This market is split in two and only one part is worth owning

Jim Cramer at the NYSE, June 30, 2022.

Virginia Sherwood | CNBC

Hardly a day goes by without someone asking me, “Why do you like Jay Powell so much?” He will question whether I am somehow buddies with the Federal Reserve chair, or assume I knew him before he got the job.

Airline perks and elite status will be harder to earn this year

The new Delta SkyClub at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Terminals 2 and 3 where the reimagined state-of-the-art facilities will soon welcome millions of guests each year.

Media News Group | Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

When United Airlines gate agents call the first boarding group, Ted Cohen notices something he never saw in his decades crossing the globe as a music industry executive: crowds.

The “preboarding” group includes members of United Global Services, an invitation-only status for top customers, and United Premier 1K, an upper-level tier in the airline’s Mileage Plus frequent flyer program.

“It used to be two or three people, and you used to say, ‘Who is that?’ And now it’s a small army,” said Cohen, who leads a digital entertainment consulting firm and has lifetime elite status on United and American Airlines.

Welcome to air travel’s era of mass luxury.

Travelers willing to shell out more for tickets and popular rewards credit cards are swelling ranks in front cabins and airport lounges. Now airlines are trying to handle the surge of big spenders — without compromising the appeal of their lucrative loyalty programs and most expensive seats. This year, not everyone will make the cut.

The largest U.S. carriers — Delta Air Lines, American and United — are raising spending requirements to earn some elite frequent flyer tiers that grant free upgrades, early boarding, discounted or complimentary lounge memberships and other perks.

Executives say the richer requirements are the product of the pandemic. Airlines had extended frequent flyer status without requiring travelers to meet the usual annual thresholds because would-be passengers were sidelined. In the meantime, customers kept spending on their rewards credit cards, racking up points and perks along the way.

“We feel like we’re royals even though we’re not rich at all,” said Damaris Osorio, a 27-year-old based in New York who runs a vintage clothing business.

Osorio frequents airport lounges on trips booked with rewards points that she earned through strategic credit card use and sign-up bonuses. Last year she and her fiance traveled to Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Italy, all on flights she paid for with points.

She said she cares little about sitting in the front of the plane, but has a preference for the American Express Centurion Lounges, which she gets into with one of her Amex cards. Osorio realizes she’s not alone.

“You notice how much busier it’s getting at the lounges,” she said. “I go as early as possible to maximize what I’m taking away.”

Next month, Amex Platinum cardholders will be charged $50 for each guest they bring to a Centurion Lounge. Those cardholders can currently bring in two guests for free.

‘If everyone is special, no one feels special’

If they call biz class boarding and it’s like the start of the Indy 500 … it’s not going to be a pleasant experience.

Henry Harteveldt

founder of Atmosphere Research Group

Delta said in an investor presentation last month that premium products and non-ticket revenue will make up 57% of its sales this year, up from 44% in 2014 and 53% in 2019, before the pandemic. That category includes revenue from top-end international business-class seats, extra-legroom seats and other sources, such as its partnership with American Express.

After some customers complained about crowds and long lines at its Sky Club airport lounges, Delta said late last year that it will raise the prices and the requirements to gain access to those facilities. Earlier in 2022, it also instituted a three-hour time limit for lounge use and created a VIP line for high-status holders.

CEO Ed Bastian said recent policy changes aim to address pandemic-era status extensions and the rise of customers spending more for travel.

“We’ve got to address that in some way to be fair to everybody, because as they say, ‘If everyone’s special, no one feels special,'” Bastian said in an interview last month. “We’re trying to do it in a fair way.”

United’s chief customer officer, Linda Jojo, put it similarly at a recent industry conference. “If everybody has status then nobody has status,” she said.

In November, United said it was raising the requirements to earn status and perks.

United also opened a new mini-lounge at its hub at Denver International Airport, catering to customers on the go who are flying on regional feeder jets, a move that could help free up space in larger facilities for travelers hanging out longer.

