Retirement 2.0blog

Social Security training course covers program nuts and bolts

Course covers finer points of Windfall Elimination Provision calculations, but needs more emphasis on claiming strategies

Apr 8, 2014 @ 11:53 am

By Mary Beth Franklin

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a promising new Social Security training program for financial advisers and vowed to report back with my thoughts after taking a one-day online course.

I was impressed with the scope of material covered during the National Social Security Advisors' eight-hour training session, and found the more than 120 downloadable slides clear and concise.

Premier Social Security Consulting co-founders Jim Blair and Marc Kiner, who run the NSSA training program, did a good job of explaining the eligibility rules for various types of beneficiaries including retirees, current and ex-spouses, families, and survivors. And they gave a thorough review of how benefits can be reduced through annual earnings.

But I felt much of the time was devoted to how the Social Security Administration applies the rules rather than how financial advisers can incorporate the rules into their clients' retirement income plan.

For example, Mr. Blair, a 35-year veteran of the Social Security Administration, and Mr. Kinder, a retired accountant, spent a lot of time explaining how Social Security benefits are calculated based on the top 35 years of indexed earnings, subject to a series of “bend points” that result in an individual's benefit amount.

While the information is useful, particularly in understanding the finer points of how that formula is altered when calculating the Windfall Elimination Provision reductions for public employees, I felt that not enough time was allotted to working through various case studies to determine which claiming strategy would be most appropriate in each case. And it was not for lack of material. Numerous case studies were available in the helpful course materials. We just didn't have enough time to review many of them during the class.

I discussed my assessment with Mr. Kiner afterward, and he agreed there would be more emphasis on planning strategies going forward.

“Our goal is not to make you an expert on Social Security, but to make you competent,” Mr. Kiner said at the outset of the training session. But he promised plenty of follow-up help to participants through regular webcasts, calculators, planning tools and answers to advisers' tough client questions.

Mr. Blair laid out a strong argument for why it is worth an adviser's time to become familiar with the rules of this critical retirement income program, noting that more than 90% of recipients do not take steps to maximize their benefits.

“Social Security is pushing away from face-to-face services,” the former SSA employee said. “Do not expect assistance; Social Security representatives are now basically just order takers. Experience has walked out the door.”

Webcast participants had plenty of opportunities to type their questions into the dialogue box and the instructors diligently addressed each one. Although the online format was sufficient for exchanging information, it fell short of an in-person discussion.

The quizzes at the end of each chapter were helpful and good preparation for the final review. At the end of the course, participants were encouraged to log on to a secure site to take a final exam as a prerequisite to receive the organization's certification. (I aced the test!)

The online course was convenient, but I probably would have preferred an in-person experience if one were available (NSSA does hold in-person classes, but in select cities on specific dates).

If you want to earn continuing education credits, you need to take an in-person class. If CE credits are not a priority for you, the online training session is fine. There's also a difference in price: in-person costs $795, versus $595 online. You can find details at the organization's website.

Overall, I would recommend this training session to any adviser who wants to become more proficient in Social Security rules and strategies. As for the NSSA certification, I'm not sure it means much, as Mr. Kiner and Mr. Blair created it when they launched their training program last year. Think of it as a merit badge. The real value is the knowledge you absorb in the process.


What do you think?

View comments

Recommended for you

Sponsored financial news

Upcoming Event

May 02


Women Adviser Summit

The InvestmentNews Women Adviser Summit, a one-day workshop now held in four cities due to popular demand, is uniquely designed for the sophisticated female adviser who wants to take her personal and professional self to the next level.... Learn more

Featured video


Top questions surrounding future of DOL fiduciary rule

Reporter Greg Iacurci and managing editor Christina Nelson discuss the biggest uncertainties springing from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals' decision to vacate the regulation.

Latest news & opinion

Stocks plunge, advisers tell clients to hang tight

Though planners encourage calm, some are preparing investors for a correction.

Lightyear Capital's Donald Marron said to be in the hunt for Cetera Financial Group

The veteran brokerage executive, who bought Advisor Group in 2016, owned Cetera once before.

What to watch for next with the DOL fiduciary rule

Much hinges on whether the Labor Department appeals the 5th Circuit decision by April 30.

Social Security benefits losing buying power

Low inflation combined with rising Medicare costs threaten the adequacy of seniors' income.

Finra looks to streamline broker-dealer exams

CEO Robert Cook says three examination teams may be consolidated.


Hi! Glad you're here and we hope you like all the great work we do here at InvestmentNews. But what we do is expensive and is funded in part by our sponsors. So won't you show our sponsors a little love by whitelisting It'll help us continue to serve you.

Yes, show me how to whitelist

Ad blocker detected. Please whitelist us or give premium a try.


Subscribe and Save 60%

Premium Access
Print + Digital

Learn more
Subscribe to Print