Guided Path 2-3 Spousal Strategies

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Benefits can be confusing when it comes to knowing what's available and how to get them. For spouses, there are benefits and strategies that not everyone knows about, and once you know them, it's crucial to understand their details to maximize them. In this episode, Michael Littledike, Founder and CEO of Capita Financial Network, talks with Zacc Call and Laura Hadley to help people understand the Social Security spousal benefits and clarify the most common mistakes they see regarding this topic. Zacc, Laura, and Michael discuss: - How a spouse is entitled to get half of the other spouse's Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) at full retirement - What happens to the PIA if the primary worker or the spouse takes their benefits before or after their full retirement age - How a divorced spouse can receive benefits out of that marriage if it lasted for at least ten years - The importance of knowing your personal benefits before applying for others - The cost of living adjustment on spousal benefits to keep up with inflation - And more

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[00:00:00] Welcome to the Financial Call. We are financial advisors on a mission to guide you through the financial planning everyone should have, whether you're doing it yourself or working with a financial advisor, these episodes will help you break down complicated financial topics into practical, actionable steps. Our mission is to guide motivated people to become financially successful. Welcome back to the Financial Call. We are in episode three of season two. This. Social Security all about it. We were just talking. We have Mike here on the podcast today. Capita really got its start from explaining Social Security, becoming the experts in Social Security and presenting on it. So we have Mike here with us today. We're excited to have him. We'll talk a little bit more about that, but really Social Security is very complicated. There's lots to it. So we wanted to break it down. We've already gone through the refresher of the basics with Tyler. Last time, Zacc and I talked about how your personal benefit is calculated today. We're talking about

[00:01:00] spousal strategies. So if you are entitled to a benefit from your spouse, how that works, if you should take that over your personal, we'll go through that today. Next time we'll be talking about divorce. Remarriage and death, how those benefits work, which that one I'm, I'm excited about that we have examples of when we've literally given people advice to get divorced and then get remarried. Mm-hmm so if that's not a teaser, that's as exciting as it gets in our world. Join us next time. And we'll explain more about that. Jason and Tyler have both had that scenario. Yeah, we'll go through those. Think about in spousal benefits by themselves are one of the more foundational parts to Social Security. And like Laura mentioned, when I founded Capita, we went out and we were doing these presentations to the public. I remember we'd have eight people show up to a Marriott conference room and we'd present on Social Security, but this is really where we got our start by helping people better understand how Social Security works. And really when we talk about spousal benefits, this is where. People can really maximize their benefits. And so we're gonna go through a lot of information, but

[00:02:00] even probably more important than that, it's been fun over the years to not only educate people around this, but we've got, we could write books on the case studies of ways. We've been able to help people, ways people have missed out on benefits so we can share a lot of that information with you. So I think this is a really good topic. If we wrote books though, we wouldn't be able to talk to people. And I think we all prefer to talk to people, right? Yeah. I can't write so. And anyway, keep going, Laura, we interrupted you. She's given us the outline of, of the path. So next time we'll talk about divorce, remarriage and death. After that, we are talking about Social Security penalties. A lot of people don't know about these penalties, but they can be a big deal. That's called the WEP penalty and the GPO penalty will go through that. And then the last episode will be, when should you file? Like Mike said, we have a lot of fun case studies of personal situations. Social Security is very unique per person, so we can help give some examples of different scenarios that we have. And when is a good time to file for benefits. Love it. All right. Well, let's dive into

[00:03:00] it and see if we can help people understand spousal strategies. In particular, we may dip our toes in the water of survivor benefits a little bit today because it's part of the spousal consideration for sure. Okay. So the basics of the spousal benefit, you are entitled to half of your, the primary workers. PIA. We talked about this last time, the primary insurance amount, that's the amount that that person is entitled to at their full retirement age. And so if you were a spouse, maybe you were the homemaker, you stayed home to take care of the kids. You didn't work as many hours as the primary worker. You still are entitled to a benefit based off of that spouse. And you can choose, you can take your personal benefit if that's larger. Or you can take half of your spouse's benefit at full retirement age at full retirement age. Yeah, exactly. And so we have an example just to make this very clear. We have John, his PIA is $2,000. That's the amount that he's entitled to

