Dear Savvy Senior,
I have severe arthritis in my knee and could use a
walking cane to help me get around. Is there anything I
should know about canes before I buy one?
it comes to choosing a cane for balance and support most
people donít give it much thought, but they should.
Walking canes come in hundreds of different styles,
shapes and sizes today, so you need to take into account
your needs and preferences to ensure you choose one
thatís appropriate for you. Here are some tips that can
Types of Canes
first thing you need to consider is how much support you
need. That will help you determine the kind of cane you
choose. The three basic types of canes youíll have to
choose from include:
Straight canes: These are basic, single point canes that
typically incorporate a rounded ďcrookĒ handle or
ďL-shapedĒ ergonomic handle. Usually made of lightweight
aluminum or wood, most of the aluminum models are
adjustable in height and some even fold up.
Offset-handle canes: These also are single point
straight canes, but come with a swan neck curve in the
upper part of the shaft that puts the userís weight
directly over the cane tip for added stability. These
canes are typically aluminum, adjustable-height and come
with a flat, soft grip handle thatís easy on the hands.
straight canes and offset-handle canes are best suited
for people who have a slight walking impairment.
Quad canes: Also called broad based canes, these work
best for people who need maximum weight bearing and
support. Quad canes comes with four separate tips (some
have three tips) at the base, they usually have an
offset flat handle, and can remain standing when you let
go of it which is very convenient.
Fitting the Cane
Once you decide on the type of cane, you need to make
sure it fits. Stand up with your arms hanging straight
down at your side. The top of the cane should line up
with the crease in your wrist, so your arm is slightly
bent at the elbow when you grip the cane.
cane should also have a rubber tip at the bottom to
prevent slipping. A worn or torn rubber tip is
dangerous, so check the tip frequently to ensure itís in
good condition and replace it when necessary. Rubber
tips come in different sizes depending on the shaft
diameter, and can usually be purchased in multipacks at
your local pharmacy.
grip is also very important, so choose one thatís
ergonomically designed, or one that has a molded rubber
or foam grip thatís comfortable to hold on to.
if you travel much, consider getting a folding cane that
can be packed or stored away easily.
How to Use
using a cane, it should always be held in the hand
opposite of the leg that needs support. For example, if
your knee pain is on your left side, you should use the
cane in your right hand. The cane should then move
forward as you step forward with the bad leg.
you have to go up stairs, you should lead with the good
leg. And when you go down stairs, you should put your
cane on the step first and then step down with your bad
Mayo Clinic offers a slide show at mayoclinic.com/health/canes/HA00064
that will show you how to choose and use a cane. Itís
also a smart idea to work with a physical therapist.
Where to Buy
can buy canes at drugstores, discount retailers, medical
supply stores and online, usually between $10 and $50.
Youíll also be happy to know that Medicare covers canes
with a written prescription from a physician.
How to downsize your stuff for a move
Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you offer any helpful tips for downsizing? My
husband and I are interested in moving to a condo
downtown when we retire, but we need to get rid of a lot
of our personal possessions before we can move. Weíve
lived in the same house for almost 35 years and have
accumulated tons of stuff.
process of weeding through a house full of stuff and
parting with old possessions can be difficult and
overwhelming for many people.
good place to start the downsizing process is to give
your unused possessions away to your kids or grandkids.
You can give up to $14,000 per person per year before
youíre required to file a federal gift tax return, using
IRS Form 709. Beyond that, here are a few other tips and
services that may help you.
Selling your stuff is one way you can downsize and pad
your pocketbook at the same time. Some other popular
selling options are consignment shops, garage sales and
Consignment shops are good for selling old clothing,
household furnishings and decorative items. You
typically get half of the final sale price. Garage sales
are another option, or for large-scale downsizing you
could hire an estate sale company to come in and sell
your items. Some companies will even pick up your stuff
and sell it at their own location - they typically take
about 40 percent of the profits.
if youíre willing, online selling at sites like
Craigslist, eBay and Amazon are another way to make top
dollar for your stuff. Craigslist.org is a huge
classified ads site that lets you sell your stuff for
free. While eBay.com and Amazon.com takes a cut of your
sale - roughly 10 to 15 percent. Or, if you donít want
to do the selling yourself, eBay offers a valet service
(sellforme.ebay.com) to do it for you, for 20 to 40
percent of the selling price.
you itemize on your tax returns, donating your
belongings is another way to downsize and get a tax
deduction. Goodwill (goodwill.org, 800-741-0186) and the
Salvation Army (satruck.org, 800-728-7825) are two big
charitable organizations that will come to your house
and pick up a variety of household items, furnishings
your deduction exceeds $500, youíll need to file Form
8283, ďNoncash Charitable ContributionsĒ (irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8283.pdf).
