Saturday, October 23, 2010

marking time

There are plenty of signs on this toll road we call life that tell us we are not as young as our heads tell us we are.

The first sign is the most annoying.  The letter from AARP that arrives proximate to your 50th birthday -- inviting you to stick your snout in the slop trough of special interests.  That one was easy to ignore.  Into the trash it went along with the rest of the junk mail.

Then there was 60.  Not as easy to ignore -- because my father's reflection started showing up in the mirror each morning.  Proving that aging is not an incremental process.  It comes on in surges -- like a melting glacier.

And then retirement.  Giving up a profession that had kept me well-fed and mentally alert.  In exchange for a very nice retirement in Mexico.

But none of them had a great impact on me.  After all, I am a boomer.  Sixty is the new twenty -- or so our besotted minds like to believe.

Until reality hits.  And it hit me last week.

There are terms our culture assigns to the old.  Bingo.  Ball room dancing.  Cruises.

But nothing says senior like "Social Security."

I mentioned earlier this month in spinning the wheel that I was considering taking my Social Security retirement benefits early -- at 62, rather than waiting until I am 66.  I am not 62 -- yet.  But I am old enough that I can apply for my retirement benefits.

And apply I did.  On line.

Anyone who has read my blog for very long knows I am a skeptic when it comes to government.  I have not experienced either efficiency or effectiveness in most of my contacts with government.  For that reason alone, I was shocked at how easy it was to apply for my retirement benefits.

I decided to apply before I left for Mexico -- fully anticipating that an in-person trip to the local Social Security office was a high probability.  But I was wrong.

The electronic form was well-designed and easy to use.  The questions were easy to understand.  The multiple choice options were thorough and made sense,  And it was quick.  I probably spent no more than ten minutes filling out the form.

One day later, a very polite woman called and asked me to clarify two of my answers.  And the application process was complete.  I should be receiving my first check in a few months.

It was so simple, I could have completed the entire process at my computer table in Melaque.

I made a point of thanking the young attorneys at the lunch table for their generosity.  After all, the withholdings from their paychecks will just about equal what the government is about to put in my account.  A great little shell game that is.

One of my favorite episode of The Simpsons involves this exchange.  It is Bart’s birthday.  Grandpa Abe Simpson gives Bart a big box of money.
Marge Simpson: Where did you get all the money?
Grandpa: The government. I didn’t earn it. I don’t need it. But, if they miss one payment I’m gonna raise hell!

Sometimes, there is true pleasure in being old.


Anonymous said...

It's good to know the application for benefits was smooth. I won't be eligible for another four years.
Enjoy the funds, after all, we have been contributing for decades.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the changing reflection in the mirror, I once read that Paul Newman used to dunk his face into a sink full of ice and ice water, every morning. It seems to have worked for him.

Calypso said...

Congratulations - I agree regarding the simplicity in applying and it is probably not said enough just how easy it is to get signed up.

Your comment thanking your youthful associates bothers me a bit. We paid in our entire working lives - a considerable amount of money. Some of us didn't live long enough to collect a dime - a lot of mismanagement, miss calculations, and dare I say abuses seem to have created a situation wherein the government is having a hard time wanting to keep its end of the bargain they made with us when they took all that money.

Now we retired are to be guilty that the working youths contributions can barely pay our way - well this does not account for the MANY dollars we poured in to that system. PLEASE don't think your young amigos are paying your way in life - because is just ain't true.

Karen said...

Loved your comments today...never thought the time would come to retire but I am doing it, at the ripe old age of 60 after 30 years of teaching, a vocation I loved, but I thought...why not, I am ready for adventures and hubby is taking SS at age 62 just like you, now is the time for some fun!!!

Al French said...

Amen to all that.

I think I started seeing my father in the mirror a little before 60. And of course there is always the relative to remind me, "You look just like your dad."

My reaction to the receipt of the first AARP letter - now 15 years ago - was the same. for the same reason.

I had a similar experience as you when I signed up for medicare a few months ago: on line, easy form.

And Amen to Abe, too.

Tancho said...

I too was surprised as how easy it was, the phone call, one or two items to verify and that's it. I would surmise that people that have someone else's number and a little information could reap the benefits also. It more difficult to renew your drivers license than to apply. But I am sure that will get easier too.
Enjoy the new found windfall, after all it's your money, too bad we couldn't have had those payments detoured years ago into making payments for that strip mall or investment property. Like that beach house you occupied the other day.

Carole said...

A good decision, Steve. Might as well go for it just in case you aren't here later to enjoy it :-)

Ron said...

Congrats on having reached another developmental milestone!! Good for you.

I turn 59 in a couple of weeks. Unlike you, I have experienced far more efficiency in the governmental sector than in the private sector.

I will decide when to take Social Security later, but I lean towards early for mine and later for the iWife's.

See you on Mérida in a few weeks!!


Larry in Mazatlan said...

I'm not so sure you could have applied online from down here. Recent applicants that I know have had to go through the consular officials in Guadalajara. Their IP address was flagged as being from out of the country. Just to give you a smile, the MediCare card showed up without me asking.

Anonymous said...

