Hope the Holidays were good to you and yours.


The Market:

After the gung-ho last 6 years, in 2015 the market finally took a breather, essentially treading water, with international markets going down slightly[i]:

  • US stock market +0.36% (Vanguard Total Stock Market, VTI)
  • International Markets -4.18% (Vanguard Total International Stock ETF, VXUS)
  • Bonds +0.56% (Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF, BND)

The Federal Reserve finally raised interest rates by 0.25%, which as predicted unsettled the markets a bit, but most people were probably thronging the Malls or Amazon to take much notice. The Fed may raise rates a couple of times in 2016, but there is no need for concern – stay the course, do not time the market and rebalance regularly.


Social Security Changes

On November 2, 2015, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 was passed. This bill put the kibosh on the File and Suspend and Filing a Restricted Application Social Security strategies that many of you were planning on. The rules were complicated before the new legislation, and now are even more complex for individuals born between 5/1/1950 and 1/1/1954. I will try to explain the changes as clearly as possible.


Born after 1/1/1954

If you were born after January 1 1954, in other words you will not turn 62 by January 1 2016, the File and Suspend and Restricted Application will no longer apply to you. It is estimated that this will reduce the benefits of a married couple by about $50,000.


File and Suspend

In the past, when you reached your full retirement age (FRA), which is currently age 66, you could file for Social Security benefits and immediately suspend them. This enabled you to get an 8% increase in benefits/year till you reach 70 when you could claim the maximum benefit on your own record. The other advantage of this strategy was that your spouse could claim a spousal benefit on your record when he or she reached full retirement age, and then convert to claiming on his or her own record at 70 for the maximum benefit.


If you are 66 by May 2, 2016, you can still take advantage of the File and Suspend strategy. If you were born after 5/1/1950 you cannot take advantage of this strategy.


Restricted Application

The current benefit of filing a Restricted Application on your spouse’s benefit is as follows. After you are full retirement age and your spouse is full retirement age or older and he or she has filed and suspended benefits, as a spouse you can file a restricted application on the spouse’s record to get 50% of his or her benefits at FRA. Then at 70, you can change to your maximum benefit.


For individuals who are age 62 by 1/1/2016, they are grandfathered into filing a restricted application as long as the spouse has filed for benefits. After May 2, 2016, the only way a spouse can file a restricted application is if the spouse files for benefits, as the file and suspend strategy will be eliminated for those individuals who have not already filed and suspended by that date.


Surviving Spouse Benefits

Fortunately, a surviving spouse’s benefits do not change with the new legislation. There are a slew of rules affecting surviving spouses, which have differences to those with living spouses.


What can you do about the Changes?

  • Revise your Social Security projections and retirement plan to account for the changes, if applicable.
  • Figure out where you will make up the shortfall in expected income.
  • Be aware of the different effective dates to see if they affect you, your spouse or ex-spouse.

Let me know if you would like to schedule an appointment to discuss your specific situation. There are alternative strategies that may be applicable for you to ameliorate the damage done by the new legislation.


8 Ways to Avoid Data Scams

The IRS recently launched an educational campaign called, “Taxes. Security. Together.”  Here are their suggestions on how to avoid becoming a tax-scam victim:

  1. Encrypt your files: Especially if you have tax returns or sensitive information on your computers.
  2. Protect your computers: Use a firewall and anti-virus protection. Don’t forget to use strong passwords.
  3. Don’t be fooled by IRS posers: Thieves pose as IRS agents threatening jail or lawsuits unless a payment is made immediately.
  4. Know who is getting your information: Criminals often pretend to be part of trusted & recognizable organizations.
  5. Avoid unknown links & attachments: An email asking to update a bank account or software may link you to a fraudulent website which steals your information.
  6. Shred before Dumping: Shred of documents with personal information before trashing them.
  7. Check your Credit Reports: Keep a watchful eye on your credit reports and online Social Security account.
  8. Don’t overshare on Social Media: Posting personal details about your life and family can make your more vulnerable to identity theft.


Personal Notes

After our hectic travel schedule during the first half of the year, we did not go on any trips this quarter. We did fit in the Farolito “Trial of Lights” 5K run earlier in December, which was a lot of fun. The delicious posole and hot chocolate afterwards warmed the cockles of our hearts! Hope the Holidays treated you well and that 2016 fulfills your dreams.


Contact me for a review meeting if needed. Please plan early for setting up an appointment. Feel free to pass this newsletter on to whoever may be interested. They can also sign up directly, on the website.

[i] Yahoo Finance Historical Prices as of 12/31/2015, including dividends