Character Still Counts…

How often do you reflect on your character? I mean really seriously critically evaluate who you are? Not the person others think you are, but the “real” person that God knows you are. A friend of mine once said she often pictures Jesus being in the room and lives her life with that thought. Wow! That can be convicting, but think about it? Shouldn’t we live that way? I mean, if we are true followers of Christ shouldn’t we be living out His character?

Shouldn’t we strive to be more like Him?
• To love the things He loves…
• To have joy helping the poor…
• To lovingly desire to reach lost souls…
• To be more generous with our money & possessions…

I sit here reflecting on my character and how I live out each day. Do I have any regrets today, things I wished I had done differently? Or do I believe I exemplified Christ to the best of my ability today?  

* In the way I interacted with my wife and children
* In how I displayed my character to others
* In the ways I conducted myself in business transactions
* In  how I handled my finances
* In the ways I responded to the blessings God is providing

Does my character exhibit His traits?

Do I reflect His love, mercy, and grace? I get to the end of myself and thank Him that we have such a strong example of character –someone to truly emulate! We can try to be more like Hollywood, more like sports stars, even more like spiritual leaders, but unless our measuring stick centers around Christ, our character will lack His completeness! Man always falls short of His glory. In a broken world filled with sin and destruction, today when the end of the world as we know seems closer than ever before, we can still have confidence that character counts!

What are your thoughts?

Read This Before You Purchase an Annuity

From my article at MoneySmartRadio.com

Matthew Sapaula  is a great radio host in the Chicago area.  He’s one of those positive, uplifting, wise, and helpful kind of guys we should all surround ourselves with.  He recently featured a conversation we had about annuities at his site.  Check it out!  

What mistakes do investors often make when they look at annuities?

Most of the money gurus attack annuities.  For the most part the criticisms are justified. After all, when you look at the fee structure, commission incentives for agents, the often lengthy surrender charges, inflexibility, and the many stories about seniors getting taken advantage of because of improper annuity sales, it’s easy to see why they get such a bad rap.

 There are two main types of annuities: fixed and variable. In a fixed annuity, your money grows at a fixed rate usually determined by current interest rates. Another variation of the fixed annuity is an indexed annuity which ties your interest to an index like the S&P500 or Dow Jones.  You usually have a cap (maximum you can earn) and a floor (lowest return you could achieve). A variable annuity, on the other hand, allows investors to participate in mutual fund-like subaccounts. The assets in a subaccount may be allocated across a mix of stocks, bonds and money market funds. 

Let’s look at six of the biggest mistakes investors make when they choose an annuity.

Mistake 1: Underestimating variable annuity fees

In addition to high commissions, variable annuities have high costs compared to many other investments. These expenses essentially guarantee you won‘t achieve a reasonable long-term rate of return. It‘s like you have a ball and chain!

Here’s a typical expense structure:  

Mortality and Expense Charge 1.50% 

Sub Account Management Fees 1.00% 

Unreported trading costs 0.78% 

Annual Administrative Expenses 0.15% 

TOTAL EXPENSES 3.43%  

  

Mistake #2: Tying money up for years 

Many annuities (fixed and variable) have surrender periods ranging from 3 years to 15 years or longer.  The typical surrender period is seven years! This means your money is tied up! If you want to sell your annuity, you will pay dearly. For example look at a typical surrender schedule on a 7 year annuity: 

Surrender Schedule 

  

Year 1: 8%  

Year 2: 7%  

Year 3: 6%  

Year 4: 5%  

Year 5: 4%  

Year 6: 3%  

Year 7: 2% 

  

This means on a $100,000 investment you may have to pay $2,000 to $8,000 or more to sell your annuity. Talk about inflexible! Yes, most annuities do allow you to withdraw up to 10% per year without penalties, however, you can never completely cash out until the surrender period expires. In the investment world seven years is a long time and things change rapidly. Being stuck in an expensive annuity is not a place you want to remain in limbo. 

