Downs Law Firm, P.C.

SSI recipient

How Will New Legislation Update SSI?

Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives are looking to significantly increase that ceiling, with a bill introduced this month that would raise SSI’s asset limit to $10,000 for an individual and $20,000 for couples.

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Social Security Scams

Receiving Social Security? Beware of Scammers

Scammers work to create weaknesses, including fear. Scammers have increased targeting people who receive Social Security, to the extent that complaints have increased 1,000% over the past year, according to Fox 6 Now in “‘The people who are calling have some pretty good tricks up their sleeve:’ Social security scam calls spiking.” Ketti Bingen received a phone call telling her that someone had found a car by the side of the road somewhere in Texas that was registered in her name. They told her there was blood on the car, and when they went to the address the car was registered to, they found a massive number of illegal drugs. The caller had the last four digits of her Social Security number. They wanted her to divulge her name and date of birth. The caller advised her to file for a new Social Security number. Lucky for her, she knew enough to hang up. Not all Americans are that smart. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission heard from 3,200 people who were taken hook, line, and sinker–to the tune of $210,000 each in this scam. In 2018, 35,000 people were fooled. The total loss: $10 million. The Wisconsin Consumer Protection agency and agencies across the country repeat the message: the Social Security Administration does not call and demand money from people. It never makes threats, warns of an impending arrest or demands that people send gift cards. If the Social Security Administration wants to reach out to people, they do so by mail. Another reason people fall prey to these phone scams is that the caller IDs on their phones appear to be coming from the government agencies. However, that’s also a scam. It is now relatively easy to “spoof” a phone number, or make it appear that the number the scammer is calling from has a different caller ID number. If you are worried about someone calling your home claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, you can call the Social Security Administration’s dedicated fraud bureau. Reference: Fox 6 Now (Jan. 27, 2019)“‘The people who are calling have some pretty good tricks up their sleeve:’ Social security scam calls spiking”

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easy target for scammers

Breach of Social Security Accounts on the Increase

Since Social Security is a target, it is best to be prepared and to be protected. Unfortunately scammers are relentless and merciless. Theft from Social Security is increasing. One way to help prevent it, is to create your account now, according to Next Avenue in  “Protect Yourself Against Social Security Identity Theft.” Opening your account can be considered as a preemptive strike against theft. The advice is relative, because everyone should go to the Social Security website and create an account, if they haven’t already. It’s a gateway to many online services from the Social Security Administration. If you don’t set up your account, there is a greater chance that someone can set one up using your name. One woman took this advice, since anyone who is older than 18 and has a Social Security number, and email and a mailing address, is allowed to open an account, even if they are decades away from claiming any benefits. However, within nine months of doing so, she received an email from the Social Security Administration saying they were deactivating her account. What happened? She hadn’t done anything. No one else, as far as she knew, had access to the account. Therefore, she called the Social Security Administration and requested a direct deposit block on her account. This did two things: it prevented changes to direct deposit information through a financial institution or through the Social Security website. It also stops anyone who might be trying to change a mailing address. Some further research resulted in information about what might have happened. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group website reports that with a name, birth date and Social Security number, a thief can try to open an account in your name and then change your direct deposit information to their checking account. It’s not that hard to gather that information online. A 2018 report from the Javelin Strategy and Research firm found that nearly 30% of Americans were notified of a breach of their accounts in 2017. That’s up from 12% in 2016 and cost $16.8 billion dollars. Scammers have shifted tactics. One consumer helpline reports that there have been fewer complaints about people impersonating IRS agents demanding money and an increase of complaints about people impersonating Social Security Administration representatives. How can you protect yourself? If you haven’t already done so, sign up for a “my Social Security” account. Check it on a regular basis to monitor your address information or date of birth. If you see any information that has changed or is wrong, contact the Social Security Administration immediately. If there’s any fraud or identity theft, you may also want to contact fraud hotlines at the Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General, the Federal Trade Commission and the Senate Select Committee on Aging. Reference: Next Avenue (Jan. 17, 2019) “Protect Yourself Against Social Security Identity Theft”