[00:04:00] at his full retirement age. And then we have Jane, she worked a little bit. And so her primary insurance amount, her PIA is $800. Well, if Jane applies at her full retirement age for Social Security, Her benefit will be a thousand dollars. That's because that's half of the $2,000 and that's more than her personal of $800. And a lot of times people will say, I guess I will ask this question. So in this specific situation, Jane, as we've noted, she's worked at least the 10 years of the 40 quarters to get a PIA. But in this specific situation, what good did it really do her? And the answer is she didn't even need it. She didn't need a PIA. She was still getting a thousand dollars a month, regardless of what her benefit was. So whether it was $400 a month or $800 a month, it really doesn't matter because she's entitled to the thousand dollars a month from the spousal benefit. And I always tell the story. I actually had a client once where. He had worked his entire career. She had mostly been a homemaker, but had worked about seven or eight

[00:05:00] years. So as we were doing their financial planning and prepping for their Social Security income, it was kind of his idea based on his knowledge to have her go back to work, to get the PIA. So 10 years that she could get her own benefit. So he said, I need you. They didn't need the money. By the way, it was more of a principle thing of, Hey, you're, you know, eight tenths of the way there. Let's have you go back to work just so you can get that benefit. It's a good thing that no marriage battles are based on principles alone, right? yes. So I was able to kind of jump in and say, well, that's great. If you wanna go to work, that's fine, but you actually don't need a benefit because it would actually take her. If, if we ran the math on, it would take her almost 15 years to have her benefit surpass half of his. So that was quickly unwound and she didn't have to go back to work based on the PIA. So she got that thousand bucks regardless. So it's an interesting story. So you saved her a few years of work. I'm sure she liked you from that point. Those are always fun conversations, right? When you're like, I'm not taking a side but I'm on her side. That's correct. I think

[00:06:00] that's an important idea though, to understand you get the greater of the two, you don't get to take both at the same time. And also if you're 62, Laura, so if she were 62 and he had a $2,000 benefit, just to be clear, she doesn't get the full 50%. She gets 30%. Yeah. Mm. Yep. So just like your personal Social Security, if you were to take it before your full retirement age, your benefits are reduced. So the same thing for the spousal benefit, rather than getting 50% at your full retirement age, if you take it at age 62, it's about 32%, depending on your full retirement age, that does increase a little bit each year up to full retirement age. Here's the thing. If you wait past. Full retirement age. It does not continue to grow with your personal benefit. You can delay it after full retirement age and it will continue. It's not the case with the spousal benefit. My parents were in this situation where like the situation you've described, where my mom she's worked a lot over her life, but she's never made a lot of money. And so that's made

[00:07:00] it so that her benefit is really not that big, it's less than half of my dad's benefit. And we were doing their retirement planning, trying to decide what she should do now. They're almost the same age. And when she hit full retirement, we had delayed both of their benefits up until this point. And we had a really tough decision to make, right, because Mike, you mentioned it earlier where the worker, the primary worker, has to file for the spouse to pick up that benefit. But we were not necessarily. Like super excited about filing for my dad's benefit because his could keep growing. So what Laura's talking about when they hit full retirement age, my dad had four more years of potential growth, or they call them delayed credits on his Social Security benefit. But my mom stopped. There's no more delayed credits on hers. And so it was basically giving up money if she did not pick up that spousal. And, you know, back when Mike started doing this, and even back when I joined here at Capita and back in my

[00:08:00] time at their previous employer, you used to be able to file and then suspend. And so you could file my dad's and suspend immediately. My mom could pick up the spousal. My dad could let his grow. And then at 70 you could hop over on, on my dad's, but that got taken away in 2015, I believe. So we had to make that, that tough choice and in their situation, they felt like it was best to take it. And go ahead and have my dad file. At full retirement age, we ran the math. And all of those benefits that surprise, surprise. I know. Right, right. He pulled on a spreadsheet. Mike, Mike makes fun of me for that. It's good to  have you by the way, because, because no one calls me out on stuff quite like you do. I love it. And it's great. But yeah, we ran the math and that's what I geek out on the weekends, by the way. But the bottom line is we figured it was going. Be a little bit too long of a break, even that's in our last episode, by the way, in this season, we're going to show you how this math should be run and how to choose when to file. Well, and the interesting thing, just to kind of cut to the chase, the break, even analysis, most likely for your