  

Mistake # 3: Not reading the fine print 

For most investors, annuities are quite complex investments. Between knowing what a subaccount is, how living and/or death benefits work, surrender schedules and fees, withdrawal options, living benefits, how cap rates work, on and on. Fixed and variable annuities are often so complex that even the advisors who sell them truly don‘t fully understand what they‘re selling. The prospectus that comes with an annuity is often filled with legal jargon galore! 

Mistake # 4: Underestimating inflation.  

Many investors choose fixed annuities instead of the variable option. In a fixed annuity, your money grows at a fixed rate. At first that kind of financial predictability sounds wonderful, but there are two problems that come with it. One, your rate of return might be meager compared to what you could earn in the stock market. Two, inflation is going to make that fixed return worth less and less with the passing years, unless you pay (possibly through the teeth) to have the rate of return adjusted. 

Mistake # 5: Relying on a variable income guarantee 

Many variable annuities let you benefit from stock market gains while shielding you against stock market losses. In the past, many have offered the annuity holder at least a minimum rate of return (a GMIB, or Guaranteed Minimum Income Benefit). Many have also offered guarantees that the annuity value will not dip below the value of the initial principal (a GMAB, or Guaranteed Minimum Accumulation Benefit). Be very careful that you understand how these benefits work and what strings are attached.  These benefits often come with a high price tag and require that you follow a ton of rules to take advantage of the benefits. 

Mistake # 6:  Thinking an index annuity will perform better than the market 

Equity Indexed annuities are not necessarily all they’re cracked up to be. They are a class of fixed annuity that is linked to the performance of a stock market index, commonly the S&P 500. An EIA has a guaranteed minimum rate of return (guaranteed by the insurance company, not the FDIC), and it gives you a chance to capture some of the stock market gains. That’s the upside. (On the whole, EIAs are not designed to beat the stock market; they are basically designed to perform a little bit better than the fixed markets.) Many investors assume they get all of the good side of the markets with none of the bad.  Often I have found that the average return and investor gets with an indexed annuity is more in line with the bond market than the stock market because of the annual caps set by the insurance company issuing the annuity.  For example, the cap may be set at 8 percent and that is the maximum you can earn that year.  The market may be up 20, but you will only earn a maximum of 8.  This cap limits your long-term rate of return.As you can see, annuities are quite complex and often confusing.  They offer many benefits but you need to fully understand what you’re getting and know the benefits along with the limitations.  Before investing in annuity always get a second opinion and read the fine print carefully.  As with any investment, buyers beware!

Pretending to be Perfect

The Secret Side of Me

Was listening to Monster by Skillet this morning and it got me thinking as I heard:

“The secret side of me, I never let you see
I keep it caged but I can’t control it
So stay away from me, the beast is ugly
I feel the rage and I just can’t hold it”

How often do we pretend to be something we’re not?  Often as Christians, we don’t want to open ourselves up and show the world who we really are.   We fear isolation, judgment, criticism, disappointment, etc…  Yet, we are all imperfect!  But we can’t let everyone else know.  So we keep it bottled inside and hide the truth because no one else will understand.

We pretend our finances are perfect…

We pretend our marriage is perfect…

We pretend our spiritual lives are perfect…

We pretend our business or career is perfect…

Yet we are dying inside! 

It takes a lot out of us to pretend and live a lie.  Why do we try to hide all of our imperfections? Why do we insist on wearing a mask to disguise who we really are?  What, if instead, we were brutally honest with one another?  We opened up and exposed who we truly were… What if you built solid relationships based on the “real you” and the not the person you want everyone to see.  How different would our world look?  How different would your friendships look?  How different would your life look?  You might just find that you’re not alone.  In fact, you’d see a ton of masks scattered all over exposing the fact that we are much of the same mold – sinners yet saved by grace and mercy.  

God accepts us for who we are and takes each and every one of us who come to Him!   He will cast aside our imperfections and allows us to follow Him.  He knows who we truly are, shouldn’t others? 

What are your thoughts?

How Will You Edit the Story of Your Life?

