Free Resources That Can Help with Your Medicare Decisions

October 29, 2018  
Filed under Savvy Senior

Savvy Senior

By Jim Miller

Dear Savvy Senior,

I’m considering making changes in my Medicare coverage during the open-enrollment period. Can you recommend any free resources that can help with my choices?

Swapping Senior

 

Dear Swapping,

There are a number of good resources you can turn to that can help you choose Medicare coverage that better suites your needs, that’s completely free to use.

 

As you may already know, each year during Medicare’s open enrollment – Oct. 15 through Dec. 7 – all Medicare beneficiaries can change their coverage without penalty. Doing so, given that insurers are constantly tweaking their plans and offerings, could help lower your premiums and/or give you access to better care. Any changes you make to your coverage will take effect January 1, 2019.

 

Important Tools

To get help with your Medicare decisions, a good starting point is to get re-familiar with the primary parts – traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage, supplemental (Medigap) policies and prescription-drug coverage – Medicare publishes an excellent guide called “Medicare & You” that you can access at Medicare.gov/medicare-and-you.

 

If you are already enrolled in Medicare Advantage or a Medicare Part D prescription-drug plan, it’s very important that you read and understand your “Annual Notice of Changes” and “Evidence of Coverage,” which should have arrived in the mail in September. These documents explain how your existing coverage will change in 2019 and how much you’ll pay for that coverage.

 

Your next step is to go Medicare’s online “Plan Finder” tool at Medicare.gov/find-a-plan. Here you can enter some basic information – your Medicare number and prescription drugs (name and dosage) – and it will produce a list of possible health-care plans in your area, the costs involved, drug coverage and customer-satisfaction ratings. Or, if you don’t have Internet access, or don’t feel confident in working through the information on your own, you can also call Medicare at 800-633-4227 and a customer service representative will do the work for you over the phone.

 

Free Advice

If you want personalized help with a Medicare specialist, contact the Medicare Rights Center or your State Health Insurance Assistance Program.

 

The Medicare Rights Center is a nonprofit group (MedicareInteractive.org) that offers a national helpline (800-333-4114) where staff members answer questions about Medicare, and can help you choose coverage, at no charge.

 

And your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), which may go by a different name in your state, provides free one-on-one counseling in person or over the phone to beneficiaries, as well as family members and/or caregivers. SHIPs are federally funded programs that are not connected to any insurance company or health plan. To find a SHIP counselor in your area, see ShiptaCenter.org or call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116.

 

Another good resource, if you’re interested in choosing a new Medicare Advantage plan, is the HealthMetrix Research Cost Share Report at MedicareNewsWatch.com. This free website lists the best Advantage plans by area based on your health status.

 

Agent Assistance

Another way to get free assistance with your Medicare Advantage, prescription drug or Medigap plans is to use an agent or broker who specializes in Medicare-related insurance in your state. These people get paid a commission to sell you a policy from the insurance providers they represent.

 

There are federal rules and state laws governing agents or brokers who sell Medicare plans, which include things like barring them from showing up uninvited at your house to pitch a plan or trying to lure you with a cash offer. They also cannot legally charge you a fee to process your enrollment.

 

It’s also important to understand that commission-based agents and brokers will present only the Medicare plans they represent, rather than all the plans in your market. So, you may miss out on some plans that could benefit you.

 

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

DVHA Launches Tool to Help Vermonters Compare 2019 Health Plans and Save Money

October 22, 2018  
Filed under Health & Wellness, News

Recent changes mean that Vermonters who take a few minutes to compare plans will find more choices and more financial help than ever before

 

In preparation for open enrollment, state officials have launched the 2019 version of an online tool that helps Vermonters weigh insurance options and choose the health plan that best fits their needs and budget. The 2019 Plan Comparison Tool is accessible from VermontHealthConnect.gov and allows individuals and small business employees to easily screen at least 26 health plan options.

As in past years, the tool allows members to compare total costs in an average year or bad year, view doctor directories and drug lists, and much more. New this year, the tool also provides members with the ability to see their total costs in a low-use year (or “good year”) and the likelihood of someone with their age and health status having a good year.

With big changes on the horizon, the tool is an essential five-minute step for all current and prospective members of Vermont’s health insurance marketplace.

