DON’T GIVE A GIFT TO A THIEF

Written by Sherita Deal Social Security Manager.

It’s been said that the true spirit of the holiday season is in giving, not receiving.  With this in mind, it’s likely that you will be spending a bit of time shopping for presents, your credit card flying out of your wallet or purse like wind-blown snow.
But as you shop in stores and online, be sure you’re not giving a surprise gift to an identity thief.  Because the surprise will be on you — and it won’t be a good one.
Sometimes when you do business, you may be asked for your Social Security number.  In many cases, those asking don’t really need it.  If anyone asks for your Social Security number or other identifying information, ask them why they want it and whether they absolutely need it.  

FLESH OUT YOUR FINANCIAL SKELETON

Written by Sherita Deal.


As Halloween hovers on the horizon, the most frightening prospect for some adults has nothing to do with ghosts or goblins.  Rather, it’s their scary lack of preparation when it comes to retirement planning.

We suggest a new activity: fleshing out your financial skeleton. Here are the rules.

Part I: Throw Out Everything You Ever Thought About Retirement

Written by Eric D. Etshman.

I have seen into the future. It just took me a while to realize what I was looking at.

I have written numerous, specialized financial articles, and I continue to be asked for this material time and again because I have the Knowledge. The feedback I've received on this work has generally been positive, but of course you can never be quite sure of how much actual good you are doing regarding your chosen subject.

Even so, nearly 100% of the technical information that one can acquire on retirement oriented financial planning has either been written about in a book, published in articles like this or available on-line to those with the wherewithal to go find it. The problem I have found is that none of these sources speak to us personally- capturing our imaginations and pulling us along towards molding our own unique picture of the future.

I'm going to start by being perfectly honest here, because I'm going to ask the same of you later. I never intended to go into the financial services business in the first place. My career started shortly after graduate school, and early on it teetered on a razor's edge, doing temp-to-perm jobs with the government on one hand and a private financial services firm on the other. I decided full-time on the latter (because the pay was marginally better) and landed with a smallish mutual fund company, then another one, and then on up to a nice paying job on Wall Street before settling down to establishing my own practice. In another life I could be an assistant director at the Bureau of Labor Statistics!

I never really intended to start my own financial services practice either. My initial work as a prime broker for another advisory firm was, in my mind, going to be temporary. Then I added anther client. And another. And another. And that was over 10 years ago!

I know for a fact that there are literally millions of people like me who have cobbled together careers, many of them quite stable and even lucrative, that simply did not turn out as we imagined for a thousand reasons. Perhaps it was because of a failure of imagination in the first place. And we stayed with it, because we had bills and kids and responsibilities and inertia.

The fact remains that most of us do not derive the primary passion of our lives from work; we are not, as sociologists say, in our "right livelihood" (only about 5% of the population is), and we still look dreamily out of the window of our downtown office buildings counting the hours until we're eligible for Social Security, a pension and medical benefits. It is to you that I am addressing this series of articles.

The good news is that we can still get a "mulligan." Some gerontologists call the coming retirement phase of the current generations the Third Age, based on unprecedented life spans and breadth of economic opportunity. I've likened the concept of Retirement Planning to second career planning as much as to investment and tax strategies. Too many times I've looked across my desk at blank faces as we address the dreaded "R" word. Sometimes it's outright terror, or a complete blank. Other times it's a grouchily dismissive, "I'm never gonna retire." Others of us still conjure out-dated images of what our grand-parents might have been doing, hovering over a shuffle board court. Some still suffer from that same failure of imagination. Whatever your reaction, the point is that we have a chance right now to plan for a phase of life that could span upwards of 30 years!

One of my favorite literary passages is this one from Alice in Wonderland: Alice went on, "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat. "I don't much care where," said Alice. "Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.

