Do I Need to File a Tax Return This Year?

February 14, 2019  
Filed under Savvy Senior

 

Dear Savvy Senior,

What are the IRS income tax filing requirements for retirees this tax season? My income dropped way down when I had to retire last year, so I’m wondering if I need to file a tax return this year.

Retired Ron

 

Dear Ron,

Whether or not you are required to file a federal income tax return this year actually depends on several factors: how much you earned last year (in 2018); the source of that income; your age; and your filing status.

 

Here’s a rundown of this tax season’s IRS tax filing requirement thresholds. For most people, this is pretty straightforward. If your 2018 gross income – which includes all taxable income, not counting your Social Security benefits, unless you are married and filing separately – was below the threshold for your filing status and age, you may not have to file. But if it’s over, you will.

  • Single: $12,000 ($13,600 if you’re 65 or older by Jan. 1, 2019).
  • Married filing jointly: $24,000 ($25,300 if you or your spouse is 65 or older; or $26,600 if you’re both over 65).
  • Married filing separately: $5 at any age.
  • Head of household: $18,000 ($19,600 if age 65 or older).
  • Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child: $24,000 ($25,300 if age 65 or older).

 

To get a detailed breakdown on federal filing requirements, along with information on taxable and nontaxable income, call the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a free copy of the “Tax Guide for Seniors” (publication 554) or see IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p554.pdf.

 

Check Here Too

There are, however, some other financial situations that can require you to file a tax return, even if your gross income falls below the IRS filing requirements. For example, if you earned more than $400 from self-employment in 2018, owe any special taxes like an alternative minimum tax, or get premium tax credits because you, your spouse or a dependent is enrolled in a Health Insurance Marketplace (Obamacare) plan, you’ll need to file.

 

You’ll also need to file if you’re receiving Social Security benefits, and one-half of your benefits plus your other gross income and any tax-exempt interest exceeds $25,000, or $32,000 if you’re married and filing jointly.

 

To figure all this out, the IRS offers an interactive tax assistant tool on their website that asks a series of questions that will help you determine if you’re required to file, or if you should file because you’re due a refund. It takes less than 15 minutes to complete.

 

You can access this tool at IRS.gov/filing – click on “Do I Need to File?” Or, you can get assistance over the phone by calling the IRS helpline at 800-829-1040. You can also get face-to-face help at a Taxpayer Assistance Center. See IRS.gov/localcontacts or call 800-829-1040 to locate a center near you.

 

Check Your State

Even if you’re not required to file a federal tax return this year, don’t assume that you’re also excused from filing state income taxes. The rules for your state might be very different. Check with your state tax agency before concluding that you’re entirely in the clear. For links to state tax agencies see Taxadmin.org/state-tax-agencies.

 

Tax Preparation Help

If you find that you do need to file a tax return this year, you can get help through the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (or TCE) program. Sponsored by the IRS, TEC provides free tax preparation and counseling to middle and low-income taxpayers, age 60 and older. Call 800-906-9887 or visit IRS.treasury.gov/freetaxprep to locate a service near you.

 

Also check with AARP, a participant in the TCE program that provides free tax preparation at around 5,000 sites nationwide. To locate an AARP Tax-Aide site call 888-227-7669 or visit AARP.org/findtaxhelp. You don’t have to be an AARP member to use this service.

Helping Seniors Extend Their Driving Years

February 7, 2019  
Filed under Savvy Senior

 

Dear Savvy Senior,

What tips or resources can you recommend to help elderly seniors extend their driving years? My dad, who’s 82, is still a decent driver, but I worry about his safety going forward.

Inquiring Daughter

 

Dear Inquiring,

With more than 40 million licensed drivers in the U.S. over the age of 65, there are lots of resources available today to help keep older drivers safe and behind the wheel longer. Here are some simple steps you can take to help keep your dad driving safely.

 

Get his eyes checked: Because about 90 percent of the information necessary to drive is received through our eyes, getting your dad’s eyes checked every year to be sure his vision and eyewear is up to par is an important first step.

 

Check his meds: Does your dad take any medicine or combination of medicines that make him sleepy, light-headed or loopy? If so, make a list of all his medications (prescription and over-the-counter) and dietary supplements, and take it to his doctor or pharmacist for a review. You can also get help with this online at RoadwiseRX.com.

 

Evaluate his driving: To stay on top of any potential driving issues, you should take a ride with your dad from time-to-time watching for problem areas, such as: Does he drive at inappropriate speeds, tailgate or drift between lanes? Does he have difficulty seeing, backing up or changing lanes? Does he react slowly, get confused easily or make poor driving decisions? For more tips, see the National Caregivers Library driving assessment checklist at SeniorDriverChecklist.org.