I was reading a post at chrisbrogan.com about the importance of  stories in our life.  Chris recently finished a book from Donald  Miller (Blue Like Jazz) called a Million Miles in a Thousand Years   that really moved him. See his video review here.

Eternity is forever but our lives here on earth are like the blink of  an eye. There is a story being told within your life. There are  characters, storylines, plot twists, heroes, and villians. Though you  often cannot change all the variables, you can make changes that  change your future such as:

– start exercising to change your health and longevity
– start a business to change your finances
– start a non-profit to change your community or the world
– start a small group to change your relationship with God and others

You see where I’m going with this. Though you often cannot change every detail of your story you are in control of your destiny…

Donald Miller used to be fat and out of shape. He not only desired to change, he took action. He became interested in the Tour De France. He  didn’t become a spectator. He got into riding himself. He dove in  deep. He got dirty. He lived out his story. He lost weight, got in shape, and forever altered his story.

Last year I packed up my entire life and also changed my story.  I moved out of my comfort zone. By moving from New Hampsire to South Carolina, I left behind everything I ever  knew:  my friends and family, my six figure income, much of my client base, my church, my community, on and on…

I did all this to help start my dream company Faith-Based Investor
With one decision to take action I altered my story. Through the highs 
and lows of change, I have grown spiritually, learned a ton about 
business, made new friends, and taken major steps toward creating my 
ideal life.  This wasn’t the “my ideal life some day” or waiting until what 
the world calls “retirement”. I envisioned what I wanted my story to 
read and I began telling it today.

How about you? What are you waiting for? What can you do to improve 
your story? What steps can you take now? I’d love to hear…

Three Big Mistakes You May Be Making With Your Money

Mistake # 1: choosing a salesperson instead of an independent professional with a fiduciary responsibility.

According to Registered Representative Magazine, salespeople in the financial services industry earn on average $175,000 to $200,000 per year. It’s not uncommon for financial advisors to earn millions annually.

Though many advisors may claim to have your best interest at heart, you actually fall to the third slot on the totem pole of many advisors:

  1. Your advisor’s interests
  2. His or her firm’s interests
  3. Your interests

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) govern brokers and investment advisors.  However, the odds of an advisor facing daily conflicts of interest are as common you spotting a Toyota while running an errand.

Conflicts are so widespread and entrenched on Wall Street that all attempts at reform have failed. The backroom deals, commission incentives, payments for shelf space, etc are happening as you read this.  Advisors are often “glorified salespeople” who have one goal: make as much money as possible.  Most have no fiduciary responsibility so the prudent rule says they can invest in anything as long as it does not harm you.   So the advisor is free to sell you a variable annuity with a 10 percent commission.  Your cost? Five percent annually in fees and by the way you can’t sell it for at least ten years or you’ll pay huge penalties.

So in essence, they are not bound to act solely in your best interest.  With commissions on the line, many sales people will act in their own self-interest, justifying the product with the highest commissions. With two identical product choices (one paying a 7% commission, the other 4%, which do you think the advisor would choose?)

From a legal standpoint, an advisor is only required to avoid selling you an “unsuitable” investment product. This meets a very minimum standard.  There is no requirement to act in

your best interests or as a fiduciary on your behalf. Additionally, they don’t even have to disclose any conflicts of interest that may exist.  Talk about a bum deal for you!

Mistake # 2:  Listening to the media

Money magazine, Fortune, USA Today, CNBC’s Jim Cramer, Forbes, you name it; they are all there to entertain! Let me repeat this they are all there to entertain. This means sell you something! If you don’t tune in, buy from their advertisers, and continue to frequent them regularly, they go out of business. Bold headlines, irrational advice, entertaining news, sensationalized stories…it must capture your attention.

How poor is the advice from the media? In 2000, Case Western Reserve University conducted a study showing that investors who follow media recommendations lose 3.8% of their money in the following six months after the recommendation. So why do so many people blindly follow the media’s investment advice? Predictions made about sports, weather, and Wall Street make good conversation pieces, but poor investment strategies!

