Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about how and when Social Security determines someone to have turned 62, filing for retirement benefits at FRA before later spousal benefits and retroactive retirement benefits before survivor’s benefits. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc.
See more Ask Larry answers here.
Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.
In What Month Does Social Security Consider Me To Be 62?
Hi Larry, Social Security website says if your birthdate is on any day after the second day of the month, you are not that age for the entire month. You can start your benefits as of the following month. Your answer to a previous question says you can start your benefits in the month you turn the age you wish to initiate retirement benefits. Which is correct? Thanks, Chris
Hi Chris, With regard to Social Security retirement benefits, the only time when being of a certain age for an entire month is when a person turns age 62. The first month that you can collect retirement benefits is the first month that you are 62 for a whole month. Social Security counts people as reaching their next age on the day prior to their birthday, so a person born on November 2 1960 for example could claim retirement benefits as early as November 2022.
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You can also claim retirement benefits any month after the month you turn 62, in which case your birthday is irrelevant when calculating your benefit rate unless you were born on the first day of a month. In that case, Social Security considers you to have reached your next age on last day of the prior month prior to your birthday.
So for example, if a person reaches full retirement age (FRA) on November 29 2022 and they claim retirement benefits on any day in November 2022, they will be paid their full unreduced retirement benefit rate. Best, Larry
Would It Make Sense For My Wife To Apply For Her Own Benefits Now?
Hi Larry, I’m 63 and my wife is 65+ and eligible for Social Security. Her payments if taken now will be small, ~1,100 per month and mine are estimated at ~$4,000 if I work to 70. We both work, though her income is variable as a consultant.
Would it make sense for her to apply now given the little increase from waiting until 70? I understand she could actually receive spousal benefits based upon my work history and would like to understand its likelihood and how to apply for this. Thanks, Ronald
Hi Ronald, I don’t know how close your wife is to her full retirement age (FRA). but yes, based on the amounts cited in your question it sounds like your wife might want to claim her retirement benefits effective no later than the month she reaches full retirement age (FRA).
When you apply for your retirement benefits, your wife can apply for an excess spousal benefit, which will then be calculated by subtracting her primary insurance amount (PIA) from 50% of your PIA. A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA).
If your wife waited instead until 70 to start drawing her own benefits, then her eventual excess spousal rate would be calculated by subtracting her age 70 rate from 50% of your PIA. Therefore, if 50% of your PIA will be higher than your wife’s own rate even if she waited until 70 to start drawing, your wife’s combined benefit amount once she starts drawing an excess spousal benefit would be the same regardless of whether she had started drawing her own benefits at FRA or 70.
It sounds like you and your wife may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to ensure your household receives the highest lifetime benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry
If My Wife And I Both Wait Until Age 70 To Claim Our Benefits But If I Die Before Then, Could My Wife Claim Her Own Benefits Retroactively For Six Months And Then Start Widow’s Benefits?
Hi Larry, My wife and I are basically the same age and we both just reached FRA, her FRA retirement benefit is about $,1600 and mine is about $2,400. We do not plan to claim for either of us until 70. If I were to die say a year from now, could she file for retroactive benefits on her own record, collect six months payments and then file for her widow’s benefits and get whatever my monthly payment would be upon my death? Thanks, Arnold
Hi Arnold, Yes, since in the scenario you present your wife would be at least six months past her full retirement age (FRA) at the time of your death, she could file for six months of retroactive benefits on her own account and then claim widow’s benefits in your month of death.
And provided that you haven’t started drawing your benefits at the time of your death, your wife’s widow’s rate would be calculated based on the amount that you would have been paid if you had started drawing your benefits effective with your month of death. Best, Larry
Teacher, Police And Firefighter Pensions Are Being Secretly Looted By Wall Street
America’s severely underfunded public pensions are allocating ever-greater assets to the highest cost, highest risk, most secretive investments ever devised by Wall Street, such private equity, hedge funds, real estate, and commodities—all in a desperate search for higher net returns that, not surprisingly (given the outlandish fees and risks), fail to materialize. Transparency—public scrutiny and accountability—has been abandoned, as pensions agree to Wall Street secrecy schemes that eviscerate public records laws.
