Why Is It A Bad Idea to Take a Loan from My 401(k)?

Generally, it’s a really bad idea to take a loan from your 401(k).

Wealth Advisor’s recent article, “Why You Shouldn’t Take A 401(k) Loan,” lists some of the reasons why.

Many people who borrow from their 401(k)s wind up lowering or completely stopping their contributions, while they’re paying back the loans. This can mean the loss of 401(k) matching contributions, when their contribution rates fall below the maximum matched percentage.

Most people thinking about changing jobs don’t know that their outstanding 401(k) loan balance becomes due, when they leave their employer. Whether a job change is voluntary or involuntary, who among us has the financial resources available to pay back a 401(k) loan right away, if we leave our employer? As a result, many individual default.

However, the new tax law gives a little cushion, and you have until your tax return due date the next year. Plan balances that leave 401(k) plans due to loan defaults are rarely ever made up. That makes it less likely that loan defaulters will build sufficient retirement savings.

When you take a loan, it becomes one of your investments in your 401(k) plan account. If you were to take a $10,000 loan for five years at a 6% interest rate, that portion of your 401(k) balance will earn a 6% return for five years.

However, if your loan balance had been invested in one of the other investment options in your plan, you may have earned a lot more. Instead, look into taking a home equity loan first, because interest on those loans is tax-deductible.

Easy availability of a 401(k) loan can frequently make a bad financial situation worse. It can push you into bankruptcy and/or resulting in the loss of your home.

It is clear that 401(k) loans can significantly reduce your chances of achieving retirement preparedness.  It is also one of the worst investments you can make in your 401(k) account.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (February 4, 2019) “Why You Shouldn’t Take A 401(k) Loan”

Suggested Key Terms: 401(k), Financial Planning

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This is the Year to Complete Your Estate Plan!

Your estate plan is an essential part of preparing for the future. It can have a dramatic effect on your family’s future financial situation. Estate planning can also have a significant impact on your tax liability immediately. Utah Business’s article, “5 Estate Planning Tips For 2019,” helps us with some tips.

Your Will. If you have a will, you’re ahead of more than half of the people in the U.S. Remember, however, that estate planning isn’t a one-time thing. It’s an ongoing process that requires making sure your plan reflects your current wishes and financial situation. You should review your will at least every few years. However, there are also some life events that should trigger a review, regardless of when the last review occurred. These include marriage, divorce, the birth or adoption of a child or grandchild, an inheritance, a large financial loss and the loss of a spouse.

A Trust. Anyone can create a trust, and it has real estate planning advantages. You can use a trust to pass assets to heirs and other beneficiaries, just like you could with a will. However, assets passed through a trust don’t need to go through probate. Using a trust to transfer assets provides privacy.

The Current Tax Breaks. The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act gives us some significant tax cuts in 2019, such as a temporary doubled lifetime exclusion for the gift and estate tax, temporary exemptions from the generation-skipping transfer tax, higher annual gift limits and charitable contribution deductions. To see if you can use of any of these tax benefits, speak to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Talk to an Attorney for a Review of Your Estate Plan. It’s important to remember that estate planning is complicated. You should, therefore, develop a comprehensive estate plan with the help of an experienced attorney. Don’t be tempted to use an online legal do-it-yourself service to save a few dollars, because any mistakes you make could have a big impact on you and your family’s financial future.

Every state has its own laws regarding the formalities required to create a valid will. If you fail to follow any of these, a court may declare your will invalid during probate. Your entire estate will then be distributed according to the laws of intestate succession. These laws may not reflect your wishes for the distribution of your estate. Meeting with an attorney will make certain that your estate planning documents are in order. It will also help you to identify your goals and ensure that your assets are protected and transferred in the most efficient way possible.

Reference: Utah Business (February 5, 2019) “5 Estate Planning Tips For 2019”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Trusts, Probate Court, Inheritance, Intestacy, Tax Planning

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Being Forward-Thinking About Assisted Living to Avoid a Crisis

We always think there will be time to plan for assisted living, until something happens and then we are facing an emergency. When a loved one is discharged from the hospital and can’t return home, there’s little or no time to find the right place for them to live. As Next Avenue advises in the article “Planning Ahead for Assisted Living,” don’t wait for the emergency.

