Investors beware: Scams can wipe out lives

March 15, 2012 in Personal Finance

George Washington Plunkett of New York City’s notorious Tammany Hall gang coined the phrase “honest graft” to affirm his support for any government action that personally enriched him. More to the point, he acknowledged that “I seen my opportunities and took ‘em.”

This article focuses on the dishonor roll of scalawags, schemers and miscreants who bilk folks out of their money and cost taxpayers billions of dollars. This is a cautionary tale for those who believe nothing bad like this can happen to them.

Let’s begin with Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, where he stole as much as $50 billion from his investors over a 20-year period. Madoff was a well-respected and wealthy investment manager. Millionaires and large charities clamored to invest in his fund, which promised and delivered – sort of – amazing returns. His written reports showed his investors that they were prospering under his management. What he didn’t tell them was that he had either wasted their investment or used their money to pay investors who wanted to get out of his fund. Few bothered to verify his statements. The Securities and Exchange Commission opened and closed a file on him with no action taken. Ronald Reagan’s comment about the Russians, “trust but verify,” should be the motto for all investors.

“Too big to fail” was applied to the banks’ mortgage bailout. Clearly this aid was denied to the millions of Americans hit by mortgage foreclosures. Sadly, too many were enticed with zero down mortgages which they had no realistic means of paying. The mortgage brokers made money, the mortgage companies made money, the securities firms made money bundling mortgages into extremely risky investments, and the lawyers foreclosing on the mortgages made money. Everyone on the other side of each transaction and the federal government lost billions. The moral of this sad tale: If a deal looks too good to be true, walk.

Then there are the large pharmaceutical companies that have gouged Medicare and Medicaid out of billions, and admitted it. They paid several billion-dollar fines and promised in writing to the Feds that this wouldn’t happen again. They lied. Most companies likely passed on the cost of the fines to the consumers. Jailing the executives who commit the fraud on taxpayers or canceling drug patent rights and allowing the drugs to be sold generically should remedy this travesty. No chance that will happen.

A Federal Reserve official recently praised the Fed for keeping interest rates at nearly zero. She noted that mortgage rates were at an all-time low. She failed to acknowledge how difficult banks are making it to get a mortgage. If you reviewed the balance on your credit card and its obscenely high interest rate, you realize how little you benefit from the Fed’s interest policy. What she also failed to note was the effect the extremely low rate of return has on CDs. Retired folks depend on interest to supplement Social Security, so they are hurting.

“Person of Interest,” a new television show, involves a government computer system that records our every movement. Perhaps this is not so farfetched. Google, Facebook and other social network sites are busy gathering data about us every time we visit them. If you believe their commitment to keeping all this information private, then you are very gullible. How many times have companies reluctantly admitted that they have inadvertently disclosed your private information? Ask one of your computer-savvy kids about helping you put up a “firewall” to protect your information.

The best most of us can hope for is to know the scammer’s tricks and avoid them. Eternal vigilance is essential.

Learn how to avoid (not evade) taxes

March 1, 2012 in Personal Finance

For those suffering the 1040 blues, I bring you some hope for smaller IRS payments. My inspiration is Newt Gingrich’s tax ploy. Newt set up a corporation to receive his income from books and speeches, and, by so doing, avoided about $70,000 in Medicare taxes. The mantra of tax adviser to the rich: “To whom much income is given, much less will be paid to the IRS.”

Here are some of my suggestions, a few of which may actually save you some tax money. Before you act on any of these, check with your accountant or tax adviser to determine if they apply to your tax situation. Remember: Tax avoidance is entirely legal and is not the same as tax evasion, which is illegal. It is often difficult to discern the distinction.

Be like Newt (in taxes, not marriage) and use a corporation to receive your income from your self-employment. If you are a sole proprietor, then your net income goes directly from your Schedule C to the 1040 and the self-employment tax takes 13.3 percent of it, up to $106,800 in income; then 2.9 percent of your self-employment income after that. Some law partners incorporate themselves to receive their partnership distributions and use this strategy to save taxes.

Businesses generally have numerous opportunities to avoid taxes. Most of us have computers, tablets, cell phones and various other tools of the trade. Use any of those in your business and you can deduct the entire cost in the year of purchase; if you finance any of these, you can deduct the interest payments. Now let’s be honest; most of us don’t use these devices exclusively for business, but still write off 100 percent of the cost. Yes, this does violate the tax code. Or consider the deduction for the “company car.” Is the car used exclusively for business or more often used for personal trips?

