligible, and that's not just minor children, certainly a child under 18 is eligible for a benefit off your work record when you apply, but if you have a disabled child that was disabled before the age of 22, and they're unmarried, they can be eligible off of your work record too. And while we don't see that a lot, it is out there. And if that's in your particular situation, when you start your benefit, your child can also be eligible off of your record as well.
Matt Feret (17:20):
Is there a play or is there a difference between a couple that's one or two years apart or a couple that's eight or 10 years apart? Is there a different play there?
Jim Blair (17:32):
There seems to be, whenever I look and use software packages, or just look at it myself, if a couple is close in age, particularly if they both have a work record and they're both eligible for a benefit based off of their own work, usually the top options are going to be maybe the higher earner waits to age 70 and the lower earner, it may include them waiting till 70, or starting at full retirement age. Whereas if there's five years or more difference in your ages, then it's going to say to the younger worker, you should go ahead and file at 62. And the reason for that is that they will probably receive the survivor benefit either before they reach their break even point or shortly thereafter. So it could still get you more money in the household, even though you're starting at 62 and taking a reduction, eventually the lower earner will step into the higher earner's shoes when that person passes away.
Matt Feret (18:37):
Geez, my brain is spinning. This seems like a really complex thing to optimize.
Jim Blair (18:45):
Well, it is and it isn't. The important thing that I think people need to do is think about it before you apply. Now, we like to say in my consulting business, you want to make a plan, and that's real important. We plan for everything. We plan our vacations, we plan our marriages and maybe we plan our divorces. But we plan a lot of things. You're going to receive your Social Security benefit on average, 18 to 20 years, but maybe 25 or 30 years, maybe even longer. So you need to plan before you file that application, and that's the important part. Before you file, look at all your options.
You may end up doing what you were thinking of doing anyway, but at least now you've looked at it and a lot of people will make adjustments and it doesn't have to be a lot of years, it doesn't have to be, I'm planning on filing at 62. I looked at my Social Security, now I got to work another eight years and I'm not going to retire till 70. That's not the case for everybody, but I may wait till full retirement age, or maybe I'll wait till 64, 65. All sorts of things can factor in there. You want to look at it before you apply.
And I'll give a little shout out to the Social Security Administration. Everybody should go on the Social Security website, it's ssa.gov, and create what's called my Social Security account, because they used to mail your statements out to you every year. Well, they stopped doing that about 10 years ago, it is available online through the Social Security website, and people need to be looking at that to make their plan. The closer you are to age 62, the more accurate it is, but it's still a great planning tool. So go on and create that account. So you can look at your Social Security statement and have an idea of what you're going to receive from Social Security when you get ready to retire, also helps you when you're planning, how much other type of savings do I need? What am I going to get from Social Security? How much am I going to need in retirement? You can start figuring that out. So making a plan very important.
Matt Feret (21:08):
Let's talk about the Social Security Administration. It's easy to blame government agencies, it's just low hanging fruit, people pick on them, the media pick on them, we all make jokes about the DMV and about all the sorts of government agencies. There's a lot of hard working people there trying to do the right thing, and there are a lot of offices, as I mentioned earlier in the show, around the country. Talk to me about that experience. And what's your recommendation? Do you have to go in to file? Should you do it online? Should you ask the fine folks working there what they think about your plan? Talk to me about how, as a consumer, I'm trying to make this decision. How do I use the Social Security Administration? How do I use my local Social Security office?
Jim Blair (21:55):
Okay. You're going to use the local office when you're ready to file for your benefits. They're not going to help you with making your decision on when you should apply. They've been told not to do that by the commissioner, and they don't know all of your other sources of income and what your situation is. So they're not going to help you decide when is the best time to take your benefits. Now they will help you understand what benefits you're eligible for. Are you eligible on your own work record? Could you be eligible for an additional spousal benefit from your spouse, or maybe ex spousal benefits, or maybe even a survivor benefit if you have a deceased spouse in your past. So they will help you with that. And they will give you those benefit amounts if you ask, but filing online is a good way to go. And you can apply for most benefits online, but you cannot apply for survivor benefits or children's benefits online, but basically everything else you can.
And the thing I like about that is you can do it whenever you're ready. Pretty much the system is available 24/7. And if you decided at 11 o'clock at night you want to file for benefits, you can do that. And it'll show up at the local office the next day. So filing online is a great way to go, but you may still have some questions. What's my work going to do if I'm under my full retirement age and still working? Can I draw my Social Security, or are you going to take it from me? What is my spousal or ex spousal benefits going to be? So there are reasons to contact Social Security. Overall, it's a great organization. I'm not going to beat up on the folks I used to work with because I think they do a great job. They work really hard.