Too much written or talked about in retirement planning focuses on the How and not Alice's Where. I've seen the word "goals" in relation to financial planning so many times it's lost its efficacy. Yes, it's important to know that if you can dream it, you can do it. And if you can dream it then you can also verbalize it, put a price tag on it, take an inventory, and set a date. But it starts with knowing what we really want if we got the chance to do it all over, and that's where we have to be utterly honest with ourselves, roll up our sleeves and get to work.

I've been blessed with the realization that regardless of how I got to this point, I am now in a position to help people create a compelling vision of their future and guide them financially in their quest to achieve it. This is the first part in a series of articles in Living.Well where we'll be addressing the "new" future planning opportunity. I hope you keep reading.

Provided courtesy of Eric D. Etshman, a financial advisor with Dow Financial Group in Wilmington, DE. Eric is a Registered Representative with VSR Financial Services, Inc., Member NASD, SIPC. For more information, please contact him at (302) 765-9753 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

How Should Your Risk Tolerance Influence Investment Decisions?

Written by Aaron Leonard.

As an investor, how much risk can you tolerate? It's an important question — because the answer can help you make the right investment choices.
Before you know your risk tolerance, you'll want to make sure you first understand the nature of investment risk — the risk of losing principal. This risk is especially prevalent when you invest in stocks, because stock prices will always fluctuate — and there are never any guarantees about performance. Of course, a decline in value does not mean you need to sell; you can always hold on to the stock with the hope that its value will bounce back. And this can certainly happen, but again — no guarantees.
How you respond to this type of investment risk will tell you a great deal about your own risk tolerance. Of course, no one, whether he or she has a high tolerance for risk or a low one, particularly likes to see declines. But people do react differently. If you're the sort of person who can retain your confidence in your investment mix and can focus on the long term and the potential for a recovery, you may well have a higher tolerance for risk. But if you find yourself losing sleep over your losses (even if, at this point, they're just "paper" losses), becoming despondent about reaching your goals, and questioning whether you should be investing at all, then you may have a low tolerance for risk.
This self-knowledge of your own risk tolerance should help inform your investment decisions — to a point.
Even if you determine you have a high tolerance for risk, you almost certainly should not load up your portfolio exclusively with stocks. If the stock market enters a prolonged slump, you could face heavy losses that may take many years to overcome, causing you to lose significant ground in the pursuit of your financial goals. Conversely, even if you discover you don't have much tolerance for risk, you won't want to invest only in supposedly "safe" vehicles, such as certificates of deposit (CDs). During those periods when rates on CDs and similar instruments are low, as has been the case in recent years, your interest payments from these investments may not even keep up with inflation — meaning that, over time, you could end up losing purchasing power, which, over the long term, can be just as big a risk as market declines.
Ultimately, then, you'll probably want to let your risk tolerance guide your investment choices — but not dictate them with an "iron hand." So, if you believe you are highly tolerant of risk, you might have a somewhat higher percentage of stocks in your portfolio than if you felt yourself to be highly risk-averse — but in any case, you'll likely benefit from building a diversified portfolio containing stocks, bonds, government securities, CDs and other investments. While this type of diversification can't guarantee profits or protect against loss, it can help reduce the effects of volatility on your portfolio.
By knowing your own risk tolerance, and the role it can play in your choices, you can help yourself create an effective, suitable investment strategy — one that you can live with for a long time and that can help you avoid the biggest risk of all: not reaching your long-term goals.

Time to think about your New Year's financial resolutions

Written by Lwm Staff.

Once again, it's time to make some New Year's resolutions. This year, in addition to hitting the gym, learning that second language and getting better organized, why not also consider a few financial resolutions?
What types of resolutions might you consider? Here are a few suggestions:

What Papers Do I need for my Taxes?

Written by webmaster.

Tax Prep 101 - Year End File Organization

I know that I dread this time of year.. Especially since I am a paperwork disaster.. As I come across these articles, I will add them so you can look all in one place. Living Well Magazine tries to  make our daily tasks easier, so instead of going to one hundred sites... all in one place, and maybe tax time won't be so stressful !  

