Though it sounds official, a national Social Security advisor (NSSA) is not in any way affiliated with the federal government. Instead, a for-profit group called National Social Security Association bestows the certification to people who take its one-day course and pass its exam. If your financial planner possesses this credential, he or she probably works or seeks to work with pre-retirees. A NSSA can help you assesses your finances in retirement and determine the best age to start taking Social Security benefits. Read on for more about NSSAs, what they offer and another certification that’s similar.
Who Can Become a National Social Security Advisor?
As just noted, the National Social Security Association, LLC created the NSSA certification in 2013. The association is the brainchild of a former Social Security administrator, Jim Blair, and an accountant, Marc Kiner. According to the association’s website, 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, which oversees the securities industry.
NSSA’s founders point out that while millions of baby boomers will hit retirement age in the coming decade, many 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 encourages financial advisors to advertise their Social Security expertise. An advisor with NSSA certification has no powers whatsoever with the Social Security Administration. Rather, the designation helps advisors demonstrate their knowledge of 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.
The several ways of completing the coursework come with different price tags. 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 can retest twice.
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 $1,000 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.
For clients, particularly those 62 or older, the appeal of an NSSA is that he or she can help them make 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 certification that indicates a specialization in retirement planning. If you’re in the market for professional help, another specialization is the certified retirement counselor (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 relevant 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. CRCs have received training in helping clients with financial and investment management. They also take courses on responsible counseling practices.
For most of us, it’s very important to max out our Social Security benefits. A professional with the NSSA certification should be able to help. An NSSA can review your options for tapping this income and make the most of your contributions. That said, many advisors without NSSA, CRC or other retirement-specific certifications can provide excellent advice. When it comes to Social Security benefits, experience working with pre-retirees can be just as valuable, if not more valuable, than a designation.
Tips for Retirement
- The total value of your Social Security benefits correlates directly with the age you begin receiving them. If you start before full retirement age, you may be reducing your total payouts by tens of thousands of dollars. Our Social Security calculator can help you see the difference your retirement age makes.
- Don’t go it alone. The right financial advisor can help you make the challenging transition from accumulating your nest egg to drawing it down. To find the right advisor for you, use SmartAsset’s matching tool. It is free and takes five minutes.
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