It was conceived after a bout of tennis four years ago, when Boston University economist friend Larry Kotlikoff asked me my own Social Security plans, found that my wife and I were on the cusp of full retirement age (66), but waiting until 70 to collect the maximum benefit.
Are you planning to take spousal benefits? he asked.
Your not-so-humble PBS economics correspondent (now in the 38th year of his gig) had never heard of them.
Four years later Jan and I are taking maximum benefits. But in the interim, I’ve collected nearly $50,000 — $50,000 to which we, having paid into the system all our lives, were entitled, yet knew nothing about. All she had to do was file for SS and suspend her benefits until age 70. I then applied for, and promptly began getting, my spousal benefits. The woman on the phone at SS was skeptical when I first told her what I wanted to do. She consulted an expert, returned to the call and thanked me.
“I’m going to tell this to all the people I speak with from now on.”
Awhile later, I began publishing Larry on Making Sen$e, our PBS NewsHour web page — to alert as many people as I could reach to spousal benefits and other Social Security “secrets.” Larry then suggested a book and on February 17, it was published . . .
I feel a bit uncomfortable, at this stage of my career, about promoting a book — mine or anyone’s else’s. But I’m completely convinced this one will be of considerable use to pretty much anyone who consults it — and it has been, pretty dramatically, to nearly a dozen of my friends. . . . Meanwhile, consider this:
Forty-one percent of American men and 46 percent of women apply for Social Security at 62. For many of them, that’s almost surely nuts, as we explain in the book. And one of the key reasons they do — fear that Social Security is so broke they won’t get their benefits — is nuttier still.
You may or may not know that Larry is a noted critic — some would say crank — on the subject of Social Security’s solvency. Accordingly, the last chapter of the book is a spirited disagreement among the three authors on the system’s future. But the rest is detailed advice, meant to be as helpful as possible – to the widowed, the divorced (eligible for spousal benefits if married for 10 years or more), the disabled, gay couples. This link will give a better sense of it: Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.
And as if that weren’t enough, all the reviewers agree: it’s entertaining, to boot.
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