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Recommended Reading: A Social Security Owner’s Manual

Since finishing up my book on retirement planning, I’ve known that the next addition to the “in 100 Pages or Less” series would be a book about Social Security. I expect it to be my major project for the second half of this year.

I have good news, though, for those of you who don’t want to wait.

This last week, I finally got the chance to read A Social Security Owner’s Manual by Jim Blankenship — a CFP and enrolled agent who blogs at Financial Ducks in a Row. I cannot recommend the book highly enough for anyone looking for a brief, easy-to-read resource on the topic of Social Security.*

The first two-thirds of the book walk you through the nuts and bolts of Social Security:

  1. The terminology (What’s a “primary insurance amount”? What does “full retirement age” mean?),
  2. The calculations (How are retirement benefits calculated? What about spousal benefits and survivor benefits?), and
  3. The related rules (How is Social Security taxed? How is your benefit affected if you have a government pension?).

Then the final part of the book digs into the nitty gritty of Social Security planning: At what age should you (and your spouse, if applicable) take Social Security, and how does that fit into the rest of your retirement planning picture?

Of course, the book doesn’t address every single situation, as there are simply too many variables to consider without thoroughly overburdening the reader (e.g., difference in ages between spouses, difference in earnings history between spouses, tax rates, assumed rate of return if you take the money early and invest it, unusual life expectancies due to medical conditions, etc.). But it does a great job of providing a few different strategies that are likely to work out well in most circumstances, and it provides you with guidance for choosing between them.

You can find the book here on Amazon. (Also, if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can read the Kindle version free of charge.)

*The book focuses primarily on Social Security retirement benefits. In other words, if you’re looking for a book about Social Security disability benefits, this is probably not the book for you.

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  1. Do we need to do anything special while accruing social security benefits?

  2. Steve,

    I’m not entirely sure I understand what you’re asking.

    If you’re asking whether there’s a reason to read up on this stuff many years before claiming benefits, I’d say probably not really. The group who would benefit most from knowledge about Social Security rules would probably be people who anticipate claiming benefits within 10 years or so.

  3. Hi Mike,
    Yes, that’s basically my question. In 10 to 40 years the rules could change anyways. (It’s already happened with the drastic curtailment of the “do over” rule)

  4. Agreed.

    For people right around the 10-years-away point though, I think it’s time to start reading up on it at least. While the rules certainly could change, I think it’s valuable to start understanding your options (as they stand now) so that you can at least get an idea of how Social Security fits into your overall retirement plan — while always keeping in mind that nothing is set in stone.

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