There are a number of threats that both retirees and pre-retirees are facing right now when it comes to drawing Social Security benefits. For example, there’s a new scam this year. Seniors are being solicited by callers who claim to be with the Social Security Administration (SSA). The caller says he regrets to inform that the elderly person’s Social Security payments have been suspended. The caller says it’s either because the beneficiary has been involved in a crime or there has been suspicious activity related to their benefit. Here’s the interesting part: the caller then requests that the senior repay a certain amount of his benefit to Social Security by gift card. The scammer is then able to use this money quickly with no paper trail.
If that sounds absurd, consider that over the span of just two months Social Security beneficiaries collectively lost upward of $6.7 million by falling prey to this a new, highly effective scam. Even if an elderly person is suspicious or knows the call is fraudulent, he may acquiesce anyway for peace of mind. Seniors who rely on Social Security as their primary source of income are of no mind to mess around when that income is threatened. If you or anyone you know is in this situation, be aware that the SSA does not make direct phone calls, does not threaten to stop paying benefits, and certainly does not ask to be refunded payments by gift card.
From a longer-term perspective, Social Security payments could be threatened by – ironically enough – the current administration’s strict immigration policy. The former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, recently noted that in 2010 alone, unauthorized foreign workers paid about $12 billion in tax revenues that went directly into Social Security’s coffers. Because many immigrants pay FICA taxes whether they are documented or not, this revenue source has been a mainstay to our Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs for as long as they’ve been in effect. Based on 2016 government data, even before the recent immigration policies were implemented, Pew Research reports that the number of unauthorized immigrants had dropped to its lowest level (10.7 million) since its peak (12.2 million) in 2007.
The unfortunate consequence of fewer immigrants is that payroll taxes may have to increase and/or Social Security benefits reduced in coming years. One economist projected that if we continue down this current path of highly restrictive immigration policies, Social Security benefits would need to be cut by nearly 25 percent.
To make the most of their benefits, many retirement planners recommend that retirees wait as long as possible to begin drawing Social Security income. The longer you wait, the higher the benefit. However, those in poor health or diagnosed with a terminal illness (only two to four years to live) may be better advised to begin taking benefits. However, there is a caveat to this strategy that should be considered. Delaying benefits not only ensures a higher payout for the primary beneficiary, but also for the surviving spouse. When the primary breadwinner takes Social Security before full retirement age, his monthly benefits are permanently reduced – that is, the amount his widow will be stuck with for the rest of her life. If you don’t actually need the income, it might be worth delaying benefits to increase the amount a dependent spouse receives upon your death.
Another little known fact about Social Security is that you can have a do-over. If you retire, start drawing benefits and then decide to go back to work, you can actually stop taking the payout and let it continue to accrue until you’re ready again. Of course, there are restrictions in place. First, you must be under age 70. Second, you have to alert SSA of this plan by submitting the appropriate form within 12 months of applying for benefits. And third, you must pay back all the money you’ve received to date. The good news is that you can reapply later and enjoy a higher benefit as if you were drawing it for the first time.