The issue that they are running into, and I think probably everybody is having this issue. A lot of people are retiring from the organization, people walking out the door with 30, 35 years of experience and service. And as the new people come in, they don't necessarily have a lot of the experience folks there with them. So there is a little bit of a gap there experience wise. And we do occasionally hear about some misinformation coming out of the local offices. It's not something you can't get fixed if that does happen. And we hate to hear when it does, but that's why it's also important to maybe talk to someone else, particularly if you have something a little different in your situation, that's not just I'm 62 and I'm going to take my benefits. But you want to make that plan and talk to someone outside of Social Security, probably before you pull the trigger.
Matt Feret (25:04):
Are there any tips or tricks you've seen or used, or you recommend along the way when going into the office or talking to the Social Security Administration over the phone?
Jim Blair (25:15):
Yeah, they don't always just take what they say as gospel because a lot of times their answers depends on how you ask a question, and people always used to say, well, I called this person. I got this answer. I called this the other person, and I received a different answer. And when you delve into it, you could see the answers that were given and based on the way they phrase their question, each person was right. So you have to just make sure that you provide all of the current information to Social Security. Listen to them when they ask questions, answer their questions, don't be bashful, answer the question in full, but I wouldn't necessarily depend on it if someone tells you something and you think it may be off, check on it first.
They are people and they do get things wrong occasionally. So if you think something's a little off, but don't go in there like a madman and rant and rave and carry on. I'm a pretty reasonable person, at least everybody, but my wife thinks so, but even I got upset once or twice with some folks. But sometimes you have to swallow your pride when you help people, but overall, it's a great agency. And if you need to contact them, then do so.
Matt Feret (26:54):
But it sounds like you're saying before you contact them or go in there, you need to have a plan. You need to know what you're doing.
Jim Blair (27:01):
Absolutely. That's the most important thing, because you know your background better than anybody, the people at Social Security don't know you. When you walk in, that's the first they've met you. And so when you fill out the application, they're going to ask some questions. It's pretty interesting. They delve into your past. If you go in with your wife, they're going to ask you information about what, or husband I should say, but they're going to ask you, what's your date of marriage? What's your spouse's date of birth? I've seen a lot of people get a little bit of trouble over that, but also they're going to ask you, have you had any other marriages?
And just to give you a little story, I took an application from a fellow for retirement. I said, "Have you had any prior marriages?" And he said, "No." Well, he called me and his spouse was with him when we did his application, he called me a couple hours later and said, "Yeah, I got to change one answer. I did have a prior marriage, but my wife didn't know about it." So, hey, we changed it. I didn't tell her. That's all on him. But it gets a little interesting.
Matt Feret (28:23):
Oh, that's hilarious. Those ex spousal benefits, how do those work? Do they come out of somebody else's check? If you were married before and your ex is drawing Social Security off you, does that lower your amount? How does that stuff work?
Jim Blair (28:41):
Yeah, that would be a disaster.
Matt Feret (28:43):
Jim Blair (28:43):
So, no, the short answer is no, your spouse or ex-spouse, that does not lower your benefit. So you're going to receive your benefit. If you have three ex-spouses out there, all drawing off of your work record, they'll receive their benefit, but you'll still get your full benefit, what you're eligible to receive. So the good news is no, they're not going to take money away from you. The bad news is they could still be eligible on your work record, whether you like it or not.
Matt Feret (29:18):
You talked about it a few moments ago, I'm going to revisit it. Working while drawing Social Security benefits. At first blush, it looks like you're penalized for working while drawing Social Security. To me, that doesn't make much sense. Don't you want people in the workforce paying more taxes? Can you talk about that? Are you really, truly penalized for working and drawing Social Security at the same time?
Jim Blair (29:49):
Sorry about that. Working does seem to penalize you because if you're under your full retirement age, receiving Social Security and also have earned income, you work for someone, you're self-employed. Social Security's going to hold back some of your benefits. So this year for every $2 you earn over $19,560, Social Security holds back $1 of your benefits. So, that does seem like a penalty. However, when you reach full retirement age, they're going to go back and look and see how many months did you not receive a full benefit check? And they call that a credit month. And what they'll do is they'll take that credit month and reduce the reduction of your benefit. Now that may be confusing people. So I'll give a quick example. Someone who has a full retirement age of 67, they take benefits at 62, they take a 30% reduction over what they would've received had they waited to age 67, but if between 62 and 67, they work and Social Security, let's just say holds back half of their checks. So they receive six checks a year, but because of their earnings, the other six Social Security holds back.
