What Is AARP? Here’s What to Know About Membership

By: Meredith Miller
Published: Tuesday, January 08 2019
Last Updated: 10 months ago

When it comes to all things retirement, there’s probably no bigger name than AARP. The widely recognized acronym, which stands for Association of Retired Persons, was founded in 1958, and membership is open for anyone above the age of 50 years old, though you may be able to join as early as 18. The purpose, according to the two founders, Ethel Percy Andrus and Leonard Davis, is to “**empower people to choose how they live as they age.*”

While AARP has been around for quite some time and has already established itself as a premier resource for seniors, not many truly understand exactly what this organization does. Well, that’s exactly what we’re here to clear up.

What Is AARP?

The first thing you need to understand is that AARP is a nonprofit organization that aims to help you in your golden years. Once you become a member, which will cost around $16 each year, you’ll be eligible to take advantage of all this association has to offer. Currently, the Association for Retired Persons services nearly 38 million members, who have access to things like their famous Fraud Watch, healthcare and travel discounts, healthy living tips, employment, retirement planning, income, and even security.

A Brief History of AARP

Although initially founded for retired people, today, AARP is open to anyone over the age of 50. However, members can add a partner or spouse below that age. Though formed by Andrus and Davis, many believe Davis controlled the tax-exempt company to sell insurance through the Colonial Penn Life Insurance and Finance Group.

Its tax-exempt status came under scrutiny by Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson. Chairman of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Social Security at the time, he and the committee investigated the company but did not find enough to warrant changing its tax-exempt status.

Is AARP Worth the Money?

The price for full membership is $16 annually, though you can get a discount with automatic withdrawal, or an associated membership for those under 50 is available for $12.50. Roger Ma, a Forbes contributor, says he joined at age 35. He states, "…the savings I received from one hotel booking more than paid for the annual fee."

However, it depends on if you normally use these services. Many of the discounts are for high-priced goods and services. If you shop around for auto insurance, for example, you can find equal coverage with less expensive companies than those which the company promotes.

Benefits of AARP

On their AARP benefits webpage, there are 14 member benefits divisions, with several subdivisions under each. Let's take a look at those divisions and what they offer:

  • Health & Wellness – there's a myriad of insurance discount offers of AARP benefits with membership from New York Life & Long-term care plans, dental, vision, and hearing. Prescription discounts from Walgreens, Walmart, CVS, Rite Aid, and Kroger Pharmacies. AARP Medicare Insurance Plan Supplements, AARP Medicare Advantage Plan with Medicare Complete, as well as the AARP Medicare Rx Plan. Discounts of in-home care, gym membership, hearing tests and many other discounts and information to ensure we stay healthy longer and keep more money in our pockets.
  • Restaurants – AARP gives you discounts at several casual eateries such as Landry's, Bubba Gump's, Outback, Denny's, and McCormick & Schmick's just to name a few.
  • Entertainment – how about 20 percent off on Cirque du Soleil, Regal Movie tickets, and more.
  • Advocacy - AARP Foundation Litigation and advocacy offices in every state to assist you with legal issues such as phone scams, Medicare and insurance fraud, age discrimination, problems with Social Security and much more.
  • Shopping & Groceries – Many discounts, coupons, and information on home delivery services.
  • Travel – Discounts on rental cars, flights, cruise and vacation packages, hotels, trains, and tours from an online travel center.
  • Community - Workshops, seminars, and events in your area for people over 50.
  • Home & Technology – Information and assistance on living independently, assisted living communities, mobility resources, and even a recipe repository.
  • Caregiving – Information and offers on in-home care and long-term care options.
  • Work & Jobs – Job search boards, small business start-up, and other resources.
  • Insurance – Information on all the insurances we mentioned above.
  • Finances – Many of the money management resources you need like retirement calculations, Social Security calculator and resource center, tax aid, and more.
  • Auto Services – Everything auto-related, where to buy, insure, maintain, and a discount on roadside assistance insurance.
  • Magazines & Resources – Rewards for books, magazines, and more.

You can get a world of member benefits from AARP just by logging into the member website.

Drawbacks of AARP

Some of the drawbacks of membership are, although you can join at 50 or below, many of the discounts they advertise are only available to 55 and above, or just on specific days.

Plus, there is a negative view of the company due to its lobbyist's activities. They attempt to sway Congress with large amounts of money (hundreds of millions) to vote a specific way on legislation, even some of which does not affect seniors or their quality of life.

Reviews and Criticism

There are a lot of benefits of membership, especially considering its inexpensive price. If you use their products and services, particularly prescription drug discounts. But, be sure to shop around as there are other methods of receiving even more substantial discounts.

The Fraud watch information alone could be invaluable to seniors approached in-person or by phone with methods to invest their retirement nest egg that might not be legal or ethical.

According to the NY Times, it is "…the second-biggest non-governmental agency in the US." Whether that makes you uncomfortable or makes you feel good about being a part of something so large will likely determine whether you think the AARP benefits of membership is a good deal.