Many people deal with assisted living this way. Adult children uproot their lives and relocate to be near their aging parents. Spouses feel helpless when their husbands or wives refuse to even consider moving to a facility, yet they are not safe at home.

The senior often pushes back against leaving their home, which is understandable. However, when illness or aging takes a toll, it’s just a matter of time before they understand, usually the hard way.

One woman was the very model of aging-in-place, until turning 85. Then illnesses and a chronic condition started making it hard for her to move around. When she was taken to the hospital, she had to take a clear look at her situation. It was distressing, but she realized she had to make a change.

By 2030, the number of Americans age 65 and older is expected to increase dramatically, and for the first time in our country’s history, the number of older Americans will be higher than the number of children.

We may not know what life has in store for us. However, we can plan ahead.

Some people start looking at CCRCs–Continuing Care Retirement Communities. These are facilities that include independent living, assisted living and nursing home care, all on the same property. Some have secured memory care for those living with dementia.

Research the costs, policies, and programs of the long-term facilities you may be considering. There are different services offered. Assisted living facilities are state-licensed housing communities that offer residents a range of services. They usually do not offer medical care. A skilled nursing facility/nursing home will have medical services.

Services in assisted living communities vary. Some offer meals and help with bathing, dressing and mobility, medication management, education and social activities. They may be large or small, with residential homes, where three or four residents live with a paid caregiver. Those are known as “adult foster homes.” Others are “assisted living homes,” which usually have 10 or so residents. In these facilities, the caretakers don’t live in the house, but 24-hour care is provided.

Here are some questions to ask, when visiting assisted living communities:

  • Is the facility clean? Does it smell?
  • What is the culture and atmosphere of the place?
  • Are the residents and employees smiling, or does everyone look downcast?

It is recommended that people visit the facility several times, at different times, to get a better sense of the facility.  You should also eat in the dining room a few times. Are people friendly? How is the quality of the food? Set up a meeting with the people who run the facility and your family members.

Don’t dismiss the concerns of your loved ones when visiting facilities. They need to be comfortable, and it’s very important for them to have a voice in making this decision.

Reference: Next Avenue (Jan. 21, 2019) “Planning Ahead for Assisted Living”

Suggested Key Terms: Assisted Living Facility, Skilled Nursing, Continuing Care Retirement Communities, CCRC, Residents, Caretakers

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Will Stepmother Take Dad’s Money When He Dies?

Here’s a savvy and responsible stepmother—she called for a meeting with the estate planning attorney. At age 57, married to a 72-year old man with three kids from his first marriage and two kids from their marriage, she wanted to make sure that his wealth didn’t become a source of agitation for the family, when he passed. That, says Forbes, typifies how the “new” American family has changed, in the article “How Long Will Stepmom Live? And Other Vexing Estate Planning Questions for Modern Families.”

The stepmother did not want to be seen as rapacious or coming between the kids and their inheritance.

The solution was as follows: money for the stepmother was left to a marital trust with provisions for her benefit, while the children received accelerated inheritances through a series of Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs), a qualified personal residence trust for a vacation compound and annual exclusion gifts.

Here’s another example: a male descendent of a wealthy family acknowledged that he had fathered a child without being married to the child’s mother. He had to seek legal determination to ensure that the child would be cared for.

Welcome to today’s new family. They include three-parent families, artificial reproductive heirs and blended families. These are all hot issues in the world of estate planning and attorneys are now addressing these new dynamics.

There are five basic questions that must be addressed when creating an estate plan today:

Who? Who gets your money and your stuff?

How much? How will it be divided among heirs?

When? Will it be at a specific age, or just when you die?

Outright versus in trust? With a trustee, you name a person who will control your assets.

Who represents you? An agent and a fiduciary, with a power of attorney who acts on your behalf, if you become incapacitated, an executor who is in charge of administering your estate, and a trustee who manages any trusts created.

Modern families don’t want old-school estate planning solutions. They want to know that their estate plan will work for their situation, which may not match the old “Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, Brother” construct. So, how should you handle the distribution of wealth for non-traditional families? If a child dies, and a live-in partner is rearing the children, should there be money for the children in a trust? What about taking care of the surviving partner, even if they were not married?