Three big changes in marketplace

First, it’s important to note that most Vermonters who purchase health insurance on their own qualify for financial help to lower the cost of coverage. Due to a complex set of events initiated by recent federal changes, that financial help will go way up in 2019. Subsidized single members will receive over $1,200 more in 2019 than they did in 2018, while couples and families will generally receive over $2,500 more.  This means that most members will see significant savings if they explore all options (see what the typical member pays in 2018 vs. 2019).

A second change is that premiums for silver-level qualified health plans (QHPs) are increasing much more than other metal level plans. This is especially notable because three out of five (60%) individuals are currently enrolled in silver plans. It is especially important for these members to actively explore their alternatives.

Finally, to help small business employees and higher income individuals whose incomes are too high to qualify for financial help, Vermont developed “reflective silver” plans. These plans – available only by calling Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont (BCBSVT) or MVP Health Care (MVP) directly – give unsubsidized members the opportunity to buy silver plans for closer to the price they paid for similar plans in 2018. Reflective silver plans are displayed on the 2019 Plan Comparison Tool, but only if the tool determines that the user does not qualify for subsidies.

“We want Vermonters to know that there were policy changes at the federal level that could impact the cost of their current plans,” said Governor Phil Scott. “I want to thank the members of my Administration, legislature, and stakeholders across the state who came together to respond to these changes with a focus on affordability for Vermonters. The key remaining step is for Vermonters to pick the right plans and, fortunately, the Plan Comparison Tool is here as a resource to help them do just that,” Governor Scott added.

Time to take action

Current Vermont Health Connect members aren’t required to compare health plans or to take any action at all. As long as they continue to pay their bills, members are automatically renewed into the 2019 version of their 2018 plan. In past years, most members have gone this route. Due to this year’s changes, however, officials are strongly encouraging members to invest the time needed to be sure they’re in the best plan for them.

“This is not the year to auto-renew,” said Cory Gustafson, Commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access. “Comparison shopping is how Americans try to get the best deal possible for all kinds of consumer choices. That is true for every purchase, every year, but it’s especially true for health insurance in 2019. The difference between the ‘right plan’ and ‘wrong plan’ could easily be thousands of dollars. Fortunately, the Plan Comparison Tool will help Vermonters identify the right plan.”

About the Plan Comparison Tool

The Plan Comparison Tool was developed by the non-profit Consumers’ Checkbook and has won the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s award for best plan choice tool. This is the fourth year that Vermont is using the tool. It has been used in nearly 60,000 sessions over the last twelve months.

After taking a couple minutes to enter age, income, health status, and expected use of medical services, the anonymous tool tells the user if they qualify for financial help to lower the cost of coverage. It also presents the estimated total annual costs (premium minus subsidies plus estimated out-of-pocket) of each of the 26+ qualified health plans. The user then has several options for sorting and screening results, or they can dive into plan details and link to more information on the BCBSVT and MVP websites.

“This kind of resource is very important because a consumer just can’t figure out: is a plan with the $200 deductible and a $10,000 out-of-pocket limit better for me than a plan with a $2,000 deductible and $4,000 out-of-pocket limit—and how about differences in co-pays, co-insurance, etc.?” said Robert Krughoff, president of Consumers’ Checkbook. “People don’t know how much various health services cost or their likelihood of needing different services – and even health insurance experts can be hard-pressed to figure out which plan is best without a helpful tool. Vermont Health Connect is a leader in making this help available.”

About 2019 Open Enrollment

Open Enrollment is the time when new applicants can use the marketplace to sign up for health and dental plans for the coming year. It is also an opportunity for existing members to change plans – an option that many more members than usual will want to consider for 2019.

This year’s Open Enrollment runs from November 1 to December 15, just like last year. Vermonters who sign up or request a new plan will have a start date of January 1.  Those who miss the deadline could have to wait until January 2020 to start health coverage, although residents who qualify for Medicaid can sign up throughout the year and those who qualify for a Special Enrollment Period generally have 60 days to sign up.

Starting November 1, applicants can sign up in one of four ways: online, by phone, by paper, or with an in-person assister. For more information or to get started, visit http://VermontHealthConnect.gov or call 1-855-899-9600.

