92 of 94 people found the following review helpful
Before I start, some disclosure. I'm a planner by profession and I answer Social Security questions everyday. I've got all the publications and lots more by way of research resources. I won't say I'm an expert but I do lots of research and spend time everyday on their website.
Except, now I won't have to. The Social Security for Dummies (2012) comes with AARP's stamp of approval for a good reason. There isn't a single facet of the programs, benefits, etc. that is not covered thoroughly and well explained. Misnamed, the '...for Dummies' series is, in my opinion, quite good. This book is a terrific resource for anyone wanting to know more. Its well organized, written and in a voice that will not put people to sleep. Any idea how rare that is? I've been doing this for decades and haven't seen another document this well done.
One particularly good section is the appeal process if you don't agree with the Administration'd decisions. That is NOT very well covered in the official publications.
The only drawback that I can foresee with the book is that it will need updating every year. Cost of living adjustments, changes to taxes, etc. happen nearly every year and this book, relating all of them, will need updating. In short, whether you are a novice or a pro, this book's a real gem. But if you are a pro and depend upon it, you may need to buy it every year.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
SOCIAL SECURITY FOR DUMMIES provides an excellent overview of almost all facets of social security in its various forms, although it is not likely to cover a lot of specific questions related to an individual's unique circumstances. But that does not detract from its value. It is an ideal starting point for persons wishing comprehensive and moderately detailed information that will help them make informed decisions - and locate additional resources that address their particular concerns.
The chapters in the book address the following: what social security is, a breakdown of its benefits, deciding when to start collecting for retirement, protection, signing up, determining earnings amount, navigating the system, appeals, spousal and family benefits, social security disability (SSDI and SSI), enrolling in Medicare, working during retirement, and shaping your retirement. Additional chapters pertain to: myths about social security, advice for young people, the future of social security, a glossary, and a long list of both online and offline resources.
I chose to read this book (from cover to cover, except for the family-oriented chapters) because I recently turned 60, and have not been very knowledgeable about social security and Medicare. I wanted to know how exactly what retirement benefits I'd receive at various ages, and (post 65) after Medicare deductions. I also needed to decide whether to start collecting social security early, and whether it was worthwhile for me, at this age to apply for SSDI because of chronic illness.
The book answered most of my questions, but raised at least as many new questions. It also stripped away a few illusions I had about Medicare, as it revealed the realities of Medicare premiums, deductibles and co-pays - which for some of us are likely to be as much as we receive from social security. Such a realization is certainly likely to impact one's spending and saving habits.
The author places considerable emphasis upon the pros and cons of delaying collecting social security benefits till full retirement age (clearly urging most people to wait as long as possible). His explanation in regard to how working before full retirement age reduces benefits for workers earning more than about $14,146/year was enlightening, leading me to realize that there is little advantage in receiving social security early if you are earning more than that amount. I gained the most value, however, from many of the links to web sites - particularly a variety of calculators which are helpful in determining the amount of social security one would receive at different ages.
The explanations in regard to the process of applying for social security, disability and Medicare were also informative, as was the somewhat brief material upon Medicare Advantage, which usually has lower premiums than regular Medicare. However, the author's discussion of Medicare was quite sketchy, and not very helpful in regard to determining what choices to make in regard to plan A, B, C and D. But this is a topic which alone deserves a complete book because of all the complexities of the law and the idiosyncrasies of individual cases and concerns.
Although I strongly recommend this book to people just beginning to explore social security issues, it is truly only a starting point, and most people are likely to end up with a list of questions which they will then wish to address with additional reading.
As for myself, self-employed and struggling with chronic illness, I had difficulty understanding how the personal income amount and earning limits are determined. What impact, for example, do book royalties or monthly medical bills have upon one's benefits? The author wrote: " Royalties, sick pay, travel expenses and business expenses all potentially count toward the earnings limit, but the rules are highly technical." Statements such as these shed no illumination whatsoever, but did help me clarify the questions which will require further research.
Despite having more questions as a result of reading this book than I had before I started, I do give it five stars. It covers a wide range of very complex and convoluted subjects in highly readable language and directs readers to resources which will provide more detailed information.
33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on June 8, 2012
Don't get me wrong, I feel that Jonathan Peterson did a good job in explaining how to optimize claiming your Social Security benefits with all the relevant intricacies it entails.