 

If your dad needs a more thorough evaluation, you can turn to a driver rehabilitation specialist who’s trained to evaluate older drivers. This type of assessment typically costs between $100 and $200. To locate a professional in your area, visit AOTA.org/older-driver or ADED.net.

 

Take a refresher course: AAA and AARP both have older driver refresher courses that can help your dad tune-up his driving skills, and learn how to adjust for slower reflexes, weaker vision and other age-related changes that affect driving. Taking a class may also earn him a discount on his auto insurance. To locate a class, contact your local AAA (AAA.com), or AARP (AARP.org/drive, 888-227-7669). Most courses cost around $15 to $30 and can be taken in the classroom or online.

 

Another good resource to look into is CarFit. This is a free assessment program that will help your dad adjust his vehicle for a better fit, making it easier and safer to drive. CarFit events are held around the country in select locations. See Car-Fit.org to look for one near you.

 

Make some adjustments: Recognizing your dad’s driving vulnerabilities and making small changes on when and where he drives can go a long way in helping keep him safe and driving longer. Adjustments may include not driving after dark or during rush hour traffic, avoiding major highways or other busy roads, and not driving in poor weather conditions.

 

You can find more tips at AAA Senior Driving at SeniorDriving.AAA.com.

 

And finally, when it gets to the point that your dad’s driving isn’t safe anymore and he needs to quit, The Hartford Financial Services Group and MIT AgeLab offers two helpful resources. Go to TheHartford.com/lifetime – click on “Publications” on the menu bar – and download or order the “At the Crossroads” and/or “We Need to Talk” guides.

How to Save Money on Your Medication

February 1, 2019  
Filed under Savvy Senior

Dear Savvy Senior,

I take several medications for multiple health conditions and the prices keep going up, even with insurance. Can you recommend any tips that can help me save?

Price-Gouged Patty

 

Dear Patty,

The rising cost of prescription drugs is a problem that stings millions of Americans. While there’s no one solution, there are some different strategies and resources that can help reduce your drug costs, so you can afford what you need. Here are several to consider.

 

If you have insurance, know your drug formulary: Most drug plans today have formularies (a list of medications they cover) that place drugs into different “tiers.” Drugs in each tier have a different cost. A drug in a lower tier will generally cost you less than a drug in a higher tier, and higher tier drugs may require you to get permission or try another medication first before you can use it.

 

To get a copy of your plan’s formulary, visit your drug plan’s website or call the 800 number on the back of your insurance card. Once you have this information, share it with your doctor so, if possible, he or she can prescribe you medications in the lower-cost tiers. Or, they can help you get coverage approval from your insurer if you need a more expensive drug.

 

You also need to find out if your drug plan offers preferred pharmacies or offers a mail-order service. Buying your meds from these sources can save you some money too.

 

Talk to your doctor: Ask your doctor if any of the medications you’re currently taking can be reduced or stopped. And, find out if the ones you are taking are available in generic form. About 80 percent of all premium drugs on the market today have a lower-cost alternative. Switching could save you between 20 and 90 percent.

 

Ask for a three-month prescription: This can be significantly cheaper for drugs you take long-term. If you use insurance, you’ll pay one co-pay rather than three.

 

Split your pills: Ask your doctor if the pills you’re taking can be cut in half. Pill splitting allows you to get two months’ worth of medicine for the price of one. If you do this, you’ll need to get a prescription from your doctor for twice the dosage you need.

 

Find and use online discounts: Start by trying GoodRx.com, BlinkHealth.com or WeRx.org. They will ask for the name of the drug, the dose, the number of pills, and where you live. Then they will show you what you can expect to pay at various pharmacies if you use their discount coupons or vouchers, which you can print out or download to your phone to show a pharmacist.

 

Pay cash: Most generic medications cost less if you don’t use your insurance. For example, chains like Target and Walmart offer discount-drug programs that sell generics for as little as $4 for a 30-day supply and $10 for a 90-day supply if you pay out-of-pocket. While some insurance companies charge a $10 copay for a 30-day supply.

 

Also ask your pharmacy if they offer a drug discount card program and compare costs with your insurance plan. You can also find free drug discount cards online at sites like NeedyMeds.org, which can be used at most U.S. pharmacies.

 

Shop online: You can also save by using an online pharmacy like HealthWarehouse.com but be sure to use an online retailer that operates within the U.S. and is licensed. The site should display the VIPPS symbol, which shows it’s a Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Site.

 

Search for drug assistance programs: If your income is limited, you can probably get help through drug assistance programs offered through pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and charitable organizations. To find these types of programs use sites like BenefitsCheckUp.org, PatientAdvocate.org, RxAssist.org and NeedyMeds.org.