Youíll also need a receipt from the organization for
every batch of items you donate, and will need to create
an itemized list of the items you donated. To calculate
fair market value for your stuff, use the Salvation
Armyís donation guide at satruck.org/home/donationvalueguide,
or the free program ďItís DeductibleĒ at
you have a lot of junk you want to get rid of, contact
your municipal trash service to see if they provide bulk
curbside pickup services. Or, depending on where you
live, you could hire a company like 1-800-Got-Junk
(1800gotjunk.com, 800-468-5865) or Junk-King (junk-king.com,
888-888-5865) to come in and haul it off for a moderate
Another good disposal option is Bagster (thebagster.com,
877-789-2247) by Waste Management. This is a dumpster
bag that you purchase for around $30, fill it to a limit
of 3,300 pounds and schedule a pickup, which costs an
average of $140 but varies by area.
You can also hire a professional senior move manager (nasmm.org,
877-606-2766) to do the entire job for you. These are
organizers who will sort through your stuff and arrange
for the disposal through an estate sale, donations or
consignment. Or, you can hire a professional organizer
through the National Association of Professional
Organizers at napo.net. Organizers may charge $30 to $80
per hour or by the project.
When Does it Pay to Take Social Security Early? April
Dear Savvy Senior,
will turn 62 in a few months and am trying to decide
when to start taking my Social Security retirement
benefits. Almost everything I read on this topic tells
me itís better to wait until my full retirement age or
beyond. Is there ever a good reason to start early?
Ready to Retire
Youíre right! Most financial planners agree that waiting
to take your Social Security retirement benefits is a
smart financial move. Why? Because each month you defer,
from your 62nd birthday to your 70th, your monthly
benefits grow. That adds up to around 6 to 8 percent
higher payments for every year you delay.
despite the financial incentive to wait, most people (58
percent of men and 64 percent of women) claim their
benefits before full retirement age, which is currently
66 for those born between 1943 and 1954.
speeding up the clock isnít always a bad idea. Here are
some scenarios where it may make sense for you to
You need the money: If youíre retired and donít have
enough savings or a pension to cover your living
expenses, youíll probably have to start early. But, if
you decide to work, be aware of the earnings test.
you claim Social Security benefits before full
retirement age (and you donít reach 66 this year),
youíll forfeit $1 for every $2 you earn over the
earnings limit of $15,720 in 2016. It usually doesnít
make sense to take benefits early if youíre working,
unless your income is below the earnings limit.
You have poor health: Having a serious medical problem
that is likely to shorten your life is another reason to
start your benefits sooner rather than later.
Consider the ďbreakeven pointĒ - the age you need to
reach to come out ahead by waiting to claim Social
Security - is 78 for someone who claims at 62 versus
waiting to 66. If you donít anticipate making it to 78,
go ahead and claim early.
However, if you are married or have other dependents at
home that depend on your benefit, you may want to hold
off because starting early will reduce their survivorís
Youíre a lower-earning spouse: If youíre married and
your lifetime earnings are much lower than your
spouseís, you could take your benefit early but your
higher-earning spouse should delay. This lets you
increase your household income now, while the
higher-earning spouseís benefit grows, therefore
increasing the survivor benefit.
strategy is best suited when a lower-earning wife is
three to six years younger than her husband and her
earnings are 30 to 40 percent of his. She should claim
at 62 and he should claim at full retirement age, or
better yet wait to age 69 or 70. Because the husband is
likely to die earlier, the wifeís reduced benefit will
be temporary and she will then qualify for the higher
Skeptical of Social Security: Many people take their
retirement benefits early because they fear Social
Security will go bankrupt, but this not a good reason to
start collecting early.
