In October 2017, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that it would be increasing the social security benefit payments in 2018 by 2% for a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA)[i]. In dollars, that means the average retirement benefit will increase by $27 to $1,404 per month and the average retired couple will receive a $46 raise to $2,340 per month[ii].
Many retirees were thrilled at the news, as this was the most generous COLA increase in 6 years. In 2010 and 2011, the COLA was 0%, making the average increase in the last 9 years a whopping average of 1.2% per year. During the same period, however, the cost of food, energy, gas, entertainment, and medical coverage seemed to tick up faster. In 2018, it is estimated that Medicare expenses will go up by 2.8%[iii] meaning that for a retiree, any increase in Social Security Income will be spent in full to try to cover increasing Medicare premium costs. That just doesn’t make sense, now does it?
Medicare Premium Surcharges
Since 2006, Medicare Part B premiums, the medical insurance portion of your care (i.e.: for doctor’s visits) have been subject to a tiered premium schedule where higher earners pay higher premiums. In 2018, the surcharge starts at an extra $53.50/month (on top of the baseline payment of $134/month) and can rise as high as an extra $294.60/month for those whose Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) exceeds $85,000 for individuals, or above $170,000 for married couples.[iv] As a part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, in 2019, a 5th level will be added, bringing the premium surcharge to as high as 85%, or $321.40/month on top of the base of $134/month for a total monthly premium of $455.40/month.
What does that mean for me?
For some unfortunate retirees, even if your income didn’t change much year over year, due to the new tax tables, your Medicare Part B premium might have. This year’s premiums are based on last year’s taxes, but the new tables will take effect shortly, so it would be prudent to discuss what the future might hold when you sit down with your CPA to file your 2017 tax return.
The consistently rapid and rising costs of medical care certainly exceed the average return on money market accounts at the bank, but also the COLA used for Social Security benefits and pension payments. The average annual US inflation rate since 1914 has been approximately 3.24%[v], but the US Department of Labor tracks medical care costs to have increased at a higher rate of approximately 5% per year[vi] during roughly the same period. This makes the case that in order to keep up with inflation, retirees need to find investments vehicles that allow them to protect their standard of living in retirement with returns that meet or exceed average inflation. One of the safest ways to achieve this historically, has been a portfolio of diversified investments that captures both domestic and international equity market returns, but also offers protection from fixed income on the downside. Your Certified Financial Planner™ can help construct a customized portfolio that suits your investment risk tolerance and retirement goals.
One of our clients said she was happy to hear that her Social Security Income was going to increase in 2018, only to find out her Medicare Premiums did too. She estimates netting an $8 gain at year’s end. Come to find out, she might have been one of the lucky ones!
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