 

Sleep and Memory: How They Work Together Psychiatrist & Sleep Medicine Specialist Dr. Alex Dimitriu Offers Tips on Improving Both

October 22, 2018  
Filed under Health & Wellness, News

“Sleep on it.” We’ve long known that a good night’s sleep confers important benefits on mood, alertness, concentration, and judgment. Research over more than a century has also established that sleep plays an important role in memory retention. More recently, studies have begun to establish more precisely how the connection between sleep and memory works. “Sleep and memory are both mysterious,” says psychiatrist and sleep specialist Dr. Alex Dimitriu. “Exciting research is being done to unearth the secrets of the connection between them. We’ve known that the quantity and quality of sleep affect our ability to learn and remember in two ways. First, adequate sleep enables us to concentrate so we can learn efficiently. Then, sleep itself is needed to consolidate memories of what has been learned. Now neuroscientists are learning how different facets of memory and different stages of sleep work together.”

There are three necessary steps for memory to function properly: acquisition occurs when we learn or experience something new; consolidation is the process that stabilizes the new information in the brain – makes it stick; and recall is the ability to access the information after it is stored. Acquisition and recall occur when we are awake, consolidation while we sleep. “When we are awake,” says Dr. Dimitriu, “our brains are optimized to react to external stimuli and encode new memories that are, at that point, unstable and subject to forgetting. The sleeping brain, with greatly reduced exposure to external stimuli, provides optimal conditions for the consolidation processes that strengthen and integrate the new memory into existing knowledge networks for long-term storage.”

 

“At one time,” says Dr. Dimitriu, “it was thought that sleep played a passive role in enhancing memory by protecting it from interference by external stimuli. Now we know that sleep plays a more active role. It was also thought that rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep played the primary role. Now we know that slow-wave sleep (SWS) plays an important role in consolidating memories. Scientists now believe that different kinds of memories are processed during different stages of sleep.”

 

The stages of sleep alternate in a cycle over the course the sleep period. SWS, which is deep, restful sleep, is predominant during the early part of the cycle and then decreases in intensity and duration; REM sleep, when dreaming most frequently occurs, becomes more intense and longer-lasting toward the end of the sleep period. While the relationship between types of memory and sleep stages is complex, some studies have suggested that declarative memory, which is fact-based – what we know – benefits primarily from sleep periods dominated by SWS and procedural memory – remembering how to do something – is related to REM sleep.

 

“There’s a lot we don’t know about the relationship between sleep and memory,” says Dr. Dimitriu. “But we know that adequate sleep will improve concentration to help you learn and will help you remember what you’ve learned.” Dr. Dimitriu offers these suggestions for improving the quantity and quality of sleep:

·        Exercise early in the day, not within several hours of bedtime.

·        Reduce or eliminate stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine during the day and alcohol in the evening.

·        Avoid naps or limit them to 30 minutes; don’t nap after 3:00pm.

·        Stick to a sleep schedule, going to bed and waking at the same time each day, including weekends.

·        Relax and clear your mind before bedtime – read a book, listen to quiet music, take a hot bath

·        Keep your room cooler than during the day. Use a fan or noise machine to mask distracting sounds. Try room-darkening shades if morning light is waking you too early.

·        Consider changing your mattress and bedding if it’s more than 5-8 years old. Bed, mattress and pillow are important to quality sleep and eliminating back pain.

·        Don’t eat a heavy meal or drink a lot of liquid close to bedtime.

·        Increasing exposure to sunlight or bright light during the day can improve sleep at night.

·        The opposite is true at night. Don’t use a computer, tablet or smart phone right before going to bed! The light from the screen stimulates the brain and makes it hard to fall asleep.

 

Alex Dimitriu, MD, is double board-certified in psychiatry and sleep medicine

How to Recognize and Prevent Elder Financial Abuse

October 22, 2018  
Filed under Savvy Senior

Savvy Senior

By Jim Miller

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you provide some tips on how to protect seniors from financial scams? My 76-year-old aunt was recently swindled out of $25,000 and I want to make sure my own mother is protected.

Concerned Daughter

 

Dear Concerned,

Financial scams that target the elderly continue to be a huge problem in the U.S. In fact, it’s estimated that one in five Americans over age 65 are scammed out of roughly $36 billion every year. Here are some tips that can help you spot a scam, and what you can do to protect your mom.