Our nation’s state and federal securities laws are premised upon full disclosure of all material risks and fees to investors: “Read the prospectus before you invest,” is the oft-cited warning by securities regulators. Nevertheless, teachers, police, firefighters and other government workers today are not allowed to see how their retirement savings are managed or, more likely, mismanaged by Wall Street.
For nearly a decade, the United States Securities and Exchange Commision has warned investors that malfeasance and bogus fees are commonplace in so-called “alternative” investments and, more recently, Chairman Gary Gensler has called for greater transparency to increase competition and lower fees.
Gensler has asked the agency’s staff to consider recommendations on ways to bring greater transparency to fee arrangements in private markets. “More competition and transparency could potentially bring greater efficiencies to this important part of the capital markets,” he said. “This could help lower the cost of capital for businesses raising money. This could raise the returns for the pensions and endowments behind the limited partner investors. This ultimately could help workers preparing for retirement and families paying for their college educations.”
Gensler has stated he would like to see a reduction in the fees these investments charge and has also commented on industry abuses such as ”side letters” which permit private funds to secretly give preferences to certain investors—preferences which harm public pensions.
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But that’s not good enough to protect public pension stakeholders.
No one—including the pensions themselves—seems to care that the government workers whose retirement security is at risk are being kept in the dark.
The SEC needs to do more—actually alert public pensioners as to those abuses the Commission knows full well are rampant, at a minumum. Advise them, Chairman Gensler, to demand to see and read prospectuses and other offering documents related to their hard-earned savings.
Does the SEC think it’s kosher for Wall Street to conspire with public pension officials to withhold this information from investors—any investors?
Since my 2013 forensic investigation of the Rhode Island state pension exposing gross mismanagement by then General Treasurer Gina Raimondo which I accurately predicted would cost workers dearly; my 2014 North Carolina state pension investigation exposing that $30 billion in assets had been moved into secretive, offshore accounts and, most recently, my investigation of the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, I have provided my expert findings to the SEC staff for their review. Each and every public pension forensic investigation I have undertaken has extensively discussed Wall Street secrecy schemes that enable looting. In my book, How To Steal A Lot Money—Legally, I quote disclosures from SEC filings that detail industry abuses.
Join me, Chairman Gensler, in giving government workers a clue, a glimpse, a peek, at the alternative investment abusive industry practices that are carefully guarded by Wall Street and being hidden from them.
Teachers, police and firefighters deserve a fighting chance to protect their retirement savings.
It Is Time To Buy Bonds
US 10-year note prices are likely to rise through August. The monthly histogram below shows that July and August have been the two strongest months for the note price.
Monthly Return- US 10-Year Notes
Blue: Average Percentage Change
Red: Probability of a rise on that day
Green: Expected Return (Product of the first 2)
These numbers are static in the sense that they change little over the years. This is only one cycle, the one-year cycle, whereas there are many cycles operative at any one time. In order to get a reading on such other rhythms, a scan is run to identify other profitable price cycles. The graph below reveals the most valuable cycles that are operative at any one time.
10-Year Note Monthly Cycle
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These cycles reinforce the seasonal tendency for notes to rise. Prices have risen in 60% to 65% of the time in these summer months. With the dynamic cycle also in ascent, the probabilities rise to about 65% to over 70%. There are similar and supportive developments in the Japanese and German fixed income markets.
The cycle projection must be confirmed by market activity. The daily graph reveals that price broke through a downtrend line.
10-Year Notes Broke Through Resistance
Here is a helpful sentiment indicator that supports the bullish view. The cover page of this week’s Barron’s points to much higher rates. Applying contrary opinion, this suggests lower rates and higher note and bond prices. The first objective is 123.0.