 Although April 15th is still many weeks away, the tax deadline has a way of sneaking up on you and catching you by suprise. If you're not careful, you may find yourself rushing around at the last minute trying to get your paperwork in order, trying to find all the information you need to get started, much less finished.

Apply for Social Security

Written by Lwm Staff.

Many Americans begin each new year with a list of resolutions and goals.  You may want to go on a diet, shed a little weight, do a bit more exercising, or clean out the long-neglected attic.  The trouble is these well-intended goals often melt away long before winter’s snow does.  

So why not make a resolution that’s easier to keep? 

If applying for retirement benefits is on your list of things to do this year, resolve to do it online.  To get started, visit www.socialsecurity.gov/applyonline.   

RETIREMENT ESTIMATOR EVEN BETTER THAN BEFORE

Written by Loretta R. Hixenbaugh - Social Security Manager .

 Improvements to one of the most popular online services in government — the Retirement Estimator,allow more people than ever before to get a personalized and instant estimate of future Social Security retirement benefits.

 Since its launch last year, the Retirement Estimator has provided more than four million personalized estimates, and is one of the most highly rated online services in government.

Do I have to pay Income Tax on my Social Security?

Q:Do I have to pay income tax on my Social Security benefits?

A:You will have to pay federal taxes on your benefits if you file an individual federal tax return and your total income is more than $25,000.  If you file a joint return, you will have to pay taxes if you and your spouse have a total income that is more than $32,000.  For more information,

Part V: Working in Retirement

Written by Eric D. Etshman .

     Retirement as we know it is a function of the Industrial Age, the one we left behind in the 20th Century, where the age of 65 vis-a-vis one’s expected life span was really no more than a one or two year bridge as many workers physically outlived their usefulness. Thus it is interesting that retirement as an institution still drags around with it many of the same features of a bygone era, and the perception of it by many people is still framed by an old paradigm. 

Three Advantages a ROTH IRA May Offer Your Estate Plan

Written by Dan Stroud.

Three Advantages a ROTH IRA May Offer Your Estate Plan

Many may not consider the possibilities that a ROTH IRA can offer an estate plan. But, there are three advantages that a ROTH IRA can offer if your estate value is under the Applicable Exclusion Amount ($2 million in years 2006, 2007, and 2008) and if one of your planning goals is to leave as much money as possible to your heirs.

Id Theft

While recovering from an act of identity theft can be difficult, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself from identity thieves.

Identity theft often starts with a Social Security number, or SSN.  Once a thief has a valid number, he or she can open or reactivate credit card accounts in your name, apply for federal or state benefits or make changes in your financial accounts.  That nine-digit SSN is a valuable first step in assuming someone’s identity.  And it is also why protecting your Social Security number, or SSN, is the first step in preventing identity theft.  

Questions and Answers on Social Security

Question: I applied for my baby's Social Security number in the hospital but have not received it. How long does it take?

In many states, where the birth registration process is electronic, the average wait is four weeks. But in other states, the wait can be twice or three times as long. Here's why. When a parent requests a Social Security number for a newborn as part of the birth registration process in the hospital, the state vital statistics office forwards to Social Security the information needed to assign a number to the child and issue a card. From the time Social Security receives the data, the process of assigning the number and issuing the card takes about two weeks. Learn more about Social Security cards and numbers at www.socialsecurity.gov/ssnumber.

Question: When a Social Security beneficiary dies, does the funeral home notify Social Security or is the death notification up to the family

Many funeral directors voluntarily provide death information directly to Social Security. But, family members of a deceased individual still should notify Social Security. For information on what action to take when a beneficiary dies, see our online publication, What To Do When A Beneficiary Dies, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/deathbenefits.htm.

RETIREMENT

Question: I've heard you can apply for retirement benefits online. But isn't it easier just to go into an office?

