The Retirement Benefits of a Health Savings Account

November 26, 2018  
Filed under Savvy Senior

 

Dear Savvy Senior,

What can you tell me about health savings accounts? I’ve been reading that they are a great investment that can help with growing health care costs when I retire.

Planning Ahead

 

Dear Planning,

It’s true! A health savings account is a fantastic financial tool that can help you build up a tax-free stash of money for medical expenses now and after you retire – but there’s a catch. To get one, you must have a high-deductible health insurance policy.

 

How They Work

Health savings accounts (or HSAs) have become increasingly popular over the past few years as health care costs continue to skyrocket, and because more and more Americans have gotten high-deductible health plans.

 

The benefit of a HSA is the triple tax advantage that it offers: Your HSA contributions can be deducted pretax from your paycheck, lowering your taxable income; the money in the account grows tax-free; and if you use the money for eligible medical expenses, withdrawals are tax-free.

 

And if you change jobs, the HSA moves with you.

 

To qualify, you must have a health insurance policy with a deductible of at least $1,350 for an individual or $2,700 for a family.

 

This year (2018), you can contribute up to $3,450 if you have single health insurance coverage, or up to $6,900 for family coverage. Next year (2019) you can contribute slightly more – up to $3,500 for single coverage or up to $7,000 for family coverage. And people age 55 and older can put away an extra $1,000 each year. But you cannot make contributions after you sign up for Medicare.

 

The money can be used for out-of-pocket medical expenses, including deductibles, co-payments, Medicare premiums, prescription drugs, vision and dental care and other expenses (see IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p502.pdf, page 5, for a complete list) either now or when you retire for yourself and your spouse as well as your tax dependents.

 

And unlike a flexible spending account, an HSA doesn’t require you to use the money by the end of the year. Rather, HSA funds roll over year to year and continue to grow tax-free in your HSA account for later use. In fact, you’ll get a bigger tax benefit if you use other cash for current medical expenses and keep the HSA money growing for the long term. Be sure to hold on to your receipts for medical expenses after you open your HSA, even if you pay those bills with cash, so you can claim the expenses later. There’s no time limit for withdrawing the money tax-free for eligible medical expenses you incurred anytime after you opened the account.

 

But be aware that if you do use your HSA funds for non-medical expenses, you’ll be required to pay taxes on the withdrawal, plus a 20 percent penalty. The penalty, however, is waived for those 65 and older, but you’ll still pay ordinary income tax on withdraws not used for eligible expenses.

 

How to Open a HSA

You should first check with your employer to see if they offer a HSA, and if they will contribute to it. If not, you can open an HSA through many banks, brokerage firms and other financial institutions, as long as you have a qualified high-deductible health insurance policy.

 

If you plan to keep the money growing for the future, look for an HSA administrator that offers a portfolio of mutual funds for long-term investing and has low fees. HealthEquity, OptumBank, The HSA Authority and Bank of America are the top ranked HSA providers for long-term investing according to the investment research firm Morningstar. To search for providers, visit HSAsearch.com.

 

After setting up your HSA plan, adding money is pretty straightforward. Most plans let you do online transfers from your bank, send checks directly, or set up a payroll deduction if offered by your employer. And to access your HSA funds many plans provide a debit card, some offer a checkbook and most allow for reimbursement.

Plants for Every Room of Your Home

November 26, 2018  
Filed under Home & Garden

 

By Melinda Myers

Gardeners know the benefits of digging in the soil. It elevates a person’s mood, improves mental and physical well-being and the outcome is always good – added beauty or tasty nutritional food.  But many of us are stuck indoors for the winter, have a lack of space to garden outdoors or just can’t get enough of this healthful activity.  Adding greenery indoors expands our gardening opportunities and provides the many benefits of living with and tending plants.

Let’s start with the kitchen. Boost the flavor and nutrition of winter meals by growing leafy greens and herbs in a sunny window or under a cabinet with the help of a Growbar LED light fixture.  Start plants from seeds or purchase transplants to grow indoors. Place your indoor kitchen garden in a brightly lit location, free of cold drafts and with easy access to harvest and use. Then enlist the whole family and even your guests into harvesting greens for their salad and herbs to season their meals. This is sure to turn family and friend gatherings into unique and memorable experiences.

Include plants in your home or work office. Greenery helps reduce stress even when working at your desk or tackling homework at the end of a long day. Set a few plants on or near your desk or other workspace. And don’t let a lack of light stop you from growing a bit of green stress relief. Stylish energy efficient full spectrum plant lights, like the Felt Pendant Grow Light (modsprout.com), fit any décor, direct light where it is needed and promote healthy plant growth.

Take advantage of your bathroom’s high humidity. Grow ferns, orchids, bromeliads and other humidity-loving plants in this space.  Consider these and other low light plants like cast iron, pothos and philodendron if natural light is limited. Imagine stepping out of the shower into a mini tropical zone. What a nice way to ease into your day.

Get a good night’s sleep with a bit of homegrown aromatherapy in the bedroom. Grow lavender, rosemary, chamomile and other soothing herbs in your bedroom in front of a sunny window, on a shelf or other naturally or artificially lit, bright location. Just be sure to give the plants a pet to release their fragrance into the air before crawling into bed for a long restful sleep.

Bring the garden to your living room. Create your own miniature tropical, moss or desert garden in a terrarium that serves as a focal point in any living space or centerpiece on the dining room table. Use an open terrarium for succulents and other plants that need airflow, lower humidity and space to grow. Enlist closed systems for moss and tropical plants that benefit from the high humidity and condensation that provides continual watering. Select systems like the Botanica Biodome that minimize maintenance and provide easy access for tending mini eco-systems.

Now’s a great time to consider rethinking your home décor to include greenery in every space. You and your family will enjoy improved air quality, elevated moods, a reduction in stress and the many other benefits plants provide.

Response to daily stressors could affect brain health in older adults

November 20, 2018  
Filed under Aging Parents, Health & Wellness

Taking typical daily annoyances such as a long wait at the doctor’s office or a traffic jam on the freeway in stride may help preserve brain health in older adults, while emotional reactions could contribute to declines in cognition, a new study from Oregon State University has found.

“These results confirm that people’s daily emotions and how they respond to their stressors play an important role in cognitive health,” saidRobert Stawski, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and the study’s lead author. “It’s not the stressor itself that contributes to mental declines but how a person responds that affects the brain.” Read more

Spotting Fraudsters: Don’t Become a Victim

November 5, 2018  
Filed under Aging Parents, News

By: Dr. Stacey Wood, Ph.D.

 

Fraud takes many different forms these days, with identity theft being foremost among them. Just about anyone can become a victim. Some groups are at greater risk than others of falling victim to identity theft. The groups most at risk for identity theft are children and adults with caregivers, users of social media, business owners, high-level employees, college students, and young adults. Learning how to protect yourself is essential for avoiding fraud.

Read more

5 Ways to Stop Spam Calls 

November 2, 2018  
Filed under Aging Parents, News

By Sid Kirchheimer, courtesy AARP Bulletin, October 2018

Unwanted phone calls and text messages continue to surge, no matter what efforts lawmakers and regulators take to curb them. In the first four months of this year, call-blocking service YouMail reports, more than 12 billion robocalls were made to American homes. That’s about 4 million every hour, and a steady increase from last year. Live calls from telemarketers have also continued to increase. Read more