United Airlines Polaris lounge at Newark Liberty International Airport

Leslie Josephs | CNBC

Last month, American Airlines said customers will have to spend or fly more to reach the lowest elite tier in its AAdvantage frequent flyer program. Customers will soon need 40,000 so-called loyalty points instead of 30,000 for Gold status.

Bigger space for big spenders

A new American Airlines and British Airways lounge at John F. Kennedy International Airport, November 29, 2022.

Leslie Josephs | CNBC

American Airlines is planning to get rid of a separate first class on some older planes used to fly longer routes in favor of a single, expanded, business class featuring new suites with doors.

The airline said premium seats on its long-haul fleet will increase by more than 45% by 2026.

But with the expansion of that cabin comes the risk of diluting the premium feel, said Henry Harteveldt, a former airline executive and founder of Atmosphere Research Group.

“If they call biz class boarding and it’s like the start of the Indy 500 and you have 70 people jostling to get down the jet bridge, it’s not going to be a pleasant experience,” he said.

‘I don’t sit behind the wing’

Top Wall Street analysts say buy stocks like Apple and Bumble

Apple CEO Tim Cook poses in front of a new MacBook Airs running M2 chips display during Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose, California, June 6, 2022.

Peter Dasilva | Reuters

With the brutal 2022 behind us, we look ahead to a year of relatively predictable challenges. This calls for careful investing with a longer-term view. To help the process, here are five stocks chosen by Wall Street’s top analysts, according to TipRanks, a platform that ranks analysts based on their track record.

DoubleVerify Holdings

As its name suggests, DoubleVerify (DV) helps to improve the safety and security of online advertising. A pioneer in this area, the company’s services are employed by customers in the financial services, retail, automotive, travel, telecom, and pharmaceutical sectors. (See DoubleVerify Holdings Stock Chart on TipRanks)

Truist analyst Youssef Squali sees multiple growth opportunities, especially in the social media field. Interestingly, DoubleVerify’s social media client roster includes names such as TikTok, Microsoft (MSFT)-owned LinkedIn, Reddit, Amazon’s (AMZN) Twitch, Meta’s (META) Facebook and Instagram, and YouTube. Looking at this, Squali expects “social media as a channel has unlocked incremental spend for DV to attack within walled gardens, which advertisers value vs. letting these platforms ‘grade their own homework.'”

Moreover, the analyst pointed out that DoubleVerify’s sophisticated software solutions help client companies safeguard their brand reputation while maximizing their return on ad spend. This is particularly important as the digital advertising ecosystem is growing and so is competition. A safe, fraud-free, and appropriately targeted ad environment also helps companies draw traffic.

Squali is “incrementally bullish” on DoubleVerify, with a Buy rating and $36 price target. The analyst stands 92nd among more than 8,000 analysts tracked on TipRanks. Moreover, 57% of his ratings have been profitable, bringing 17.6% returns per rating on average.

Apple

Booking Holdings

Bumble

The challenging economic environment has led to too many problems for the public to be thinking about love. This has left investors swiping left on online dating service provider Bumble (BMBL), leading to a sharp drop in share prices.

Nonetheless, Stifel Nicolaus analyst Mark Kelley maintains a solid relationship with Bumble. “We view Bumble as one of the most innovative companies in the global online dating space offering a compelling and differentiated value proposition for consumers, which we believe will lead to a long runway of paying user/ARPPU growth, and a multi-year operating leverage story,” noted Kelley.

In the last quarter, Bumble launched its message-before-match feature, “Compliments,” which is expected to boost user engagement and thus, support monetization efforts. (See Bumble Blogger Opinions & Sentiment on TipRanks)

Additionally, the analyst believes that Bumble’s mission to prioritize user safety, accountability, and control helps the company stand out in the crowd of competing platforms. Importantly, Kelley also believes that Bumble may be heading into its best days as users increasingly open up to real-life dating after the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the dating ecosystem since 2020.