Mistake # 3:  Listening to friends and family talk about “what’s hot”

Since 1990, we’ve seen investing fads come and go. In the 1990s it was technology stocks, followed by real estate, and then it became oil and gold, then emerging market countries like Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Today many flock to any form of green or environmental investing. Investment fads are only in vogue until everybody knows about them. Once they become cocktail party conversation, financial magazine material, or an internet sensation, the fad is as good as dead on arrival.

I remember late in 1999 when I received a call from one of my beloved clients Molly. Molly was in her mid-80s and a very conservative investor. She was wondering if she should sell many of her dividend stock investments and put them into an Internet mutual fund. I asked Molly about her nearly 30% return from the prior year. Was she not happy? She said she had a friend (and everyone has one of these friends) who made over 100% the prior year in an Internet fund. After explaining the risks, and discussing her personal situation, I talked Molly out of investing in the Internet fund. Not that I had a crystal ball or anything, Molly had no place being in the internet.

Normally a fixed income and dividend stock owner, this would have taken her risk level from a 4 all the way to a 10. Molly took my advice and we all know how the Internet story unfolded. I don’t always claim to get it right when it comes to trends or predicting short-term movements in the stock market, but what I can spot are troubled signs that a strategy is headed for disaster. Human nature drives people to invest in fads only after prices have already risen. This means those late to the game are the most apt to get hurt. We only hear about a trend after people have already been successful making it less and less likely that you can follow their success. Instead, you need to figure out how to buy low and sell high. Here’s a hint: investing in fads is not the way.

So what should you do?

How about getting an independent, unbiased review of your portfolio situation?  We can take a look and analyze both the moral and financial implications of where you’re investing. How should you be investing the money God has entrusted to you? 

I will be more than happy to take a personal look at your accounts and give you my best advice.

Don’t Let Obstacles Get in Your Way

From my article at ChristianPF.com Check out Bob’s site at www.christianpf.com

Don’t Give Up!

How often do we start moving in one direction, face opposition and then quit? You had a great idea, you had tremendous passion, but once the real work came, you wore yourself out! It happens all the time to even the strongest willed people. They give up right before the good stuff is about to happen.

I have a good friend of mine who jumps from idea to idea trying to become a millionaire. He wants the fastest path to riches. He gets all excited about his latest idea but as soon as it becomes work, he stops, and looks for “a better way”. This is a sure-fire way to fail… You have to constantly water your seeds! You have to prepare and work your fields for the seeds to take, to grow strong roots, and produce crops. You can’t just go around scattering seeds hoping something will grow. Farmers don’t operate businesses that way, why would you expect your finances or business ideas to work any differently.

I have heard that to become “an overnight success” it takes at least two years! You grind it out, put blood, sweat, and tears in to it, and then just maybe it may lead to something worthwhile. But quitting? It’s not an option! Too often people quit right before their big break was about to take place. They miss the blessings God had in store…

What if Columbus gave up?

Just think about this: Christopher Columbus two days before he sighted land had a crew that was fed up, sick, and desperately wanted to turn back.

On October 10, 1492, Columbus’ journal read:

“Here the people could stand it no longer and complained of the long voyage; but the Admiral cheered them as best he could, holding out good hope of the advantages they would have. He added that it was useless to complain. He had come to the Indies, and so had to continue until he found them, with the help of our Lord.”

We know what happened two days later: They found America!

Too many Christians give to God and expect Him to answer immediately! In other words “I just tithed…now bless me!” Yet God doesn’t work that way. First off, He typically won’t bless you if you aren’t positioning yourself for blessings. What I mean is He won’t just send money from heaven. You have to work for it and then He can bless those efforts!

Secondly, it happens in His time, not ours! Often He is doing us a favor by teaching us powerful lessons that will transform our minds and lives. Through pain there is gain and growth. He uses our failures and tribulations to strengthen our faith and prepare us for the better days ahead.

Yeah…why are so many Christians broke?