While it is true that the Social Security trust fund
will become insolvent around 2033 - 17 years from now -
if no changes are made, that doesnít mean there will be
no more money for benefits. It means that the fund is no
longer taking in enough money to cover all promised
benefits. Thus payment checks are likely to end up
shrinking by about 25 percent.
if the thought of losing out on your benefits keeps you
up at night, then it may be better to start claiming
early instead of holding off for more later.
see how much your benefits will be affected by your
claiming age, use the Consumer Financial Protection
Bureauís new Planning for Retirement tool at
Auto insurance discounts for older drivers
April 13, 2016
read that many car insurance companies offer a variety
of discounts to older drivers when they retire or reach
a certain age. What can you tell me about this?
Most auto insurance companies offer policyholders a wide
variety of discounts, many of which can benefit
retirees. Auto insurers love older drivers because
theyíre experienced behind the wheel and they drive less
than younger age groups, which makes them a lower risk
for accidents and a safer bet for insurance companies.
While discounts will vary by insurer, many of these
benefits can reduce your overall premium by 15 to 20
percent or more, and you are usually allowed to combine
discounts to increase your savings, though total
discounts are often capped at around 25 percent.
find out what discounts may be available to you, contact
your auto insurer and inquire about these benefits, and
any others that may benefit you.
Age discount: Many auto insurance companies offer a
general ďseniorĒ discount that will reduce your premium
just because youíve reached a specific age. The actual
name and amount of the discount will vary by insurer.
Allstate, for example, provides a ďsenior adult
discountĒ of up to 10 percent to drivers who are at
least 55 years old and arenít actively looking for
full-time work. And Liberty Mutual offers a ďnewly
retired discountĒ to drivers who reach that employment
milestone, regardless of age.
Low-mileage discount: Most insurers offer discounts to
customers who drive limited miles each year, which is
often beneficial to retirees who drive less because they
donít commute to work every day. The fewer miles you
drive, the lower your odds of getting into an accident.
parameters of low-mileage differ by insurer, but
generally about a 10 percent discount is available for
driving less than 5,000 to 8,000 miles each year,
although smaller discounts may also be available to
seniors who drive more than this but less than 15,000.
Drivers Ed discount: Many states require insurance
companies to offer ďdefensive-drivingĒ discounts to
drivers who take a refresher course to brush up on their
safety skills. The discounts vary usually ranging
between 5 and 15 percent.
Driver safety courses are inexpensive, usually costing
around $20 to $30 and can often be taken in a classroom
or online. To locate a class contact your local AAA (aaa.com),
which operates a Driver Improvement Course for seniors,
or AARP (aarp.org/driversafety, 888-227-7669), which
offers the Smart Driver Course to members and
Club member discount: Insurers offer discounts to
members of clubs and associations with which they have
partnered. These could include professional
associations, workersí unions, large employers or
membership organizations such as AAA, the National
Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, the
Seniors Coalition, AARP, etc. You could even qualify for
savings based on the college you attended or the
fraternity or sorority you belonged to decades ago.
Safe-driving discount: Many insurance providers now
offer discounts based on how and when you use your car.
To do this, they would place a diagnostic device in your
car that transmits wireless data on how you drive
(including how fast youíre going and how hard youíre
braking), when you drive and how much you drive. Drivers
are rewarded for safe driving, low mileage and for not
driving late at night.
addition, many insurance providers also offer discounts
to drivers who do not have any violations or accidents
for three or more years.
Booster shots recommended for seniors
April 6, 2016
I just turned 65 and would like to find out what types
of vaccinations are recommended to Medicare
beneficiaries, and how they are covered.
people think that vaccinations are just for kids, but
adults, especially seniors who tend to have weaker
immune systems, need their shots too. Hereís a rundown
of what vaccines the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC) recommend for seniors 65 and older, and
how theyíre covered by Medicare.
Flu (Influenza): While you probably already know that
flu shots are recommended every fall to all seniors, you
may not know that those over 65 also have the option of
getting a high-dose flu vaccine instead of a regular flu
shot. This vaccine - known as the Fluzone High-Dose -
has four times the amount of antigen as a regular flu
shot does, which creates a stronger immune response for
better protection. All annual flu shots are covered
under Medicare Part B.
Td/Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis): A one-time
dose of the Tdap vaccine, which covers tetanus,
diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) is recommended
to all adults. If youíve already had a Tdap shot, you
should return to getting a tetanus-diphtheria (Td)
booster shot every 10 years. All Medicare Part D
prescription drug plans cover these vaccinations.
