Social Security is an essential part of retirement planning for most mass-affluent clients. And fortunately for advisors, it provides a great tool for client engagement. Its the Social Security Statement, a simple four-page document that can motivate clients and help strengthen your relationship with them.
Step-one is getting the right information in front of your clients. The Social Security Administration used to mail these yearly statements to all workers three months before their birthday. Now, you have to access them electronically (although some older workers can still get paper statements.) Have your clients go to ssa.gov, create a profile and print out a copy. Its easy and quick, but if your client doesnt have access to a computer, they can also call the SSA at 800-722-1213 to request a paper copy. This will take six to eight weeks.
EDUCATE AND ENGAGE
After your clients have a statement, encourage them to review their work history on page 3. Its all there in black and white, their lifetime Social Security earnings, the good years and bad, from the teenage summer jobs to the last year.
Let them stroll down memory lane as they review with you their earnings over the years, but bear in mind theres a practical angle here. Clients should determine if these earnings appear correct. Some researchers estimate that there could be as high as a 3% error rate on earnings records on Social Security statements. Clients should ensure that no years are missed and the values look about right. They should immediately contact the SSA to register any discrepancies. The SSA claims a three-year statute of limitations on corrections so dont delay. Search FAQs on the SSA website for more information.
The obvious highlight of the statement is on page 2 where it lists projected benefits at different ages 62, full retirement age (66 or 67) and 70. But dont stop there. Dig deeper and have your clients read the fine print below. In the middle of the same page two there is a section titled, We based your benefits estimates on these facts. It contains a line for estimated earnings after 2013. If your clients future earnings vary significantly from these earnings estimates it could significantly skew the important benefit estimates listed above. How big this effect can be depends on the number of years your client has already worked (SS benefits on based on the highest 35 years of earnings) and the degree of the discrepancy.
Consider the social Security statement as a living document, critical to clients planning and available for use today. Why delay? Any client within 10 years of Social Security decisions should begin to become familiar with this important program and very useful statement.
Paul Norr is a financial planner in Thousand Oaks, California focusing on retirement issues.
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