We need to eat. How sad is it to eat alone? Take a customer to lunch or dinner and deduct half the expense; be sure to spend some time discussing business. Then follow this meal by attending a Pacers game with your client and deduct the expense. There are numerous opportunities to discuss business during the time-outs and halftime. By the way, keep the receipts in the unlikely — and unlucky — event that you are audited. Small businesses are audited slightly more frequently than the 1 percent rate for individuals.

With the cost of health insurance rising, Congress has been so concerned that the tax code permits self-employed persons to deduct 100 percent of the health insurance costs for the self-employed, spouses and dependents. Contrast that with how the tax code deals with employed folks; they can only deduct the part of the premium they pay if the amount exceeds 7.5% of their adjusted gross income.

Need a vacation? You can travel to a business seminar, many of which are conveniently held at resorts or other choice locations, and deduct the airfare as long as you spend one day more at the seminar than on vacation. Remember the nights are your own and your meals away from home are also deductible.

And if the IRS asks you where you got this information, please, you did not read it here. I do not want to be among the 1 percent to be audited.

Pay begins when work starts

February 16, 2012 in Personal Finance

Q. At work, the clerks are required to “set up” our work station; after that, we clock in. Our pay begins only when we are on the clock. Shouldn’t we be paid from the time we arrive at work?
A. Your employer is required to pay you from the time you begin working. If setting up is necessary to perform your work, pay begins at that time. If you don’t receive the appropriate back pay and the employer continues to short change you in violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, file a complaint with the Labor Department, Wage Hour Division (website: dol/

Q. I am the sole heir of a relative. The only asset in her estate is a bank account of about $20,000. Can I receive the account without setting up an estate and going through probate?
A. Indiana law permits you to receive estate assets of $50,000 and less by transferring the property using an Affidavit of Transfer in which you agree to pay for any of the decedent’s debts out of the transferred property. With the bank account, you will also need a Consent to Transfer form filed with the county assessor where she resided; there may be an inheritance tax on the transfer depending on your relationship to the deceased. The Indiana Department of Revenue website contains the Consent to Transfer form and inheritance tax information ( An attorney can prepare these documents for a reasonable fee.

Q. I recently received an e-mail from my credit union requesting a confirmation of my account information. Is this a scam?
A. Banks and credit unions would not contact you in this way, so yes, it is a scam. Do not give any information over the telephone or by e-mail. If you are concerned about your account, visit the bank or credit union in person. An identify thief can deplete your account quicker than any robber can pick your pocket.

Q. What should I do if I have an automobile accident?
A. Exchange information with the other person, including auto insurance and driver’s license information (make sure that you see his or her license). If there are any witnesses, get their names, addresses and telephone numbers. If you have a camera on your cell phone, take pictures. Immediately contact your insurance agent. Write a detailed account of the accident including a sketch of the scene (location of the cars, intersection, auto damage and any personal injuries). You might want to have a doctor examine you for possible injuries.

Q. My 17-year-old recently bought a motorcycle without my knowledge. Can he get his money back if he returns it?
A. The legal age for a contract is 18. He may return the motorcycle and the seller is obligated to return his money if the motorcycle is in the same condition as it was at purchase time.

Q. Can I prepare my own last will and testament?
A. My bias, as an attorney, is to use a lawyer because I have seen self-drafted wills that fail because of vague or confusing language or improper execution. Attorney fees vary, so you could “shop around.” In addition, the attorney can provide advice about avoiding probate entirely with “transfer on death” designations for investment accounts and real estate or draft a revocable trust. The attorney may suggest ways to reduce an estate’s Indiana inheritance tax.

Taxes: Not all income treated equally

February 2, 2012 in Personal Finance

Politicians can be inspiring. Take Newt and Mitt’s tax returns – you only wish! Mitt’s tax rate was about 15% in 2010 on his multi-million dollar income. Newt created a corporation to avoid paying 2.3% medicare taxes on his $3 million plus in income (saving about $70,000).

I am not particularly interested in President Obama’s taxes because he is just a simple wage earner with some taxpayer-paid fringes, like free rental on the White House and visiting great vacation sites on his Presidential trips here and abroad.

