Why Spouses Probably Shouldn’t Both Delay Social Security Benefits

The decision of whether to delay Social Security benefits is a trade-off: give up benefits now, in exchange for higher payments in the future. If the higher payments are received for enough years – dubbed the “breakeven period” – the retiree can more than recover the foregone benefits early on, even after adjusting for inflation and the time value of money.

With couples, however, the decision to delay is more complex. Earning 8%/year delayed retirement credits can not only boost an individual’s own retirement benefit, but increases the potential survivor benefit as well… which means the breakeven can be reached as long as either member of the couple remains alive long enough! In turn, this makes delaying benefits even more appealing, as the odds of at least one member of a couple remaining alive is better than the single life expectancy of either member in particular.

Congress Approves Tax Extender Legislation

Last week, the House Ways and Means committee came to an agreement for key legislation to renew the so-called “Tax Extenders,” a series of tax provisions that have lapsed and been reinstated (i.e., “extended”) repeatedly over the past decade. The new legislation, entitled the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 (PATH), will once again retroactively reinstate for 2015 the tax extenders that were renewed for and then expired at the end of 2014.

Did Congress Just Kill Your Social Security Strategy?

If you were hoping to execute a ‘File and Suspend’ collection strategy of your Social Security benefits, you only have a few months remaining. Under this week’s budget legislation, Congress is killing off the various “File and Suspend” and “Restricted Application” strategies to allow spousal and dependent benefits to be paid while still earning delayed retirement credits, with just a 6-month window before the limitations start to take effect.

The File and Suspend strategy was originally passed by Congress as part of the Senior Citizens Freedom to Work Act in 2000 to allow those who had already started Social Security benefits to stop their payments and earn delayed retirement credits. In the process, however, the new voluntary suspension rules unleashed several additional Social Security claiming strategies, including various “claim now, claim more later” tactics that involved File-and-Suspend and Restricted Applications for spousal benefits.

The Cliff Averted: What the Fiscal Deal Means for You

The past week’s fiscal cliff deadline has been averted, at least for now. The last-minute compromise — the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) — extends the majority of tax cuts scheduled to expire at the end of 2012, in addition to retroactively reinstating some rules that had expired in 2011. However, the legislation also introduces a number of changes as well — including a new top tax bracket and an increase in the top long-term capital gains and qualified dividend rates. Some old rules that had lapsed have returned, such as the phaseout of itemized deductions and personal exemptions, and a new rule will allow 401(k) participants to complete intra-plan Roth conversions.

Planning for the Fiscal Cliff

The 2012 election is over, and Americans find themselves in an unsure financial environment. The country is heading toward a “fiscal cliff” — a series of significant tax increases and automatic spending cuts that will be triggered at the end of the year. Congress and the President are negotiating a compromise solution to prevent that,…

Our Journal of Financial Planning Study, Translated into English

Readers who visit the Pinnacle Advisory Group website (pagmain.wpengine.com) will note that a paper by Solow, Kitces, and Locatelli, entitled “Improving Risk Adjusted Returns Using Market-Valuation-Based Tactical Asset Allocation Strategies,” was published in the December issue of the Journal of Financial Planning (JFP) – the most distinguished journal in the profession. The paper itself is a technical study that may be difficult to read, so this summary is intended for those who might not care to wade through the academic and statistical details. The basic conclusion of the paper was this: By reducing exposure to stocks when their prices are excessive relative to the profits they produce and increasing exposure to stocks when prices are low relative to their earnings, it is possible to systematically improve long-term returns.