Dear friend (or friend of friend, or friend of friend of friend) of…
I’m the economics correspondent for the PBS NewsHour–have been for 31 years. I am writing about an personal finance quarter-of-a-million-copy bestseller I helped shepherd (or doula) into print with co-authors Larry Kotlikoff and Phil Moeller–Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security–and even more specifically, about the new updated edition, revised because we had to. That’s because on November 2, 2015, Congress and the President signed a budget bill that eliminated, by May 1 of 2016, certain maximizing strategies–or loopholes, if you prefer–that we publicized in the old book. This unchain letter is a bid to introduce the revised version–its key points and the suddenly significant differences from the original Get What’s Yours–to the largest possible network.
One key strategy was letting your own retirement benefit grow until age 70 while taking a “spousal benefit” on your spouse’s retirement benefit. It was available to everyone when we first wrote and published, but is now restricted to Americans “grandparented” under the new law. We explain this and all other changes in the new edition.
But our main advice remains as important as it was when we first took arms against a sea of misconceptions: please put off taking benefits for as long as you can afford to because Social Security is insurance against outliving your savings. The decision of when to take it should not, we argue, be made on the basis of a break even analysis: how long you have to live to get more from waiting than claiming early. And yet:
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 any benefits–is nuttier still.
Some 3.5 million baby boomers hit retirement age every year. Average age at which they start taking benefits? Something like 63. The percentage of Americans who wait until 70? About three percent.
The book features a host of other “secrets,” e.g.:
You may or may not know that Larry is a noted critic–some would say crank–on the subject of Social Security’s solvency. I think, by contrast, that the system will adapt and muddle through, for which Larry, among others, thinks me a naive Pollyanna. Phil has his own views. And so the last chapter of the book is a spirited disagreement among the three authors on the system’s future. But most of the book is detailed advice, meant to be as clear and helpful as possible – to the widowed, the divorced (eligible for spousal benefits if married for 10 years or more), the disabled, gay couples.
The request is simple: that you send this email to a dozen or more people on your list who you think would benefit from knowing about the old truths and new rules, and ask them to do the same. And post it on your Facebook page–assuming you have one, that is.
If you do not send this email on, nothing bad will happen to you. Nothing bad as a result of not sending, I mean. But if you do, you’re almost guaranteed some appreciative emails in return. There are 77 million or so baby boomers. Ten thousand of them turn 66 every day. Most are hopelessly in the dark. And as we’ve learned