Sunday, January 15

Week 289 - Don't Leave Federal "Tax Expenditures" On The Table

Situation: There are 5 Federal government programs that can reduce your cost of living in retirement. You need to learn about these and take advantage of them whenever you are likely to benefit.

Program #1: The Social Security Act of 1935: You need to decide when to retire, because each year you delay results in an 8% larger Social Security check. You also need to brush up on other aspects of The Social Security Act that apply to you or your family. If you and your husband are divorced, and you’ve never remarried, you may still be eligible for some additional benefits. Check out the SSA website for answers to questions, and visit your nearest SSA office to get the help that you might need. 

Program #2: Social Security Act Amendments of 1965 (Medicare): When you enroll in Medicare at age 65, you’ll have the option of taking out private “MediGap” insurance, which is supervised by your state government, or enrolling in Part C, which is a private “Medicare Advantage” plan that is a Federally-managed and “capped” supplement encompassing Parts A and B of Medicare. 

Program #3: The Housing and Community Development Act of 1987 provides insurance for FHA Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM), known as “reverse mortgages”. More than 3/4ths of the average retirees’ net worth is tied up in home equity, with other sources averaging ~$45,000 for Americans in the 65 to 69 year age group. By following the 4% Rule, the average American can only spend $150/mo of that “nest egg” to supplement her income from Social Security. To keep up with the myriad expenses of home ownership, she’ll have to decide whether to get a part-time job, sell her house, rent out part of it, or enter into a reverse mortgage. “Reverse mortgages are increasing in popularity with seniors who have equity in their homes and want to supplement their income. The only reverse mortgage insured by the U.S. Federal Government is called a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage or HECM, and is only available through an FHA approved lender.” But there is evidence that the average American is preparing better for retirement: As of 2015, those between the ages of 55 and 64 had saved an average of $104,000 according to the Government Accountability Office, which means $217/mo could be spent without eliminating that nest egg.

Program #4: The Cigar Excise Tax Extension Act of 1960 provides the legal framework for Real Estate Investment Trusts or REITs. This law does not create a tax expenditure (subsidy). Instead, it raises more revenue by creating an incentive for investors to move their money into real estate. That indirectly helps to reduce your cost of living at an extended care facility, when you can no longer live independently. Unless you are well off, you won’t be able to afford private long-term care insurance, and Federally subsidized long-term care insurance is only available to retired Federal employees. REITs are a partial solution, because they free real estate companies from paying Federal taxes, leaving investors with the obligation to pay that tax. REITs are similar to mutual funds except that they’re required to pay at least 90% of their income to investors, as dividends. Those dividends are attractive enough that REITs now have a large following among investors. Many “nursing homes” and extended care facilities are REITs. Retirees benefit from the capitalization structure of healthcare REITs, but investors who can tolerate a “roller-coaster ride” also come out ahead.

Program #5: The Food Stamp Act of 1964: Your next decision is whether or not to apply for food stamps. If you have no other source of income than Social Security, you are definitely eligible.

Mission: Set up a spreadsheet of ways an investor might invest in some of the public-private partnerships listed above, including health insurance companies that offer MediGap and Medicare Advantage plans. Pay particular attention to healthcare REITs.

Execution: see Table.

Bottom Line: Once you retire, your annual income will not keep up with inflation. With each passing year, you’ll become a little more watchful of spending and a little more likely to search out discounts. You’ll start to inquire about Federal programs that are particularly helpful to retirees, e.g. Food Stamps. We’ve listed 5 Federal programs that benefit retirees; you should become conversant in these before you retire. We have also listed 6 companies in the Table; 3 are healthcare REITs and 3 are large insurance companies with MediGap or Medicare Advantage plans. All 6 are high-risk high-reward businesses. 

Risk Rating: 7 (where US Treasuries = 10, the S&P 500 Index = 5, and gold bullion = 10)

Full Disclosure: I don’t own shares in any of the 6 companies listed in the Table, but am looking to buy shares in the only “blue chip” (Dow Jones Industrial Average company): UnitedHealth Group (UNH).

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