Despite reducing the near-term price target to $27 from $30, Kelley maintains a Buy rating on Bumble.

The analyst’s track record shows that his conviction is worthy of consideration. Kelley has a 103rd ranking among more than 8,000 analysts. Moreover, 70% of his ratings have been successful, generating 31.5% average returns per rating.

Perion Network

How to get your student loans forgiven — even if Biden’s plan fails

Popular repayment plans lead to forgiveness

Many qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Andrii Dodonov | Istock | Getty Images

There are typically three primary requirements to qualify for the program, although the recent changes provide some more wiggle room in certain cases:

  1. Your employer must be a government organization at any level, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization or some other type of not-for-profit organization that provides public service.
  2. Your loans must be federal Direct loans.
  3. To reach forgiveness, you need to have made 120 qualifying, on-time payments in an income-driven repayment plan or the standard repayment plan.

The best way to find out if your job qualifies as public service is to fill out a employer certification form.

In 2013, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimated that 1 in 4 American workers could be eligible for the program.

Forgiveness options for teachers, nurses and others

There are many other opportunities for loan forgiveness that often go unknown…

Mark Kantrowitz

higher education expert

Health professionals who commit to at least two years of service in a Native American community can receive as much as $40,000 in student loan assistance through the Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program.

The John R. Justice Student Loan Repayment Program provides loan assistance of up to $4,000 a year, or as much as $60,000 in total, to state and federal public defenders and state prosecutors who agree to remain employed in those positions for at least three years.

Federal agencies also offer student loan repayment assistance programs, Kantrowitz said. Agencies can make payments to a federal employee of up to $10,000 a year, for a total of $60,000, according to the U.S. Office of Personal Management.

Meanwhile, there are numerous state-level student loan forgiveness programs.

For example, the Get on Your Feet Loan Forgiveness Program in New York offers certain recent graduates who are enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan relief equaling 24 months of payments.

And lawyers in Texas who work for specific legal aid programs may be eligible for the Texas Student Loan Repayment Assistance Program.

“Student loan forgiveness is based on the borrower’s occupation, in most cases,” Kantrowitz said. “So they should look for forgiveness based on their job, especially for their state.”

Celebrity fashion designer Norma Kamali on why she’s never retiring

Some people look forward to retirement for years, planning trips in the winter to warm locales and long afternoons spent relaxing.

But Norma Kamali, who turned 77 in June, hasn’t thought about retiring once.

In fact, the celebrity fashion designer and owner of Norma Kamali Inc. just signed a long-term lease on a new office in the West Village neighborhood of Manhattan.

“I don’t think you can ever retire from a creative life,” she tells CNBC Make It. “Doing this work is like breathing for me.” 

When friends or colleagues announce their retirement, Kamali admits she gets “anxious.” “I think, ‘God, why would you want to do that?'” she explains. “I’m not sure what retirement would even look like for me … but it’s just a different point of view that I have on life, and I’m so grateful to do the work that I do. I want to take advantage of every opportunity I can in this lifetime.” 

Kamali opened her first store in New York City in 1969 with her then-husband, designing clothes inspired by vintage fashion from the 1930s and 1940s as well as the vibrant outfits she’d see women wear in the streets of London.

Her fashion empire has since outgrown the small basement boutique where she started building it — celebrities including Mindy Kaling, Heidi Klum, Christina Aguilera and Eva Longoria have worn her designs on magazine covers and red carpets across the globe.

Still, Kamali’s proudest achievement isn’t the accolades she’s received or the fame of her designs in Hollywood: It’s being the sole owner of her company and having zero debt. 

“I really fought for a creative life and the ability to say no,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of interesting challenges being a woman and owning a business, like people pressuring me to sell my company or bring in a partner.” 

“I really had to learn how to run a business without any examples or mentors to look up to, and I had to learn how to connect with my staff and get the same respect men would get in my position.” 

Humor has, and continues to be, one of the strategies Kamali relies on to build strong relationships at work. 

