New option for Social Security training

There’s a new game in town for financial professionals who want to become more proficient in Social Security claiming strategies and learn how to use analytical software to provide specific claiming options for clients.

For years, the National Social Security Advisor certificate program has been the gold standard in Social Security education and training. Since 2013, more than 4,000 financial advisers have taken NSSA training courses in person or online, and more than 2,500 NSSA certificates have been awarded. I completed the NSSA course in 2014.

Tuition is $695 for NSSA’s on-demand and live webinar formats, and $995 for in-person classes. Tuition includes education and ongoing support, including monthly webinars and answers to advisers’ specific client questions.

The NSSA program provides eight hours of continuing education credits for insurance agents, certified public accountants and certified financial planners who attend in-person classes, as well as CE credits for CPAs and CFPS who attend live webinars.

A typical eight-hour class in the NSSA program covers basic Social Security rules and strategies for various client profiles based on age and marital status, including case studies. It explains benefit reduction rules from some public employees, covers taxation of Social Security benefits and touches on disability benefits and Medicare.

“We focus solely on Social Security education and incorporate client and adviser experience in our education,” said NSSA founder Marc Kiner. “We are not tied to a specific software tool.” But Kiner said various Social Security software programs are discussed during the course, including Social Security Pro, Social Security Timing and Social Security Analyzer.

Now, another program is offering more intensive Social Security education paired with training on a specific software program, Maximize My Social Security, which was developed by Boston University professor Larry Kotlikoff.

The National Association of Registered Social Security Analysts offers an online training program approved by the IRS, the Certified Financial Board of Planners Inc. and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy. The five-module, study-at-your-own-pace course costs $1,500 and provides members with 8.5 hours of continuing education credits. Upon completion, candidates can take an exam to earn the Registered Social Security Analyst certification.

During the past two years of beta testing, more than 2,000 financial professionals have taken the online courses and more than 200 individuals have passed the national competency exam to earn the RSSA designation, said Martha Shedden, executive director and co-founder of NARSSA. The program is designed both for financial professionals and career changers.

“To date, most of our associate members are tax or financial professionals with established businesses,” Shedden said.

But some of the RSSA designation holders are new to financial services. “For these encore career folks who become RSSAs, we have developed a complete business-in-a-box platform where they can do business and get all the resources and support from us that they need,” she said.

The association recently launched its virtual business center on NARSSA.org. It offers several online resources, including a proprietary SECA Tax Savings Calculator that determines how much a business owner age 50 and older can save annually on employer and employee Social Security taxes without sacrificing future benefits.

The first two course modules of the RSSA program cover much of the same material as the NSSA program, including how benefits are calculated and descriptions of the benefits available for married, single, divorced and widowed retirees. Case studies illustrate the most commonly used rules and strategies needed to optimize Social Security benefits through the comparison of best versus worst claiming decisions. Both programs also cover family maximum benefits, important pension-related rules, taxation of Social Security benefits and basic information about Social Security disability benefits.

The Registered Social Security Analysts program distinguishes itself in its final three courses. One module focuses on incorporating optimum Social Security claiming strategies into an overall retirement income plan. It provides case studies that illustrate the tax implications of interrelated decisions on maximizing or optimizing Social Security income and the sequence of withdrawals from retirement accounts and other funds.

The RSSA course includes an introduction to Medicare, the eligibility requirements, a description of Medicare benefits, what Medigap, or supplemental insurance plans, are available, and the Medicare application process. It also explains how to market retirement income planning services and introduces students to Maximize My Social Security software.

“The knowledge you learned in the first four modules will be applied to analyzing real world Social Security client cases using this software,” the course description says, but notes the course is only an introduction to the capabilities of the software. “Continued real case analyses are needed to become proficient with its use.”

(Questions about Social Security rules? Find the answers in Mary Beth Franklin’s ebook at InvestmentNews.com/MBFebook.)

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