[00:09:00] dad would've been he or she would've had to live past about, let's say 80 years old to keep it easy. But what happens is that's. In a vacuum only on his benefit. But if we also add in the fact that if he delays and gets the 8% delayed credit, let's pretend his PIA is 3000, she's missing out on $1,500 per month for those four years. So that's $18,000 per year. So it changes the break even point to like in their nineties. And so, although we do like one spouse to either take on time or maybe a little bit later to have that survivor benefit be as large as possible in that situation. Very rarely. Does it make sense for them to delay? And the other thing that you could think about is even if there was a two year age gap, sometimes we'll delay for maybe two years, but once the lower earning spouse hits full retirement age, we really want to be on those spousal benefits. Even if that means the primary worker needs to file. Of course, I don't like to, you know, make a blanket statement. We should really look at your individual situations, but if there's a two year age gap, in other words, maybe he could wait till 68 and she

[00:10:00] could file at 66 at full retirement age. That mathematically actually might make sense and is a nice middle ground. That's why spousal benefits can be really complicated, but also very rewarding when it comes to building your overall financial plan. Yeah. If you do it right, that's funny. I was trying to simplify it, but technically they are 11 months apart. So my mom is basically a year younger than my dad. They did exactly that; they waited until she hit full retirement. So he was actually a year beyond full retirement. So he got one 8% pop. At least you got it. Exactly. And Mike, you brought up the survivor benefit just to explain. So when a couple is receiving benefits, when one of them passes away, the smaller of the two benefits will go away and the larger benefit will stay in place. So when Mike was talking about, we wanna make that survivor benefit as big as possible. We're trying to make the bigger of the two benefits larger, because that's gonna be the benefit that sticks around. Yeah. It, and this gets complicated. I remember sitting in the office with a woman who had been married three

[00:11:00] times and she had, let's see, I'm trying to keep the story straight. She had been married three times, two of those. Ex-spouses. Had passed away and one of them was still alive and she herself had a record. She herself had her own, not like a, record. She had a medical record. She's a criminal record. No, but, uh, she had, she had qualified for her own PIA on her own earnings record. Let's just be clear on all of that. Okay. So she actually had four choices to choose among. Maybe a survivor benefit on one of the two spouses that had passed an ex spouse, cause she had been married long enough. So we'll talk a little bit about this, but a divorced spouse. We have divorce and death next time, but we just want to hint at a few things. A divorced spouse can pick up a benefit on an ex if they've been married for at least 10 years, or if the marriage lasted, sorry for at least 10 years. So we're sitting there thinking like, oh my gosh, we could do one benefit. And survivor

[00:12:00] benefits could start at 60. So let's pick between the two of those and take one of those for a few years. And then maybe this is back when you could choose between a spousal and your own, depending on which one was higher. And so then we'd hop on a spousal benefit at full retirement age and then her own benefit at 70. And I think this is something a lot of people don't realize Social Security is not. Which benefits should I take? Sometimes it's in what order should you proceed through these benefits? If you've had a decent number of, and I would say, this is the biggest problem with folks as they go and they say, okay, I'm gonna file for Social Security. I'm gonna go to the Social Security office and go through this. Most of our mistakes that we've seen at the Social Security office. And it's not that they don't personally care about you. It's just that they're not really equipped. To go through your life history. Like maybe we would, when we sit down with someone, but they're not going to strategize that they usually just throw you on the biggest benefit at that specific time and you're done. And then sometimes we meet you a year or two later, and the pie is baked. There's nothing we can do to go back. And so it's really important that we

[00:13:00] do it right the first time. Right. And you can take your personal benefit and once your spouse files for their benefit, you still are entitled to that spousal, they call your spousal add on. So they'll basically give you the extra to get you to the amount that you are entitled to from your spouse. So that's very common and you don't have to go in and file for it when you're. Spouse files for their benefit. You should automatically get that add on added onto your benefit. This is good to hear Laura, because I'm so nervous about things not going through that. I always have people go in and submit online or make a phone call. Yeah. That's interesting. Yeah, I've done it for, you know, I feel like hundreds of people in the past and it just goes through year two and it goes through. Yeah. Fantastic. I just learned something wonderful. I'll have to apologize to my mom. And about the other clients, you had to wait on hold with the Social Security administration. Sorry, mom. I'll tell people if you're not, if you don't get the spousal automatically, then you can call