However, Peterson was enslaved to the tacit "For Dummies" editorial format. The latter entails that a book has to be 300 pages long and include a series of "Ten of this" and "Ten of that" chapters. In this case, those editorial imperatives were a waste. The "Ten of this" thing could have been skipped as the author veered into subjects unrelated to one's understanding of their Social Security benefits such as Social Security advocacy, fiscal and political considerations. If you are interested in fiscal analysis, I recommend CBO studies and the annual report of the Social Security Trust fund. Both of those will give you a ton of info on the subject for free.
Continuing on the "For Dummies" editorial mandate, this subject would have been far better treated by cutting at least a 100 pages. The book appears often verbose and repetitive. You read the same subject over and over such as the structure of spousal benefits, the related penalties when claiming those early, etc...
Besides covering the basics really well, there are a couple of things I found really interesting:
- The first one is that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has put a stop to Lawrence Kotlikoff (an economist and expert on Social Security) sophisticated strategy of taking your benefits early at 62, then repaying them back to the SSA near 70, to in turn claiming them back at 70 at the maximum level. This amounted to an interest free loan of SS benefits from 62 to 70.
- The second one I found really interesting is Appendix C that allows you to choose options (increasing taxes or cutting benefits) and see what impact it would have on reducing the fiscal shortfall in SS. I know I am contradicting myself as I said earlier I did not feel this subject belonged to the book. But, two thought provoking pages on fiscal considerations is one thing; tens of pages on the subject is another. In any case, based on the options provided I found out that by simply increasing the payroll tax from 12.4% to 12.9%, increasing full retirement age by one year (from 67 to 68), and indexing such age to rise in life expectancy we would reduce the SS shortfall by 60%. One detail here, it would have been nice if the author would have disclosed his sources at arriving at such estimates.
In a nutshell, I still do recommend the book. Yet, there must be a better book out there for the mentioned reasons.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2013
Concepts, explanations and tips are repeated throughout the book making the book longer than needed. The links are somewhat useful however, those links could be found by googling. Editing for redundant information would reduce this book to a few dozen pages.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2013
I read this book to get more information about the options a couple has as they approach retirement. I had read other information on line previously and I had a telephone session with a representative at Social Security Administration. After reading Social Security for Dummies I was confused on some points as the book gave me information that conflicted with the information I had from other sources. Then I made an appointment with a representative of the Social Security Administration to meet with them in person to resolve the questions. It turned out that all the other sources were consistent in their information in the areas that differed from the book so I think the book has some wrong information.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 12, 2013
This is one of the most frustrating books I've tried to wade through in quite a long time. While this is a complex subject the entire point, particuarly for a "Dummies" book, is to unravel those complexities and make the information useful.
This book loses on both of those goals.
It hops, skips, and jumps through it's subject matter in such a way that a CPA would be hard pressed to track. Information for a single issue is scattered over multiple chapters. It is difficult, if not impossible, to figure out how the author intended to organize the information.
Surely there is something better out there on this subject.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
This book is much more than a recitation of all of the Social Security rules. Mind you, it does spell out the rules, covering all the basics such as how and when to apply for benefits, what you can expect to receive, whether or not you can work and keep benefits. And it is up-to-date with 2012 numbers, as well as details for how to accomplish many tasks online.
But in addition to numbers and rules, the author has tackled some of the thorny issues that people worry about. Will Social Security be around when I need it? Has the government raided the Social Security trust fund?
There's even a modest section on financial planning during retirement, as well as some financial planning admonitions sprinkled throughout. For example, he explains in convincing detail why it makes sense to wait until full retirement age or later to claim your benefits - provided you are in good health and can survive for a while without the money.
A few little nitpicks:
1. In the Medicare section, the author does not tell you how to apply online. The information is in the book, just not in the Medicare chapter.
2. The author warns that you should monitor your Social Security earnings report, but he doesn't tell you how to get Social Security to correct your earnings. (You actually have to go in to a local office to do it.)
3. He never provides a clear statement about how much your benefits will be reduced when you start receiving them before full retirement age. Instead he tells you what you would receive at age 62 and 66 (or full retirement). You have to infer/calculate the amount for all ages in between.
Nonetheless, this is the best Social Security book I've seen, and I've looked at quite a few
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This book in the "For Dummies" franchise doesn't include the kind of snappy encouragements that some of the books in the series use to ease you through occasionally difficult, tedious topics. This book just presents the facts in a straightforward manner.