I just spoke to Chris Kidd. He asked a powerful question to me: “why are so many Christians broke?” Wow! It hits you right between the eyes! His question got me thinking…

I mean if we serve the Creator of life, the abundant provider of everything, the original author of “hope and change” then why are so many in the body of Christ:

  • Dead broke?
  • Deep in debt?
  • Have little or no savings?
  • Have no plans for the future?

God calls us to rise above mediocrity and bring glory to Him. How can we help others when we need help? How can we attract others to Christ when we are a mess? It’s not about perfection, but it is about establishing habits and persevering for His cause.

So I ask you:

  • What have you given up on?
  • What dream have you left behind?
  • What is holding you back from the success God has in store for you?
  • I bet you know exactly what it is, but the real question is what are you going to do about it?

How to Truly Invest in America

How to Find American Hero Companies

Listen to my recent interview with Carter LeCraw

JM Smucker, an American Hero Company

Carter LeCraw, CEO

I am deeply grateful for JM Smucker, a public company that stands out as a light in the American marketplace. Even though most Americans readily recognize and respect the Smucker brand, few are familiar with the solid principles and values upon which this business was founded and continues to operate. Because of the abundant evidence of authentic American values in its corporate culture, it has earned our designation as an American Hero Company and is currently held in both our American Values Equity and American Values Index portfolios. After being subjected to our rigorous Values-First Research process, which evaluates companies on four key values: Integrity, Humility, Diligence and Caring, it scored an impressive 444 out of a possible 500 points. That score ranks Smucker 4th out of a total of the 116 companies that comprise our American Hero Company Universe.

We believe companies like Smucker will, over the long term, outperform their competitors and be good investments for our portfolios. In fact, over the last 5 years Smucker stock (symbol SJM) had an average annual return of 9.7% as compared to the S&P 500 return of only .4%. But, there is a much more important reason we invest in American Hero Companies like JM Smucker; they make valuable contributions to American culture and, therefore, help build a better America. Investors holding Smucker stock play an important role in encouraging and supporting what is good in America. (Of course, financially speaking, it is normally better to own Smucker when the stock is reasonably priced.)

In 1897 there were probably many producers of apple butter and apple cider, but what made Jerome Monroe Smucker’s products different was quality. Smucker, a Mennonite from Orrville, Ohio, signed every lid of every crock of apple butter as his personal guarantee of care and quality. It was decided early on that the company was going to provide a quality product, at a fair price and follow sound principles. Using this simple, but not easy, strategy, the company grew and prospered. Today, these sound principles are described in company literature as Basic Beliefs and include the categories of Quality, People, Ethics, Growth and Independence.

Many public companies have impressive values statements like Smucker, but few have them as well protected as Smucker. A key word within their Basic Beliefs, “independence”, is a key factor in helping to protect their values. The Smucker family’s commitment to independence, by maintaining majority ownership, has been a critical strategic decision. This is extremely rare in today’s public company environment, but allows them to concentrate on long-term growth without undo pressure to cut corners on quality or ethics in favor of short term profits. Chic-fil-a is another company that has zealously guarded corporate ownership, allowing them, like Smucker, to maintain a long-term focus and values-driven culture.

Humility is a key American value/virtue and one we look for in companies. (George Washington portrayed that virtue often and even turned down the Presidency immediately following the Revolutionary War, which caused King George III to quip, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”) One evidence of humility at Smucker is their top management structure of Co-CEO’s. This is rare in today’s corporate environment, but is, actually, the practice of  another of our American Hero Companies, Stewart Information Services (STC).     The CEO’s Tim and Richard Smucker, took over in 2001, and are affectionately known as “the boys”. In keeping with the virtue of humility they strive to incorporate key management practices like, “listen with your full attention, look for the good in others, have a sense of humor, and say “thank you” for a job well done.” Tonie Williams, director of marketing says she has been thanked more at Smucker than in her nine years at three other major companies, combined.