Let’s visit the tax world of Newt and Mitt to see how they do it. I am presuming all this is done legally, although in Newt’s case on the Medicare tax avoidance, I would enjoy being the IRS agent who audits his return. I also assume that Mitt’s far-flung international investment income is properly reported. His Cayman Island investments had me a little concerned, since that is a place notorious for hiding income from the IRS (somewhat more impenetrable than the Swiss bank accounts). I will give Mitt the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Without casting aspersions on the top 1% and hoping to avoid a suggestion of class warfare, I will open a window to their tax breaks.

Not all income is treated equally; some forms of income are taxed lower than others. If you invest in municipal bonds, the income is tax-free; your rate of return may be a little less than other investments, but tax-free looks pretty attractive. If you sell your stocks, bonds, and investment property at a gain, there is a maximum tax rate of 15% on any of your long-term capital gains (contrast this with the highest marginal tax rate of 35% for individuals).

Since the new “gold” standard for top executive pay appears to be $50 million, you would think that the IRS could come into a fair share of that. Not likely. These folks have good tax accountants and attorneys to structure their pay to minimize taxes. Much of this pay will be tax-deferred until they retire when presumably their income and tax rate will be less than during their peak earning years. Another portion will be allocated to company stock options, which, if they exercise their options and then sell the stock at a higher price, will create long-term capital gain.

What remains mostly untaxed are their fringe benefits, such as the private jet “business” trips, company paid vacations and meals, legal and investment advice, and Super Bowl tickets.

Fairness requires me to note that Mitt in particular was very charitable to his church and others; all the contributions are deductible. Now, if Mitt’s tax advisors are clever, they might suggest that he give stock, which has appreciated in value, to the charities rather than giving money, and then he can deduct the full value of the stock (rather than the amount he paid for it). Most of us just give cash from our after-tax income. If Newt’s ex-wives are receiving alimony, then he can deduct those payments; probably they deserve every penny.

I agree with billionaire Warren Buffet’s position on taxes; he encourages Congress to consider taxing his 1% group more. Paying a few more dollars in taxes on $50 million in compensation probably won’t put a crimp in a millionaire’s lifestyle. However, if I can get Buffet’s pay, then I might change my mind after all. Congress created all these loopholes for somebody to use.
Finally, all these tax loopholes are so porous and convoluted that they even confuse the best tax advisors. Mitt’s tax return shows an error that cost him $44,000.

Plan for successful year

January 19, 2012 in Personal Finance

Just a few weeks into the new year, there’s still plenty of time for resolutions. Hopefully, you will be more successful than I have been throughout the years.

Estate planning: If you have a will, it likely needs updating after five years. Avoiding probate seems to concern many of us, so consider a trust, which avoids probate by transferring your assets upon death to your beneficiaries. You may want to add a “transfer on death” provision to your investments, such as mutual funds, stocks and bank accounts, and to your real estate. The named transferee automatically owns the property upon your death. This year may be a good time to visit an attorney, accountant and financial planner.

Life insurance policies need to be reviewed to determine if you need more (or less) coverage. Also review your beneficiary designation. Most of us are underinsured. Don’t be like one husband who neglected to change his life insurance beneficiary to his new wife, leaving all of his proceeds to his ex-wife; she was really happy.

If you want to help the kids or grandkids, you may give up to $13,000 each year free of gift tax. The lifetime exemption, at least for 2011-12, is $5 million. A Coverdell Education Savings Account would also be a sound investment for their future and provide you with an Indiana tax benefit.

Taxes. Be like Warren Buffett, the billionaire, and pay fewer taxes than your neighbor. Keep good records. Most of us pay more than we should because of sloppy record keeping. Spend some time reading the IRS tax publications or using a tax adviser. And don’t forget Indiana taxes. For example, giving $400 to your college alma mater provides a $200 tax credit for a married couple.
Keep your tax returns for a minimum of three years because the IRS can audit you for that period. No statute of limitations exists if no return is filed or the return is fraudulent.

If you set up a non-deductible IRA (with after-tax income), any amount contributed can be withdrawn tax-free; a deceased owner’s heirs may mistakenly assume that the IRA investments were tax deducted and pay the tax on the entire amount withdrawn. Likewise, keep all investment information relating to purchases. For example, if you buy Pepsi stock at $68 a share and later sell the stock, the $68 is the basis to determine your gain or loss from the sale.

