Boomers' eagerness to retire could cost them

But the 79 million people born from 1946 through 1964 represent an extraordinarily potent voting bloc. Reducing their benefits "would be a huge political burden," Prudential's Mahaney says. He thinks lawmakers are more likely to raise payroll taxes on workers than reduce benefits for retirees.

David Certner, director of federal affairs for AARP, doesn't think that retiring boomers will suffer cuts in benefits, either.

"We think Social Security benefits, particularly for those at or near retirement, are well-financed and will be there," he says.

Some don't have option to wait

Yet even if retirees are convinced their benefits are safe, most of them, Certner predicts, will continue to file claims before full retirement age. Many who are in poor health or have been pushed into early retirement don't have the option of waiting until 66 to file for benefits, he notes.

"For millions, (Social Security) is basically their only source of income," Certner says. "We don't see that changing much."

And even though many analysts say boomers could bolster their financial security by working longer, employers don't always comply. Some companies dangle incentives to induce older employees to leave.

Peter Wagner, 61, who lives outside Kingman, Ariz., retired last year after his employer, Frontier Communications, offered him an incentive to retire before age 65.

"It wasn't exactly a golden parachute," he jokes. "It was kind of bronze."

Social Security benefits, which he plans to start receiving this year, will supplement his savings and buyout package, he says. Wagner's wife, Gail, died in December at age 53. Her death, he says, has reinforced his determination to enjoy the time he has left.

"I'm doing all the things I like to do," says Wagner, an avid hunter and fisherman. "I've got over 20 acres and all kinds of projects I've been trying to do for years."

Even with early-retirement incentives from their employers, boomers who stop working risk running out of money — a risk that could escalate if they take Social Security benefits early.

But that's a chance that many older boomers seem willing to take.

"The bottom line is, people would still prefer to retire than work," Certner says. "People can't wait to get to age 62 and get out."

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