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Should You Join AARP? Questions and Answers

by Derrick
man wondering if he should join aarp

As you reach your golden years, you might be wonder if you should join AARP. It’s likely that you will receive invitations to join several different interest groups like AARP. Many groups promise much, but they might not deliver to your expectations. So before you pay any membership fees, it is essential to look at what benefits the groups offer, what membership costs, and whether it is worth joining. 

While many organizations are working hard to create a better life for older adults, some unscrupulous groups are actively working to defraud seniors. Taking the time to research the pertinent aspects of a senior-interest group reduces the chances that you’ll be just throwing your money away by enrolling in an unworthy establishment.

Questions to Ask Before Joining A Senior Interest Group

  • Who Founded the Organization?
  • What Type of Organization is it?
  • What is Its Political Affiliation?
  • Who Underwrites the Insurance Policies it Sponsors?
  • How Transparent Are the Organization’s Financial Statements?
  • What Are Member Benefits?

We’ll use the mega-giant AARP as an example in this article, but the same questions can be applied to any interest group that targets seniors. 

Who Founded AARP?

Knowing who founded a group, as well as its original purpose, can help you decipher the motivation for specific policies. For example, AARP was founded by a retired educator, Ethel Percy Andrus, and Leonard Davis, who also founded the Colonial Penn Insurance Group. It should come as no surprise that education and insurance are the hallmarks of this organization.

What Type of Organization is it?

An organization can be classified as nonprofit, not-for-profit, or for-profit for tax purposes. Knowing which status the senior interest group you are considering will aid you in determining how policies are structured and who benefits, members, or the shareholders.

AARP is considered a non-profit organization. However, this status was challenged by the United States Senate Finance Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy in the 1990s.

Nonprofit organizations are tax-exempt because their missions provide a public benefit. A not-for-profit organization’s money is reinvested into the business. This type of classification means that it does not need to serve the public but serves the goals of its members. A for-profit organization earns money for its owner, shareholders, and investors, usually by selling a product or service. 

What is AARP’s Political Affiliation?

Baby Boomers have considerable political influence. Senior-interest groups are interested in harnessing that governmental power. Understanding an organization’s political affiliation can help you decide whether becoming involved by paying your membership fees will benefit you in the long run. 

AARP publically maintains that it does not support or oppose any political parties or candidates. However, it has an extensive lobbying presence and does use that influence to change public policy on matters affecting older Americans at the state and national levels. 

Who Underwrites AARP Insurance Policies?

One of the focuses of any senior organization is insurance. Many groups use their lobbying efforts to change Medicare policies. Other groups offer members insurance policies that are designed to cover prescriptions, procedures, and other items that are not covered by Medicare. 

You must understand where these “other” insurance coverages are coming from. An organization might suggest a particular policy if it stands to gain financially from your enrollment. It might suggest insurance programs that they are affiliated with, earning a commission from your subscription.  Or if the organization itself owns the insurance company, it stands to gain a nice sum from your enrollment. 

AARP was run and controlled by its founder Leonard Davis until the 1980s. As an insurance agent, Davis has the goal of selling insurance policies to AARP members through his own company Colonial Penn Insurance Group. After a negative report on this practice, all insurance contracts were set up through Prudential Financial. AARP now has an affiliate relationship with Prudential. Currently, there is a proposed class-action lawsuit against AARP over commissions charged when members enrolled in AARP-branded supplemental health insurance

If, after reading the information about a particular policy, you cannot identify the underwriters, the insurance group that finances the plan, then there’s a good chance that the senior-interest group is the owner. Let the buyer beware, in this case. Your individual insurance needs may not take presence over the organization’s financial gain. 

How Transparent are AARP’s Financial Statements?

Transparency provides information about an organization’s values and investment risk. As a paying member of an organization, you should be able to find out how the organization is spending its funds to ascertain its trustworthiness.

Related article: AARP versus AMAC – Comparison of Benefits

Public companies are required to show their financial statements publicly. Private companies are not under the same obligation. However, a certain amount of financial information is available if you know where to search

AARP has a 4 / 5 star rating on financial accountability and transparency. 

Even though non-profits do not file taxes, they are required to provide financial statements to the IRS using Form 990. This document is available to the public. Charity Navigator accesses the transparency of charitable organizations in the United States. 

What Are the AARP Member Benefits?

You wouldn’t join any organization that doesn’t offer benefits for its members. The same philosophy is true for senior-interest groups. Many groups practically promise the moon if you join. However, a closer look at the options may show they aren’t as specular as all that. 

AARP is the biggest senior-interest group by far, with 38 million members. Some groups try to offer similar membership privileges to be more competitive. On the surface, it may seem like you are getting the same benefit, but be sure to read the fine print. You may be required to sign up for a different membership program to receive the advertised discounts, or they may not be available in your area at all. You can find the AARP benefits listed here

So Should You Join AARP?

Senior-interest groups, like AARP, provide discounts, additional medical coverage, and free advice that can provide you with assistance as you navigate retirement and beyond. Since some organizations will benefit you more than others, be sure to do your homework before shelling out your hard-earned cash. Do your homework and check the cost-benefit analysis.

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