Monday, July 14, 2014

Resolving Discrepancies on Your Social Security Earnings Records

Resolving Discrepancies on Your Social Security Earnings Records

As I indicated in my last column, one of the things you should get in the habit of doing religiously – if you are not already doing it – is reviewing the accuracy of your Social Security statements annually. I’m hoping that our last discussion made a convincing case and, most importantly, you now see the crucial importance of and have committed to checking your earnings records as an annual ritual. All I’m trying to do here is to convince you to take on a good habit, so go ahead and make my job easy, would you?

Verifying your data

Once you’ve received your green and white Social Security statement, you’ll need to do three very simple things.
First, make sure that your name is spelled correctly.

Second, verify that the last four digits of your Social Security number, as shown on your statement, are accurate.

The third and final thing is to verify that your earnings, as reported on the statement for the previous tax year, agree with what you have in Box 3 of your Form W-2 (Social Security Wages).

This should be a pretty simple exercise that you could knockout in just a minute or two, but it will help ensure that you are getting all the necessary credits from your years of hard work. One thing to keep in mind here is that the earnings figure you are verifying against your W-2 is strictly from box #3 (Social Security wages), not box #1 ( wages, tips, other compensation), as the two are not always the same, even though for many folks they may end up being the same.

Correcting any errors you detect

If that quick verification exercise reveals a discrepancy, you should contact the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 or visit your local office in person to get your records straightened out. Obviously, you should have your W-2, last pay stub for the particular year in question, and/or tax return to substantiate your claim.

Personally, I’d suggest going into your local office with all of your documents to get assistance. It usually takes several months to update your records to reflect the correct earnings, so you’ll want to make sure that once the office confirms that the changes have been made, you request a new statement so you can see with your own eyes that the corrections have been done. 
Speak with an experienced financial professional TODAY who has dozens of real-world clients already experiencing successful retirements! Please call 877.656.9111 or visit

Monday, June 30, 2014

Are You Checking Your Social Security Statements Annually?

Are you checking your Social Security statements annually?

Here’s a simple question for you if you’re not already receiving Social Security benefits on your own work record: When was the last time you reviewed your Social Security statement?

More likely than not, your answer to this question falls within the range of “Social Security statement – what’s that?” to “That’s a good question,” to “I don’t remember the last time I received one,” or even “Am I supposed to review that?” Don't feel bad – you're not alone. Based on my practical experience in consulting with folks about their retirement planning, these are the typical answers I hear when this subject comes up.

Let’s get it straight, though. I’m not saying this type of response is okay. On the contrary, I would say it could be costing you big bucks if you aren't in the habit of reviewing your Social Security records annually. Inasmuch as most of us may not expect it to happen or prefer to believe it will not happen to us, in reality, mistakes sometimes do occur in reporting your earnings to Social Security. From reporting the wrong income to incorrect name spellings to your income not making it onto your recording at all, roughly three percent of Americans discover errors annually. And, if I might add, these are those folks who actually do check and crosscheck their statements. I'm guessing there are numerous others who have no idea that their Social Security records are incorrect simply because they don’t verify. Good point, right?

It's important that you understand something. The math that determines the size of the checks that you, and when applicable, your spouse, and even dependents will collect, depends directly on your earnings records. You work hard and pay into the system, so it behooves you to make sure that your records are accurate, doesn’t it?

How Do You Get Your Social Security Statement?

Most people seem to have forgotten about those green and white statements they used to receive once a year, right around their birthdays. That’s because everyone automatically received their Social Security statements once a year, so you didn't have to look for it – but that’s no longer the case for folks who are under the age of 60. Due to budget constraints, only folks age 60 and older who are not already receiving benefits still receive annual paper statements.

If you’re under age 60, you can still receive your statements annually by creating an online account on the Social Security Administration’s website. You will be asked to provide some personal information that will be verified through a third-party vendor (Experian) in order to complete the process. I believe I’ve already made the case and, I'm hoping, convinced you that this is a crucial thing for you to do. Go ahead and create your account today!

