Tuesday, June 11, 2013
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Navigating the Social Security Maze
Work hard. Pay taxes. Collect Social Security in your retirement years. What could be more simple?
Intergalactic space travel, for one. The only aforementioned activity we are assured of is paying taxes. And that isn't simple by any means.
Social Security is a complex maze of formulas and algorithms that can leave even the most learned CPA crying for mama. There are more loopholes and rules for specific situations than a mere human can assimilate.
But we're still going to take a stab at discussing the more common among them.
First, the basics. The youngest age a U.S. citizen can begin collecting Social Security benefits is 62. You'll only be eligible for a portion of the total benefit available at full retirement age, and your amount will remain at that reduced level throughout your benefit history.
At one time, the age for full benefits was 65 for everyone. But changes enacted in the 1983 Social Security Amendments raised the full retirement age to be dependent on the year you were born. You guessed it.... another complex formula to calculate. It's easier to use the calculator on their website.
If you were born on January 1st of any year, use the previous year to determine eligibility. Likewise, if you were born on the first of any month, refer to the previous month.
Your spouse may collect benefits on your work history, even if they never worked a day in their life. Collective groan here as maintaining a household and nurturing relationships could actually be harder than leaving for the office to face the daily grind.
It was designed as a benefit for the spouse who often has lower lifetime earnings. Traditionally, it was the wife who is younger and would collect benefits over a longer period of time.
Generally, spousal benefits are available after the main wage earner has reached full retirement age. Your spouse may qualify for one-half of your full retirement amount if benefits on their own record don't equal quite as much. Their own record is evaluated first. If the spousal benefit is higher, they'll combine the benefits to equal the higher amount.
A permanent reduction will be made if benefits are collected before full retirement age. The calculator offered above will help you here, too.
The rules apply not only to your current spouse, but also an ex who did not remarry if that marriage lasted 10 years or longer.
Certain types of earnings can affect your Social Security benefits. For instance, those employed by the Federal government were covered under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) until 1984. Your earnings record will not include those years.
But those who were covered by its successor, the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), are covered by Social Security.
Conditions apply to farm workers, household employees, railroad workers, those self-employed, and a handful of other industries as well.
Certain types of pensions can also affect your benefits. Earnings from a federal, state or local government agency; a nonprofit organization; or in another country are not covered by Social Security. Your estimate may not be adjusted for this possibility.
Social Security benefits may be taxable, usually if you have other income in addition. Individual filers with a combined income between $25,000 and $34,000 may be taxed on up to 50% of their benefits. Over $34,000 and up to 85% of their benefits may be taxable.
Those married filing joint will be taxed on up to 50% percent of their benefits by earning between $32,000 and $44,000 combined income, up to 85% if they earn above $44,000.
For this purpose, combined income is the total of adjusted gross income, nontaxable interest and half of your Social Security benefits.
Specifics of Social Security are too convoluted to cover in a newsletter article. Consult your financial advisor for details on your personal situation.
My husband still teases me about the time I didn't want our vacation to end. Our plane was scheduled to depart a mere four hours later from an airport three hours away. And I was still in my bathing suit insisting on one last quick swim.
It was pre-September 11th so security checkpoint backups weren't an issue. But Miami traffic may have been.
We loved our tropical getaway so much we decided to make it our permanent home. Being a freelance writer has its perks, choosing to work in an exotic locale is one of them.
Boy, what an eye opener this has been. There is a ton of valuable information you will never find in a travel brochure.
But you will find it here.
School is out and a lot of you are planning your summer getaway. Take heed and make this vacation something to remember - in a good way.
We were more fortunate to have caught our flight than we realized at the time. Like a lot of remote locations, the only access is via a two-lane highway. An accident can close the road for extended periods of time. A major incident with fatalities can leave you stranded wherever you may be for up to five hours while the debris is cleaned up and the investigators do their thing.
Accidents are very common. People, like me, want to squeeze every minute out of their vacation. Then it's a frantic rush to the airport to catch their flight. They pass erratically and create mayhem.
Then there are those who get into vacation mode and forget vehicular traffic is real. And deadly. They'll wander out onto a street as if they're on the restricted grounds of a theme park. Or dart in front of moving cars on a bike or scooter. Accidents are very common.
If you have to be somewhere at a particular time, check traffic conditions and allow for sufficient time to get there. Add at least an extra 15 minutes for variables. Like a drawbridge opening.
Drivers, we love that you find local scenery breathtaking. But please, PLEASE, let a passenger handle the video camera. The same with still photos. Your job is to keep your hands on the wheel and remain focused on navigating the vehicle. You never know when someone late for their flight is approaching from the opposite direction and swerving into your lane to pass. Or you could be the one swerving because you are looking through the camera lens rather than the windshield.
Speaking of navigation, GPS has made a science out of this. But it is not perfect. Maps can be outdated. They can suggest your path through gated communities or other obstacles that don't appear in their source. Several times I've encountered confused tourists while walking my dog. Our street dead ends into the Gulf of Mexico. They can't get to the restaurant from here.
Towing your boat? Make sure your side mirrors extend past the width of the vessel. And that your trailer tires are rated for the size boat you're hauling.
If you're riveted by the turquoise water, majestic mountains or spectacular sunset, pull over and take a picture for a memory that will last forever. It will also give the long line of cars built up behind you a chance to get up to speed without passing dangerously.
Unless you are at a flea market, prices are what you see marked on the merchandise. We don't have haggling room. Our costs are higher than back home. Transportation alone is a huge factor. We're a smaller market area so can't take advantage of quantity discounts.
Do not complain about how much cheaper the same item costs back home. Our price may be higher, but our profit margin is lower. It's the price we pay for living somewhere folks actually want to be. Your grumbling makes us wish we were doing something different. Don't be surprised if the price is higher yet the next time you honor us with your presence.
Men: this one is for you. Don't be ashamed to ask a local for directions. You just might learn of a small restaurant with better food than those in your travel guide. Or a private little hideaway spot you'll only have to share with nature.
Vacation is a time to relax and unwind from the barrage of responsibilities tugging at you in daily life. Enjoy!
Tip of the Week
Don't waste frequent flier miles that you'll never use. Donate them to a charity. Fisher House has provided more than 36,000 tickets to wounded, injured and ill service members or their families through their Hero Miles program. Individual airlines partner with charities to aid the needs of their mission. Find details here.
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