What about late-in-life marriages? If there’s a huge gap in years between grandparents and grandchildren, how will family wealth be passed down? Funding 529 trusts is one answer, and trusts are another. If the age gap is so big that grandparents never meet their grandchildren, a statement of intent in documents can be used to convey the goals and wishes the grandparents have for their grandchildren.

Providing for all children equally isn’t always the goal of the modern family. Some might think their ex-spouse will provide for children and leave them fewer assets than they would have, if that were not a factor. However, don’t assume that, even if you can’t have that conversation with your ex. If your intention is to distribute assets in unequal portions, you may save your loved ones a lot of pain and fighting, by either talking with them about it while you are still living or leaving a letter behind explaining your decision-making process.

It’s hard to tell what changes will come to families in the future, but one thing will remain the same: the need for an estate plan, done with the guidance of an experienced estate planning attorney, is essential.

Reference: Forbes (Jan. 29, 2019) “How Long Will Stepmom Live? And Other Vexing Estate Planning Questions for Modern Families”

Suggested Key Terms: Wills, Trusts, Beneficiaries, Marital Trust, Inheritances, Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts, Blended Families, Estate Planning

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How Seniors Can Avoid Spam Phone Calls

Seniors are the victims of financial fraud in alarming numbers. One of the favorite tools of scammers is the telephone. There are about four million robocalls an hour in the United States, and untold numbers of calls from live telemarketers.

Experts tell us not to answer the phone, if we do not recognize the caller. However, if your phone sends missed calls to voice mail, the spammer will likely call back, now that he knows it is a working number. Experts offer some savvy solutions on how seniors can avoid spam phone calls and cut these annoying calls by more than 90 percent.

Know When to be on Your Guard

If you live in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, and Birmingham, Alabama, you are in a frequently-targeted area. Spammers tend to make their highest number of robocalls on Tuesdays and Fridays. Of course, anyone living anywhere can get robocalls and phone calls from live con artists on any day of the week.

Know Who is Calling

The largest cell phone service providers offer features that can help you identify who is calling. These features are usually at little or no charge, but you should check the cost with your company.

Block the Spammers

Let’s say someone whose number you do not recognize called you. You did not answer. Instead, you Googled the phone number and discovered that many people had reported the caller as a spammer. You can block that number on your cell phone, so all future calls from that number will not even ring. Of course, professional scammers use multiple phone numbers, but just keep blocking them as they cycle through their numbers.

You can block “anonymous” and “private” numbers on your landline, by pressing *77. To deactivate the blocking, press *87.

Some services like YouMail and RoboKiller will filter your calls for free, and for a nominal fee, you can get the ad-free version of the apps. You can select various options to tailor the app to your needs and preferences.

If You Do Not Want to Block Callers

You still have options if you do not want to let calls go to voice mail, use a spam blocker app, or pay for caller ID. A low-tech solution that anyone can perform is to go ahead and take the call, but do not say anything, not a single word. Here is how it works:

  1. You pick up the phone but do not say “hello” or anything else. Usually, the robocall/telemarketer phone system will automatically hang up within a few seconds.
  2. If there is actually a “live” person on the other end of the call, remain silent. Wait out the person, so he or she speaks first. If you do not know the person or recognize the voice or you realize that it is an unwanted call, just hang up without saying anything.
  3. Another tactic is to keep a portable tape recorder next to your phone and, instead of speaking, play a recording to spammers that says that your number is not in service. Just make sure you do not talk to the caller.

Just Stay Safe

Whatever technique you choose to deal with telephone con artists, keep yourself and your money safe. Do not give any personal or financial information to a caller. Do not give your credit card or checking account numbers over the phone.

If someone calls you, claiming to be from the IRS, the electric company, your mortgage lender, or anyone else demanding payment or offering you a deal that sounds too good to be true, just hang up. These are almost always fraudulent calls. Legitimate businesses will send you a mailing, not try to get your information or money over the phone.

The laws in every state are different, so you should speak with an elder law attorney in your area.