I fully agree with Calypso on Social Security. When I read your post last night, I thought I must answer. Let me explain we have paid into Social Security as most retirement accounts require. We didn't have a choice. The Government said it was the law. Most retirees with a retirement account expect a return on their money, so do we who have paid into Social Security. It is not our fault our leaders in Washington D.C. have seen fit to spend our money.

No one is paying for my check. I have paid into Soc. Sec. since I was 14. Granted not much is held out when you earn 23 and 1/2 cents an hr. Milk cost 10cents a quart, bread 10cents a loaf, a ticket to the movie 10cents. I continued to pay in even after drawing a Soc. Sec. check and I was penalized and had to give part of it back. At seventy I did not have to return any of it. Now, the age has been lowered. I continued to work and pay into Soc. Sec. until 2 mo. before my 82nd birthday. Now tell me, I haven't earned a check.


Anonymous said...

I've long argued that the Simpsons is in fact a documentary cunningly disguised as a cartoon.

I've yet to reach the age where Social Security confirms that I'm getting on.

Spending ten minutes getting over a wall into my back yard,scratching and banging myself in the process, and realising that once upon a time I'd have vaulted it in one go - that's the current standard I'm using to measure my ageing.

Steve Cotton said...

Francisco -- Even though we have been contributing for years, that money has long ago been paid out. And not in the sense that a bank lends out our money. In this case, it is very much like the rich man with an income outflow greater than his income. No matter how rich he is, he counts on money from the current flow to pay current obligations. Several financiers are in prison for promoting similar investment schemes.

As for Paul Newman's morning shock treatment, all I can say is he started with a much better foundation than I ever had.

Calypso -- I fully agree that we have paid in for years -- and if I had been allowed to do my own investing, I would be getting much better returns. The problem is that money is gone -- paid to others. We have a moral claim to receive some benefits, but what we gave has not been invested for us. And that is the current tragedy of Social Security. I feel no guilt. But I do know if the income now stopped, there is not enough in the "trust" to pay for forseeable benefits.

Karen -- Get them while you can.

Al -- When I start seeing Abe in the mirror, I will know I have trouble.

Tancho _- I had the same concerns about how easy it would be to access my account. When the woman caled to verify my information, my first reaction was to not give her my specifics. Odd. I had no such qualms on the internet.

Carole -- I suspect we will see a major change in benefits in the next few years -- out of necessity.

Ron -- I look forward to seeing you at the conference.

Larry -- Good to hear from you again. I never thought about the problem of applying out of country.

Mom -- You have earned benefits. That was not my point. I have encountered a lot of people who believe their contributions were placed in a special account for them. It wasn't. The government has used that money for other purposes. Social Security is now merely a cash flow through from current workers to benefit recipients. That is why my colleagiues are currently transferring money from their pockets to mine. Or, will be. And I do not find that to be reassuring. Even Dad would have not been snookered into a deal like that.

Steve Cotton said...

Gary -- My friend, John the Philosopher, has made the same point at lunch several times. He considers Matt Groening to be a chronicler of our time. Both of you are correct.

Calypso said...

Steve – Nah….You sound like someone that borrowed money to be paid back with certain terms in a specific time frame who double talks some excuses for not paying back on time or in a manner that meets the original agreement – a smooth lawyer type excuse for not honoring a commitment.

The bottom line is we had a forced bargain with the Government. We kept our end of the bargain. They have not kept their end of it – by changing the terms, taxing what started out as tax free, threatening failure and blaming the aged for current financial woes and insolvency of that system.

You wrote: “I made a point of thanking the young attorneys at the lunch table for their generosity.”

Thanking young people for contributing to your retirement is what the above says – nothing else. And whether you want to admit it or not – you dishonor yourself and the others who met their commitment as stated above.

Steve Cotton said...

Calypso -- I think we are saying the same thing. The government, using its monopoly powers, forced each of us to contribute money to a system with the promise we would receive something in return. In that sense, we have a moral demand on the government for some return on what we were forced to provide. The problem with the system is that the government did not live up to its end of the bargain. It took our money and used it to disguise the size of the federal deficit by buying government bonds. From the start, the system was badly mismanaged. In most retirement systems, I could count on the fact that there were sufficient reserves set aside to pay current obligations. The Social Security simply has not done that. As a result, an ever-decreasing pool of workers are paying into a system of faster-increasing retirees. And that is why politicians are now talking of new ways to "save" the system -- lower benefits, later retirement dates, or simply starting over. When the underlying problem was apparent for at least 50 years.

But you pointed out the real problem at the start of your comment. The system is one of compulsion. The guys who made the bade decisions took the glory and are now long gone.

Gary Denness said...

Steve, I'd be interested to know the particulars. Have you ever worked out exactly how much you paid in for your state pension, what the effective return is and how much you could have gotten had you invested it yourself?

I guess asking for personal financial info of this sort is asking too much, but if there's a way you can give me an idea without revealing your own exact figures, that'd be cool.

Steve Cotton said...

Gary -- I wish I could run the numbers on my own contributions. Unfortunately, I would need my annual contributions to calculate the going investment rate over the past 45 years. However, I have seen calculations based on economic situations similar to my own. Based on those considerations, I could expect a monthly income about 50% higher than my current Social Secirity benefits while maintaining my principal. A doubly-better deal. Of course, I could have lost it all, as well. But that is the risk of freedom.