[00:14:00] in, but I haven't heard anybody not get. That's why it's important to know what your own benefit is because sometimes let's pretend that you're in your mom's situation. Maybe her personal benefit was 1300, but the spousal benefit was 1500. That's a $200. Add-on, that's the number we're using for our break, even on whether or not your father should file, cause she could easily file for her own benefit. At full retirement age and allow him to grow his and then jump over to a spousal later. So there is a little bit more in depth math we can do on your specific situation, but we're just talking kind of in generalities today. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So. Mike, you also to give a little bit of flavor on survivor benefits, I'm somewhat familiar with, I think it's your grandparents situation. Yeah. This is something that happens to a lot of people to help us understand, again, we'll talk about survivor benefits, but you need to understand spousal strategies. Have to be made with the, what ifs involved, right? Yeah. And this was kind of a unique, what if, and you think about the general planning we do with folks it's oftentimes sitting

[00:15:00] down with a husband and a wife and, you know, projecting out income into the future, projecting tax rates, things like that. When it comes to Social Security, I think you've said it best where it's a team sport. When you think about your Social Security and a lot of times we'll have. A spouse. Let's say it's the breadwinner. Say I'm retiring at 62. I want to get it while the getting's good. This is my benefit. I've worked really hard for it, I want it now. And then sometimes that's fine, but we have to look at the spouse and say, well, your spouse is significantly younger. Let's think through the holistic, you know, let's look through how this is gonna end up. If one of you were to pass away. And the best way I can explain the strategy would be through my grandfather where. He filed for Social Security. As soon as he could at 62, he took a 25% reduction by doing so. So he took that penalty for filing early. He then passed away about 10 months later. So my dad was only 17 when this happened, but I've of course, you know, heard the story. So my grandfather passed away 10 months later. And. If we were to step back and ask most people, Hey, when do you wanna file for Social Security? They say, I want to get it while the

[00:16:00] getting's good. And so based on that logic, most people would say, well, at least your grandfather got 10 months worth of benefit versus the government. Just keeping it all. But to understand how this all works together is not only was of course there was a spousal benefit involved. But planning for the survivor benefit, knowing that if my grandfather filed early and then were to pass away, my grandma would inherit his benefit and the penalty. And so my grandma today, she's a hundred years old. She just hit a hundred in December of last year. And this entire time that she's been alive, she's had to pay for that penalty. And so his 10 months worth of getting benefits really did cost her long term. So as you think about. Whether or not, you file for your own benefit for a spousal benefit. We always want to think with the end in mind of, Hey, there's a really good chance that one of us will outlive the other by a significant period of time. And you start thinking about long term care planning and all of these end of stage expenses that could come about. It's really important to think about that primary breadwinners benefit. And then secondarily, we think about the

[00:17:00] spousal then the survivor benefit. So it's just important to think these things through, because if my grandfather wouldn't have filed at all, she would've got the full benefit with no penalty, even though he only lived, you know, to almost 63 years old, she would still get the entire. She could have had choices at that point, too, right? Yeah. She would've taken her own benefit till full retirement age, then switched over. And then that would've been an extra what? $700 a month for what? 40, 30 years. So 40 years. So it's big. Yeah. And something that people don't realize about spousal strategies. Like let's say that you're sitting there with a pension from work, oftentimes pensions from work will take into account the age of both spouses and the non-work spouse they'll figure out. Oh, he's only, let's say that the wife works for an institution and has a benefit. And she's older than her husband by five years. They may look at his age and say, oh, he's only 60. Even though she's 65, we're gonna base this joint life payment on the fact that