Pneumococcal: This vaccine protects against pneumonia,
which kills about 50,000 Americans each year. Itís now
recommended that all seniors, 65 or older, get two
separate vaccines - Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23 - at
different times. Medicare Part B covers both shots if
they are taken at least 11 months apart.
Shingles (zoster): Caused by the same virus that causes
chicken pox, shingles is a painful, blistering skin rash
that affects more than 1 million Americans each year.
All people over age 60 should get the Zostavax vaccine,
even if theyíve had shingles before. All Medicare Part D
prescription drug plans cover this one-time vaccination,
but coverage amounts and reimbursement rules vary
depending on where the shot is given. Check your plan.
Varicella (chickenpox): If youíve never had the chicken
pox, this two-dose vaccine (called Varivax) is
recommended to adults, and is also covered by Medicare
Part D plans.
Hepatitis A: This is a two-dose series of shots
recommended to adults that have chronic liver disease, a
clotting-factor disorder, have same-sex male partners,
illicit injectable drug use, or who have close contact
with a hepatitis A-infected individual or who travel to
areas with a high incidence of hepatitis A. These shots
are covered by Medicare Part D drug plans.
Hepatitis B: This three-dose series is recommended to
adults who are on dialysis, have renal disease or liver
disease, are sexually active with more than one partner,
have a sexually transmitted disease or HIV. These
vaccinations are covered under Medicare Part B.
Meningococcal: Adults 56 and older, who have had their
spleen removed, have certain blood deficiencies or plan
to travel to parts of the world where meningitis is
common, should receive the meningococcal polysaccharide
vaccine. This is covered by Medicare Part D.
help you get a handle on which vaccines are appropriate
for you, take the CDCís What Vaccines Do You Need? quiz
at www2.cdc.gov/nip/adultimmsched. Also, talk to your
doctor during your next visit about what vaccinations
you should get.
you canít remember which vaccines youíve already had,
check with your past doctors to see if they have any
records, or contact your stateís health department. Some
agencies have vaccination registries (see
may help you.
you canít locate your records, your doctor can give you
blood tests to see if youíre immune to certain
vaccine-preventable diseases. Or, they may just give you
the shot. Itís safe to repeat vaccines, according to the
The Consequences of Dying Without a Will
March 23, 2016
Dear Savvy Senior,
What will happen to my money and possessions if I die
without a will?
If you die without a will, what happens to your assets
will be determined by the state you reside in. Every
state has intestacy laws in place that parcel out
property and assets to a deceased personís closest
relatives when thereís no will or trust. But these laws
vary from state-to-state.
good resource to help you find out how your state works
is About.comís Wills and Estate Planning site, which
provides a state-by-state breakdown of how your estate
would be distributed if you die without a will. See
StateIntestacyLaws.com for a direct link to this page.
the meantime, here is a general (not state specific)
breakdown of what can happen to a personís assets,
depending on whom they leave behind.
Married with children: When a married person with
children dies without a will, all property, investments
and financial accounts that are ďjointly ownedĒ
automatically goes to the surviving co-owner (typically
the spouse or child), without going through probate,
which is the legal process that distributes a deceased
But for all other separately owned property or
individual financial accounts, the laws of most states
award one-third to one-half to the surviving spouse,
while the rest goes to the children.
Married with no children or grandchildren: Some states
award the entire estate to the surviving spouse, or
everything up to a certain amount (for example the first
$100,000). But many other states award only one-third to
one-half of the decedentís separately owned assets to
the surviving spouse, with the remainder generally going
to the deceased personís parents, or if the parents are
dead, to brothers and sisters.
Jointly owned property, investments, financial accounts,
or community property automatically goes to the
Single with children: All state laws provide that the
entire estate goes to the children, in equal shares. If
an adult child of the decedent has died, then that
childís children (the decedentís grandchildren) split
their parentís share.
Single with no children or grandchildren: In this
situation, most state laws favor the deceased personís
parents. If both parents are deceased, many states
divide the property among the brothers and sisters, or
if they are not living, their children (your nieces and
nephews). If there are none of them, it goes to the next
of kin, and if there is no living family, the state
Make a Will
To ensure your assets go to those you want to receive
them, you need to create a will. If you have a simple
estate and an uncomplicated family situation, there are
several good do-it-yourself resources that can help you
for very little money.
of the best is the Quicken WillMaker Plus 2016 software
(available at nolo.com) that costs $55, works with
Windows personal computers and is valid in every state
except Louisiana. If you use a Mac, they offer an online
will maker for $35.
however, you want or need assistance or if you have a
complicated financial situation, blended family or have
considerable assets, you should hire an attorney. An
experienced attorney can make sure you cover all your
bases, which can help avoid family confusion and
squabbles after youíre gone.