As a side note, the Social Security Administration recently announced that they’ll resume mailing paper statements once every five years to those who haven’t created online accounts. If you are in that group, you can expect your statements at ages 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60. But personally, I think it’s better to create your online account so that you can check the accuracy of your reported income once a year for the previous year, instead of waiting to do so every five years. It’s much easier to catch and fix any possible discrepancies sooner rather than later, wouldn’t you agree?
Speak with an experienced financial professional TODAY who has dozens of real-world clients already experiencing successful retirements! Please call 877.656.9111 or visit

Monday, June 16, 2014

Are You Inadvertently Generalizing Your Retirement into Financial Ruin?

Are You Inadvertently Generalizing Your Retirement into Financial Ruin?

It’s no secret that there’s a troubling trend plaguing America, in terms of the increasingly huge number of retirees who are barely able to make ends meet, even after they have invested money during their working years and planned for retirement. My last column highlighted some of the latest statistics and thoughts about some of the larger causes of this – in my opinion – extremely sad and dangerous situation.

In that column, I placed the lion’s share of the blame squarely in the lap of the financial planning community,
and I’m not retracting that, by any measure. However, today, I’d like to focus on something that is equally lethal, when it comes to squashing your financial future – and it has to do with you, the retirement investor. It’s called generalization, and it’s ruining more retirements that you’d ever imagine, at least from where I’m sitting as a front-row eyewitness into many people’s retirements for the better part of the last two decades.

Here are the two most common forms that generalization takes:

(1)   A certain concept or plan worked, is working, or seems to be working well for my friend/aunt/coworker/mailman/pastor’s mother, so naturally it will work for me, too. I can understand why it’s easy to jump to such a conclusion, but the fact is that while things may work that way in many other aspects of our lives, retirement planning just doesn’t follow that same rule. This would be akin to the logic of deciding to take someone else’s prescription medication without your doctor’s blessing because you have the exact same symptoms as they do. A terrible idea, isn’t it? Because while you both may have the same symptoms - and you both desire the same outcome (relief) - the underlying illnesses may be completely different. In fact, even if both of you have the same illness, differences in your genetic make ups may mean your pal’s medication could end up hurting you, couldn’t it? The same principle is true with your retirement, so never assume that what works for someone will work for you too – please never do this! 

(2)   I signed up for my employer’s retirement plan, so I’m all set. Well, let me simply put it this way: it’s not always the case that all you have to do to achieve a financially comfy retirement is sign up for the work plan. If it were, we would probably have a sizable number of wealthy retirees, instead of the masses who are struggling just to survive.

The thing about generalizing with your financial plan is that it happens so subtly that most of us don’t even realize we’re doing it. And the multiplicity of so-called financial gurus, dishing out “hot tips to financial freedom across the media to all 360 million of us, as if retirement planning were the same as purchasing an iPad or an iPhone, makes it even more challenging for the average person seeking financial direction. It’s essential for you to keep in mind that your family’s financial future is at stake here. Align yourself with a credible, trustworthy, and experienced financial advisor who can help you zero in on what will work best for YOU and help you stay focused in the midst of all this noise.

Happy retirement!
Talk with an experienced financial professional who has dozens of real-world clients who are experiencing successful retirements TODAY! Please call 877.656.9111 or visit

Monday, June 2, 2014

Hashtag #BrokeRetirees: Majority are Falling Short with Their Retirement Funds … but Who’s to Blame?

Hashtag #BrokeRetirees: Majority are Falling Short with Their Retirement Funds … but Who’s to Blame?
To put this in today’s social media language, the trending hashtag in the field of retirement planning is #BrokeRetirees, referencing the fact that the vast majority of folks – I mean, the overwhelming majority – are at risk of failing miserably at their attempts to have a secure income during their retirement years.

In their latest Retirement Confidence Survey, the Employee Benefit Research Institute asked a very simple question:“Overall, how confident are you that you (and your spouse) will have enough money to live comfortably throughout your retirement years?”

