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Navigating Retirement and the Social Security Maze

get-whats-yours-book-coverEveryone who knows me, particularly my family, realizes how much I love my job. Ancient philosopher Confucius is attributed with saying something like this: “Choose a job that you love and you never work a day in your life.”

Certainly, in my profession that is very true. Most librarians are insatiably curious about knowledge and they love to give that knowledge away. It makes us a strange breed of generous know-it-alls who live that passion 24 hours a day.

That said, there does come that time to retire from “work” and enjoy those Golden Years we have heard about. This year I reached the magical year of 66 when retirement seems more of a reality than it ever has.

The original Social Security Act of 1935 set the minimum age for receiving full retirement benefits at 65 with reduced benefits at age 62. In 1983, amendments to the Act phased in a gradual increase from 65 to 67.  For those of us born before 1959, full retirement benefits start at 66 and for those born after 1960, the age is 67.

My peers seem to fall into two groups. There are those who have put off seriously thinking about retirement, often upping the age we think we will take the leap because we can’t quite wrap our heads around ending our work, let alone gainful employment. Then there are those who have been counting the days and hours until they are 55, 60 or 65.

I actually consider myself to be retiring for the second time. I was home for over two decades in my late twenties to late forties raising my children. While motherhood can be an all-consuming and exhausting “job,” I did have a lot of time for many of my pursuits (quilting, education, reading, travel, etc.) I often tell people that I came out of retirement to begin my career as a professional librarian.

It was only a few years ago when we hit 60 that Gerry and I sat down to think seriously about the issues related to retirement. We realized at that time that we knew nothing about Social Security or Medicare benefits… and still don’t know much. We’ve approached advisors at the Social Security offices in Norwood and learned that we needed to register for Medicare Part A on our 65th birthdays. I learned that I might begin collecting my benefits and investing them before retiring on a municipal pension. (Those of us who work for the towns and cities in Massachusetts do not contribute to Social Security, but many of us paid into the system and earned some benefits while working outside of municipalities in earlier years.)

And so, learning about the financial end of retirement is a confusing wealth of information. And while the Internet can answer many questions, it is helpful to have other experts guide us. That’s where your local library can help.

While I don’t intend to retire for four more years at age 70, Wes Moss tells the rest of you that You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think! Moss is a financial planner who claims that you don’t need to invest in lottery tickets (and win)… or wait until age 75 or more to have the money to retire. He’s got some suggestions that include paying down your mortgage and finding some wise income sources. Obviously it takes reading his book and putting his principles into practice to hit your own retirement sweet spot.

Marc Lichtenfeld has a similar approach in You Don’t Have to Drive an Uber in Retirement (2018). Some of his advice includes paying less for your medical care (engaging in “medical tourism”) and generating more income that you’ll need to put away and/or invest.

Emily Guy Birken writes for several personal finance sites, including her own column “Live Like a Mensch”.  Her 2014 book, The 5 Years Before You Retire gives advice for those who have put off planning until their sixties. Birken claims that in just five years you can maximize your retirement funds by increasing your 401K contributions, changing your housing options, and enrolling in Medicare. Birken wants you to live comfortably in retirement.

The above-mentioned books are available at our library and in the Minuteman Library Network catalog. A digital book – one that you can download to your device(s) from OverDrive – is Jane Bryant Quinn’s How to Make Your Money Last: The Indispensable Retirement Guide. Everyone knows Ms. Quinn from CBS News broadcasts, Take Charge (PBS), Woman’s Day and Good Housekeeping. What you might not know about her is that she helped develop the Quicken Financial Planner software.  Quinn advocates turning your retirement savings into a regular paycheck and shares the tricks of manipulating Social Security or your pension and the equity in your home, taking smart risks along the way.

Other books deal with Social Security conundrum that many of us avoid until we are forced to – just like our infrequent visits to the Registry of Motor Vehicles! Social Security Made Simple by Mike Piper (2017) is only 100 pages. He explains how benefits are calculated – your own and your spouse’s. If you are receiving a pension once you retire, it might make sense to invest your early Social Security checks rather than wait.

What would Social Security advice be without a book for Dummies? Jonathan Peterson’s latest edition was just published in 2018.  Authors Philip Moeller and Laurence Kotlikoff have written a Get What’s Yours series that includes two books aimed at maxing out your benefits in retirement: Get What’s Yours for Medicare (Maximize Your Coverage, Minimize Your Costs) and an updated and revised version of Get What’s Yours (The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security).  Their philosophy is making sure you get all that you put in over your lifetime of work.

Various authors contributed to the Social Security Quickstart Guide and it’s available as a digital book on Hoopla!, the Library’s streaming and downloading service.

The Official Social Security Administration Answers to 100 Frequently Asked Questions About Retirement, edited by John Weber, was just published in 2018. While the book is not written or sanctioned by the Social Security Administration, editor Weber has included advice and information from thousands of pages of official Social Security publications. He writes that the Social Security Administration is an “incredibly complicated program with 2,728 core rules and 1000s of codicils,” and Americans are losing unclaimed benefits. This might be an excellent place for me to start as we begin navigating the maze of Social Security and our eventual retirement.

Charlotte Canelli is the Director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Charlotte’s column in the June 7, 2018 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Lydia Sampson

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