References:

AARP. “5 Ways to Stop Spam Calls.” (accessed January 8, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2018/tips-to-stop-spam-calls.html

Suggested Key Terms: stop the spam calls, how to block telemarketers, tips to avoid phone scams

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Just What are the Responsibilities of a Financial POA?

The concept of a power of attorney sounds simple but there is a lot to know about this important part of an estate plan, says the Rushville Republican in “Financial power of attorney responsibilities.” Whether you are named as someone’s power of attorney or you are considering who to name on your behalf, it is important to understand the terminology, the role and the responsibilities.

The person who signs the POA is called the “principal” and the person to whom authority is given, is often referred to as the “attorney in fact” or the “agent.”

What powers are given to the person who becomes the agent? In some POAs, there are limits placed on the person, but in most cases the power is “general.” In these cases, the agent can do whatever the individual would do. That includes opening bank accounts, buying and selling property, managing investments, filing taxes, cashing checks and closing accounts. An agent is a considered a fiduciary of the principal, which means that he has a legal duty to act in the principal’s best interest.

The agent may not change the principal’s will and he is not permitted to transfer such authority to act as an agent for the principal to anyone else, unless specifically authorized in the POA itself.

There are different types of POAs. When they become effective, depends on their type.  A financial POA is typically effective the moment it’s signed by the principal. However, a “springing” POA becomes effective, only when a specific event, which is described in the POA document, takes place. If the springing POA is to take effect when the principal becomes incapacitated, usually one or more physicians must agree that the principal can no longer make decisions on their own behalf. If you have been named a POA, talk with the principal about their intentions.

The POA generally is not recorded in a courthouse. If you are signing a document for the principal that does have to be recorded with the county, like a deed to a house, then you will need to present and record the POA with the county recorder, before the document can be recorded. The laws in your state or county may be different, so check with your estate planning attorney to be certain.

Some people decide to have more than one agent. It’s not unusual, but it can lead to some complications. The wording should include the agents being appointed “severally,” so that they can act independently of one another, if that is appropriate under the circumstances. If one person is on the West Coast while the principal and another agent live on the East Coast, not having the ability to act independently could create problems for the agent and the principal.

The POA should remember to keep his assets and the principal’s assets separate. Money should not be intermingled in bank accounts or investment accounts. This is a very important point, since the fiduciary responsibility is a serious matter. The POA can be changed or revoked by the principal at any time, as long as she is mentally competent.

The POA ends with the death of the principal. It is meant to be used as a helpful tool, while the person is living. After the person dies, the executor takes over as the personal representative of the person’s estate.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about making the decisions as to who should be your Power of Attorney. This is a very important role and it must be someone who you can trust implicitly and who is also willing to take on the responsibilities.

Reference: Rushville Republican (Jan. 22,2019) “Financial power of attorney responsibilities”

Suggested Key Terms: Power of Attorney, Estate Planning Attorney, Principal, Agent, Fiduciary

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How Can I Goof Up My Estate Plan?

There are several critical errors you can make that will render an estate plan invalid. Many of these can be easily avoided, by examining your plan periodically and keeping it up to date.

Investopedia’s article, “5 Ways to Mess Up Estate Planning” gives us a list of these common issues.

Not Updating Beneficiary Designations. Be certain those to whom you intend to leave your assets are clearly named on the proper forms. Whenever there’s a life change, update your financial, retirement, and insurance accounts and policies, as well as your estate planning documents.

Forgetting Key Legal Documents. Revocable living trusts are the primary vehicle used to keep some assets from probate. However, having only trusts without a will can be a mistake—the will is the document where you designate the guardian of your minor children, if something should happen to you and/or your spouse.

Bad Recordkeeping. Leaving a mess is a headache. Your family won’t like having to spend time and effort finding, organizing and locating your assets. Draft a letter of instruction that tells your executor where everything is located, the names and contact information of your banker, broker, insurance agent, financial planner, attorney etc.. Make a list of the financial websites you use with their login information, so your accounts can be accessed.

Faulty Communication. Telling your heirs about your plans can be made easier with a simple letter of explanation that states your intentions, or even tells them why you changed your mind about something. This could help give them some closure or peace of mind, even though it has no legal authority.