Costs will vary depending on where you reside, but you
can expect to pay anywhere between $200 and $1,000 for a
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (naela.org) and
the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils
(naepc.org) are good resources that have online
directories to help you find someone in your area.
money is tight, check with your stateís bar association
(see findlegalhelp.org) to find low-cost legal help in
your area. Or call the Eldercare Locater at 800-677-1116
for a referral.
Elder Mediation Can Help Families Resolve Caregiving
March 23, 2016
Are there any services that you know of that help
families resolve caregiving conflicts? My mother - who
just turned 82 - recently had a stroke, and to make
matters worse, my two siblings and I have been
perpetually arguing about how to handle her caregiving
needs and finances.
Itís not unusual when adult children disagree with each
other regarding the care of an elder parent. If your
siblings are willing, a good possible solution is to
hire an ďelder care mediatorĒ who can help you work
through your disagreements peacefully. Hereís what you
While mediators have been used for years to help
divorcing couples sort out legal and financial
disagreements and avoid court battles, elder care
mediation is a relatively new and specialized service
designed to help families resolve disputes that are
related to aging parents or other elderly relatives.
Family disagreements over an ill or elderly parentís
caregiving needs, living arrangements, financial
decisions and medical care are some of the many issues
that an elder care mediator can help with. But donít
confuse this with family or group therapy. Mediation is
only about decision-making, not feelings and emotions.
job of an elder mediator is to step in as a neutral
third party to help ease family tensions, listen to
everyoneís concerns, hash out disagreements and
misunderstandings, and help your family make decisions
that are acceptable to everyone.
mediators can also assist your family in identifying
experts such as estate-planners, geriatric care
managers, or health care or financial professionals who
can supply important information for family decision
Your family also needs to know that the mediation
process is completely confidential and voluntary, and
can take anywhere from a few hours to several meetings
depending on the complexity of your issues. And if some
family members live far away, a conference or video call
can be used to bring everyone together.
youíre interested in hiring a private elder care
mediator, you can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to
more than $500 per hour depending on where you live and
who you choose. Or, you may be able to get help through
a nonprofit community mediation service which charges
little to nothing.
locate an elder mediator, start by contacting your area
aging agency (call 800-677-1116 to get your local
number), which may be able to refer you to local
resources, or search online at Mediate.com. Another good
option is the National Association for Community
Mediation website (nafcm.org), which can help you search
for free or low-cost community-based mediation programs
in your area.
Unfortunately, there is currently no formal licensing or
national credentialing required for elder mediators, so
make sure the person you choose has extensive experience
with elder issues that are similar to what your family
is dealing with. Also, be sure you ask for references
and check them. Most elder mediators are attorneys,
social workers, counselors or other professionals who
are trained in mediation and conflict resolution.
How retirees can save on prescription eyeglasses
Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips can you recommend for finding
affordable prescription eyeglasses? I used to have
vision insurance through my work, but lost it when I
turned 65, retired, and signed up for Medicare.
Looking For Eyeglasses
Prescription eyeglasses today arenít
cheap. You can easily spend $200 for a basic pair, but
if you want designer frames or need bifocal or
progressive lenses the price can more than double. Here
are a few different options that can help you save.
If you are a Medicare beneficiary, you
already know that original Medicare (Part A and B) and
Medigap supplemental policies do not cover routine eye
exams or eyeglasses (unless youíve just had cataract
surgery), but there are some Medicare Advantage (Part C)
plans that do.
of these plans, which are sold through private insurance
companies, cover vision as well as dental, hearing and
prescription drugs, in addition to all of your hospital
and medical insurance. To locate Advantage plans in your
area that provides vision coverage, visit Medicare.gov/find-a-plan
or call 800-633-4227. But before enrolling in a plan,
check the benefit details to ensure the planís vision
coverage includes routine eye exams, eyeglass frames and
can switch from original Medicare to a Medicare
Advantage plan each year during the open enrollment
period, which is between Oct. 15 and Dec. 7.
however, you donít want a Medicare Advantage plan, you
can still get coverage by purchasing an inexpensive
vision insurance policy - see eHealthInsurance.com.