Expenses. Check your real estate tax statement to make sure you are receiving all the credits, such as the homestead credit, to which you are entitled. Review your homeowner’s insurance and auto insurance to determine if you can get more coverage for less money. Consider a health savings account with your employer to pay health care costs with pre-tax dollars. If you return to college, you may be eligible for the American Opportunity credit or the Hope Scholarship credit.

Finally, be charitable. You will receive much more than you give, and you can take a tax charitable deduction for the mileage you accumulate, such as driving to a school to help kids with their reading and math.

Good luck this year.

I’ll take law for a $100

November 10, 2011 in Personal Finance

If you’re hooked on Jeopardy, then this article is for you. The category is “Law.” The answers are at the end of the article. You will not be required to answer with a question.
Let’s play.
1. The most important U.S. government document.
2. The most important Indiana government document.
3. A grand jury criminal charge.
4. The document that distributes a decedent’s probate estate.
5. The owners of a corporation.
6. The federal agency that regulates deceptive advertising.
7. The federal agency that investigates age-discrimination complaints by employees.
8. An employee who is injured can file this claim against the employer
9. The person hired to help employer-employee contract disputes, such as in NBA strike.
10. The law that protects the author of a book.
11. The driver injured in an accident, which is the fault of another party, may sue for this.
12. The amount you may transfer upon death in 2011/2012 without paying federal estate taxes.
13. The Indiana agency you can apply to if you have unclaimed property.
14. The federal agency that enforces the “Superfund” cleanup law.
15. If your neighbor builds a fence on your property without permission, it is the tort of this.
16. If your child is age five, you receive a federal income tax-dependent deduction and this.
17. “Pepsi” name is protected by this law.
18. The maximum amount you are liable for when a thief uses your credit card.
19. If you are employed, then you and your employer pay this tax (four letters).
20. If seller advertises a low-price item, and the salesperson pushes a higher-priced item, then it is called this.

1. Constitution 2. Constitution 3. Indictment 4. Last Will and Testament 5. Shareholders
6. Federal Trade Commission
7. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission 8. Workers’ Comp. 9. Mediator 10. Copyright 11. Negligence 12. $5 million 13. Attorney General 14. Environmental Protection Agency 15. Trespass 16. Child tax credit of $1,000 17. Trademark 18. $50 19. FICA 20. Bait and Switch
If you answered all the questions correctly, then you are entitled to 10 weeks’ worth of free copies of this newspaper

Cheating on taxes

October 13, 2011 in Personal Finance

Congress is battling over how to manage the deficit.  I have a suggestion.  Enforce the current law. Readers’ Digest once ran an article, the gist of which was this – if you are not cheating on your taxes, then your neighbor is.  Here are some examples.

Collection plate change artist. Each Sunday, the taxpayer wrote a check for the collection plate at church.  He then pocketed an equal amount of cash from the same plate.  He of course, deducted the amount of the checks.  His pastor testified against him in a tax fraud case.

Too busy to file. Several years ago I received a call from a prospective bride.  Her future groom had not filed tax returns for 10 years; his construction business just kept him too busy.  If I were Dr. Phil, I would have told her that an irresponsible fiancé may not be a good mate; instead I told her that the IRS probably would slap a big penalty, as well as the tax and interest owed.  Not a good beginning for her marriage.

Stingy tippers. Great food servers deserve good tips, probably in the 15 to 20% range.  However, the IRS probably shouldn’t expect to have all the tips reported.  As one of my students once observed, “How will they know?”   Indeed, cash isn’t all that traceable.

Mobster pillow talk. An often-convicted numbers kingpin was convicted for income tax evasion.  Since he filed a joint return with his wife, the IRS sued her for her share of the income tax based on her husband’s criminal receipts.  The wife asserted that she knew nothing about her husband’s activities therefore she was not liable.  The husband testified that no Italian male would ever tell his wife about his “business”.  The court held in her favor.

Creative accounting. A client was interested in buying a tavern.  Her attorney wanted to know exactly how much income the bar generated so he asked to see the books.  “Do you want the books I keep for the IRS, the books for the Indiana Department of Revenue, or the real books?” was the response.

