Practical analysis for investment professionals
12 November 2015

Book Review: Get What’s Yours

Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security. 2015. Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Philip Moeller, and Paul Solman.

Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security takes an analytic and anecdotal look at what the authors call “America’s most important retirement asset,” Social Security. The underlying thrust of their analysis is straightforward:

  • Social Security is a major financial asset for workers and retirees.
  • Increased longevity and the demographic consequences of the baby-boom generation reaching retirement have further increased its importance.
  • Over time, the rules underpinning Social Security benefits have become extremely complicated, admittedly in efforts to make the rules more “fair.”
  • As a result, every year over $10 billion of claimable benefits are estimated to be forgone by those who might receive them.
  • Here is how readers can maximize the value of their retirement benefits.

The three authors, who have outstanding credentials as experts in finance and retirement, introduce their topic with an intriguing story. Get What’s Yours originated, they report, in a conversation in which one eventual collaborator, Laurence Kotlikoff, showed another, Paul Solman, how to claim an additional $50,000 worth of benefits of which he (Solman) had been unaware.

On the basis of that anecdote, readers may approach the book with the question, So, how do I get my $50,000? To be fair, the story may create excessive expectations. For example, this reviewer has so far found only $20,000 worth of benefits that he would not have claimed had he not read the book. Nevertheless, finding benefits worth even $20,000 produces approximately a 10,000% return on investment, based on the book’s $19.99 price. In any event, it is clear that the information contained in this book has value for US workers and retirees and especially for their financial advisers.

After the recounting of the $50,000 anecdote, the must-read core of the book follows in Chapters 2 through 7. The authors provide an overview of the Social Security system, detailing its benefits and how they are calculated, with a focus on the general strategies for maximizing benefits. The best known of these is probably the advice for claimants in good health to start receiving their benefits at the latest age possible. This strategy has been widely publicized over the years, but behaviorists will relish the table in Chapter 2 showing that 99% of men and 98% of women begin taking their benefits sooner than the last permissible date.

The wisdom of delaying is merely a starting point for Get What’s Yours in the search for unclaimed benefits. Chapters 8 through 15 delve into the details and examples of numerous specific opportunities. Readers should treat these chapters as reference material rather than text to be read from start to finish. Most readers will find that many or most of the items do not apply to them, but financial advisers will likely find that this becomes their most “thumbed” section of the book. The cataloguing of benefit-maximizing strategies is delivered in good prose style, but the subject is complex. Having taken many professional exams over a career, this reviewer would not relish having to take a test on this subject matter!

No how-to book would be complete without some “best ideas” lists. The authors oblige in Chapters 16 and 17 with 50 “Good News Secrets” and 25 “Bad News Gotchas.” For readers who plan to save time by going straight to these points and skipping the preceding chapters, the bad news is that without reading at least the first half of the book (through Chapter 7), one’s ability to understand and implement any of these “secrets” and “gotchas” is rather limited.

Other worthwhile content includes suggestions on how to find the right overall strategy, specifically tailored to individual circumstances. Recommended tools involve a variety of informational websites and calculators. Interestingly, the authors’ advice also includes a warning to not rely heavily on advice from the Social Security Administration itself. That agency is struggling to cope with budget cuts, just as the baby-boom generation ratchets up the demand for its services.

The concluding chapter is in some ways the most interesting (although it is less financially rewarding than other sections). Kotlikoff, Moeller, and Solman outline their views on policies that could or should be implemented to improve the Social Security system.

In summary, Social Security may appear simple to recipients who take only what seems to be on offer, which is all that many people do. There is much more potential beneath the surface, however, for those prepared to work a bit to get to it. This book is designed for such individuals and addresses their needs extremely well.

Get What’s Yours is already a hot seller. Following its release, it was sold out on for some time. The book is clearly popular with US workers and retirees, not just those who advise them. Advisers may want to make sure they have read the book so their clients will not be more informed than they are.

Investing for retirement is an important topic for readers of the Financial Analysts Journal, with respect to both managing their own affairs and advising others in either a professional or a personal (family and friends) capacity. It is hard to imagine any US-based FAJ reader not finding great value in this book.

More book reviews are available on the CFA Institute website or in the Financial Analysts Journal.

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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.


About the Author(s)
Barry M. Gillman, CFA

Barry M. Gillman, CFA, is a principal at Longevity Financial Consulting, Fort Lee, New Jersey.

1 thought on “Book Review: Get What’s Yours”

  1. John Richards says:

    I think this was a good and relevant book, however…. the core strategies of file and suspend and restricted application have been eliminated for anyone not reaching full retirement age by May 1st of next year, as I understand it.

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