“Tasteful humor is the best way to offer advice, comments or even criticism to someone without hurting their feelings, especially when you want them to benefit from the advice and still feel good,” she says. 

Looking ahead, Kamali is excited to continue working in fashion for as long as she can. She says she feels good about getting older, too — unless someone implies that her age brings limitations with it.

“When I turned 65, I learned how to do a split,” she says. “Challenging myself, trying something new and practicing discipline until I reached my goal gave me a tremendous amount of confidence that I bring with me to my work … and a strong sense of confidence makes success more likely.” 

Check out:

77-year-old celebrity fashion designer Norma Kamali’s 2 simple secrets for long-term career success

39-year-old self-made millionaire: ‘Success isn’t owned, it’s rented. And rent is due every day’

Women by the numbers in 2022: Share of female Fortune 500 CEOs hits all-time high, but other progress stalls

Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter

Inside a $1,000/month 3-bedroom apartment in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Republican representatives say they are not worried McCarthy conceded too much

New U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks with reporters in Statuary Hall after being elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in a late night 15th round of voting in the fourth session of the 118th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 7, 2023. 

Jon Cherry | Reuters

Following a chaotic week in the U.S. House of Representatives over Kevin McCarthy’s bid for speaker, Republican representatives said Sunday they are not worried that he gave up too much in order to secure the gavel.

After 14 failed votes since Tuesday, the California Republican was able to overcome opposition after making extraordinary concessions to a small bloc of far-right holdouts who refused to support his speaker bid.

Republican Rep. Scott Perry, who was among the most outspoken opponents of McCarthy’s speaker bid, flipped his vote for McCarthy on the 12th ballot. He said Sunday that the concessions made by McCarthy will function as a mechanism to get things done and reign in issues like the debt limit.

“This is never about Kevin McCarthy. This is about power for the American people,” Perry told ABC’s “This Week.” “And with all due respect, Nancy Pelosi ran Congress like a prison camp with no accountability.”

Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., said Sunday he’s not worried that Kevin McCarthy conceded too much to get the speakership. He said he understands why Americans were frustrated with how long it took to elect a speaker, but that a healthy democracy requires debate.

“The process that we went through this week was quite healthy from the standpoint of getting all of these issues resolved now,” he told ABC’s “This Week.”

In his first speech, McCarthy laid out an ambitious plan in addressing the 118th congressional session early Saturday morning, saying he wants to “be the check and provide some balance” to President Joe Biden’s policies.

He said the first legislation he plans to tackle will repeal funding for more than 87,000 new IRS agents. He highlighted immigration reform as a top priority, saying the Republican-controlled House will hold some of its first hearings of the year at the Southern border.

Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., said he thinks McCarthy is “an extraordinarily talented leader,” and that he is confident a lot of work will be done while he is speaker.

He told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that the speaker vote was not “dysfunctioning chaos” like many people claimed. It gave Republicans an opportunity to take a hard look at one another.

“It was deciding the most important equations about how this Congress is going to proceed, and we accomplished an enormous amount,” he said.

Democratic representatives were less optimistic.

Massachusetts Democrat Katherine Clark told CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that she thinks House Republicans were trying to distract Americans away from their legislative agenda.

“When they talk about process, that is a smoke screen,” she said.

But House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said if McCarthy is willing to try and find common ground, he will find willing partners among House Democrats.

“Clearly we are going to have strong disagreements at times, but we can agree to disagree without being disagreeable,” he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.

Check out BMW’s new color-changing concept car, the i Vision Dee

What if the color of your car could change based on your mood or the weather?

That’s the idea — or, at least, one of the ideas— behind BMW’s new “i Vision Dee” concept car, a midsize electric sports sedan covered in futuristic panels that can change color on demand.