What is a church? The IRS is usually reluctant to challenge a church.  But there are exceptions.  Two airline pilots formed the Church of the Holy Angels and pilots were co-pastors (duly established by an online certificate).  Each pastor’s house was purchased by the “church”; therefore, each family resided in their parsonage tax free.  Donations to this church were deducted as charitable contributions.  The congregation, consisting of the two pastors’ families, met on Sunday afternoons during the NFL season, but attendance dropped to zero during the off-season.

Towel count. A massage parlor was suspected by the IRS of underreporting income.  A dutiful agent visited the establishment and determined that each patron used three towels per visit.  Another agent went to the laundry, where the parlor had the towels cleaned and counted the total number of towels washed each month.  The IRS sent a deficiency notice to the business computing its income as follows: total number of towels used during the year divided by three, times the price per massage.  The Tax Court upheld this method of reconstructing income.

Here is my advice to the IRS.  Increase your “finder’s fee.”  Each time you catch a tax cheater and wring money out of him, her or it, give the person who reported the crook 25% of the tax collected.  The bounty system worked in the old West.

Legal Affairs

September 29, 2011 in Personal Finance

Q.  Can I make a tax deductible gift to my favorite candidate who promises to reduce the federal deficit?

A.  No, the federal income tax law does not allow a tax deduction for contributions to political candidates.  However if you are concerned about the national debt, you may make a tax deductible gift to Uncle Sam.  Surely your candidate will applaud your patriotism.

Q.  My father died recently and left only a small estate consisting of a life insurance policy (the beneficiary predeceased him) and a checking account.  Do I have to go through probate?

A.  Indiana law allows you to transfer up to $50,000 from an estate without going through probate.  If you are an heir, your attorney can prepare the affidavit of transfer which you submit to the insurance company and bank.  You agree in the affidavit that you are receiving the assets for the heirs and will pay any of your father’s debts from the proceeds.  If you are a child or grandchild (or parent), you will not pay any Indiana inheritance tax since the exempt amount is $100,000 for each of those heirs.

Q.  My new employer wants me to sign a trade secret agreement.  Should I?

A.  Many employers have information, such as business plans, customer lists, techniques, and formulas that are valuable and give them a competitive advantage, which would hurt their business if disclosed.  Since you may work for such a company and learn about this information, the employer wants you to be contractually bound not to disclose it to anyone and may sue you if you do.  A prudent employer should have each employee sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Q.  I admit to doing a little on-line betting.  Recently I read in the newspaper that one of the poker sites was a Ponzi scheme.  Who and what is Ponzi?

A.  Ponzi was a ‘20s crook who scammed millions of dollars from unsuspecting investors.  The scam works like this.  The so-called investment (or game) is established to receive money with a promise of a high return.  Some early investors may be paid from later investors money, but most of the money is stolen by the crook.  None of the money is invested, so there are no profits to be paid out.  Virtually all investors lose all their money; a fortunate few withdraw their investment before the house of cards (in your case) collapses.  Bernie Madoff is the most recent example.  He ran his scam for 20 years and cost his trusting investors billions of dollars.  What Reagan said about the Soviets applies to investments, “Trust but verify.”

Q.  After reading about Ron Artest changing his name, I am considering the same.  How complicated is a name change?

A.  You can petition the Circuit Court in your county for any name change. Generally the court will grant the change unless it is a change to commit fraud or evade the criminal law. Change of minor’s name may require the parents’ consent.   Remember to notify Social Security, the IRS, and the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, as well as any other company or agency that has your previous name.  As Artest might say, “Peace.”

Tips on starting a business right

September 14, 2011 in Personal Finance

This is the second of two articles I’ve written about the Internet and its many uses, such as the discovery of free legal advice.

If you are launching a new business, do some much-needed research by visiting the Small Business Administration web site – This site provides a wealth of information for the entrepreneur.  The in-depth articles range from writing your business plan and marketing the business to financing your start-up. A summary of laws you must follow is also available on the site.  Also on the site, the businessperson will find great written resources, such as articles about managing and growing the business, including suggestions on the use of technology and human relations advice. The site also has a link to your local SBA related network –, which lists the central Indiana Small Business Development Center.

