It finally happened: The first Baby Boomer applied for Social Security this week. Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, a former teacher who was born at one second after midnight on Jan. 1, 1946, applied for Social Security benefits over the Internet, starting what is likely to be an avalanche of applications for retirement benefits.

Accountants have long foreseen this day and already done plenty of business advising Boomer clients on how to prepare for retirement. But now that the Boomer generation is actually beginning to retire, will those carefully laid plans bear fruit? That's the question Boomers will be facing along with their accountants. If the nest egg looks like it's not going to last long enough, clients will be forced to rely on an increasingly precarious-looking Social Security system.

Washington has debated various plans over the years for shoring up Social Security, but none of the plans provides the painless fix that would guarantee widespread political support while avoiding the dangers of the so-called third rail of politics. So while Boomers will be applying for Social Security in growing numbers, the strain they will place on the system is going to test whether those worst-case scenarios that prognosticators have been warning about will actually come to pass.

Meanwhile, accountants and financial planners will be seeing greater numbers of clients facing retirement who will wonder if their savings and other assets will get them through the golden years. The mortgage meltdown and the depressed prices of homes around the country aren't going to boost their confidence very much either. People who had expected to live off the money they would get from selling or refinancing their homes and buying into a retirement community are starting to worry that they will get their asking price.

It's a jittery time in the economy right now, but accountants can benefit by providing their clients with continuing advice on what to expect from Social Security, adjusting some of those plans for present-day realities, and helping them hedge their bets with some practical retirement savings strategies.


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