How to Cope with Seasonal Affective Disorder

December 20, 2018  
Filed under Savvy Senior

 

Dear Savvy Senior,

What can you tell me about seasonal affective disorder? I have always hated wintertime, but since I retired and am home a lot more, the dark and cold winter months make me depressed and lethargic.

Fighting the Blues

 

Dear Fighting,

If you get depressed in the winter but feel better in spring and summer, you may indeed have seasonal affective disorder (or SAD), a wintertime depression that affects roughly 6 percent of Americans.

 

In most cases, SAD is related to the loss of sunlight in the winter months. Reduced sunlight can upset natural sleep-wake cycles and other circadian rhythms that can affect the body. It can also cause a drop in the brain chemical serotonin, which affects mood, and can increase the levels of the hormone melatonin, which can make you feel more tired and lethargic.

 

If you think you may have SAD, a trip to your doctor’s office is the best way to diagnose it or you can take a SAD “self-diagnostic” test at the Center for Environmental Therapeutics website at CET.org/self-assessment. In the meantime, here are several treatment options and remedies that can help.

 

Light therapy: The most effective treatment for SAD is sitting in front of a specialized light therapy box for 15 to 20 minutes a day. Light therapy mimics outdoor light to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to mood. It’s most effective when timed to fit a person’s individual circadian rhythm, which varies widely from person to person depending on whether they’re a night owl or a morning lark. You can calculate the proper time for doing light therapy by taking the circadian rhythm test at CET.org/self-assessment.

 

The best light therapy lamps provide 10,000 lux of illumination, many times stronger than typical indoor light, and have a diffuser screen that filters out ultraviolet rays and projects downward toward the eyes.

 

Some top-rated products as rated by Wirecutter.com include the Carex Day-Light Classic Plus Lamp ($115), Verilux HappyLight Deluxe 10,000-Lux Sunshine Simulator ($160), and the Northern Light Technology Boxelite Desk Lamp ($190), all of which are available at Amazon.com.

 

Cognitive behavioral therapy: Even though SAD is considered to be a biological problem, identifying and changing thought and behavior patterns can help alleviate symptoms too. To help you with this, choose a therapist who specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy and who has experience in treating SAD. To locate someone in your area, check with the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (FindCBT.org), or the Academy of Cognitive Therapy (AcademyofCT.org).

 

Antidepressants: Some people with SAD benefit from antidepressant treatment, especially if symptoms are severe. Some proven medications to ask your doctor about include the extended-release version of the antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin XL, Aplenzin), and antidepressants selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (S.S.R.I.s), sertraline (also known as Zoloft) and fluoxetine (also known under the brand name Prozac).

 

But keep in mind that it may take several weeks to notice full benefits from an antidepressant. In addition, you may have to try different medications before you find one that works well for you and has the fewest side effects.

 

Lifestyle remedies: Some other things you can do to help alleviate your SAD symptoms include making your environment sunnier and brighter. So, open up your blinds, sit closer to bright windows and get outside as much as can. Even on cold or cloudy days, outdoor light can help, especially if you spend some time outside within two hours of getting up in the morning. Moderate exercise such as walking, swimming, yoga and even tai chi can also help alleviate SAD symptoms, as can social activities.

 

Have You Checked Your Social Security Statement for Errors?

December 10, 2018  
Filed under Savvy Senior

Savvy Senior

 

Dear Savvy Senior,

I’ve heard that Social Security sometimes makes mistakes on our earnings record, which can reduce our monthly retirement benefits. How can I make sure this doesn’t happen to me?

Paranoid Paul

 

Dear Paul,

Mistakes in the Social Security earnings record are actually fairly common. Your Social Security benefits are based on your highest 35 years of earnings history. So, if your earnings for any particular year are underreported, it will reduce your benefits.

 

These errors typically occur because your employer either reported your earnings incorrectly or reported your earnings using the wrong name or Social Security number. Or if you got married or divorced and changed your name but did not report the change to Social Security.

 

Check Your Statement

The best way to keep an eye on your benefits and avoid any possible mistakes is to carefully review your Social Security statement every year. To do this, go to SSA.gov/myaccount and then print your statement out on paper.

 

If you’re age 60 or older and not yet receiving benefits and don’t have a My Social Security account online, your statement will actually be mailed to you about three months before your birthday.

 

Your Social Security statement lists your earnings record for each year of employment and estimates the benefits you and your family may receive as a result of those earnings.

 

Once you get your statement, take some time to verify its accuracy by comparing the earnings listed on your statement with your own tax records or W-2 statements. You have to correct errors within 3 years, 3 months and 15 days following the year of the mistake. If you happen to spot a discrepancy within that time limit, follow these steps.