The Indiana Secretary of State offers a web site to help Indiana businesses –  “Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business” includes a discussion of the selection of the appropriate business entity, such as corporation, limited liability company or limited liability partnership.  The article informs you about selecting a business name, the process of forming a business and filing documents with the Secretary of State, and registration for the tax identification number.

The site contains on-line forms for corporations (Articles of Incorporation), limited liability companies (Articles of Organization) and limited liability partnerships (Articles of Registration).

Unfortunately, taxes are an important consideration in running a business. Your knowledge about taxes is as important as what you know about every other aspect of becoming a business owner. The Internal Revenue Service web site- federal income and employment tax information, such as filing for your business tax ID number and a brief explanation of how the various business entities are taxed and what are income and deductible expenses. The site also contains Publication 4591, “Small Business Federal Tax Responsibilities.”   Likewise, the Indiana Department of Revenue has a business tax web site –  The site contains information about Indiana corporation, withholding and sales taxes.

If your business name or logo is important to your company, then you may want to trademark or servicemark it.  If you plan to operate only in Indiana, then you can TM or SM by applying online with the Secretary of State (  However, if you wish to go nationwide with your business, then visit the federal Trademark Office site –  This site begins with the trademark basics and allows you to search for trademarks that may conflict with your proposed mark. You can also apply for a mark on-line.

Employment laws also have a significant effect on running a business.  Federal employment anti-discrimination laws include Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Americans with Disabilities Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and Equal Pay Act, among others.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission web site at summarizes all these laws so that you can better understand what an employer can, and cannot do.  The U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division web site at provides information on minimum wage and overtime pay, as well as the Family and Medical Leave Act.  Also consult the Indiana Department of Labor on the Indiana minimum wage, as well as work place safety rules administered by the Indiana Occupation Health and Safety Administration at

After you collect all this information, establish your business advisor team – an attorney, an accountant, and an insurance agent.  Consider seeking out a business mentor who has experienced the joys and vicissitudes of being self-employed.  Remember, Bill Gates started small.

Approach with caution!

July 29, 2011 in Personal Finance

A friend recently was asked to be the executor of his father’s Will; he wanted to know the responsibilities involved and he had some questions about social security.
Q.     What are an executor’s duties in probating an estate?
A.     When your father passes and has any estate subject to probate, you will file a petition with the court where he lived to open his probate estate.  Property subject to probate usually consists of solely owned assets, therefore assets co-owned by spouses, jointly owned with a survivor or with a “paid on death” designation, life insurance and retirement accounts will be transferred outside probate to the named beneficiaries.
If all the estate beneficiaries consent, you may use “unsupervised probate administration”, which means that the court does not supervise every asset sale, payment of a debt, or beneficiary distribution; otherwise the probate is fully supervised by the court.
Your duties as executor (also known as personal representative) include collecting all the decedent’s probate assets and providing an inventory of these to the probate court, opening a separate checking account for the estate, paying the decedent’s debts and taxes (income and inheritance), and making the distribution of the net assets according to the Will, or Indiana inheritance law. If there is no Will, you will likely need to hire a lawyer for the probate.
For complete personal representative instructions, go to the Johnson county court web site
Q.    Should I take social security retirement at age 62 or wait until my full retirement age of 66?
A.   Taking social security retirement payments at your earliest age loses 25 percent of the payment you otherwise would receive at age 66.  Every year you wait increases your payment. For example, if you would be entitled to $1,000 a month at age 66, but elect to receive early payments, you receive $750 at 62, $800 at 63, $866 at 64, and $933 at 65.  Delaying payments until after 66 results in the amount increasing $80 a month for each subsequent year.
Also there is an earned income limitation for early retirement payments.  If you earned more than $14,160 a year in 2011, you will have to return $1 for each $2 payment you receive over that amount ($1 of every $3 with an earning limit of $37,680 in the year when you reach full retirement).  When you are 66, there is no earned income limitation.
Each retiree’s situation is different.  If you come from a family where everyone lives into their 90’s (at age 65 one out of every 4 of us will live past age 90), then you may want to delay social security retirement payments until age 66 (or later).  However, if you expect a relatively early demise, then consider early retirement.  Using the earlier example, you would receive $750 for 48 months, or $36,000 by drawing payments at age 62.
The Social Security Administration has an informative web site:, including a helpful retirement calculator.