Here are the results: 
  • Only 18 percent of working Americans are very confident that they will have enough money to live comfortably throughout their retirement years. 
  • Among folks who are already retired, the number is 28 percent.
Compared to 2013 (when the numbers were 13 percent and 18 percent, respectively), these numbers seem “a bit better,” but I personally think they are still horrible. Think about it this way: 72 percent of retirees are seriously missing the mark after all those years of working, saving, and investing for this very purpose. That’s seven out of 10 folks! The other thing I’d like to point out is that ten years ago, roughly 41 percent of retirees and 25 percent of workers were very confident about their financial sustenance in retirement. Clearly, things seem to be moving in the wrong direction, don’t they?

The natural follow-up question then becomes: What is causing this deplorable situation? Of course, the answer depends on whom you’re talking to. Though, the financial press time and time again seems to point the proverbial finger at the hard-working retirement investor for, you know, not saving nearly enough money, selecting the wrong funds, and failing to rebalance their portfolios appropriately, among others.

But are these really the main culprits? I beg to differ, because while those may account for some instances of retirement insolvency, the crux of the issue, in my opinion, is that the vast majority of financial advice to which folks are being exposed is, quite frankly, nothing more than utter myth. Obviously, that’s up for debate, but I wonder why practically no one seems to question the financial advice side of the equation? There is a right way to do things and a wrong way to do them. Throwing more money at the wrong process won’t make the process work – it will just guarantee that you’ll be wasting money on a process that doesn’t work.

If we’re really serious about ending this rather terrible trend, isn’t it time we looked at all angles?
If you need to talk with an experienced financial professional with dozens of real-world clients who are experiencing successful retirements, please call 877.656.9111 or visit

Monday, May 19, 2014

It Doesn't Always Have to Be About Money

Life is full and rich. Our goal at Laser Financial Group is to allow you to make the most of all of it, including the cultural pieces that don’t really have any direct connection to your retirement plan or investment portfolio.
For anyone older than their early 20s, the events of September 11, 2001 are likely seared into our memories forever. We know where we were when we heard, and perhaps have loved ones who were directly affected. And it was a time when all other worries – the behavior of the stock market included – were pushed to the side for a time while our country came together to grieve and heal.
Those familiar with New York City may agree that it seems to be a friendlier place ever since.

This week marks the public opening of the long-anticipated 9/11 Memorial Museum, located at the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan. Tickets for the museum’s opening day are sold out, and it is recommended that you purchase your tickets in advance. Museum tickets include admission to the 9.11 Memorial.
For those looking to conserve a few dollars, admission to the Museum is free for all visitors on Tuesday evenings from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., with the last entry at 7 p.m.  However, visitors must still obtain tickets. Same day tickets are available at the ticket windows starting at 4 p.m. A limited number of reserved tickets are available online two weeks in advance of each Tuesday evening. U.S. Military, FDNY, NYPD and PAPD discounts are also available. 
If you have plans to visit New York City during your upcoming summer holiday, perhaps a visit to the 9/11 Museum is in order. For further info and to reserve your tickets, visit the 9/11 Musuem website.
If you need to talk with an experienced financial professional with dozens of real-world clients who are experiencing successful retirements, please call 877.656.9111 or visit

Monday, May 5, 2014

Don't Learn this Lesson the Way Sally Did - the HARD Way!

Don't learn this lesson the way Sally did - the HARD way!

Most reasonable people would agree that when it comes to saving and investing for your
retirement, the decisions you make regarding your choice of investment vehicles should be driven by your overall final expected output. No one is likely to invest their hard-earned money into anything unless they are convinced, one way or the other, that it will bring them the highest benefit. Only a complete idiot would settle for even the second best in this situation, right?

In most of the cases I have seen and continue to witness every day in my practice, most well-meaning folks still end up, for lack of a better term, getting burned by ideas that sounded great in theory but turned out to be their worst nightmares in reality. And that, my friend, is exactly the genesis of many of today’s retirement horror stories, as far as I’m concerned.

Take the story of a lady I consulted with couple weeks ago. Like millions of Americans, the tax guy/financial advisor with whom she’s been affiliated with for more than 20 years told Sally that the absolute best way to cut her tax bill both during her working years and also during retirement was to fund a traditional IRA. The so-called strategy here was that her contributions were tax-deductible, and all of her investment gains would also be tax-deferred until she began taking withdrawals in retirement, so this would cut her taxes. Obviously Sally’s advisor, and so many others just like him, was under the assumption that since her retirement income would be lower, compared to her working years, her taxes will fall, too.