In the beginning, this unleavened approach was a little discouraging. Some of the early chapters contain fairly dense packets of information on such subjects as calculating Social Security benefits for you and your dependents. I felt that instead of paying for this book, I might as well have ordered the various pamphlets that you can get free from the SSA.
However, I'm glad I kept reading. The old saying, "You don't know what you don't know," applies here, and provides ample reason for getting this book and reading it cover-to-cover. I found out things I would never have known to ask about or request pamphlets on - things that directly affected me. For example, I found out that work credits can be calculated differently for the self-employed than they are for payroll employees.
Then, in going beyond the strict scope of advice about SS, the book gives some good tips about financial planning in general. After reading this section, I was able to go and check out the credentials of a financial planner a friend of mine was considering hiring - just in the nick of time.
There are a few areas in which the author doesn't make the topic at hand quite clear. I was left confused about whether or not you have to be disabled in order to collect SSI benefits. Then on the subject of Medicare, I'm still not sure whether I will have to pay premiums to enroll in Parts A and B of Medicare, even if I opt to enroll in some Part C "Advantage" program.
However, one of the book's last chapters is crystal clear when it comes to dispelling some damaging myths about the System. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book. The author makes short work of such mistaken ideas as that illegal immigrants are draining SSA funds, or that the SSA is facing total bankruptcy.
It's true that the System might have some degree of trouble paying out 100% of promised benefits in a few decades. On that score, this book offers good insights into how the System is currently funded, and into how different taxing and benefit measures that we enact now, could keep the System more completely solvent into the foreseeable future.
There's also a valuable glossary at the end of the book, and an appendix that lists references you can check to get more detailed information on any SSA-related topic.
This book's intelligent, even-handed presentation changed my mind about many facets of Social Security. It made me feel more optimistic about the future of the System. It also made me more supportive of the variety of benefits that the System has extended over the years.
However, these pages still left me with just a tiny mote of regret over the passing of "the good old days" - the days of presumed pioneer spirit when hardships were endured privately and bravely, without much recourse. So many paragraphs here are devoted to outlining complicated strategies for maximizing your benefits. A reader might be left with a subtle feeling of rue over how the System turns disability and retirement from an individual human drama into an endless series of petty calculations.
But that's beside the point. The point is that this book is an excellent reference for everyone, young and old. Since almost everyone will be a beneficiary of Social Security sooner or later, it's good to have a book like this that informs you about how to navigate the System to your best advantage.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
In general, I'm not a fan of the "For Dummies" series, only because I find the title to be a bit condescending, but that aside, Wiley publishing has stuck with a model that helps to explains potentially confusing topics in an accessible, readable format - and Social Security for Dummies is no exception. Jonathan Peterson does a good job covering many of the basics of Social Security, including some of the elements many of us (fortunately) may not need to be concerned with - such as survivor benefits and disability benefits.
Potential readers should note, however, that the Social Security website is also a valuable source of information with numerous, free publications, including the basic publication, "Understanding the Benefits" - which is a good place to start for those new to the subject. The Social Security website provides numerous free .pdf publications that can be read electronically, or printed out for those who still like to read with paper and highlighter.
Where I think Peterson adds to the dialogue is with his chapters on "Navigating the System" (Chapter 7) and "The Appeals Process" (Chapter 8 - which provides a more objective view than found on the Social Security website). I also learned a few interesting things from his chapter on the "Ten Myths about Social Security" (Chapter 15).
Other reviewers have commented on the length of this book (300+ pages), but most readers will find certain chapters that are not pertinent to their situation. Think of this as a reference book, and the length becomes a non-issue. All in all, a well-done publication.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I really didn't believe that I would find anything new in this book because I subscribe to AARP and I have a good friend who is an attorney who fights for benefits regarding the SSA and those who need SSDI.
I have to tell you how surprised. After reading this book cover to cover, I realized that I had made some mistakes on how I went about getting the benefits that I had bought into. Also, I really didn't understand exactly how the whole system works.
There are so many things in this book that can benefit every reader (and you don't have to be a retiree to gain from them). Such as:
The full rules of the Social Security System.
How to Calculate the prime time to pull your money out.
How your partner can take part in your benefits.
If you make mistakes, how to go about the right way to dispute them.
The lies that politicians tell you about your rights/benefits.
The future of the Social Security program.
The book itself is really put together in an easy-to-read format with a lot of back up links that will help you when online or through the mail.
I truly wish everyone who is looking towards retirement or seeking disability insurance will find this book because it will save you so much time and trouble AND you will get the most benefits out of your government investment.