Tag Archives: Social Security

Social Security adjusts taxable wage base and related figures for 2018

On November 27, the Social Security Administration (SSA) updated the 2018 taxable maximum amount, based on a national payroll service provider’s corrected Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Forms W-2 (Wage and Tax Statement) provided to the agency in late October 2017, after the SSA announced cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for 2018. The new data lowers the national average wage index for 2016, which in turn reduces the 2018 Social Security taxable maximum amount (also known as the taxable wage base or the contribution and benefit base), the primary insurance amount (PIA) bend points used to calculate benefits, and the family maximum bend points.

The adjusted figures are:

• The 2018 Social Security taxable wage base: $128,400 (corrected from $128,700).
• The 2018 PIA bend points that are used to determine individual beneficiaries’ Average Index Monthly Earnings (AIME): $895 and $5,397 (corrected from $896 and $5,399). Thus, the monthly PIA formula will be 90% of the first $895 of AIME, plus 32% of the AIME over $895 and through $5,397, plus 15% of the AIME over $5,397.
• The 2018 bend points in the family maximum formula: $1,144/$1,651/$2,154 (corrected from $1,145/$1,652/$2,155).
• The 2016 national average wage index: $48,642.15 (corrected from $48,664.73).

Milliman has posted a revised Client Action Bulletin (CAB 17-4R) to reflect the Social Security Administration’s adjusted figures.

For additional information about the 2018 updated Social Security figures, please contact your Milliman consultant.

COLAs for retirement, Social Security, and health benefits for 2018

With the release of the September 2017 Consumer Price Index (CPI) by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have announced cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) figures for Social Security and retirement plan benefits, respectively, for 2018. The 2018 adjusted figures for high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) included in this Client Action Bulletin were released by the IRS earlier this year and are provided here for convenience.

COLAs for retirement, Social Security, and health benefits for 2017

With the release of the September 2016 Consumer Price Index (CPI) by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have announced cost-of-living adjusted figures for Social Security and retirement plan benefits, respectively, for 2017. The 2017 adjusted figures for high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) included in this Client Action Bulletin were released by the IRS earlier this year and are provided here for convenience.

Generation X: Savings, pensions, and Social Security

pink-lesleyThis is the second blog in a three-part series exploring the economic history and future of Generation X. The series also focuses on what this generation can do to prepare for retirement. In the first installment, we highlighted some of Generation X’s financial predicaments.

Generation X faces major retirement challenges.

Besides the issues of job security and stagnant wages, there is the topic of cold hard cash—saving enough, having enough, allocating enough.

Some Gen Xers know that they started saving too late and wouldn’t be able to make up the difference. Others were worried because they’d been saving since they got their first jobs—20+ years ago—and felt that that money still wouldn’t be enough when they reach retirement age. And others just couldn’t save. As one fellow Gen Xer put it, “My wife and I don’t make enough together to save for retirement and the kids.” And let’s not fool ourselves—“retirement age” no longer has a firm definition.

We Gen Xers aren’t alone. According to the 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey published by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, “Almost two-thirds of workers (64 percent) say they feel they are behind schedule when it comes to planning and saving for retirement.” This survey also notes that cost of living and day-to-day expenses top the list of reasons why workers don’t save (or don’t save enough) for retirement.

Pensions, often referred to as defined benefit (DB) plans, used to be a mainstay. But they are not as common as they once were, and this, too, is affecting Generation X. In fact, according to Jennifer Leigh Parker on CNBC.com, Generation X is the first generation to see its pension leg replaced by 401(k) savings plans, which were increasingly adopted during the 1980s. The 401(k) plans are portable but aren’t designed as a monthly “pension paycheck.” The owner of the account balance has to take significant action to understand and convert any or all of it to that pension paycheck. Gen Xers , in general, will find that its collective savings plan account balances are woefully deficient and for many, sitting in a tax-deferred account. And the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) can’t wait for us to start cashing them out.