Here’s the thing to keep in mind about retirement theories: they may sound terrific – and may even have worked just fine for someone you know – but following the same approach may end up costing you dearly. In Sally’s case, after just her very first full year of retirement, her tax bill is, in her own words, “going through the roof.”  In fact that was the very reason that she was taking with us: she was trying to figure out what was happening and how she could keep more of her money.

Long story short, although overall her income had decreased by about 20 percent in retirement, her taxable income – which is the key word when it comes to paying taxes – has actually gone up! How’s that possible? It’s very simple, and it happens more often than you can imagine. Sally’s tax deductions are much lower today because she’s no longer putting money into her traditional IRA, and she paid off her mortgage a couple years back. The other thing you may find interesting is that even with a 20 percent drop in her income, Sally is still in the exact same marginal tax bracket. The worst part is that her effective tax rate has rather gone up!   

This is not an isolated incident with Sally. As I discuss extensively in two of my books, 5 Mistakes Your Financial Advisor Is Making and Is Your 401K a Trap?, millions of folks find themselves in this exact predicament every day. But it doesn’t have to be so, because although we cannot predict future tax rates, a truly savvy financial advisor should be able to look at your tax profile and decipher how a given investment vehicle will impact you, which clearly wasn’t done or was done incorrectly in Sally’s case.

The great ending is that we were able to craft a plan to help Sally strategically rearrange her income and significantly cut her tax bill going forward so that she can keep more of her money, just like she intended all along.
Want to talk with an experienced financial professional with dozens of real-world clients who are experiencing successful retirements? Want to learn how you can KEEP more of your retirement money, even if the market crashes? Call 877.656.9111 or visit to talk with a retirement professional with a proven track record TODAY!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Is Now a Good Time to Be in the Stock Market?

Is Now a Good Time to Be in the Stock Market?

Undoubtedly, this is among the most frequent questions I hear in almost every setting I find myself, once someone discovers my line of work – especially following an economic downturn.

And it’s an understandable question – because you no doubt want to make sure that you don’t lose a penny of your hard-earned savings. Besides, many talking heads in the financial press are notorious for giving directions about how and when to jump into the market. In fact, a lot of so-called financial advisors bank their careers on “specializing” (notice the quotation marks) in telling you just when to strike, don’t they?

You can probably guess my view on this subject, so let me cut to the chase. Trying to figure out when is a good time – and by implication, when is not a good time – to invest in the stock market is a terrible waste of time and one of the most dangerous concepts on which you could ever base you future financial security.   

Here’s why: 
No one knows exactly where the markets are headed in the foreseeable future. Not even the savviest investment advisor or market watcher. Not a single soul!  
Over the course of history, many “financial scientists” who have claimed to have some secret formula that allows them to make those kinds of determinations have, time and again, ended up doing just the complete opposite – and losing fortunes in the process.

Usually, folks who invest around this question tend to get into the market when things are on the up and up, hoping (the key word here is hoping) to get out just before things start to go south. But is that what usually happens? Of course, not. They seldom manage to get out of the market until it has already dipped.

Becoming a successful investor doesn’t rise to the level of rocket science. That I can tell you for a fact. But it has a lot do with good old common sense and knowing exactly how much risk you can and cannot live with. If you do otherwise, you’ll most likely end up stressed a great deal of the time, and maybe even a broke retiree. But it doesn’t have to be this way! Call us today and find out how you can avoid this path to financial ruin! 877.656.9111

And to my colleagues in the financial profession still playing the game of assigning good and bad times to jump into the stock market, do you seriously believe you have the ability to do that?  Isn’t the better idea that you quit playing with people’s future livelihoods?
Want to talk with an experienced financial professional with dozens of real-world clients who are experiencing successful retirements? Want to learn how you can KEEP more of your retirement money, even if the market crashes? Call 877.656.9111 or visit to talk with a retirement professional with a proven track record TODAY!