 

First, call your nearest Social Security office (see SSA.gov/locator or call 800-772-1213 to get the number) to report the error. Some corrections can be made over the phone, or you may need to schedule an appointment and go in with copies of your W-2 forms or tax returns to prove the mistake, or you can mail it in.

 

If you suspect a discrepancy but don’t have backup records, the Social Security Administration (SSA) may be able to use your employment information to search its records and correct mistakes. If the SSA can’t locate your records, you’ll need to contact the employer to obtain a copy of your W-2 for the year in question.

 

Once your earnings record is corrected, Social Security will send you a confirming letter. If you don’t receive the confirmation within three months, contact them again, and double-check the correction by making sure it appears on your Social Security statement.

 

If corrections aren’t made on your statement start an appeals process (see SSA.gov/pubs/EN-05-10041.pdf).

 

Other Mistakes

Social Security earnings miscalculations can also happen if there’s a mistake in your current mailing address that the IRS has on file for you. Check your federal tax returns for this possible error, especially if you’ve moved recently.

 

To correct your address, contact the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you the “Change of Address” form 8822, or print it off at IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8822.pdf, fill it out and mail it back to the address on the form.

 

Other factors that can cause mistakes are if your name or date of birth in the SSA records isn’t the same as it appears in the IRS files. So double-check your Social Security statement for these possible mishaps, and if you find an error call the 800-772-1213 and ask for Form SS-5, “Application for a Social Security Card,” and submit it with the correct information. The form can also be downloaded at SSA.gov/forms/ss-5.pdf.

 

Does Medicare Cover Dental Care?

December 3, 2018  
Filed under Savvy Senior

 

Dear Savvy Senior,

I will turn 65 in a few months and will be enrolling in Medicare, but I am concerned about Medicare’s coverage of dental care. Does Medicare cover dental procedures? And if not, where can I get dental coverage?

Almost 65

 

Dear Almost,

Medicare’s coverage of dental care is extremely limited. It will not cover routine dental care including checkups, cleanings, or fillings, and it won’t pay for dentures either.

 

Medicare will, however, cover some dental services if they are required to protect your general health, or if you need dental care in order for another health service that Medicare covers to be successful. For example, if you have cancer and need dental services that are necessary for radiation treatment, or if you need surgery to treat fractures of the jaw or face, Medicare will pay for these dental services.

 

Although Medicare’s coverage of dental services is limited, there are other ways you can get coverage and care affordably. Here are several to check into.

 

Consider a Medicare Advantage plan: While dental services are mostly excluded under original Medicare, some Medicare Advantage plans do provide coverage for routine dental care. If you are considering joining a Medicare Advantage plan, find out what dental services, if any, it covers. Also, remember to make sure any Medicare Advantage plan you’re considering covers the doctors and hospitals you prefer to use and the medications you take at a cost you can afford. See Medicare.gov/find-a-plan or call 800-633-4227 to research plans in your area.

 

Purchase dental insurance: If you have frequent gum problems and need extensive dental care, a dental insurance plan may be worth the costs versus paying for care yourself. Expect to pay monthly premiums of $15 to $40 or more for insurance. To find dental plans in your state, go to NADP.org and use the “find a dental plan” tool. Then review a specific plan’s website.

 

Consider dental savings plans: While savings plans aren’t as comprehensive as insurance, they’re a good option for those who can’t get covered. How this works is you pay an annual membership fee – around $80 to $200 a year – in exchange for 10 to 60 percent discounts on service and treatments from participating dentists. To find a savings plan, go to DentalPlans.com (or 888-632-5353) where you can search for plans and participating dentists, as well as get a breakdown of the discounts offered.

 

Check veterans’ benefits: If you’re a veteran enrolled in the VA health care program or are a beneficiary of the Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA), the VA offers a dental insurance program that gives you the option to buy dental insurance through Delta Dental and MetLife at a reduced cost. The VA also provides free dental care to vets who have dental problems resulting from service. To learn more about these options, visit VA.gov/dental or call 877-222-8387.

 

Shop around: FairHealthConsumer.org and HealthcareBlueBook.com lets you look up the cost of different dental procedures in your area, so you can comparison shop – or ask your regular dentist for a discount.

 

Try community health centers or dental schools: There are many health centers and clinics that provide low-cost dental care to those in need. And all university dental schools and college dental hygiene programs offer dental care and cleanings for less than half of what you would pay at a dentist’s office. Students who are supervised by their professors provide the care. See ToothWisdom.org to search for a center, clinic or school near you.

 

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.

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.

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.

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