Major Social Security Raise Possible

Early signs indicate that Social Security benefits could see a dramatic increase next year. That will be welcome news for seniors whose benefits have lagged far behind their buying power.

Every year the Social Security benefits that millions of senior citizens receive on a monthly basis are supposed to increase with the cost of living. However, it has long been pointed out that it does not really happen.

The methods used by the federal government to determine cost of living adjustments are not an accurate reflection of the purchasing power of recipients. For example, since 2000 benefits have risen 43%, but senior buying power has risen 86% according to advocates.

The average increase in benefits in the last few years has only been 1%, since overall official inflation rates have been low.

That could change next year, according to Barron’s in “Big Social Security Bump Could Be Coming.”
Early signs indicate that a benefit increase of 2.1% is coming next year.

That is good news for seniors who have seen their benefit dollars pay for fewer and fewer of their expenses.

The bad news is what that might mean for the health of the Social Security system itself. It needs to be adjusted to make sure the Social Security Trust Fund does not run out of money in the next couple of decades, which would result in automatic steep benefit cuts.

Benefit increases are only expected for now.

No official announcement will be made until October. Therefore, seniors should not plan for raises yet.

Reference: Barron’s (June 6, 2017) “Big Social Security Bump Could Be Coming.”

Online Social Security Changes Again

The last attempt by the Social Security Administration to increase online security was a disaster that did not last long. The agency is about to try again.

It is relatively easy to log in to the Social Security Administration and get access to all of the information about your account. A few basic details are all that is required.

This has led to concerns about privacy and identity theft.

Since it does not take much for a legitimate user to log in, it does not take very much for thieves to log in either. The agency attempted to fix this problem in 2016, by requiring a two-step verification process before account access was granted.

That was short-lived, however, as many people were unable to log in to their accounts.

The agency is going to try again with a modified process, as Investment News reports in “Social Security Administration steps up online security.”

In its last attempt, the agency sent users a code via cellphone to verify their accounts before they could log in. That was a problem, since many elderly people do not use cellphones.

This time around, the agency will let people choose to have the code sent by cellphone or email. It is assumed that if are trying to access their Social Security accounts online, then they will almost certainly have email accounts, even if they do not have cellphones.

This change is scheduled to take effect on June 10, 2017.

Anyone who has problems accessing their Social Security accounts online after that, should speak to an elder law attorney.

Reference: Investment News (May 15, 2017) “Social Security Administration steps up online security.”

Forced to Pay for Your Parents

It is well-known and accepted that parents are required to provide care and support for their minor children. What is less well-known, is that in over half the states, adult children can be required to provide care and support for their elderly parents.

There are many laws on the books that receive very little attention because they are very rarely used. If few ever bother to attempt to enforce a law, then there is usually no reason for people to bring it up.

However, sometimes those laws do eventually become important, because of a general change in circumstances that sees those laws starting to be used more frequently.

An example of this is filial-responsibility laws.

These are laws that have been passed in 28 states that require adult children to provide financial support for their elderly parents, if the parents are unable to pay their own bills, as the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog discusses in “Filial-Responsibility Laws Could Cost You.”

These laws were not used much in the past because government programs for the elderly such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid provide financial support for the elderly.

Today, with people saving less and living longer, many elderly people are not able to afford the costs of their own care, which is increasing.

Nursing homes in states with filial-responsibility laws are increasingly looking to enforce them against children with parents who do not pay their bills.

This is yet another reason to make sure that you plan for your retirement and estate. If you do not, your children might be required to pay for you.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (May 3, 2017) “Filial-Responsibility Laws Could Cost You.”

Student Loan Debt Is an Elder Law Issue

Student loans are often thought to be an issue for younger people, but data suggests that they are increasingly becoming an issue for senior citizens.

In recent decades, the costs of getting a college education have skyrocketed at a rate that far surpasses the general rate of inflation. This has caused more and more students to take out student loans.

After graduation these students start their careers with large debts that sometimes are in the six figures, especially if they received post-graduate degrees. This issue has started to attract the attention of many politicians who have tried to figure out how to make college more affordable and how to make it easier for people to pay off their student loans.

Many people assume that these politicians are merely paying attention in order to attract younger generations to vote for them. However, data compiled by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests that student loan debt is also an elder law issue, according to Financial Advisor in “Student Loan Debts Plague Older Americans.”

In 2015, 2.8 million people age 60 or over had student loan debts. The majority of them took out the loans for children or grandchildren, but 27% had student loan debts from their own educations.

A total of 37% of people with student loan debt over the age of 65 were in default, which means that their Social Security payments can be reduced, their tax refunds can be taken and their wages can be garnished.

This is a particular problem for people on Social Security since the program is designed to eliminate elder poverty.

If the payments are reduced to pay back the government for student loans, then the poverty reduction benefits of the program are also reduced.

Reference: Financial Advisor (Jan. 16, 2017) “Student Loan Debts Plague Older Americans.”

Millennials Should Pay Attention to Elder Law

The Millennial generation might still have a long way to go before they reach retirement age, but they should be paying attention to elder law issues that will affect them in the future.

People of all generations tend to pay the most attention to the issues that affect them directly and immediately.

Most senior citizens do not think a lot about the cost of a college education and the availability of entry level jobs. Conversely, younger people do not think much about Social Security and Medicare. Each group has more pressing concerns that hold their attention.

However, the younger Millennial generation should pay attention to Social Security and Medicare.

Some people believe that stock markets will be bearish in the next few years. As a result, Millennials should save 25% of their current income to make sure that their retirement nest eggs grow at the appropriate rate, according to Wealth Management in “Should Millennials Double Retirement Savings Rates?”

Many Millennials will quickly point out that due to other economic factors beyond their control, they cannot afford to save 25% of their incomes, or even the traditional 10-15%.

As a result, people in that age group will be reliant to some extent on Social Security and Medicare when they retire. Since both of those programs face impending financial problems, Millennials need to pay attention to how these programs might change.

They should not consider it just an issue for older people. It will be their issue one day.

Reference: Wealth Management (Jan. 11, 2017) “Ken Thompson’s mother says she was cut out of will by late Brooklyn DA’s wife.”