 

Recognizing a Scam

Spotting a scam or a con artist is not always easy to do. They range from shady financial advisers to slick-talking telemarketers to professional caregivers and relatives who steal from the very people they’re supposed to be looking after.

 

The most common scams targeting seniors today come in the form of tricky and deceitful telemarketing calls, email and Internet scams, free-lunch seminars selling dubious financial products and endless junk mail peddling free vacation packages, sweepstakes, phony charity fundraisers and more. And, of course, there’s the ongoing problem of identity theft, Medicare and Social Security fraud, door-to-door scams and credit card theft.

 

The best way to spot a scam is to help your mom manage her finances, or at least monitor her accounts. Reviewing her financial statements each month can alert you to questionable checks, credit card charges or large withdrawals. Or, consider a service like EverSafe.com, which will automatically monitor your mom’s accounts, track suspicious activity and alert you when it detects a problem.

 

If, however, your mom doesn’t want you looking at her financial records, there are other clues. For example: Is she getting a lot of junk mail for contests, free trips, and sweepstakes? Is she receiving calls from strangers offering awards or moneymaking deals? Also, notice if her spending habits have changed, if she has complained about being short of money lately or has suddenly become secretive or defensive about her finances. All these may be signs of trouble.

 

Protect Your Mom

The most effective way to help protect your mom is to alert her to the different kind of scams going on today. To help you with this, the National Council on Aging has a list of “top 10 financial scams targeting seniors” at NCOA.org. Also see AARP’s Fraud Watch Network at AARP.org/money/scams-fraud and sign up to receive free scam alert emails from the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov/scams.

 

Some other tips to protect her include reminding your mom to never give out her personal information, Social Security number or financial information unless she initiated the contact and knows the institution.

 

Also, see if your mom would be willing to let you sort her mail before she opens it, so you can weed out the junk. To reduce the junk mail and/or email she gets, use the Direct Marketing Association consumer opt-out service at DMAchoice.org. And to stop credit card and insurance offers, use the Consumer Credit Reporting Industry opt-out service at OptOutPrescreen.com or call 888-567-8688 – they will ask for your mom’s Social Security number and date of birth.

 

You should also register your mom’s home and cell phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry (DoNotCall.gov, 888-382-1222) to reduce telemarketers. To stop robocall scams on her landline phone use Nomorobo (Nomorobo.com), and if she uses a smartphone, use the free app Hiya (Hiya.com). You should also get a free copy of her credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com to make sure she isn’t a victim of identity theft.

 

Report It

If you suspect your mom has gotten scammed, report it to her local police, her bank (if money has been taken from her account) and her state’s Adult Protective Services agency that investigates reports of elderly financial abuse. Call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to get the agency contact number in her area.

 

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

How to Manage Restless Leg Syndrome

October 15, 2018  
Filed under Savvy Senior

Savvy Senior

By Jim Miller

Dear Savvy Senior,

What can you tell me about restless leg syndrome? I’m 58 years old, and frequently have jerky, uncontrollable urges to move my legs, accompanied by a tingling sensation, and it keeps me awake at night.

Jumpy John

 

Dear John,

If an irresistible urge to move your legs has you kicking in your sleep, then chances are pretty good you have restless leg syndrome (RLS), a condition that affects 7 to 10 percent of Americans. Here’s what you should know.

 

RLS, also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, is a nervous system problem that causes uncomfortable sensations (often described as a creepy-crawly feeling, tingling, itching, throbbing, pulling or aching) and an irresistible urge to move one or both legs while you’re sitting or lying down, and the symptoms usually get worse with age. It typically happens in the evenings or nights while resting. Moving eases the unpleasant feeling temporarily.

 

While RLS is not a life-threatening condition, the main problem, other than it being uncomfortable and annoying, is that it disrupts sleep, leading to daytime drowsiness, difficulty concentrating and even depression.

 

What exactly causes RLS is not known, but researchers suspect it could be linked to several things including iron deficiency, an imbalance of the brain chemical dopamine, and genetics – about 60 percent of people with RLS have a family member with the condition.

 

Treatment Options

While there’s no cure for RLS, there are things you can do to alleviate the symptoms. Depending on the severity of your case, some people turn to RLS medications like gabapentin enacarbil (Horizant), an anticonvulsant, and dopamine agonists ropinirole (Requip), rotigotine (Neupro) and pramipexole (Mirapex). But be aware that these drugs have side effects including nausea, lightheadedness, fatigue and insomnia. And, while these medications can provide short-term relief, they can also make symptoms worse in many people who use them long term.

