I often receive emails from financial advisers asking my opinion about the “best” Social Security planning tools. I tell them it depends on how much they want to spend, how detailed they want to get and how well the Social Security tools integrate with their existing financial planning software.
When considering a Social Security software program, make sure it covers all of your potential client profiles including married couples, single and divorced individuals and widows and widowers. If your practice includes public sector employees who do not pay FICA payroll taxes, it is critical that any Social Security claiming tool you use can handle the Windfall Elimination Provision and Government Pension Offset rules that can reduce or wipe out potential Social Security benefits.
You also need to think about how you want to present a Social Security claiming strategy to your clients. Is the client-facing report generated by the software simple and easy to understand or full of charts and graphs demonstrating projected lifetime benefits under a recommended claiming strategy as well as alternative options? For some advisers, less is more; for others, the more detail, the better.
Finally, do you want the ability to include your firm's logo on your client report? Sometimes, that costs extra.
Social Security Maximizer offers a free version that allows advisers to play with its tool and produce a small number of client reports for free as well as a premium version with unlimited access for $199 per year. Other popular tools for advisers range from low-cost Social Security Income Planner ($100 per year) to more robust programs, such as Maximize My Social Security ($200 per year) and Social Security Pro ($295 per year). Social Security Analyzer, which is the professional version of Social Security Solutions consumer tool, is probably the most comprehensive program available and ranges in price from $300 to $1,000 per year depending on the level of complexity and service.
I recommend that advisers ask software providers for a free trial if possible to see how a particular Social Security claiming tool fits into their retirement income practice. It helps if you try a few to compare the ease of use and resulting recommendations.
SS Income Planner offers an automatic two-day free trial. Social Security Pro (formerly Social Security Explorer) offers a 14-day free trial. Others may offer free trials upon request.
Premier SS Consulting, which provides training for the National Social Security Association, is offering a series of free webcasts to review various Social Security software programs as well as services to help you market your new-found expertise to current and potential clients.
Normally, these webcasts are available only to those NSSA members who have completed the online or in-person Social Security training course. But the company has agreed to allow InvestmentNews readers to attend any or all of the following webcasts for free. Just click on the link to register.
- Marketing with ClientFirst Financial: Jan. 27
- Review of SS Income Planner: Feb. 4
- Review of Social Security Pro: Feb. 23
- Review of Social Security Solutions: March 6
- Review of Maximize My Social Security: April 1
Another company, Social Security Timing, offers adviser training, Social Security claiming software and lead generation through the site's adviser directory and customized micro-site. It costs $50 per month or $500 per year with a free 10-day trial.
While I'm happy to point advisers to software solutions, I am always curious how they integrate Social Security claiming strategies into their financial planning practices.
Michele Berson, a 30-year financial planning veteran, set up her own firm in Westlake Village, Calif., a few years ago. She said she initially chose Social Security Maximizer program by Omyen because it was free. But she was so impressed by the responsiveness of Omyen executive Dinesh Sharma to her many questions that she later upgraded to a consumer-facing Social Security Checkup tool on her website that she uses for education and prospecting and the Social Security Maximizer tool that she uses for advanced Social Security planning. The package of both tools costs $399 per year, plus a one-time branding set-up fee, including e-mail alerts, of $199.
“Social Security is a huge part of what I do,” said Ms. Berson, a fee-based adviser. Because many of her current and potential clients are California state employees who do not pay FICA taxes, knowing how offset rules can reduce or eliminate Social Security spousal or survivor benefits is a critical part of retirement income planning, she said.
(Questions about Social Security? Find the answers in my ebook.)
(This article has been updated to state that Ms. Berson initially chose the Social Security Maximizer program, not Maximize My Social Security.)