Policy costs vary depending on where you live, but they
usually start at around $6 to $9 per month for an
individual. Before signing up, make sure your savings
potential is worth the cost of the premiums and copays.
Purchasing eyeglasses from discount retailers is another
way to save. Costco is one of the best discount stores
for good eyewear and low prices. Eyeglasses cost an
average of around $150, but to shop there you have to
pay a $55 annual membership fee. Some other good retail
options for low prices include For Eyes Optical, BJís
Optical, Samís Club and Walmart.
also need to find out if you are eligible for any
discounts. Many retailers provide discounts to
membership groups like AARP and AAA. AARP members, for
example, can get 30 percent off a pair of prescription
eyeglasses as well as discounts on eye exams at any
LensCrafters, most participating Pearle Vision, Sears
Optical, Target Optical, JCPenney Optical and thousands
of private optometrist offices.
Buying eyeglasses online can also offer huge savings.
Some online stores like ZenniOptical.com, Goggles4u.com
and EyeBuyDirect.com sell prescription eyeglasses for as
little as $7 plus shipping. These sites let you upload a
photo of your face, so you can see what youíd look like
in different frames.
for a fancier choice of frames see WarbyParker.com,
which offers single-vision glasses for $95. They even
offer a free program where you can request up to five
pairs to try on at home for five days.
purchase glasses online, youíll need your eyeglass
prescription from a local eye doctor, plus your
pupillary distance number, which is the distance,
measured in millimeters, between the centers of your
pupils in each eye.
your income is low, depending on where you live, there
may be some local clinics that provide free or
discounted eye exams and eyeglasses. Put in a call to
your local Lions Club to see whatís available in your
area. See directory.lionsclubs.org for contact
may also be able to get free eyeglasses through New Eyes
(new-eyes.org, 973-376-4903), a nonprofit organization
that provides free eyeglasses through a voucher program
to people in financial need.
How to Avoid Medicare Mistakes When Youíre Still Working
March 9, 2016
Should I enroll in Medicare at age 65 if Iím still
working and have coverage through my employer?
rules for enrolling in Medicare can be very confusing
with all the different choices available today. But when
you postpone retirement past age 65, as many people are
doing, it becomes even more complicated.
First, letís review the basics. Remember that original
Medicare has two parts: Part A, which provides hospital
coverage and is free for most people. And Part B, which
covers doctorís bills, lab tests and outpatient care.
Part B also has a monthly premium of $104.90 in 2016
(though itís higher for individuals earning $85,000 or
more a year).
you are receiving Social Security, you will be enrolled
automatically in parts A and B when you turn 65. If you
arenít yet receiving Social Security, you will have to
apply, which you can do online at SSA.gov/medicare, over
the phone at 800-772-1213 or through your local Social
you plan to continue working past the age of 65 and have
health insurance from your job, your first step is to
ask your benefits manager or human resources department
how your employer insurance works with Medicare. In most
cases, you should at least take Medicare Part A because
itís free. But to decide whether to take Part B or not
will depend on the size of your employer.
employer: If your current employer (or spouseís employer
if itís providing your coverage) has fewer than 20
employees, Medicare will be your primary insurer and you
should enroll in Medicare Part B during your initial
enrollment period. This is a seven-month period that
includes the three months before, the month of, and the
three months after your 65th birthday.
you miss the seven-month sign-up window, youíll have to
wait until the next general enrollment period, which
runs from Jan. 1 to March 31 with benefits beginning the
following July 1. Youíll also incur a 10 percent penalty
for each year you wait beyond your initial enrollment
period, which will be tacked on to your monthly Part B
employer: If your employer has 20 or more employees,
your employerís group health plan will be your primary
insurer as long as you (or your spouse if the coverage
is from his/her employer) remain an active employee. If
this is the case, you donít need to enroll in Part B
when you turn 65 if youíre satisfied with the coverage
you are getting through your job. But if you do decide
to enroll in Medicare, it will supplement your employer
insurance by paying secondary on all of your claims.
your employment (or group health coverage) ends, you
will then have eight months to sign up for Part B
without a penalty. This is known as the Special
coverage: You also need to verify your prescription drug
coverage. Call your benefits manager or insurance
company to find out if your employerís prescription drug
coverage is considered ďcreditable.Ē (Creditable
prescription drug coverage is one that is considered to
be as good as or better than the Medicare prescription
drug benefit.) If it is, you donít need to enroll in a
Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. If it isnít, you
should purchase a plan (see medicare.gov/find-a-plan)
during your initial enrollment period or youíll incur a
premium penalty (1 percent of the average national
premium for every month you donít have coverage) if you
additional help, visit Medicare.gov or contact your
State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) at
Shiptacenter.org. The Medicare Rights Center also offers
a free helpline at 800-333-4114.
