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Social Security: It Is an Asset, But Not a Bond

A reader writes in, asking:

“At our local Bogleheads chapter meeting, there was a heated discussion about Social Security, specifically, whether it should be counted as a bond in your asset allocation. My view is that it’s not really an asset because you can’t sell it. But one of the more experienced people in our group was emphatic that it’s a mistake to leave Social Security out of an asset allocation analysis and that it should be counted as a bond because it provides predictable payments.”

This question comes up over and over, year after year — both in my email inbox as well as on the Bogleheads forum.

Social Security is an asset. It’s true that it is not a liquid asset (i.e., you cannot sell it). But even illiquid assets show up on balance sheets. Same goes for lifetime annuities. They are assets, even if they are not liquid.

And yes, Social Security is a fixed-income asset. So it’s more bond-like than stock-like.

But it’s definitely not a bond.

There are a lot of differences between a) having a $2,000 monthly Social Security benefit at full retirement age (i.e., a stream of income with a present value of about $350,000) and b) having $350,000 of bonds in your brokerage account.

Social Security is what it is — and it isn’t what it isn’t.

The desire to classify everything as either a stock or a bond is completely bananas.

For example, do you classify your house as a stock, because its value goes up and down considerably over time? Or do you classify it as a bond, because it pays you “interest” in the sense that you do not have to pay rent each month? (I hope the answer is obvious: it’s neither a stock nor a bond, because it is a house.)

The distinctions between different types of assets are real and useful.

Social Security:

  • Is inflation-adjusted,
  • Will last your entire lifetime,
  • Will not extend beyond your lifetime (or beyond you and your spouse’s lifetimes if married, child benefits notwithstanding),
  • Is absolutely illiquid (i.e., it’s not just hard to sell; it cannot be sold at all), and
  • Is subject to political risk.

By shoehorning that into the “bond” category, you are ignoring some or all of those unique characteristics. You are ignoring useful information.

Relatedly, if you have decided, for example, that you want 40% of your portfolio in bonds, but you haven’t yet decided what will count as a bond, how did you decide that 40% was the right number? Perhaps the line of reasoning that went into that decision had some flaws.

Rather than counting Social Security income as part of your bond allocation, I’d suggest using this method for fitting it into your overall retirement plan:

  1. Determine how much money you plan to spend each year during retirement.
  2. From that, subtract any part-time job or business income you expect to earn.
  3. From the remaining amount, subtract your Social Security/pension income to determine how much you will need to spend from your portfolio each year.
  4. Then make any portfolio-related decisions (including asset allocation) with that net required-spending-from-portfolio figure in mind.

Want to Learn More about Social Security? Pick Up a Copy of My Book:

Social Security cover Social Security Made Simple: Social Security Retirement Benefits and Related Planning Topics Explained in 100 Pages or Less
Topics Covered in the Book:
  • How retirement benefits, spousal benefits, and widow(er) benefits are calculated,
  • How to decide the best age to claim your benefit,
  • How Social Security benefits are taxed and how that affects tax planning,
  • Click here to see the full list.

A Testimonial from a Reader on Amazon:

"An excellent review of various facts and decision-making components associated with the Social Security benefits. The book provides a lot of very useful information within small space."

Investing Blog Roundup: Financial Planning for Young People

Conventional wisdom states that financial planning is simpler for younger people than it is for people nearing or in retirement.

Michael Kitces argues to the contrary. The portfolio itself may be simpler, but for an actual financial planner (i.e., somebody doing financial planning rather than just portfolio management), there’s still plenty going on, because life circumstances are changing at a fast pace. Insurance needs change as family size or work status changes. Advice could be appreciated regarding a first home purchase. Changes to employment, which are especially common in the early years of a career, require adjustments to plans.

Other Recommended Reading

Thanks for reading!

What To Do If You Don’t Have to File a Tax Return (Tell the IRS?)

A reader writes in, asking:

“As a family courtesy, I recently began completing/filing taxes for two sets of elderly relatives with very small incomes (Social Security, pensions, IRAs).  In reviewing their past years returns, I found they have not had to pay taxes for several years, with their total incomes significantly below the thresholds established by the IRS and state.  Barring a winning lottery ticket, year after year, they owe no taxes, plain and simple.  My understanding from reading the tax code is that they can stop filing altogether, but this idea makes them nervous and even I – after a lifetime of filing taxes – find it contrary to my ‘conditioned response.’  While the codes on ‘Who Must File’ are clear, should we send a one-time letter to the IRS informing them of our intent to stop filing?”

If a person does not need to file, there’s no need to send the IRS any letter indicating such. They can simply not file, and if the IRS later contacts them about the lack of a return, they can reply with a letter indicating the reason (i.e., gross income below applicable threshold and did not meet any of the other “must file” reasons). And, if the person wanted to do so, they could include in that letter a statement indicating that, barring unforeseen circumstances, they will continue to be below the applicable threshold going forward.