 

So before turning to medication, you should consider some of the following natural RLS treatments first, which are very effective for most people.

 

Check your iron levels. Iron deficiency is believed to be one of the major contributors to RLS, so make an appointment with your doctor and get a blood test to check for this. If you test positive for iron deficiency, your doctor may recommend iron supplements.

 

Exercise: Getting moderate, regular exercise like walking, cycling, water aerobics and yoga can relieve symptoms, but overdoing it or exercising late in the day may intensify them. Daily leg stretches – include calf, hamstring, quadriceps and hip flexor stretches – are also helpful.

 

Check your medications: Certain drugs including antinausea drugs, antipsychotic drugs, some antidepressants, and cold and allergy medications containing sedating antihistamines can make RLS worse. If you take any of these, ask your doctor if something else can be prescribed.

 

Avoid triggers: Alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and refined sugar can all make RLS symptoms worse.

 

Try these remedies: Soaking in a hot bathtub and massaging your legs can relieve symptoms, as can applying a hot pad and/or ice pack to your legs. Pressure can also help, so consider wearing compression socks or stockings. There’s also a new non-drug FDA approved vibrating pad on the market called Relaxis that interrupts RLS episodes and can provide relief to those who use it.

 

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

Top Dental Care Products for Seniors

October 8, 2018  
Filed under Savvy Senior

Savvy Senior

By Jim Miller

Dear Savvy Senior,

I have arthritis in my hands that affects my grip strength and dexterity and makes brushing my teeth difficult. I’ve read that electric powered toothbrushes help make the job easier. Can you make any recommendations on what to get?

Still Smiling

 

Dear Still,

For seniors who suffer from arthritis or have other hand weaknesses, an electric toothbrush is a great solution to keep your teeth clean. At the push of a button, an electric toothbrush will do everything but shake, rattle and roll to do the cleaning for you, and most come with a wide handle and rubberized grip that make them easier and more comfortable to hold on to.

 

How to Choose

With dozens of different electric toothbrushes on the market today, here are several key points you’ll need to consider, to help you choose:

  • Cost: The cost of electric toothbrushes will range from $15 up to around $300. How much are you willing to spend?
  • Brushing action: Brush heads tend to be either “spinning” (they rotate very fast in one direction, then the other, and bristles may pulsate in and out) or “sonic” (they vibrate side to side). Both methods are effective and a matter of personal preference.
  • Electric versus battery: Choose a brush with a built-in rechargeable battery and an electric charging station. They’re much more convenient and cost effective than toothbrushes that use replaceable batteries.
  • Brushing timer: Since most dentists recommend brushing for two minutes (and most adults brush less than 60 seconds), get a power toothbrush with a built-in timer. Some brushes will even split the two minutes onto four 30-second intervals and will notify you when it’s time to switch to a different quadrant of your mouth.
  • Extra features: Most higher-priced electric brushes come with various settings such as sensitive (gentler cleaning) or massage (gum stimulation), a charge-level display and more. There are even “smart” toothbrushes on the market that connect to a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth to track brushing habits. What extra features do you want or need?

 

Top Electric Toothbrushes

While there are many makes and models of electric toothbrushes to choose from, two of the best-selling, top-rated products to consider are the Oral B Pro 1000 (spinning brush head) and the Philips Sonicare 2 Series (vibrating brush head). Both are simple, very effective at removing plaque, and reasonably priced – around $50. They also both offer two-minute timers, rechargeable batteries and a range of brush heads to meet your needs.

 

To learn more about these electric toothbrushes and a wide variety of other options, visit OralB.com and Sonicare.com. And for more information on choosing an electric toothbrush, visit Toothbrush.org/best-electric-toothbrush.

 

Easier Flossing Products

If flossing is difficult too, a good alternative to traditional string floss is floss picks. These are disposable plastic-handle tools that have floss threaded onto them, which makes them easier to hold and use. DenTek, Oral-B and others sell packages for a few dollars, or check out the Reach Access Flosser, which comes with a toothbrush-like handle for a better reach.