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Age gap in retirement

Taking a Couple’s Age Gap into Retirement Considerations

If you don’t marry someone close in age, your estate plan may require a closer look. When a couple has an age gap, there may be some special challenges ahead, when it comes to estate planning, according to The Washington Post in “How will a couple’s retirement look when there’s a big age gap?” Not only are men who have recently remarried more likely to have a spouse who is younger, said one researcher, in many cases they are marrying women who are much younger. Twenty percent of newly married men wed women who are at least 10 years younger than themselves and another 18% marry women who are six to nine years younger. By comparison, just 5% of men in their first marriage marry women who are 10 years younger. For women, the likelihood of having a far younger spouse is very low. That big age gap can be a big factor in decisions about when you retire, when spouses take Social Security and in planning how much money the couple needs to save and how to invest their savings. Since women tend to outlive men, it’s especially important for retirement savings to last longer, when the wife is much younger than her husband. When to retire is one of the big questions. Long-term care considerations, health insurance and other health costs become more significant, when there’s a younger spouse. Couples with big age gaps need to have a plan that accommodates the partner with the longest life expectancy. Therefore, a 70-year-old husband and a 56-year-old wife need to plan for their portfolio to last over the wife’s longer life span. That could be 30 years, especially if she has good health and a family history of longevity. If the older partner had a higher income level over his working career, delaying Social Security filing past full retirement age to age 70 could be extremely important. It will enlarge the higher-earning spouse’s benefit and it will also enhance the lifetime benefits for the surviving spouse. If there is a big age gap between you and your partner, you’ll need to have a lot of discussions about the issues that retirement and retirement planning brings. An estate planning attorney, coordinating with a financial advisor well versed in Social Security options, can advise you in creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances. Reference: The Washington Post (Oct. 22, 2018) “How will a couple’s retirement look when there’s a big age gap?”

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Early Social Security

Early Social Security Means a Smaller Check

Bad news in the media can spark people to take Social Security before it is gone. Claiming Social Security benefits early means a smaller monthly and lifetime benefit for you and likely for your surviving spouse, according to The Motley Fool tit in an article on a Gallup survey of retired and non-retired people in “Social Security: Why Claiming Early Could Be All the Rage Next Decade.” The Social Security Administration reports that 62% of retired Americans rely on their benefits for at least half of their income stream, with about a third of Americans relying on Social Security for almost all their post-working income.Only one in 10 people don’t depend on Social Security at all for income, when they are retired. Your retirement benefits are based on your 35 highest earning, inflation adjusted, years. To max out, you’ll need to have worked for 35 years. Years with zero income can impact your overall totals. Birth year is another factor. That determines your Full Retirement Age (FRA), the year that you become eligible to receive your full retirement benefit. Claim earlier, and you risk permanently reducing the monthly benefit by as much as a third. Claiming after your FRA could boost benefits by 32%. Most people do start claiming Social Security benefits before their FRA, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s because they have lost their job, are over 60 and can’t get hired. Some people simply don’t know that the longer they wait to claim, the higher their benefits will be. What is clear is that 60% of retired workers in 2013 took their benefits between 62-64, with another 30% claiming between 65-66. One in 10 workers took benefits after their FRA. There has been a change in recent years. While more people are waiting longer to claim their benefits, fewer are waiting until their FRA. The reason is tied to the headlines. People are worried that Social Security is going to be cut, and they want to get the income they can while the agency is still fully funding benefits. The 2018 Trustees Report (officially, “The 2018 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and Federal Disability Insurance Trust Funds”) said the agency will pay out more than it collects in 2018, the first time this has occurred since 1982. The net cash outflow is expected to grow faster starting in 2020, and then by 2034, the $2.89 trillion in assets may be gone. Congress will need to act, or benefit cuts to all retirees will have to be made—by as much as 21%. Can anyone know what will occur between now and 2034? Congress could fix any concerns by passing a bill that solves the problem, and those who claim early will be left with smaller benefits. We also don’t know when we are going to die. The decision of when to claim must be made by each individual, based on their FRA, their other sources of retirement income

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