When they reach age 67, Social Security will look at that and go, well, you took benefits 60 months before your full retirement age, and we reduced your benefit based on that. We reduced that 30%, but you only received 30 checks out of that 60 month period. So we're going to change that reduction factor from 60 months to 30 months. Now instead of your benefit being reduced 30%, it's reduced about 15%. So you receive an increase in your monthly benefit amount. That's where you'll see where people say over time, you get the money back. And yeah, it does take a while, but it is a permanent increase that you'll see in your Social Security check. Why do they do that? Technically Social Security benefits were meant to replace income from your work now that you've retired, and if you're still working, you haven't retired. So, they look at it from that point of view. But once you reach your full retirement age, that goes away, that earnings test no longer applies.
Matt Feret (32:24):
So if I reach full retirement age, I can work 40 hours, 80 hours a week without penalty?
Jim Blair (32:29):
Right. And if you make a $100,000 a year, that's fine, you'll still receive all of your Social Security benefit checks.
Matt Feret (32:38):
Thanks for clearing that up. I'm going to pivot just for another random question, but it gets asked all the time, undocumented immigrants, can they file and take Social Security? We hear so much of that stuff in the media and online publications, is that true?
Jim Blair (32:56):
No, undocumented aliens do not draw Social Security benefits. They're not eligible for Medicare. You have to be admitted into the United States with permission to work, and then you'll receive a Social Security number. And in that situation, then those folks, once if they've worked their 10 years and earned their 40 credits, they'll be eligible for Social Security benefits, but they're legally admitted and they're admitted to work. And not everybody legally admitted is allowed to work. So if you're here on a different type of visa, even if you work, it goes into a special fund. And even if later you become eligible to work, they don't go back and say, okay, that money you earned before, we're going to credit to your record. It just goes into the trust fund.
Maybe you could look at it from the point of view that it helps the trust fund a little bit, because if someone's here illegally, a lot of times they will provide a fake Social Security number to their employer. The employer deducts the Social Security tax that goes into the trust fund. Well, they're never eligible for a benefit. So it's money into the trust fund. Yeah, I know that's a little on the edge there, but they're not going to receive a Social Security benefit. That's the important thing.
Matt Feret (34:26):
Thank you for clearing that up. All right. I know I want to be respectful of your time. Thank you for spending so much of it with me. It's a one and done selection, when you're on Medicare, when you make your Medicare insurance decision, you generally every fall, every AEP get to buy a new policy. It comes through, October 15th comes and you can change your Medicare Part D plan, you can change your Medicare Advantage plan. In some states, you can change your Medicare Supplement plans during the year, but not all. But the point is you can still make decisions after you've made your initial coverage decision Medicare, but that's not true with Social Security, is it?
Jim Blair (35:07):
No. You have a small window of opportunity to change your mind. You have one year where you can tell Social Security, oh, I should not have applied. I want to withdraw my application. Withdrawing your application is a pretty easy process. It's a one page form you fill out, they're going to ask you why, but they don't care what the reason is. The tough part is though you have to pay back every penny that they paid you, including money deducted for Medicare premiums, or money withheld for income tax if you have taxes withheld from your benefit. So while you do have a year to change your mind, you also have to pay that money back. That's what makes it so important to make your decision based off of a plan that you have made sure you looked at all your options, what's best for me? And I'll go ahead and apply.
Not a lot of people withdraw. It maybe someone who's out of work goes ahead and applies. Now they find a job and they just want to go ahead and withdraw the application. That's maybe the biggest reason that I recall seeing, but you don't see it too often. Used to, it was unlimited. You could have filed at 62, at age 70 walked back into Social Security, said, here's all your money back because you get to keep all the interest you made if you invested it and made some money off of it, then you withdraw your application, reapply. And now you get at the age 70 rate. But in the meantime you use the money from your Social Security account. Well, Social Security decided, hey, that's not good for us. So we're going to limit you to one year to change your mind, and you can only do it one time. So it's real important to get it right in the first place.
Matt Feret (37:05):
How do you know if you're approaching age 62, or you're approaching retirement, how do you know whether or not your particular situation is simple enough to do it yourself or complex enough to pay for a consultant to help you think through this decision?
Jim Blair (37:26):
If it's you and your wife, or you and your husband, and you're not sure about your benefits, I would suggest talking to a consultant. A lot of people know exactly what they want to do, and they're sure of their income in retirement. And they'll go ahead and apply. It sounds a little self-serving since I do this, but I think it helps a lot of people just to talk about it. So most folks should have talked to somebody that's knowledgeable about the program, that understands what the pitfalls may be, what the advantages may be, because, just an idea, I've seen a lot of couples, you would think it would be pretty simple for them. They both have a work history and they both decided they're going to wait to age 70 to file for benefits. Well, maybe the lower earning spouse, while they do have a work history, they're still going to draw a spousal benefit.