Not Creating a Plan. This last one is one of the most common. There are plenty of stories of extremely wealthy people who lose most, if not all, of their estate to court fees and legal costs, because they didn’t have an estate plan.

These are just a few of the common estate planning errors that happen. For more information on how to be certain your assets will be dispersed according to your wishes, talk with a qualified estate planning attorney.

Reference: Investopedia (September 30, 2018) “5 Ways to Mess Up Estate Planning”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Wills, Guardianship, Revocable Living Trust, Probate Court, Inheritance, Beneficiary Designations, Transfer on Death (TOD) Accounts, Letter of Instruction, Executor

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Should Older Millennials Buy Life Insurance?

We’re all going to die someday. That’s one of the only certainties in life, along with taxes. However, a recent study by Budget Insurance found that 82% of millennials don’t know the purpose of life insurance—despite the fact they’re aging, starting families and dealing with more complex financial situations.

Forbes’ article, “Why Older Millennials Need To Start Taking Life Insurance Seriously,” notes that, although most millennials may not have given life insurance much thought before, it’s now time to begin taking life insurance and other estate planning more seriously. To help with this, more companies are starting to take millennials seriously, when it comes to financial matters. The result? It’s getting easier than ever before to get life insurance.

Life insurance is used to protect your family financially, in case of your death. That is important for millennials who are starting families that depend on them financially.

According to Pew Research, 60% of families depend on dual incomes and just 31% of families rely on a single income.  A total of 91% of families in the U.S. require the income of at least one spouse to survive. However, what happens if one (or both) die? That’s where life insurance comes into play.

Because millennials are still relatively young, getting life insurance is very cost effective. In addition, for the vast majority of millennials, a simple term life insurance policy will do the job.

Term life policies are very inexpensive and can be a financial relief, if they’re ever actually needed.

It’s possible to get a $1,000,000 term life insurance policy for about $40 per month, depending on your age and health. That is quite a bit of insurance for little expense.

With the increase in millennials who require life insurance, many insurance companies are making buying life insurance very easy.

These companies have online or app-based solutions that focus on speed and ease of use. These companies leverage technology and keep human interaction to a level that most millennials like.

Reference: Forbes (January 26, 2019) “Why Older Millennials Need To Start Taking Life Insurance Seriously”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning, Life Insurance, Millennials

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Downsizing Boomers Find Help from Senior Move Management Companies

When faced with the task of pulling up roots and moving her family from a big midwestern city to a smaller town, Laura Schulman found it overwhelming. However, she did enjoy some of the tasks, including handling all the details of organizing and packing and setting up a new home. Nine years later, she decided to start a company that would help seniors downsize, before moving to smaller homes, apartments or assisted living facilities.

As reported in Columbus CEO’s article Estate Planning and Retirement: How to Downsize Like a Diva,” Schulman and her team at A Moving Experience take the work and worry out of a move, so seniors can focus on the emotional challenges that come with this kind of move. When people are not at their physical best, downsizing can be extremely upsetting. It can get to the point, where many people wait until the very last minute and then panic sets in.

Her company is one of many senior move management companies that help seniors with this transition. The companies organize possessions, create a floor plan for new residences, schedule and oversee moving companies, handle any sales or donations of items that are no longer needed or wanted and even pack and unpack after the move.

What’s just as important: they provide the seniors with the emotional support needed during a very trying time. It’s not easy to be faced with the reality that they must leave their home after decades or even a lifetime. Equally upsetting: coming to terms with the limitations of aging.

Children and family members may not be as sensitive to their parent’s emotions about a move like this, or they may be equally uncomfortable. Having a non-family professional may serve as a buffer and a facilitator for everyone.

The increase in the number of these types of companies is due to the enormous number of Baby Boomers entering retirement. Most will be downsizing, as they leave one-family homes and move to smaller living spaces. With 10,000 turning 65 everyday, a projected 79 million Americans will be 65 or older by 2030. Clearly, aging is a big business.

Senior moving management charges range in pricing from $40 to $120 per person nationwide, with the average price for help costing around $3,000, plus the charge of the moving company.