Filing online means there's no need to travel to a local Social Security office or wait for an appointment with a Social Security representative. Retiring online is easy and convenient. You can apply in as little as 15 minutes. In most cases, that's it — no papers to sign or mail in. Want to learn more? Visit www.socialsecurity.gov and click on the "Retirement" tab in the top, left corner. Our website will:
Walk you through the application process;
Tell you what information you'll need to answer the questions on the application; and
Describe the documents you may need to present after you apply.
So what are you waiting for? Get started now at www.socialsecurity.gov.

SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME

Question: Social Security stopped my Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments because of the seven-year limit for noncitizens. But someone told me I could get it started again since I'm applying for citizenship. Will I get SSI retroactively, back to the time I lost it?

If your SSI stopped because of the seven-year limit for noncitizens, you may receive SSI back to October 2008, and continuing through October 2010. This is a result of the SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act (Public Law 110-328). If you have an application for naturalization pending with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or the same has been approved, you may be able to receive an additional year of SSI payments up to September 30, 2011. However, Social Security will not pay you SSI benefits for any months before October 2008. To learn more, visit our fact sheet on the subject at www.socialsecurity.gov/immigration/extension.htm.

DISABILITY

Question: I got a letter that said my Social Security disability case has to be reviewed. Am I going to stop getting benefits until retirement?

Your disability benefits will continue as long as your medical condition has not improved and you cannot work. Your case must be reviewed regularly to make sure your disability hasn't improved and that you are still unable to work. If you are still receiving disability benefits when you reach full retirement age, they will automatically be converted to retirement benefits. Remember, www.socialsecurity.gov has the answers to all your Social Security questions. Or, you can call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY, 1-800-325-0778).

MEDICARE

Question: How do I know if I am eligible for the $3,900 in savings with the Medicare prescription drug program?

To get extra help with Medicare prescription drug plan costs, there are annual income and resource limits. If your annual income is below $16,245 (or $21,855 if you are married and living with your spouse), you may qualify for the extra help. Even if your annual income is higher, you still may be able to get some help if you meet certain conditions. Some examples of when your income may be higher include if you or your spouse:

Support other family members who live with you;

Have earnings from work; or

Live in Alaska or Hawaii.

In addition to the income limits, your total resources generally must be limited to $12,510 (or $25,010 if you are married and living with your spouse). Resources include the value of some things you own, though not the house you live in. For more information see our publication, Medicare, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs/10043.html, or call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). To learn more, go to www.socialsecurity.gov and visit the "Medicare" link. Or call us at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

Outliving Your Money in Retirement

Written by Dennis Drake.

The greatest fear of most retirees is the risk of longevity: outliving their money. The meltdown of retirement accounts, rising medical costs, uncertain entitlement programs and higher taxes have added to the risk. Facing 30 years of retirement living on past savings and Social Security benefits is a scary reality. What can be done?


To handle other unaffordable risks you buy insurance. The same companies that protect your home, life, health and auto can also protect you from the risk of longevity. The basic principle of insurance that makes your coverage affordable is “pooling of risks”. Since the greatest fear of retirement is outliving your money and your remaining life span is uncertain, the solution is to insure the unaffordable risk. Let’s see how this is done.

5 Tips to Protect Yourself from Credit and Identity Theft

Written by MET Life.

Today’s fast paced world of electronic convenience has made identity theft an ever-increasing problem. You probably know someone who this has happened to – it may have happened to you. It can be a nightmare – and an expensive and time consuming one at that. There are simple actions you can take that can help to protect your identity and your credit rating:

Is the World Still Round?

Written by Eric D. Etshman.

“Stop going for the easy buck and start producing something with your life. Create, instead of living off the buying and selling of others.”

-Martin Sheen as Carl Fox, Wall Street

For centuries European explorers navigated the globe on what was then the prevalent assumption that world was flat, and that a terrible and unimagined fate befell those who traversed too close to it’s edge. While the scientific knowledge of the Earth’s roundness was said to be known as far back as the ancient Egyptians and through to the Greeks and even the Mayan civilization, you could argue that nobody knew for sure until Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe, a journey he did not survive, actually proved it. 

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