And if you decide to wait till age 70 and increase your own Social Security benefit, for every dollar you increase your own, you lose a dollar in spousal benefits. So oftentimes waiting till age 70, didn't advantage them at all, they should have filed at full retirement age. So there's little pitfalls in there. Most people, I think, should speak to someone unless you're really, really confident about your plans.
Matt Feret (39:11):
I've seen, and I've gotten postcards in my mailbox of free Social Security seminars. Should I go to one of those? If so, what do I look for, do I listen to? How do I know this person knows what they're talking about or doesn't?
Jim Blair (39:26):
Well, that's the tough part, because most of the time, these are folks who are financial advisors, and some of them may be very knowledgeable about Social Security, and if the thrust of the seminar that they're giving is just Social Security, you're pretty safe going to that. And you can generally tell how knowledgeable they are when people start asking them questions. And if the answers are just so general that you can tell this person really isn't real knowledgeable, you might take what they say with a grain of salt. If they're able to answer the questions in pretty decent detail, then you might have an idea that they may know what they're talking about.
If it's just a small part of the presentation, then maybe you got a free meal out of it, or something, but I would be a little hesitant about going. Maybe call and ask them some questions before you go. So they're going to want you to sign up. When you call to sign up question a little bit about their knowledge about Social Security. How big a part of their presentation is Social Security? Will they be able to entertain your questions?
Matt Feret (40:50):
Do you have any couple of zingers in there that only guys like you would know that people doing these seminars should know?
Jim Blair (40:59):
Well, an interesting one at a seminar, somebody asked the person how they computed their Social Security benefit? And he said, well, they use your highest 20 quarters to compute your benefit. Now, I'm not sure exactly what that means. Maybe that's five years of earnings, but they use 35 years of earnings. And I know about that because my business partner was at that presentation and he questioned the guy on it and he argued with him, but then he, I guess the fellow eventually called his home office and they said, yeah, that guy's right. So, you want to be a little careful talking about spousal benefits and survivor benefits. That can be a real point that people miss and gloss over. And that could be real important.
Matt Feret (41:58):
Are there professional designations, or you've spent 35 years in the Social Security Administration, the qualifications that set people apart?
Jim Blair (42:09):
Well, you want someone who does know about the program. Now, you don't necessarily have to have 30, 35 years of work with Social Security to understand the program, but it is good if you can find someone of a financial advisor, a Medicare person, who's actually been through the training, whether it's our training or somebody else's. So look for some type of designation that someone may have where they've received more than just hearing what's out there, that the general public has. They've had some sort of training on Social Security. And that way you can be confident that they have at least some knowledge that the general public doesn't have, and they may be able to help. So designations are nice. It's not the end all, the individuals that have ours, they have access to me and my business partner, if they have questions. And I'm sure most of the other ones are like that too. So I would think someone who's been through some type of training would be definitely better than someone who's just venturing out on their own.
Matt Feret (43:27):
But the key, it sounds like, is to ask questions and poke and prod and see if they know what they're talking about.
Jim Blair (43:33):
Exactly, because you're not going to hand over all your money to a financial advisor without doing a little bit of investigation. What does this person know about investing? Same thing with Social Security, what do they know about Social Security? And that never hurts to ask. If somebody doesn't want you asking questions, you probably don't want to be dealing with that person. So, if someone's been through training or they have knowledge in some other way, then they're generally more than happy to tell you all about that.
Matt Feret (44:04):
Jim, I could ask you a hundred more questions and we could do this for another five hours, but I know we're running out of time. Last one, what question did I not ask that I should have?
Jim Blair (44:17):
You asked a lot of great questions and we did cover the fact that people should make a plan, but I think the question that people want to think about is how do I maximize my benefit for me? Now, obviously waiting till 70 gets you the maximum amount of monthly benefits, but that's not always the best scenario for me. So what is the best scenario for me to maximize my benefit, or me and my spouse as a couple? And so that's what people want to think about. And I think that's the thing that a lot of people miss.
Matt Feret (45:05):
Jim, thank you so much.
Jim Blair (45:07):
Happy to, I love talking about Social Security. So anytime.
Matt Feret (45:12):
My thanks to Jim for sharing his knowledge with me and with all of you. Check out The Matt Feret Show website at themattferetshow.com. And, of course, please subscribe to the podcast on your podcast platform of choice. Until next time, to your wealth, wisdom and wellness, I'm Matt Feret. And thanks for tuning in.
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Matt Feret is the host of The Matt Feret Show, which focuses on the health, wealth and wellness of retirees, people over fifty-five and caregivers helping loved ones. He’s also the author of the book series, Prepare for Medicare – The Insider’s Guide to Buying Medicare Insurance.
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