The money is considered well-spent by many. One family called on a senior moving company, when their mother had to leave her long-time home in one state and relocate to an independent senior living community near family members in another state. The siblings reported that they needed help from someone who would be patient and understand the process their mother was going through. The senior mover worked to make the new home layout, as close to the mother’s original house as possible.

Nonprofit organizations are also getting involved in helping seniors move, with several agencies helping seniors, who can’t afford the services of a private company.

Reference: Columbus CEO (Jan. 21, 2019) Estate Planning and Retirement: How to Downsize Like a Diva”

Suggested Key Terms: Baby Boomers, Downsizing, Estate Planning, Retirement, Relocate, Moving

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Social Security Benefits ‘Restricted Application’

Don’t confuse “Restricted Application” with the “Claim and Suspend” strategy. Many people confuse the two, according to an article appearing in Forbes titled “Put Thousands In Your Pocket By Taking Advantage Of the Social Security ‘Restricted Application’.” One thing these tactics do have in common: you’ll need to be at your Full Retirement Age, or FRA, to use them.

The use of the ‘Claim and Suspend” strategy, ended on April 30, 2016. You would have needed to have been born before May 1, 1950. This let a person have Spouse #1 claim their benefit and then immediately suspend that benefit, allowing it to grow by 32% using delayed retirement credits. That allowed Spouse #2 to apply for and receive Spousal Benefits. In this case, Spouse #1 was not receiving a monthly benefit and Spouse #2 was.

However, that’s history. Let’s examine what you might be able to do: the ‘Restricted Application.’

To use this strategy, you need to have been born before Jan. 2, 1954 and have reached FRA. The restricted application is similar to claim and suspend, with one big difference: Spouse #1 needs to be receiving their Social Security benefit, in order for Spouse #2 to collect a spousal benefit. As of this writing, for one spouse to receive a spousal benefit, the other spouse must be receiving their benefit. Both spouses cannot receive spousal benefits at the same time.

Here’s what the Social Security Program Operations Manual says:

When a claimant is eligible for more than one benefit at the time of filing, he or she may, for any reason, choose to limit or restrict the scope of the application to exclude a class of benefits unless there is an exception. The reason may be to receive higher current benefits or to maximize the amount of benefits over a period-of-time, including the effect of delayed retirement credits (DRC). For additional information on DRCs, see RS 00615.690.

Using the restricted application works best, if the lower earning spouse claims their Social Security benefits, when the higher earning spouse reaches their FRA.

Here’s an example:

The husband’s primary benefit is $2,650 and his birthday is June 15, 1953.

The wife’s primary benefit is $1,000 and her birthday is June 15, 1955.

Because he was born before January 2, 1954, he can use the restricted application, when he reaches full retirement age. She can never use the restricted application because she was born after that date.

She begins taking her own benefits based on her earnings record at age 64, when he reaches his FRA. She only gets $855, because she is filing before her FRA.

He then files a restricted application for spousal benefits only in the amount of $500 in June 2019, when he is at his FRA of 66 years of age. He gets one half of her FRA benefit.

He then switches to his own benefit based on his earnings record in the amount of $3,498 in June 2023 at age 70. His benefit is 32% higher, because of earning delayed retirement credits.

She adds $325 in spousal benefits to her own benefit of $855, for a total of $1,180 in June 2023, when she is 68.

Now that he has filed for his own worker benefit, she can file for her spousal benefit. When he dies in June 2038, she switches to survivor benefits for $3,498, which is the amount he was receiving when he passed away. Her benefit of $1,180 goes away.

This strategy does three things:

  • Maximizes the higher earner’s benefit,
  • Coordinates benefits between the spouses, and
  • Maximizes the survivor benefits.

It takes advance planning and attention to detail, but this strategy could have a big difference in the total benefits that the couple receives. Is it worth doing the math? Definitely!

Reference: Forbes (Jan. 21, 2019) “Put Thousands In Your Pocket By Taking Advantage Of the Social Security ‘Restricted Application’”

Suggested Key Terms: Social Security, Restricted Application, Claim and Suspend, Spousal Benefits, Claims

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