First of all, let me wish a heartfelt happy holidays to all the wonderful readers of my column. I’ve heard from so many of you over the years. I’ve managed to help you understand Social Security a little bit better. And many of you have managed to brighten my days with your kind words about me and my column.
Some of you are new to the column because it just recently began running in whatever newspaper or publication you read. But many of you have been reading it for years. In fact, just today, I got an email from a guy who told me that he and his wife have been reading my column for 20 years!
And many of you old-timers have been asking me this question: “When are you going to write a book?” Well, I finally have! More about that book in a minute. But first I want to share a little story with you.
I’ve actually been toying with the idea of writing some kind of Social Security guidebook for many years. In fact, about 15 years ago, I had a book ready to go. I found an agent, and this agent peddled my book to a number of book publishers around the country. Finally, a big publishing house in New York bit at the book. I spent about six months going back and forth with various editors, constantly revising the manuscript, until we finally got something we all could be happy with. Then it went to the managing editor of the firm for what was supposed to be a pro forma rubber stamp of the book. Instead, she threw a big wet blanket over the whole project and stopped the presses with this remark: “Why should we publish a book about Social Security when we know the program is going to be reformed next year and the book will be out of date?” That was in 2005. And here we are, 15 years later, and Social Security still hasn’t been reformed! So, anyway, my dream of publishing a Social Security guidebook turned into a nightmare. All that time. All that effort. All that work. For nothing!
I was so turned off by the whole affair that I put any plans to write another book on the back burner. I thought, I’ll just continue writing my column and be happy with that.
But as I said, over the years, so many of you have encouraged me to put that book back on the stove and onto the front burner. And that’s what I did this year. And now the book is ready. It was published just this week.
I call the book “Social Security: Simple and Smart.” It is a collection of fact sheets that I have written over the years about various aspects of the Social Security program. Let me explain that. I get hundreds of questions from my readers every week (sometimes every day!). And as you might guess, I am frequently asked the same questions again and again! And over the years, what I did was develop various fact sheets that answer the most common questions that people ask or that cover the most common Social Security topics that people are interested in. So, instead of spending a lot of time answering these redundant questions with a long, drawn-out email reply, I’d send a fact sheet and say something like: “I wrote the attached fact sheet just for folks like you. It should answer all your questions.”
I have now put all those fact sheets—updated for 2021—into one place, “Social Security: Simple and Smart.” Here is an overview of those fact sheets and a little preview of the book.
Fact Sheet No. 1 is “Social Security Basics.” It is an introduction to the Social Security program and to the book.
Fact Sheet No. 2 is “Myths and Facts About Social Security Financing and Proposals for Reform.” There are so darn many rumors, half-truths, and outright lies floating around about how the Social Security program is financed. This fact sheet sets the record straight. It also includes a list of the most common proposals that will be considered as part of inevitable Social Security reform.
Fact Sheet No. 3 is “When To Take Your Social Security Benefits.” Over the years, this has been, by far, my most popular fact sheet. It explains Social Security rules and tells you when and how to file for Social Security benefits. If you are nearing retirement, this fact sheet alone is worth the price of the entire book.
Fact Sheet No. 4 is “Working After Retirement and the Earnings Penalty.” If you are between age 62 and full retirement age, the law puts a limit on how much money you can make and still get Social Security checks. The rules are messy and difficult to understand. This fact sheet explains them as clearly as I know how.
Fact Sheet No. 5 is “A Woman’s Guide to Social Security.” This has always been my second most popular fact sheet. Whether you are a working woman or a stay-at-home mom, by reading this fact sheet, you will learn a lot about your own benefits and any spousal or widows benefits you might be due.
Fact Sheet No. 6 is “Benefits for Children.” If you are eligible for retirement or disability benefits and have minor children at home, this fact sheet explains the benefits they may get on your account—or, if you die, the survivors benefits they will be due. The fact sheet also explains benefits payable to children with disabilities.
Fact Sheet No. 7 is “Social Security Disability Benefits.” This fact sheet explains the two disability programs that are run by the Social Security Administration and gives tips about filing for those benefits.
Fact Sheet No. 8 is “Government Pension Offsets and Social Security.” If you or your spouse works for a government entity that does not pay into Social Security, or you collect a pension from another country, you should read this fact sheet. It explains the often-controversial offsets that affect any retirement or spousal benefits you might be due.
Fact Sheet No. 9 is “When Social Security Says You Owe Them Money.” If you have received a letter from the SSA telling you that you have been overpaid, you should read this fact sheet to learn how to deal with that issue.
Fact Sheet No. 10 is “Working After Your Social Security Checks Start: Will Your Additional Income Increase Your Social Security Check?” The title explains what this fact sheet is about.
The book also has two other helpful sections. There is a clarification of the “Top 10 Social Security Myths.” And the book ends with an explanation of what to do when someone getting a Social Security check dies.
If you want to put my new book under your Christmas tree, you will find it at my syndicator’s website: www.creators.com/books.
Tom Margenau worked for 32 years in a variety of positions for the Social Security Administration before retiring in 2005. He has served as the director of SSA’s public information office, the chief editor of more than 100 SSA publications, a deputy press officer and spokesman, and a speechwriter for the commissioner of Social Security. For 12 years, he also wrote Social Security columns for local newspapers. If you have a Social Security question, contact him at email@example.com.