Is Bernie Sanders “Douple Dipping” by Collecting Social Security While a US Senator? Why Also Invested in AIG subidiary VALIC


Today Bernie Sanders finally released a tax return, only one year, 2014.   The obvious questions is, why has it been so difficult for Senator Sanders to reveal his tax returns while his opponent Hillary Clinton has released several years of complete returns, opening her up to severe criticism over her income sources.  After only releasing two pages of his federal return with no schedule of itemized deductions, he then released 7 pages for the 2014 return.

For a former CPA and now investment advisor like myself who does these reviews for numerous major news organizations, two names come to mind when reviewing Sanders return.  The first is Rick Santorum, former Republican candidate, who like Sanders “self prepared” his returns in 2012.   This is simply remarkable, that a Presidential candidate would not pay a few hundred dollars to have a CPA complete his return and likely the chances of avoiding an error.  It also raises the question of Sanders capacity to manage/delegate in general.

The second name is Marco Rubio, another former candidate, who like Sanders seems to have some issues regarding personal financial management.  Of course Rubio is only 44 yet Sanders is 74.  Rubio had a 6.5 percent mortgage on his home when anyone with reasonable credit could have refinanced at 3.5 percent over the last few years.  Why didn’t he do that is the obvious question, was his credit so bad he could not refinance?

In Sanders case he has itemized interest for mortgages for almost $23,000.  Current tax law allows one to deduct interest from two residences, provided neither is used as a rental and Sanders indeed appears to maintain residences in both Vermont and D.C.

What $23,000 in interest means is that Sanders likely has half a million in mortgage debt.   Rather odd for someone with the salary of a US Senator and all the related benefits.  It is not clear whether Sanders mortgage is with a credit union or one the large banks he often criticized.  Also, why so much mortgage debt at 74?

What is most surprising is that on his personal financial disclosure filed May 2015, he and his wife reveal that they have invested in 20 different VALIC mutual funds.  Of course VALIC is a subsidiary of AIG and was at the heart of the financial crisis that decimated many retirees savings.  These funds could be transferred to Vanguard or another firm free of such issues.

VALIC has been known for fleecing retirees via high priced annuity related products being sold into retirement accounts and of course they have criticized the new “fiduciary rule” that would require its advisors to put their clients needs above their own.  Former SEC Chair Arthur Levitt has called the failure to implement this rule a “national disgrace.”

Independent advisors like myself already have to abide by this rule yet large firms like VALIC use an arcane loophole, the “Merrill Lynch Loophole” to avoid complying.

On Sanders 1040 it shows he and his wife earned $156,000, mostly his salary as a sitting US Senator, and also that both he and his wife are collecting social security.   The total social security income is $46,213 and since the maximum benefit provided to one person is approx $31,000, this means they are both collecting.   Social security is of course one of Senator Sanders key issues.  Perhaps there is a logical explanation, whatever it is, more disclosure is clearly needed.

“I may never see my social security” is a standard comment from younger voters, Sanders primary base, and it is surprising that he has not elected to defer social security until he retires from the Senate.   Both Bill and Hillary Clinton are also eligible yet per their tax return have clearly deferred collecting these payments.  Although deferrals until the age of 70 will result in a higher payment, one would think the Clinton’s would continue the deferral after 70, even if no increase occurs, until such time neither is actively working in government.

Although social security payments are fully taxable to the Sanders, what he might advocate is that all taxpayers with income above a certain threshold are simply not eligible to collect.  Currently, if you earn $2 billion a year, you can still collect social security.

Comparing himself and claiming poverty compared to other US Senators while earning $200K and enjoying substantial benefits is probably not the good strategy when according to the last US census, median household income was $51,939.

To some this is the very definition of double dipping.   Again, how is it that a sitting US Senator fully employed and earning a substantial salary and related benefits can be collecting social security, as corroborated via the release of his tax return?