It appears the caring leadership style has been working for Smucker as evidenced by their low employee turnover of 4%, a figure well below the national average. Furthermore, they have been listed on Fortune Magazine’s annual listing of “100 Best Companies to Work For” list EVERY year since 1998 and even obtained the number #1 ranking in 2004. Employees comment about the close, family feeling being one of the best features of employment.

Smucker has preserved a long-standing commitment to quality. They strive to maintain the highest quality products in all of the markets they serve. But, quality does not stop with products. They also have a stated goal to maintain quality in manufacturing methods, marketing efforts, people and relationships. As a parent, I am personally grateful for Smucker’s commitment to quality in advertising as evidenced by their support of family friendly entertainment. As such, they were awarded the “Integrity in Entertainment” award from the Parents Television Council for being a responsible corporate television sponsor.

In the early 60’s Smucker marketing agency came up with a catchy advertising slogan, “With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good.” I submit this slogan has survived for over 40 years because of two reasons. First, and obviously, they have been able to maintain an exceptionally high level of product quality. The second, but less well-known, is that the “good” at Smucker is “spread” throughout the whole company. There is much darkness in the world, but when there are lights like JM Smucker it gives me great hope for America.

Charity Spotlight: Choices Medical Clinic

In the ongoing struggle to save the unborn, we often times lose sight of the mothers who are pondering this most horrific choice. Many of these girls and women do not realize that there truly is a “choice” other than abortion. They don’t know that there are options out there for prenatal care as well as counseling services.

Choices Medical Clinic is located across the street from the late Dr. George Tiller’s abortion clinic where partial-birth abortions were once performed. Many women who originally sought to have an abortion, have ended up at Choices and have opted for life for their babies and many have given their lives to Christ because of the loving witness of the workers there.

Choices Medical Clinic offers women who are faced with an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy the choice of life for their babies as well as prenatal care and an opportunity to hear the Good News of Salvation through Christ Jesus. Mothers can receive free prenatal care provided by a physician, pregnancy testing and ultrasound examinations. Often times, it is these ultrasounds that are the deciding factor in a woman’s decision to keep her baby.

The volunteers who work at Choices Medical Clinic are Christians. As they talk with the women who come through the doors, they share with them the love of Christ and offer spiritual and emotional assistance as well as the physical assistance. It is this all encompassing mission of Choices Medical Clinic which makes it such a wonderful option. A perinatal hospice program is also offered to women who have been told their unborn babies will either die during birth or shortly thereafter. This is such a blessing to those women who have been urged to have an abortion rather than carry their babies to term.

So in our continued efforts to stamp out abortion, let us not forget the mothers. Let us be there to care for their physical, spiritual and emotional needs. In this way, we can save one life at a time. Please visit their website at http://www.choicesmc.org/index.php.

Sometimes Having a Professional Makes All the Difference in the World!

Miracle on the Hudson

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger avoided catastrophe by safely landing a US Airways plane on the Hudson River.  On January 15, 2009, Sullenberger was the pilot in command with an extensive flight and military experience, the kind of guy you want in the control pit with the slightest hint of danger.

According to reports:

“Shortly after taking off, Sullenberger reported to air traffic control that the plane had hit a large flock of birds, disabling both engines.  Several passengers saw the left engine on fire. Sullenberger discussed with air traffic control the possibilities of either returning to LaGuardia airport or attempting to land at the Teterboro Airport in New Jersey. However, Sullenberger quickly decided that neither was feasible, and determined that ditching in the Hudson River was the only option for everyone’s survival.  Sullenberger told the passengers to “brace for impact”, then piloted the plane to a smooth ditching in the river at about 3:31 P.M.”

The Miracle?

Every passenger survived!  To land the way Sullenberger did in such a small space with no casualties was beyond a miracle.  With God’s protection and Sullenberger’s expert skills, this flight is remembered for what was saved not what was lost…

There are some things best left to a professional

I can think of a short list of professionals I would want by my side in a jam:

  • Doctor for my health issues/problems
  • Attorney for my legal issues/problems
  • CPA for my tax issues/problems
  • CFP for my financial issues/problems

People often refer to the professionals when it comes to legal and health issues, but when finances enter the picture, all too often people tackle their 401ks, IRAs, and investments alone without consulting a professional.  I’d like to say these do-it-themselves-ers often land safely, but unfortunately miracles are few and far between…

This  only confirms to me that sometimes having a professional makes all the difference in the world!