BMW describes it as the world’s first “color-changing” car. The Dee, which stands for “Digital Emotional Experience,” can cycle between 32 different colors, the company said in a press release on Thursday, while unveiling the car at the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The car can cycle between 32 different solid exterior colors, with mix-and-match capabilities due to its 240 different panel segments. That’s a significant leap past BMW’s earlier iteration showcased last year, which could only alternate between black, white and gray.

As with any concept vehicle, the technology behind the Dee’s color-changing capabilities is likely years away from consumer availability. Exposure to the elements in day-to-day driving — from car washes to flying insects — keeps the high-tech panels from performing in the real world, The Verge noted Thursday.

A photo composite shows some of the potential color combinations of the color-changing BMW i Vision Dee concept car.

Source: BMW

For BMW, the car is meant as a glimpse of what could eventually be a much more colorful future. “This allows an almost infinite variety of patterns to be generated and varied within seconds,” the company said in its press release, which described the light show as a “magical display of color.”

The Dee’s outer skin is a film made of electronic paper built by a startup called E Ink, which also makes display tech for e-readers and mobile phones. The coating segments contain millions of tiny microcapsules with different color pigments that change shades when electricity is applied.

The electronic coating is “ultra-low power,” so changing the car’s colors won’t drain the electric vehicle’s battery, E Ink said in its own press release on Thursday.

E Ink also said it’s able to manufacture its panels in any shape imaginable — potentially leading to applications like e-reader screens that mimic the look of actual paper or more energy-efficient digital signs and smartwatch displays.

BMW hasn’t released specs for the Dee’s engine or battery, but says the concept car is additionally loaded with futuristic hardware and software that’ll be available in cars on the road by 2025.

That includes BMW’s Head-Up display, a digital dashboard that spans the entire width of the windshield. It also features a Mixed Reality Slider, a touchscreen that allows you to control how much digital content is displayed on that dashboard, from driving speed and battery range to music controls and text messages.

The interior of BMW’s i Vision Dee concept car.

Source: BMW

Inside a $1,000/month 3-bedroom apartment in San Juan, Puerto Rico

How health insurance may have made health care more expensive

Widespread medical debt is a uniquely American problem. Roughly 40% of U.S. adults have at least $250 in medical debt, according to a survey conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation.

“The history of medical debt is basically a history of the changing answer to the following question: When the patient can’t pay the bill, who foots it?” said Dr. Luke Messac, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who is writing a book about the history of medical debt.

As health-care prices rose over the past fifty years, patients were being asked to pay more out of pocket when they received care.

There are many complicated reasons for the rise in the cost of care such as not prioritizing preventive care or a lack of price transparency, but one of the biggest catalysts for inflation was the rise of health insurance.

“It was when you get this third-party payer system where the patient doesn’t have to pay all of the cost of it directly, the insurer pays a chunk of it,” said. Dr. Peter Kongstvedt, a senior health policy faculty member at George Mason University. “That gives you relentless upward pressure on pricing, because if you’re going to get paid, why not get paid some more?”

In the early 2000s, federal legislation led to a major restructuring of how insurance plans shared costs, with the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act spurring a boom in high-deductible health insurance plans.

A deductible is the amount a policyholder has to pay upfront before their health insurance plan kicks in. The average deductible for an individual in 2022 is around $1,760, which is double what it was in 2006 when adjusted for inflation.

Roughly 70% of lower-income adults said they wouldn’t be able to afford a $500 unexpected medical bill. Nearly a quarter of those in households with an income of at least $90,000 also said they wouldn’t be able to immediately afford it.

“It doesn’t really take a Nobel Prize in economics to realize that if most people can’t afford a $500 bill, and the average deductible on a health plan that someone gets at work is north of $1,500 now, that’s that’s going to create a problem,” said Noam Levey, senior correspondent for Kaiser Health News. “You can’t walk into an emergency room or a hospital in this country and get out usually for less than a few thousand dollars.”

Watch the video above to learn more about how medical debt became so common in the U.S. health care system and what we can do to change it.

