Q&A: Delaying Social Security

Dear Liz: In a recent column you mentioned Social Security’s delayed retirement credit, writing that someone’s benefit could grow 32% by delaying benefits for four years between ages 66 and 70. Four years’ worth of accrued 8% increases in Social Security result in a cumulative increase of 36%, not 32%. I would think any financial planner would understand compound growth.

Answer: Social Security’s delayed retirement credits don’t compound.

Now, you may feel a little silly for pointing out an error that wasn’t actually an error, especially because you could have found the correct answer through a quick internet search (“Is Social Security’s delayed retirement credit compounded?”). But who hasn’t made a similar mistake? Sometimes what we don’t know about money isn’t the problem — it’s what we do know for sure that just isn’t true. (A similar quote is often attributed to Mark Twain, although there seems to be no evidence he ever said or wrote it.)

When I’ve made errors in this column, it’s often because I thought I understood something I didn’t or that my knowledge was up to date when it wasn’t. That’s why it’s so important to double-check our information with authoritative sources.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 divorce mistakes that can cost you. Also in the news: How to achieve financial independence without retiring early, consolidated debt and how to do it right, and where to go when you have a travel insurance problem.

5 Divorce Mistakes That Can Cost You
Curb your social media.

How to Achieve Financial Independence Without Retiring Early
A worthwhile goal.

What Is Consolidated Debt and How to Do It Right in 2019
Don’t start charging again.

Where To Go When You Have A Travel Insurance Problem
Being your own best advocate.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The average 401(k) balance by age. Also in the news: Taking the next step with your student loans, 3 money tasks to do right now, and what to do with all the tax documents you’re receiving.

The Average 401(k) Balance by Age
How do you match up?

Take the Next Step With Your Student Loans in 2019
Setting small goals.

3 Money Tasks You Need to Do Right Now
Starting the year off right.

What to Do With All the Tax Documents You’re Getting Right Now
What to keep and what to toss.

Q&A: Retirement planning needs expert help

Dear Liz: I am about to retire and have had to make some very important decisions: How should I receive my company pension, when should we start taking Social Security, should we convert some IRAs to Roths, how to best cover our healthcare needs and what the best ways are to manage our tax bill. I think we are OK and on track, but I worry about people who don’t have a college degree and who have not studied these issues trying to make similar decisions. I think it’s scary and we should do more to help people secure their retirement.

Answer: You’re quite right that retirement involves a number of complex choices, many of which are irreversible. It’s easy to make the wrong decisions, even if you do have a college degree and think you know what you’re doing.

Everyone approaching retirement should realize that they don’t know what they don’t know, and if possible seek out an expert, objective second opinion on their retirement plans to ensure they’re making the best possible choices.

Q&A: Fear of a market meltdown has frozen this retiree’s money decisions

Dear Liz: I sold my home two years ago and still have not done anything with my gain of $200,000. It’s in a one-year certificate of deposit so at least it’s earning something while I try to figure out what to do with it. I’m 66, retired and have an IRA of $500,000 that’s invested in the market. I get $1,450 from that plus a monthly Social Security check of $1,750.

I know that my hesitation has to do with the crash of 2008. I know that things have recovered nicely but I just don’t want to feel like I did then, watching my money disappear. I don’t know if I’m the only older person who has this fear of riding it out again.

Answer: Few who watched their portfolios plunge in 2008-09 look forward to experiencing that again. But risk is inextricably tied to reward. If you want the reward of inflation-beating returns that stocks offer, you must accept the risk that your portfolio can go down as well as up.

And you probably do want that reward for a big chunk of your investments. Retirees typically need about half of their portfolio in stocks to generate the kinds of returns that will preserve their buying power and help insulate them against running short of money.

That doesn’t mean all your money has to be at risk. You still need to have a good stash of savings sitting in safe, liquid accounts to help you ride out any market downturns or emergencies. Financial planners often recommend that their retired clients keep six months’ worth of expenses in an emergency fund, and some like to see 12 months’ worth. Beyond that, though, your money probably should be working for you, not simply dwindling away to taxes and inflation.

If you find yourself unable to move forward with a plan for this money, consider hiring a fee-only financial planner who can help you review your options.

It’s time to fix Social Security’s tax burden

People on Social Security need a tax break. The rest of us need to make sure they get it — for everyone’s sake.

When Congress made Social Security benefits taxable in 1983, lawmakers didn’t index the tax thresholds to inflation. They “forgot” inflation again when adding a second layer of taxation in 1993.

That means the proportion of recipients who have to pay federal income taxes on their benefits keeps increasing. Initially, only 1 in 10 Social Security recipients had to pay any federal tax. Now, it’s over half.

In my latest for the Associated Press, why this sneaky way of boosting taxes is unfair to those who have already paid their dues.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: New scoring could help credit-shy millennials. Also in the news: Giving yourself the gift of a $0 credit card balance, 5 key steps to joining the 401(k) Millionaires Club, and why you should only share your credit card info at a hotel at the front desk.

New Scoring Could Help Credit-Shy Millennials
Introducing UltraFICO.

Give Yourself the Gift of a $0 Credit Card Balance
A gift with long lasting impact.

5 Key Steps to Join the 401(k) Millionaires Club
Starting early is crucial.

Only Share Your Credit Card Info at a Hotel at the Front Desk
Protecting your info during your stay.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: With money goals, multitasking pays off. Also in the news: Snagging hotel loyalty perks, what to know about high yield reward checking accounts, and how to not let debt ruin your holiday.

With Money Goals, Multitasking Pays Off
There needs to be more than just paying off debt.

Snag These Hotel Loyalty Perks, Even if You’re Disloyal
It all depends on the right card.

What to Know About High Yield Reward Checking Accounts
Some accounts offer interest as high as 5%.

Don’t Let Debt Ruin Your Holiday
Some people are still paying off last year’s gifts.

With money goals, multitasking pays off

Tackling money goals one at a time cost financial literacy expert Barbara O’Neill at least $1 million.

That’s how much O’Neill, a distinguished professor at Rutgers University, figures she lost by starting saving for retirement only after she had created an emergency fund, bought a car with cash and purchased a home.

“I tell students that eventually, 30 years later, I hit the million-dollar mark, but I could’ve had $2 million,” O’Neill says.

Too often, financial experts say, people want to attack their money goals one at a time: “As soon as I pay off my credit card debt, then I’ll start saving for a home,” or, “As soon as I pay off my student loan debt, then I’ll start saving for retirement.”

These folks don’t realize how costly the words “as soon as” can be. In my latest for the Associated Press, paying off debt is a worthy goal, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of other goals, particularly saving for retirement.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Don’t leave credit card rewards on the table when dining out. Also in the news: How to move forward after a financial setback, the best Black Friday TV deals, and when to opt out of the target-date funds in your 401(k).

Dining Out? Don’t Leave Credit Card Rewards on the Table
Earning money back for every meal.

How to Move Forward After a Financial Setback
Getting back on track.

Best Black Friday TV Deals, 2018
The most screen for your money.

When to Opt Out of the Target-Date Funds in Your 401(k)
It depends on your goals.