October 2020
Cocheco Elder Law Associates: Lawyer for Life - Keeping your family healthy, wealthy and wise

In This Issue

10 Ways To Maximize Your Social Security Benefits

How to Avoid COVID-19 Scams

A Personal Note From Tom

10 Ways To Maximize Your
Social Security Benefits

Your payments from Social Security are determined by the amount of money you earn and pay into Social Security while working as well as the age at which you begin taking benefits. In addition, married individuals are eligible for spousal and survivor benefits.

There are a number of ways to increase the amount you ultimately receive from Social Security. A recent article in U.S. News & World Report explores this topic. Here are the strategies discussed in the article, some of which may surprise you.

Work for at least 35 years

The Social Security Administration (SSA) calculates payments using a person’s 35 highest-earning years. People who don’t work for 35 years or more will have “zeros” factored into the SSA’s calculation, which can significantly reduce payments.

Earn a higher salary

The more you earn and pay into Social Security, the larger your benefit payment. It is important to note, however, that in 2020 the taxable maximum income amount is $137,700.

Earnings above the taxable maximum are not subject to Social Security taxes, nor are they used to calculate your benefit. In addition, if you are now earning more than you did earlier in your career, working an extra year could increase your future payments.

Wait until your full retirement age before claiming Social Security

For people born in 1960 or later, the full retirement age is 67. If you were born before 1960, your full retirement age is 66. Taking benefits before full retirement age reduces your monthly payment.

For example, taking benefits at age 62 will lower your monthly payments by 25% if your full retirement age is 66. If your full retirement age is 67, taking benefits at age 62 will lower your monthly payment by 30%.

Wait until age 70 to claim Social Security

If you delay taking benefits until you are 70 years old, you will accrue credits that increase your monthly payment by 8% for each year you wait beyond your full retirement age. This incentive does not apply after you turn 70, however.

Suspend your Social Security payments

If you have already started taking reduced benefits, it’s possible to suspend them and, as a result, increase your monthly payments in the future. This approach will increase your benefit by 8% for each year of suspension until age 70, or as much as 32% if you suspend payments for four years.

Reimburse the SSA for benefits you have already received

You have 12 months from the date you signed up for Social Security benefits to withdraw your application and repay any benefits you and your family have received. Why would you consider doing this? By reapplying for benefits at a later date, your monthly payments will be larger due to the fact that you have delayed taking them. Please be aware, however, that this option can only be used once.

Utilize a “spousal benefits” strategy

Married individuals can claim Social Security payments of up to 50% of their spouse’s benefit if that amount is larger than their own payment. You must sign up for spousal payments at your full retirement age to get the full 50%, however, spousal payments are reduced if you claim them before full retirement age. Also, ex-spouses are eligible for spousal payments if the marriage lasted 10 years or longer.

Maximize your survivor benefits

For married couples, when one spouse passes away the surviving spouse can inherit the decedent’s Social Security payment if that amount is higher than his or her own monthly payment. Married couples can boost the surviving spouse’s future benefit by having the higher earner delay taking Social Security benefits.

Claim survivor benefits for children

Children of a deceased worker can qualify for Social Security payments until they turn 18 (or 19 if the child is a full-time high school student). In addition, a widow or widower who is caring for a dependent child under the age of 16, or caring for a child who developed a disability before age 22, can qualify for payments.

Try to estimate how long you are likely to live

Determining when to take Social Security benefits depends on a number of factors including, of course, whether or not you can afford to wait. Another key factor is longevity. If you have a major health problem, you may want to begin receiving benefits as soon as possible. If you are healthy, and long life runs in your family, you may want to wait before taking benefits, thereby maximizing your monthly payment.

Read the entire U.S. News & World Report article

How to Avoid COVID-19 Scams

As if coping with the challenges wrought by the pandemic wasn’t difficult enough, we must also contend with scammers looking to profit from it. The Justice Department has provided the following advice about avoiding COVID-related scams.

  • Closely scrutinize and independently verify any individual, charity, or company that contacts you on matters pertaining to COVID-19
  • Double-check websites and email addresses that offer products, services, and even general information related to COVID-19. Scammers often use addresses that are similar to those belonging to the legitimate entities they are impersonating
  • Unsolicited emails offering supplies or treatments for COVID-19, or that request personal information for “medical” purposes, should raise a red flag. Legitimate health authorities do not contact the public in this manner
  • Do not open email attachments or click on links from unknown or unverified sources. This could result in a virus being downloaded onto your device and damaging it
  • Make sure your computer’s antivirus and anti-malware software is operating and up-to-date
  • Ignore offers of COVID-19 vaccines, cures, or treatments from suspicious sources. If a vaccine does indeed become available, you will not hear about it first from an online ad or cold call
  • Check the online reviews of companies that offer products or services related to COVID-19. If there are numerous complaints, avoid that company
  • Carefully research charities and crowdfunding sites that solicit donations for matters pertaining to COVID-19. Just because an organization has slick promotional materials or words such as “government” in its name does not mean the organization is legitimate
  • Be careful about any individual, charity, or business requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, or through the use of a gift card. Do not use these methods to send money
  • Think twice about “investment opportunities” related to COVID-19, particularly those based on claims by small companies that their products and/or services can stop the virus

Read more about COVID-19 scams on AARP’s website

A Personal Note From Tom

Incorporate the Power of Positive Thinking Into Your Estate Plan

Scientific studies have found a wide range of benefits from a positive outlook and positive thinking. Happy people tend to be more successful, healthier, and live longer. In this pandemic, too many of us are focused on worst-case scenarios and gloomy predictions. If you can resist the pull of negativity and embrace the power of positive thinking, you can increase your own wellbeing as well as that of your children or other beneficiaries by creating an estate plan designed to promote their happiness. The legacy you create will enable your children and beneficiaries to live healthier and more prosperous lives.

During this time of crisis, a positive attitude is more important than ever. We can help you identify the ways you can incorporate positivity into your estate planning. The result will provide you with the assurance and peace of mind that you are providing your family with financial security and are leaving a positive legacy. The legacy you create will foster your loved ones’ well-being and future success.

Please call us today to schedule a meeting so we can discuss how you can best achieve your positive estate planning goals. We are prepared to meet with you in person, over the phone or video conference if you desire.