[00:18:00] he's 60. And they will look at that as a lower payment, or they will offer a lower payment because of age in Social Security, survivor benefits and, and strategies like this. They're not looking at you and saying, oh, you're this much younger. Therefore you get penalized in your monthly payment based on that. They're not running the actuarial table that way. And I think that's a really fascinating way to look. Spousal strategies. So when we think about spousal strategies in general, let's do somewhat of a recap. Understand that you have choices, you can file for a normal spousal benefit. Let's say you're married to the individual, not divorced, and they are alive. You have the options of taking Social Security as a spouse between age 62 and 70, they need to have filed first. Your spouse needs to have filed for their own benefit. Between 62 and I'm moving my hands around and you can't see it, but I'm here. I am moving my hands around thinking I'm smart between 62 and their full retirement age, which could be 66

[00:19:00] or 67 or something in between for most people. So between 62 and that full retirement age, you're going to get a little bit of an increase on your benefit all the way up until you get 50% of your spouse's benefit. At full retirement age, and then that locks it in from there, you get no growth from full retirement, up to 70. Here's something else. I run into this question all the time, and it's not really a question. It's more like when people run their own analysis, what they miss. And so this is a common error. They will say, well, I waited until 70 to get my benefit. My PIA at full retirement was 2000, but I'm waiting until 70. So maybe I'm gonna get Mike do some quick math. 2800 2000. Yeah. Okay. So by the way, Mike is the fastest mental math person in our office and it's fantastic. My only skill so sure. Sure. And I'm still punching numbers in my calculator. Okay. So 2,800. At 70. So then that spouse will oftentimes say, great. My

[00:20:00] wife is going to pick up $1,400 at their full retirement age. That's not how it works. They are eligible for half of your PIA. And your PIA is that benefit, like Laura said at full retirement age. So they are eligible to pick. What you would have gotten at 66, not what you will get for having delayed until 70, so that that can run the math a little bit differently for you and help you understand it works in the opposite too. If they're less than their full retirement age, say their benefits, 1800, you don't get half of the 1800. You still get half of the 2000. Right. So sometimes if you have a primary worker who's younger by five or six or seven years or something like that. In fact, I had this situation. Oh my gosh. I'm just remembering. Okay. This couple I could not convince them to retire. Could not convince them to retire and. They were just very, very nervous. And the best thing about this whole situation is that they had a couple million dollars in assets and didn't need a dime of it. Their fixed

[00:21:00] income was gonna cover everything, but they still couldn't figure out how they were going to retire besides the point. But going back to the math on Social Security. So he was three years younger than her. And she was over full retirement age and he was younger and they had such fixed income elsewhere that they were comfortable taking Social Security a little bit earlier. And by the way, we're gonna talk about this later super high risk tolerance for these people. So they felt like they could do better with their portfolio than. Then having to withdraw from the portfolio. We're gonna talk about that later. So that leans towards taking Social Security early, by the way, I'm throwing this out there as well. A lot of people will say financial advisors always recommend that you take Social Security late, and that's just not the case. If you're doing it right, sometimes it's early. Sometimes it's late. It depends on so many factors, including what you think you can earn in your investments. Okay. So going back to this, if he files. Early, he could pick up all of his benefit. And this is exactly what you were talking about. Well, sorry, not all he could pick up. It

[00:22:00] was like two or three years early. So it wasn't quite a 25% reduction. It was closer to like an 18% reduction in his benefit, but she got the full 50% of his PIA. So this is the exact same scenario that you just laid out. Laura. And these guys went from, he was making about $70,000 a year And between, I think she had a pension and this Social Security, they were going to have about $70,000 a year of income. And I was just like, why are you still working? Because he hated his job. But he was just so nervous. And this is a story for another day too, but they were really, really nervous about healthcare. And so we laid out the healthcare options because he wasn't 65. Right. And Medicare starts at 65. We laid out the healthcare options. They realized that they were gonna even get a subsidy. And it was like a done deal at that point. But that's a really good point, Laura, that if the primary worker files early, the spousal benefit can still be 50% of their PIA and it works out great. And one other