 

Some other flossing devices to consider that are easy on the hands include: The WaterPik power flosser ($7), which gently vibrates to dislodge embedded food particles between your teeth; Philips Sonicare AirFloss water flossers ($50 or $90) that uses burst of water or mouthwash to and clean in-between your teeth; and WaterPik Water Flossers ($50 to $130), which use high-pressured pulsating water to remove food particles and plaque and will stimulate your gums in the process.

 

All of these dental care products can also be found at your local pharmacy or retailer that sells personal care items or online.

 

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

 

Former Governor Madeleine Kunin Guest Speaker at Aging in Vermont Conference Oct. 26

October 4, 2018  
Filed under News

In just over a decade from now, one in 4 people who live in Vermont will be turning 65. That means that we all have to re-think and re-frame aging in ways that we may not have considered prior to now. We all have to come together to think about healthy living and successful aging in more wholistic ways.

 

One way we are going about this exciting challenge is through our upcoming Aging in Vermont: Healthy Living Conference to be held on Oct. 26, 2018 in Killington. The conference features 10 presentations led by nearly two dozen experts, 30 exhibitors and over 300 attendees. We will all learn from keynote speaker, Sandy Markwood, the Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging about the shift from medical-based clinical care to a recognition of the value of home and community-based services and supports. We will find out together – what the aging network have known all along – that new and exciting opportunities are emerging for us to partner with the health care system to promote healthy aging.

 

The Aging in Vermont: Healthy Living Conference will provide a variety of opportunities for all of us to celebrate aging by learning:

  • how to talk about aging through reframing our conversations
  • how Tai-Chi has a direct impact on falls prevention and overall healthy aging and that we can have access Tai-Chi activities in several areas throughout Vermont
  • that you can age in place without isolation
  • that we can all make a difference by getting involved with policy-making.

There are several more topics to be presented; something for everyone.

 

On top of what has been organized for the conference, special guest, former Governor Madeleine Kunin will share her new book, Coming of Age. The timing is perfect for this book to be launched and that she can share this with the attendees during the Aging in Vermont Conference. Madeleine Kunin writes, “My memoir takes the scattered events and thoughts of my life and sorts them within the covers of a book. It creates the happy illusion that life is an organized whole.”

 

State Representative Theresa A.M. Wood who is one of the conference’s presenters says, “Former Governor Madeleine Kunin embodies successful aging.  Throughout her life, including in later years, she has remained a vibrant leader and mentor.  I am delighted she will share her most recent work Coming of Age at the upcoming Aging in Vermont conference.”

 

Janet Hunt, Executive Director for the Vermont Association of Area Agencies and main organizer for the Aging in Vermont Conference says, “I am thrilled that so many dedicated individuals representing our aging network throughout Vermont are coming together for our conference to celebrate what we care about so deeply; older Vermonters. To have such expert presenters from throughout the state, plus, Sandy Markwood, a nationally known leader, and to host special guest, former Governor Madeleine Kunin as she launches her new book, Coming of Age promises to be a monumental day!”

 

Coming of Age by Madeleine Kunin will be available for sale at the conference through Phoenix Books.

 

For information about the conference, please visit http://vermont4a.org/conference.

Is Staying in Their Home Really the Best Choice for Retirees?

October 4, 2018  
Filed under Aging Parents, News

When asked, many retirees express a strong preference for staying in their home as long as possible. After all, it is often where they raised their children and is located near their faith community and familiar shopping spots. In her new book, Your Home Sweet Home, financial planner Penelope Tzougros helps people dispassionately evaluate whether staying put or going makes the best economic sense.

Tzougros shares the stories, insights, fears and clever solutions her clients made when facing the same dilemma. She also presents analytical tools, worksheets and a Decision Guide to create a step-by-step process for sorting out fears, facts and finances.

“Ultimately,” she says, “this is not a real estate decision but a decision about what retirees need to have the best life possible.” She adds, “And the reality is that when a house’s maintenance costs are draining people’s savings, it is no longer an asset.”

Extensively interviewed on TV, radio and in print, Tzougros produced and directed the television show Money Makeover. She has worked with thousands of retirees and is known for her ability to explain complicated financial concepts with elegant simplicity. She can discuss:

  • How to figure out if your home is the cheapest place you can live.
  • Calculating the relative costs of different housing options – and why almost everyone makes critical miscalculations.
  • The biggest mistakes seniors make when considering whether to stay in their home or move.
  • Whether you stay or move, critical timing mistakes to avoid.
  • The true and hidden costs of moving vs. maintaining your house.
  • How to move beyond your inevitable fears and discover clever solutions that can serve your long-term interests.