Additionally, we Gen Xers, who have been paying Social Security payroll tax for years, may not receive full benefits upon reaching retirement age.

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Retirement, social security, and health benefit limits for 2016

With the release of the September 2015 Consumer Price Index (CPI) by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have announced the 2016 figures for, respectively, the Social Security program and tax-qualified retirement plan benefits. In most cases, the figures are unchanged from 2015. The 2016 adjusted figures for high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) included in this Client Action Bulletin were released by the IRS earlier this year and are provided here for convenience.

When to begin Social Security: The conundrum

Bradley_JeffIn retirement planning, especially in discussions involving those who retired early or are thinking of retiring early, this question usually comes up: When do you plan to start taking Social Security?

To answer this question, we have to look at two alternatives:

1) If one defers payment to age 70 (currently the latest permissible date for increased benefits) or some other age, a higher monthly benefit is payable.
2) Instead, if one decides to commence payment early, say at age 62, the question then becomes how many years it takes to come out ahead by deferring. In other words, how many years does it take to reach the “break-even” point?

For example, a maximum earner, retiring at age 62 in 2015 could expect a monthly benefit of approximately $2,014. Instead, if he or she defers to age 70, that amount is estimated to be $3,544 (in 2015 dollars).

If we assume 2% CPI, the total benefits received from age 62 through age 78 are approximately $484,000. If deferred to age 70, the total benefits received from age 70 through age 78 are approximately $486,000. Thus, the breakeven point is somewhere between 16 and 17 years from age 62.

Why is it difficult to pick one or the other? Let’s examine the issues.

Many financial advisers suggest that a retiree would always be better off deferring commencement as long as possible as this maximizes the benefit. However, this may not always be the case and is really a decision that depends on several factors, many of them personal.

Obviously, to make the best decision, retirees will need to know if they (and their spouses, if applicable) will be alive at the “breakeven” point(s). Because no one knows the answer to this question, one possible approach would be to look at the present value of the two options at age 62. Using the current mortality table to calculate minimum lump sum distributions under the Internal Revenue Code and a 2% real interest rate assumption (note that the actual real rate of interest used will vary based on individual expectations), the present value of the benefit payable at age 62 to a single person is approximately $430,000 and the present value of the deferred benefit is approximately $452,000. However, if a 4% real interest rate is used, the present values are $347,000 and $327,000, respectively. Thus, the present value depends on the underlying assumptions which will vary by individual, making it somewhat subjective.

What about the “utility” of the immediate cash? In this regard, you should consider cash needs, both immediate and long-term. This would mean no Social Security cash now but more in the future versus some Social Security cash now but less in the future. We should note that it doesn’t do any good to have more money in the future if we aren’t alive or aren’t able to enjoy it. To assess cash needs, you will have to run the numbers because everyone’s situation is different.

Also, many proponents of delaying Social Security note that deferring it is a significantly lower-cost alternative than buying commercial longevity insurance. The key decision point here is that it shouldn’t matter which is a lower-cost alternative. What matters is whether longevity insurance is needed or wanted in the first place. If so, then deferring Social Security may be the right move. If you don’t want longevity insurance, deferring Social Security may not be the right move.

Don’t forget taxes! Social Security can be taxable to some individuals and can affect Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) which is used to determine eligibility for Federal tax subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

And then we have the latest Social Security Trustee’s Report. Here’s an excerpt:

“The theoretical combined OASDI trust funds have a projected depletion date of 2033, unchanged from last year’s report. After the depletion of reserves, continuing tax income would be sufficient to pay 77 percent of scheduled benefits in 2033 and 72 percent in 2088.”

So what does this mean? Taking Social Security early may be the bird in the hand. Modeling a 23% haircut may be the deciding factor on whether Social Security should be taken as soon as possible. On the other hand, 2033 is a long way out, and we will have to wait and see.