2022 U.S. auto sales are worst in more than a decade

New Jeeps on display at a New York City car dealership on Oct. 5, 2021.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images

DETROIT — Automakers are hopeful last year’s new vehicle sales — the worst in more than a decade — will mark a bottom for the market, at least in the near term.

Industry estimates range from 13.7 million to 13.9 million new vehicles being sold last year in the U.S., a roughly 8% to 9% decline compared with 2021 and the lowest level since 2011 when sales were recovering from the Great Recession.

Sales varied widely by automaker, as parts and supply chain problems affected companies at different times, but most — with General Motors’ 2.5% gain as a notable exception — were down compared with 2021. Ford Motor, Hyundai and Kia all reported low single-digit declines. Toyota Motor was down 9.6%, while Stellantis, Nissan and Honda Motor posted double-digit falls of 13%, 25% and 29.4%, respectively.

But auto industry executives remain cautiously optimistic that sales will rebound in 2023, regardless of recessionary fears, rising interest rates and other economic concerns. A typical year prior to the pandemic saw more than 17 million in sales.

Toyota and GM said they expect U.S. auto sales to increase to about 15 million vehicles this year. That would be a roughly 9% increase over 2022. S&P Global Mobility and Edmunds expect 2023 new U.S. vehicle sales to be 14.8 million, while Cox Automotive’s preliminary forecast is 14.1 million.

“We’re cautiously optimistic about the future. In 2023, there will be an uptick not quite as high as we would love it to be but going the right direction,” Jack Hollis, executive vice president of Toyota Motor North America, said during a briefing Wednesday. “Demand is still higher than our supply.”

The reason for the optimism is two-fold: Sales have been at or near recessionary levels due to parts and supply chain issues, plus demand has piled up from consumers and businesses after years of tight vehicle inventories during the pandemic.

Automakers have reported record or near-record results in recent years amid the tight supply of new vehicles and resilient consumer demand. They have banked on sustained pent-up demand as inventory levels normalize, hoping to avoid heavy discounts or incentives to move vehicles.

The deep discounts typical of the industry help to maintain production and increase sales, however several auto executives have vowed they will not return to such tactics at the cost of profits.

Automakers can offset underwhelming retail sales with fleet sales to governments and companies such as rental car agencies. Those bulk sales have taken a back seat to retail customers in recent years and are traditionally less profitable than those to consumers but assist in moving product.

“The fleet demand is very high, no doubt,” Hollis said, adding he believes there will be a “moderation” across the industry regarding incentives.

Charlie Chesbrough, Cox’s senior economist and senior director of industry insights, said he doesn’t believe vehicle sales will post any notable increase in 2023 — unless automakers let up on pricing to make them more affordable.

Automakers have largely passed rising commodity costs to build vehicles onto consumers, making the vehicles more expensive. That, combined with skyrocketing interest rates, higher gas prices and broad inflation, has dampened new vehicle demand.

“This is one of those rare times where we really have no idea which direction the market could go. It could easily go up or down from where we’re at right now,” Chesbrough told CNBC. “The pace over the last couple of months has been definitely pointing to a weakening market.”

Vehicle inventories improved toward the end of the year — a sign record-high vehicle prices may finally ease. And higher volumes bring the potential for a “demand destruction” scenario, where supplies begin to outpace demand.

Many on Wall Street also fear that the most profitable days for automakers may be behind them amid higher interest rates, falling used vehicle prices and a normalization of sales mix away from fully loaded models.

Chesbrough said there’s “certainly downside risk to the market” in the event of a full-blown recession. But he said the impact wouldn’t be as prevalent as it has been in the past because many lower-income and subprime borrowers, who would typically leave the new vehicle segment during a recession, have already done so because of low inventories and record-high prices.

Last year’s sales total remains an estimate because not all automakers publicly release results. Motor Intelligence reports sales were nearly 13.9 million units last year, Cox Automotive estimates sales at 13.8 million and Edmunds and Wards Intelligence estimate 13.7 million.

