Tuesday, January 25, 2011
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Social Security 2011
Much debate ensued over the tax package passed last December. At risk were popular tax cuts introduced during the Bush Administration.
Those cuts were extended, as was the prevailing tax rate. But not much was reported on the several changes that impacted Social Security. And they affect every American worker, not merely the 54 million who currently receive benefits.
You've likely already heard about the 2 percent payroll tax holiday in place for 2011. It replaced the Making Work Pay tax credit of $400 for single or $800 for married taxpayers that expired at the end of 2010.
Rather than the 6.2 percent you paid every pay cycle, this year you'll only pay 4.2 percent. The employer portion remains at 6.2 percent. Those who are self employed will pay 10.4 percent instead of 12.4 percent. The tax is applied to income up to $106,800 per year.
Medicare tax remains the same at 1.45 percent contributed by the worker and 1.45 percent by the employer. Self employed individuals continue to pay 2.9 percent.
The general fund of the U.S. Treasury will make up the difference by paying into the Social Security trust fund the money it would have received through payroll deductions.
Options for claiming Social Security payments have changed. Previously, recipients could start collecting benefits at age 62 and choose to repay all the money they received in order to file again at age 70 when their rate is higher. This was akin to receiving an interest free loan, and exercised primarily by those with the resources to repay the lump sum.
The payback option still exists, but must be initiated within 12 months of receiving their first payment. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You may not withdraw and refile your application more than once.
Retirees can no longer temporarily suspend their benefits, repay them and receive a higher benefit going forward. Benefits can still be suspended for future payments, but you can no longer go back retroactively.
Retirees applying for benefits after May 1, 2011 will no longer receive a paper check. Payments must be either direct deposited or funds will be loaded onto a debit Mastercard. Those already receiving a paper check may continue to do so until March 1, 2013. At that point, they'll need to switch to either direct deposit or prepaid debit card as well.
Just how much does it cost the government to produce paper checks? The agency reports it will save $120 million annually by eliminating all costs associated with the practice, or $1 billion over 10 years.
As there has been no change in the Consumer Price Index from third quarter of 2008, recipients will not get a Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) increase in their benefit check this year.
By law, when there is no COLA, retirement earning limits must remain unchanged as well. Those under full retirement age may earn up to $14,160 per year ($1,180 per month) and still receive their full benefit. One dollar in benefits will be withheld for every $2 in earnings received above the limit.
For the year an individual reaches full retirement age, the limit increases to $37,680 per year or $ 3,140 per month. For the months prior to attaining full benefit age only, $1 of benefits will be withheld for ever $3 in earnings above the limit.
Social Security laws are complex. Contact your local office if you have questions about how these changes apply to you.
National Mentoring Month
Did you make a New Year's resolution? If you did, have you given up on it already? How about making one now or making a new one instead? In America today, there is a need for mentors. In fact, did you know that President Obama declared January 2011 as National Mentoring Month? This marks the 10th anniversary of National Mentoring Month. National Mentoring Month is geared toward encouraging and recruiting more individuals to volunteer as mentors to young people in their local community.
The youth of today are tomorrow's leaders. How many times have you heard that statement or a similar sentiment? Well, no matter how many times or in how many versions you have heard it, it is as true today as it was the first time it was spoken. However, there are more challenges facing today's youth than any other time in our history. How to encourage and guide today's youth is a challenge facing all Americans.
So what is a mentor? A mentor can be many thingsâ€¦ friend, advisor, coach, advocate. A mentor is someone who can help guide a young person toward success and be a positive influence in his or her life. They help youth to first set and then achieve their goals. They encourage youth to stay in school and get the most out of their education. Mentors assist youth in the discovery of new opportunities and activities. They aid youth by becoming a part of their emotional support system and help youth to build character and gain confidence. Any or all of these things are important in the life of a child.
Unfortunately, in America today, there are thousands of youths without a positive role model in their lives. Too often, youths without guidance or direction can turn to drug abuse, violence or crime. You don't have to be a genius to be a mentor, nor is there a set of rules you have to follow. However, there are a few characteristics that good mentors tend to have. You should be available and accessible, be a good listener, and want to make a difference in the life of a child.
As a mentor, you can participate in a wide variety of activities with your youth. Going to the movies, attending a sporting event, going to the beach. Teaching them how to fish, how to paint, how to knit. Play basketball, play cards or a board game. It can be as involved as tutoring them in mathematics or as simple as having a chat around the dinner table. The key is to be there and be involved.
There are many mentoring programs available throughout the country. The most well known is the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization. Their web site provides information and opportunities in your local area. There are also many mentoring programs based in local schools, churches, and non-profit organizations. To find local programs, you can also use the "Connect To Mentoring Opportunities" search available from the National Mentoring Partnership. In addition, information on mentoring and National Mentoring Month, along with mentoring opportunities, is available on the United We Serve web site and on the National Mentoring Month web site.
Being a mentor is not just a one-way street either. The pleasure you receive from helping others can be enormous. Opening up and allowing another person in your life can bring you as much fulfillment as the youth you are mentoring. As a mentor, the life you change could be your own.
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