About the Author

Penelope S. Tzougros, Ph.D., ChFC, CLU, is a Financial Consultant, author, speaker and founder of Wealthy Choices, a Registered Investment Advisor. Although she is based in Boston, she is registered in all 50 states and offers securities and advisory services through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. In addition to Your Home Sweet Home, she is the author of Wealthy Choices: The Seven Competencies of Financial Success, and Long-term Care Insurance: How to Make Decisions That Are Right for You. Tzougros holds a master’s degree from Harvard, a doctorate from the University of Toronto, and has taught at Northeastern University and Hellenic College.

The Tax Credit That Lets You Double-Dip on Retirement Savings

October 1, 2018  
Filed under Savvy Senior

Savvy Senior

By Jim Miller

Dear Savvy Senior,

What can you tell me about the retirement saver’s tax credit? At age 60, I’m looking for ways to boost my retirement savings beyond my 401(k) plan and have heard this may be a smart way to do it. Is this something I’m eligible for?

Need to Save

 

Dear Need,

If your income is low to moderate and you participate in your employer-sponsored retirement plan or an IRA, the “Saver’s Credit” (also known as the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit) is a frequently overlooked tool that can help boost your retirement savings even more. Here’s how it works.

 

If you contribute to a retirement-savings account like a traditional or Roth IRA, myRA, 401(k), 403(b), 457, federal employees’ Thrift Savings Plan, Simplified Employee Pension or SIMPLE plan, the Saver’s Credit will allow you to claim 10, 20 or 50 percent of your contribution of up to $2,000 per year for singles or $4,000 for couples.

 

This valuable tax credit can be claimed in addition to the tax deduction you get for saving in your traditional retirement accounts.

 

To qualify, you must also be at least 18 years old and not a full-time student and were not claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return. And your adjusted gross income (AGI) in 2018 must have been $63,000 or less as a married couple filing jointly, $47,250 or less if filing as head of household, or $31,500 or less if you’re a single filer. These income limits are adjusted annually to keep pace with inflation.

 

To get the 50 percent credit, you’ll need to have an income below $19,000 if you’re single, $28,500 if you’re filing as head of household, and $38,000 for couples in 2018.

 

The 20 percent credit rate applies to individuals earning between $19,001 and $20,500; for head of household filers it’s $28,501 to $30,750; and for couples it’s $38,001 to $41,000.

 

And the 10 percent rate is for individuals with an adjusted gross income between $20,501 and $31,500; for head of household filers $30,751 to $47,250; and couples it’s between $41,001 and $63,000.

 

Here’s an example of how this works. Let’s say that you file your taxes as head of household and your AGI for 2018 is $30,000. Over the course of the year, you contribute $2,000 to your employer’s 401(k) plan. Since your AGI puts you in the 20 percent credit bracket, and you’ve contributed the $2,000 maximum that can be considered for the credit, you are entitled to a $400 Saver’s Credit on your 2018 tax return.

 

It’s also worth mentioning that the Saver’s Credit is in addition to any other tax benefits you get for your retirement contributions. So in the previous example, not only would you be entitled to a $400 credit, but you would also be able to exclude the $2,000 401(k) contribution from your taxable income. So, if you’re in the 15 percent tax bracket, this translates to an additional $300 in savings, for a total of $700.

 

How to Claim

To claim the Saver’s Credit, you will need to fill out Form 8880 (see IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8880.pdf) and attach it to your 1040, 1040A or 1040NR when you file your tax return. Don’t use the 1040EZ Form.

 

If you think that you would have qualified for the credit in previous years but didn’t claim it, you can file an amended return as far back as 2015 and still get the credits. A 2014 amended return is due by April 15, 2019. See IRS Form 1040X (IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i1040x.pdf) for instructions on how to file an amended return.

 

And for more information on the Saver’s Credit, see IRS Publication 590-A “Contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements” (IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p590a.pdf).

 

You can also have these forms and publication mailed to you by calling 800-829-3676.

 

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.