[00:23:00] thing is you were talking that I was thinking about all these decisions. When we talk about cost of living adjustments, cost of living adjustments, work off of what you're getting, not what you would've received based on your PIA. If you're getting a $1,500 benefit versus a $2,000 benefit, if you would've waited and there's a significant cost of living adjustment, it's a big deal. It's a compounding effect. And so like last year, the cost of living adjustment was like seven, 5.95 points. Okay. 5.9. So 5.9. Percent's a pretty big cost of living adjustment. If you delayed Social Security and got a $3,000 benefit versus that you filed early and got a $1,500 benefit. 5.9% is a different number from 3000 versus 1500. And so there's a compounding effect of delaying. So something else for you to think about, and that's why when we project out numbers, we always kind of project out what the cost of living adjustments might do. They've averaged about two and a half percent. So something for us to think about as well. And that's how you can go from, like, we mentioned that $2,000 benefit up to 20 hundred dollars, pretty easy because of those small cost

[00:24:00] of living adjustments. One other thing that I was thinking about a lot of times is that we'll have spouses think that they can file for their own benefit early and then switch to a spousal benefit later with no penalty. I just wanna be really clear about something. So let's do an example. Let's say a wife has a thousand dollars benefit. The husband has $3,000. If she files at 62, that's fine. She'll get $750 a month on her own benefit. So she files for her own benefit. Early 25% reduction. That's seven 50. When she waits till full retirement agent, maybe he waits till then as well. They both, you know, he files and then she files for that spousal benefit. She's not getting $1,500 or half of 3000. She's gonna get that minus the penalty. So she'll really get about the math. It's about 1250 a month. So there's never. You can't do that and then switch over with no penalty. I see that as a big mistake, when people go to the Social Security office, a lot of times they'll push them into filing without fully disclosing what those penalties will be down the road. And so of course, when Zacc does his break, even analysis, he's using

[00:25:00] all of that data to, to provide the proper break even, and it still may make sense. Yeah, sure. But they don't realize the consequences of it, right? It's a $3,000 per year consequence that you weren't dealing with or taking into account. Yeah, that's a good point. Just to provide some background for the cost of living adjustment, that's sometimes referred to as the COLA, once you file for Social Security, that does increase a little bit each year to help keep up with inflation. That's something not a lot of people know about. Like Mike said, last year was 5.9%. I think the last 20 year average is like one and a half or 2%. Yeah. We use it in our tool. So I have to look this up and it's worked out to be about 1.8 for the last decade. And then as you stretch it out longer, it gets closer to the two and a half that Mike has been talking about there. And then. There have been years in the double digits back in the eighties when inflation was really high. So, and then this last year was one of the biggest ones we've had in I think, multi decades. Right. We'll probably see another big one announced here in October, most likely having another really large cost of living adjustments.

[00:26:00] So those people that have delayed, I mean, that's gonna be a pretty big pop on their Social Security, even though it's just. Trying to keep up with inflation, but see, we have folks that get pensions from large companies out there where let's say they get a $2,000 a month pension over the last three or four years. That $2,000 is buying less and less and less every year. Whereas with Social Security, these cost of living adjustments, although they're not perfect, we love them cause they do help keep up with that inflation. So to summarize spousal strategies today, I already went through some of the details around what's available. And so we won't go over that again. But the overall theme is it is a team sport. Try not to file for one of the two benefits in a vacuum, ignoring the other. That's probably the biggest mistake we see. We do recognize that some households manage their finances separately and don't like to coordinate. I mean, it can be really hard for people who manage finances separately to say, look well, sure. I'll delay my benefits so my spouse can get a bunch more money. What about me? I have to live poor in the meantime. I mean, those types of

[00:27:00] dynamics work out like that, but bottom line, it's a team sport. Look at the benefits as a whole, and then. We're gonna get into, so today's not the date, but later in the season, we're gonna bring all of this together and really give you the, what do you call it? Like the meat and the potatoes of the full meal, here's how it all comes together. Here are all the factors that we see people miss. And here's how you make the final decision. Obviously it's personalized. So we can't say everybody should do it. But at least we can give you a bunch of examples and show you ways that we recommend going one way or the other, anything else to add Laura. Awesome. No, I think that's great. We're super excited to have Mike on here and go through everything. You'll yeah, we'll bring it back. He'll be back. He's the expert. I'm still here. awesome. Thanks everybody. Thanks guys. This podcast is intended for informational purposes only, and is not a substitute for personal advice from Capita. This is not a

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