RAISE YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY INCOME BY $1,000 PER MONTH?

 

 

Could filling out one form put more money in your mailbox?  

 A couple of years ago, Boston University economics professor Laurence Kotlikoff publicized a mindblowing discovery: retirees could dramatically increase their Social Security checks by reapplying for Social Security benefits.

It was entirely legal; it was an opportunity that had lay unnoticed for years. It was soon discussed on National Public Radio and PBS, and in USA Today and a number of in financial magazines. Let’s discuss it here.

Hit “restart” and reset your RIB. Everyone eventually applies for Social Security, but few people reapply – and that’s the key to this strategy, which can potentially bring retired couples $1,000 or more in additional RIB (retirement income benefits). Kotlikoff calls it “restarting the Social Security clock”. If you are in good health and have retired within the last few years, it is a move worth considering.

You can start collecting Social Security benefits when you’re first eligible, and then restart your payments at a higher rate later. You simply file Form SSA-521 (www.ssa.gov/online/ssa-521.pdf) to request a withdrawal of your Social Security application. After the SSA processes that form, you reapply for Social Security – and since you are older now than when you first applied, this time you will receive much higher payments.

So if you think you applied for Social Security too soon, this presents you with a remedy, as Kotlikoff noted while presenting a hypothetical example to the Los Angeles Times in 2009.

Take the case of a 70-year-old husband and wife, he noted. In 2009, they each would have received $13,250 in benefits if they had started taking Social Security at age 62. But if they had waited to apply for Social Security until 70, they each would get $20,692 annually. Instead of $26,500 in combined monthly benefits, they could get $41,384 – 36% more.

That’s a pretty good case for hitting restart.

What’s the catch? If you want to restart your Social Security benefits at a later age, you have to repay the Social Security benefits you have already received. But you don’t have to pay interest on that money.1 Basically, you’re repaying an interest-free loan from Uncle Sam.

Now if enough people do this, there is the risk that the federal government may say, “Wait a minute – look at all these people exploiting this opportunity.” But very few retirees do.

If you do reapply, there’s nothing fishy about it. Visit your local Social Security office (make an appointment by calling 1-800-772-1213). Bring Form SSA-521 with you, or ask for it and fill it out while you are there. Don’t be surprised if the person on the other side of the desk doesn’t know what you’re talking about when you mention reapplying for benefits. So bring a copy of the formal SSA explanation (www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/handbook/handbook.15/handbook-1515.html) with you.

Once you repay your benefits, you can restart them whenever you want. If you fill out Form SSA-521 and hand over a check repaying the money you’ve received, you can reapply for benefits right then and there – the request is routinely approved. 

For the record, Form SSA-521 only allows you to check one of two boxes for why you want to reapply for benefits. The first is “I intend to continue working” and the other is “Other (please explain fully)”.Mickie Douglas, a spokeswoman with the Social Security Administration, told Financial Advisor Magazine that it is entirely legitimate to write down that you are reapplying because it is “financially better for you”.What risks do I run by doing this? The big risk is that you could die soon after you repay your benefits – you could be out, say, $50,000 or $60,000 without living long enough to enjoy much of the additional income. But survivor benefits would be larger for your spouse, of course. Speaking of spouses, widows and widowers cannot employ this strategy to reapply for a deceased spouse’s benefits.

Is this a good move for you? It might be. In case you are wondering, Kotlikoff is no hack – he holds a Harvard Ph.D. in economics and is a former member of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors. He knows his stuff, and so should you. If you have the money to repay a lump sum equivalent to the benefits you have received, this may be a great move – but talk with your financial or tax advisor to see how this decision affects your overall financial strategy.