Trump’s tax returns show no Social Security benefit income

Former U.S. President Donald Trump claps as he announces that he will once again run for U.S. president in the 2024 U.S. presidential election during an event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, November 15, 2022.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

When former President Donald Trump’s tax returns were released last week, the line for Social Security income was notably left blank.

About 70 million Americans rely on Social Security for monthly income when they retire or become disabled. The program may also provide benefits for qualifying family members of those who have retired, disabled or died.

To qualify, workers generally need to earn 40 credits by working and paying Social Security taxes. Eligibility for retirement benefits starts at age 62.

By those measures, Trump, 76, should qualify for retirement benefits, which will provide a maximum monthly income of $3,627 per month in 2023 for workers who claim at their full retirement age (generally age 66 or 67, depending on year of birth). Higher benefits are possible for people who continue to work or claim benefits after full retirement age.

Yet Trump had no Social Security income for tax years 2015 through 2020, based on his individual tax returns.

Trump’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Most voters don't want either Trump or Biden to run again, CNBC survey finds

High earners sometimes ‘just skip Social Security’

While wealthy individuals technically qualify for benefits after paying into the program, it is up to them whether or not they claim the monthly checks, noted Jim Blair, vice president of Premier Social Security Consulting and a former Social Security administrator.

“It’s not necessarily uncommon that the real high earners just skip Social Security,” Blair said.

The program currently faces a funding shortfall, whereby just 80% of benefits will be payable in 2035 if no changes are made sooner. Yet with more than $1 trillion in benefits paid in 2022, one less claimant may not make a huge difference for the program.

“We’re talking over a trillion dollars in benefits, so one person not taking it doesn’t make that much of a difference,” Blair said. “But every dollar helps, I guess.”

The example brings up the question whether very rich individuals should claim Social Security benefits, according to Andrew Biggs, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has served in various roles at the Social Security Administration.

“As I see it, there’s nothing wrong with it,” Biggs said.

“Not only did you pay for the benefit, you were forced to pay for the benefit,” Biggs said. “I don’t think anyone can question if you decide to accept it.”

But the next question is whether we should have a system designed to pay benefits to high-income people, Biggs said. The answer to that is no, he said.

In the U.K. or Australia, Trump would not be eligible for a benefit anywhere near the size of U.S. Social Security benefits, Biggs noted.

“It’s surprising that he didn’t [claim], because I don’t see any practical reason why he wouldn’t,” Biggs said of Trump.

Why Trump’s strategy may not be best

While Trump may never intend to claim Social Security benefits, there are some lessons other retirees can learn from his example.

Retirees stand to receive the biggest benefit checks if they hold off claiming Social Security until age 70. Claimants receive reduced benefits if they claim at 62, the earliest possible age. At full retirement age, they stand to receive 100% of the benefits for which they qualify based on their earnings record. But for every year they delay from full retirement age up to 70, they stand to receive an 8% bump to their benefits.

Importantly, there are no increases past age 70. Consequently, Trump is leaving money on the table.

Blair said he was recently approached by a financial adviser for advice on how to handle a 72-year-old client who still had not claimed Social Security. Unfortunately, the most Social Security will pay is six months of retroactive benefits, Blair said.

As a result, the client would forfeit the benefit income they would have received for the rest of that time.

More from Personal Finance:
Credit card interest rates are heading to 20%
Where to keep your cash amid rising interest rates
Falling behind on student loans can reduce Social Security by $2,500 a year

“They just give up those benefits and don’t receive anything for it,” Blair said.

“There’s no reason to wait past age 70 to start your Social Security,” he said.

Yet a recent MassMutual quiz on Social Security shows this is one rule about the program claimants may get wrong. Just 49% of respondents were able to correctly answer a true-or-false question on the financial effect of delaying past 70, the results found.

Another reason Trump’s claiming strategy may fall short: His loved ones may be eligible for benefits based on his record, including his wife Melania, and son Barron, who at age 16 is still a minor.