I would be cautious about getting into a “not filing” habit though. Circumstances can change in the future. And that applies not just to personal circumstances but also tax law-related circumstances. That is, the rules may change in the future — potentially lowering the “must file” threshold*, potentially adding a new type of tax that the person would have to pay even with a low income, or potentially adding a new refundable credit which the person could claim if they filed. In other words, I would make a point of conscientiously checking every year whether there are any circumstances that would either require filing or make filing beneficial.

As a separate point, even when filing isn’t required, tax returns (even if simply prepared and not actually filed) can often serve as a useful overall record of the person’s finances. A lack of records has a tendency to make things harder at various times down the road — whether for the person in question, heirs, or executors.

*In fact, as the law is written right now, the “must file” threshold will go down significantly in 2026 once the temporary increase in the standard deduction expires.

For More Information, See My Related Book:

Book3Cover

Taxes Made Simple: Income Taxes Explained in 100 Pages or Less

Topics Covered in the Book:
  • The difference between deductions and credits,
  • Itemized deductions vs. the standard deduction,
  • Several money-saving deductions and credits and how to make sure you qualify for them,
  • Click here to see the full list.

A testimonial from a reader on Amazon:

"Very easy to read and is a perfect introduction for learning how to do your own taxes. Mike Piper does an excellent job of demystifying complex tax sections and he presents them in an enjoyable and easy to understand way. Highly recommended!"

Investing Blog Roundup: Getting an Accurate Benefit Estimate from Your Social Security Statement

The benefit estimate on your Social Security statement assumes that you retire and file for retirement benefits on the same date — and the SSA’s online calculators make the same assumption. So how can you calculate a benefit estimate if you plan to retire prior to (or after) filing for benefits?

Short answer: by using either of two calculators from the SSA and a very slight bit of arithmetic.

Other Recommended Reading

Thanks for reading!

Repaying the Advance Premium Tax Credit (Form 8962) as a Dependent

A reader writes in, asking:

“I have a question regarding Form 8962 (Premium Tax Credit). I am a dependent, received Advance Premium Tax Credit, and have to file 8962 since nobody will actually be claiming me as a dependent. Last year it was simple because publication 974 provided clear instructions for my situation. There was a section that provided instructions for people claiming no personal exemptions, as would be the case for somebody who is a dependent.

This year those instructions are absent since nobody can claim personal exemptions. I’m confused about how to proceed, especially regarding lines 1-5.”

Firstly just to make sure we’re clear on this point: people still can claim dependents, even though the exemption amount is currently set to zero. (Dependents might be claimed for the child tax credit, American Opportunity Credit, or for other assorted purposes.)

If you are claimed as somebody’s dependent, then you are not eligible for the premium tax credit, and you do not file Form 8962. Rather, it is the person who claims you as a dependent who would file Form 8962 for the purpose of calculating any premium tax credit and, if necessary, repaying any excess advance premium tax credit.

If you are confident that nobody is claiming you as a dependent for the year, but you could be claimed as somebody’s dependent for the year, then you would fill out Form 8962 to indicate that you were not eligible for the premium tax credit (because you can be claimed as somebody’s dependent). That is, you would enter zero as your family size (assuming you are not married). And the household income (i.e., MAGI of the people in the household) is zero, because the family size in question is zero. And because the premium tax credit is not allowed to anybody who could be claimed as a dependent, the premium tax credit (line 24) is zero. And then lines 27, and 29 would ultimately reflect the fact that any advance premium tax credit is excess advance premium tax credit.

Now, those are the rules, and that is how I would personally fill out the return in such a situation. But I’m sure I will receive several emails pointing out the following if I do not mention it: some people would encourage you to not check the “I can be claimed as somebody’s dependent” box if nobody else is actually claiming you as a dependent — because if nobody claims you as a dependent, it would be hard for the IRS to be aware of the fact that somebody could claim you as a dependent. And if you are not somebody else’s dependent, then you could be eligible for the premium tax credit.

But again, the Code sections in question (36B, 151, 152) are very clear on this point: if you could be claimed as a dependent, you are not eligible for the premium tax credit. And I would suggest filing accordingly.

For More Information, See My Related Book:

Book3Cover

Taxes Made Simple: Income Taxes Explained in 100 Pages or Less

Topics Covered in the Book:
  • The difference between deductions and credits,
  • Itemized deductions vs. the standard deduction,
  • Several money-saving deductions and credits and how to make sure you qualify for them,
  • Click here to see the full list.

A testimonial from a reader on Amazon:

"Very easy to read and is a perfect introduction for learning how to do your own taxes. Mike Piper does an excellent job of demystifying complex tax sections and he presents them in an enjoyable and easy to understand way. Highly recommended!"

Investing Blog Roundup: Financial Advisory Costs Falling

Schwab announced yesterday that they will be switching to a flat, low-cost price for financial planning services via their “Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium” program. For a cost of $30 per month, plus a one-time $300 initiation fee, the client will receive a “comprehensive financial plan” and “unlimited one-to-one guidance” from a CFP.

Other Recommended Reading

Thanks for reading!

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My new Social Security calculator (beta): Open Social Security