Retirement planning is a worthwhile effort at any stage of your career. But if you’ll soon need to decide when to start drawing Social Security payments, having a plan is urgent. A National Social Security Advisor (NSSA) is a financial professional who may be especially useful if you need to know when to start, how much more you might draw if you wait, and how much of your retirement expenses these benefits will cover. We’ll explore what the NSSA certification means and whether it’s a certification you’ll want your financial planner to possess.
Who Can Become a National Social Security Advisor?
NSSA is a certification created by the National Social Security Association, LLC, a for-profit entity, in 2013. The association is the brainchild of a former Social Security administrator, Jim Blair, and a CPA, Marc Kiner. The Association’s website claims the NSSA is the nation’s only accredited Social Security Certificate program.
The certificate is available to professionals whose work includes advising clients on their Social Security benefits. It’s up to the Association to decide who is eligible, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a non-profit that oversees the securities industry.
NSSA’s founders point out that millions of baby boomers will hit retirement age in the coming decade. Furthermore, many still don’t know the basics about Social Security benefits. Since eligible retirees can lose up to 25% of their benefits by starting withdrawals at 62, there’s a lot of retirement security at stake.
Citing this critical situation, the Association also encourages financial advisors to advertise their Social Security expertise. An advisor with NSSA certification has no powers that a non-certified advisor doesn’t have. Rather, the designation helps advisors demonstrate their knowledge of these benefits and attract clients.
What Subjects Does NSSA Training Cover?
NSSA certification requires completion of a one-day course and passing a proctored exam. CPAs, CFPs, insurance agents and other professionals may use it to fulfill continuing education obligations for other certifications.
There are several means of completing the coursework and a corresponding pricing scale. The Association hosts several in-class workshops each year in various locations, which a NSSA instructor leads. At $995, it’s the most expensive option. Alternatively, candidates can pay $695 for live or taped online sessions, also with a NSSA instructor. For those who prefer to complete the course on their own time, there is a 19-module, on-demand option that costs $395.
After the training, prospective advisors take an online, closed-book assessment proctored by an independent online service. The proctor charges modest fees between $25 and $35. Candidates must use a video-enabled computer for accountability purposes. They may use calculators and reduction factor tables as they work. All candidates need a grade of at least 79%, but the Association grants two retest opportunities.
Like many other professional certifications, the NSSA must be renewed every two years. This requires an additional eight hours of continuing education credits and costs $395. However, those certified can opt to pay $1000 for lifetime certification.
Benefits of the NSSA Designation
While any credible professional should understand the details of Social Security, NSSA certification can help financial advisors stand out in a crowded field. The Association, pointing to the huge number of Americans soon to retire, argues the certification also can help increase an advisor’s revenue. And if they have solid credentials in other aspects of retirement planning, it can increase advisors’ value for current clients.
Meanwhile, people in the market for a financial advisor, particularly those 62 or older, can know in advance that an NSSA-certified advisor has this territory covered. Choices about when to begin Social Security payments and how to incorporate them into a wider revenue stream can have enormous impact on the quality of retirement. Because of this, it’s critical that an advisor’s knowledge of these benefits is current and comprehensive.
NSSA vs. Certified Retirement Retirement Counselor
NSSA is not the only certificate that indicates a specialization in retirement planning. If you’re in the market for professional help, another specialization is the Certified Retirement Counselor, or CRC. The International Foundation for Retirement Education (InFRE), a nonprofit organization, created this certification in 1997 when the first baby boomers were closing in on retirement age.
Both certificates require qualifying exams, regular recertification, ongoing education and adherence to ethical standards. The background and educational requirements for the CRC are similarly open-ended. Candidates generally must have a bachelor’s degree, although InFRE may waive that requirement if there is abundant work experience to consider.
The primary difference between the CRC and NSSA relates to their scope of study. As the name implies, CRC candidates will study many aspects of retirement and financial planning, not just Social Security. Those certified should be able to help clients with investing and financial management, and they also take courses on responsible counseling practices.
It is entirely possible for a financial advisor to earn both certificates. If you prefer a comprehensive approach to financial management, a CRC can be a differentiator. In contrast, those with a solid financial plan who simply want to dive deeper into Social Security’s complexities may find an NSSA’s approach to be satisfactory.
Unless you have an abundance of well-funded retirement accounts, it’s very important to get the most out of your Social Security benefits. A professional with NSSA certification certainly should be able to help. They can review your options for tapping this income and make the most of your contributions. That said, there is no certification that guarantees a financial professional is the right partner for you. Many advisors without NSSA, CRC or other retirement-specific certifications can provide excellent advice. However, if you’re eager to find good Social Security advice quickly, NSSA is a credential that should catch your attention. But remember there are other factors, such as trustworthiness and comfort level, that also matter.
Tips for Retirement
- The total value of your Social Security benefits correlates directly with the age at which you begin withdrawals. If you start too early, you may be reducing your total payouts by tens of thousands of dollars. A Social Security calculator can help illustrate how age and payouts are related.
- An advisor who clearly explains critical aspects of retirement planning can be an investment that pays for itself many times over. Finding the right financial advisor that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be matched with local advisors that will help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
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