Will There Be War Over Taiwan – The Next Spy Thriller
I usually go through a rhythm of reading one or two serious books, followed by a few works of fiction and with summer on the way I wanted to highlight a few of both. In that regard I have just finished Laurence Durrell’s ‘White Eagles in Serbia’, an old-fashioned espionage thriller where the hero Colonel Methuen is dropped behind enemy lines in post war Serbia (he speaks excellent Serbo-Croat) and becomes embroiled in a violent plot to overthrow Tito.
The book is a warm-up to reading Durrell’s ‘The Alexandria Quartet’, a work that nearly won him the Nobel Prize. Durrell was part of an interesting Anglo-Irish family, who largely considered themselves Indian – his brother Gerald, the naturalist and writer, touches on this in ‘My Family and Other Animals’.
Though I am not an expert on these matters, I found ‘White Eagles’ a more realistic account of espionage than much of what we see in the media today (Mick Herron’s ‘Slow Horses’ is good), and overall it is a tale of derring-do that is more in keeping with the work of the founding fathers of the genre – Eric Ambler, John Buchan, Erskine Childers and Ted Allebury for example.
It also made opportune reading given what seems to be an epidemic of espionage – with reports of the Chinese hacking group APT40 using graduates to infiltrate Western corporates and notably the admission by the head of Switzerland’s intelligence that Russian espionage is rife in that country (notably in Geneva – for which readers should consult Somerset Maugham’s ‘Ashenden’ as background material).
These and other trends – such as the outbreak of a heavy cyber battle last week (against Lithuania and Norway for instance) and the increasingly public ‘clandestine’ war between Israel and Iran (they have just sacked their spy chief) point to a world that is ever more contested and complex.
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One of the new trends in the space is cyber espionage – both in the sense of stealing state and industrial/corporate secrets, influencing actors (such as the manipulation of the 2016 US Presidential election) and outright acts of hostility such as the hacking of public databases and utilities (i.e. healthcare systems). Here, if readers are looking for some serious literature I can recommend two excellent books – Nicole Perlroth’s ‘This is how they tell me the world ends’ and ‘Secret World’ by Christopher Andrew.
I am personally more intrigued by the difference between a spy and a strategist. A spy’s work could well be described as the pursuit of information about someone who is acting with a specific intent, as well as a sense of their reaction function. There are plenty of examples – from Christine Joncourt (‘La Putain de la Republique’) to Richard Sorge (see Owen Matthews’ ‘An Impeccable Spy’).
In contrast a strategist may try to plot trends and the opportunities, spillovers and damage they may cause. The US National Intelligence department is good in this regard, becoming the first major intelligence agency to publish detailed warnings on the side effects of climate damage.
Spies and strategists might work together, but history is full of examples (LC Moyzisch’s ‘Operation Cicero’) where intelligence fails to make it through the strategic process or is simply ignored for political reasons (might the early warnings on the invasion of Ukraine be an example).
In the spirit of the Durrells and Flemings of the world, what issues might be of interest in terms of digging into unknown knowns and unknown unknowns. Here are a few ideas, most of which are Asia focused (we might see an uptick in Asia focused thrillers).
On the diplomatic front, an interesting recent development was the visit of Indonesian president Joko Widodo to Ukraine, and then Moscow. It was a rare visit to Ukraine by an Asian leader and potentially marks the emergence or at least aspiration of Indonesia (population 273 million) as an emerging world diplomatic player. What has intrigued me so far is that there has been little coordination by the populous emerging (largely Muslim) nations (Nigeria, Indonesia, Pakistan) in the face of high energy and food prices, and that potentially Widodo could play a unifying role here.
Then, still in Asia, but on a more deadly footing, if the Western commentariat is to be believed, China is preparing an assault on Taiwan, and looking to learn from Russia’s military errors in this regard. Other countries are reacting, and I suspect that there will be much intrigue around Taiwan’s ability to acquire sufficiently powerful ballistic missiles that could strike the coastal cities of China, and relatedly how long might it take Japan to produce nuclear missiles (my sources say they could very ambitiously do it in five months!).
So, whilst the espionage literature of the 20th century has tended to be focused on Geneva, Berlin and London in the 21st century we may find ourselves reading about ‘behind the lines’ exploits in Jakarta and Tanegashima.
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