Make Long-Term Care Coverage More Affordable
March 2, 2016
I have been thinking about getting a long-term care
insurance policy, but have found the monthly premiums to
be very expensive. How can I find cheaper coverage?
is usually the biggest factor that keeps most people
from purchasing long-term care insurance - only around 8
million Americans currently have a policy.
Depending on your age, health, and the provisions of the
policy, costs can range anywhere from $1,000 up to
$5,000 a year for an individual policy that covers
nursing home care, assisted living and in-home care.
Fortunately, there are various cost-cutting strategies
that can help you save and still get adequate coverage.
Here are several to consider:
Buy young: The most basic way to get long-term care
insurance at a cheaper rate is by purchasing it at a
younger age. For example, a typical policy that costs a
55-year-old $1,500 a year in premiums could cost a
65-year-old $3,000. Health is another fact that can
affect costs. While good health can lower your monthly
payments, having a preexisting medical condition can
increase your costs, or you may not be able to get
insurance at all.
Sign up as a pair: Many insurers offer 20 to 30 percent
discounts on premiums if you sign-up at the same time as
your spouse, partner or sibling.
Choose a shorter benefit period: Most people need
long-term care for just under three years on average.
So, by choosing a policy that covers you for two or
three years, versus five or more years, it can cut your
premiums by 20 to 40 percent.
Lengthen the time you pay: Most policies have 30 to
90-day waiting periods that require you to pay
out-of-pocket for care before the policy kicks in. By
choosing a longer wait period, it can lower your
premiums 15 to 20 percent.
Lower the daily benefit: You can get a policy that pays
out $100, $150, $200 per day or more, but the higher the
benefit, the higher your premium. So consider a plan
that covers two-thirds the daily cost, and pay the other
third out of savings. That could cut your premiums by
Buy lower inflation protection: Inflation coverage
protects you from the rising costs of care. Five percent
compounded annually has been a common practice in the
industry but itís expensive. Consider a policy that has
a 3 percent CPI-adjusted inflation protection. This can
save you 50 percent or more.
Get state help: Currently, 41 states have a long-term
care partnership program that can help you save too.
Under these programs, if you buy a long-term care policy
approved by your state Medicaid agency, you can protect
an amount of assets from Medicaid equal to the benefits
that your policy pays out. With this program, you can
choose a shorter benefit period, which will lower your
premiums. See aaltci.org/partnership to learn more.
Buy a hybrid policy: If the thought of paying expensive
monthly premiums for long-term care insurance - which
you may never use - is keeping you from buying a policy,
consider one that combines long-term care insurance with
either a life insurance policy or an annuity. Hybrid
life insurance policies provide a death benefit for your
heirs and a pool of money you can use for long-term
care. Any funds you use for care are generally
subtracted from the death benefit. While hybrid annuity
policies generally allows you to purchase a deferred
annuity, which can be used for long-term care or if you
donít need care, it can be redeemed for its accumulated
value when it matures, or left to your heirs when you
find a policy that offers the best rates, get a
long-term care insurance specialist who works with a
variety of companies. See aaltci.org to locate one. Also
shop insurers like Northwestern Mutual and New York
Life, who work only with their own agents.
2016 Tax Filing Requirements for Retirees
Feb. 24, 2016
Dear Savvy Senior,
What is the IRS income tax filing requirements going to
be for this tax season? Due to health problems I stopped
working early last year, so Iím wondering if I need to
There are a number of factors that affect whether or not
you need to file a federal income tax return this year
including how much you earned last year (in 2015), and
the source of that income, as well as your age and
Hereís a rundown of this tax seasonís IRS filing
requirements. For most people, this is pretty
straightforward. If your 2015 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 age and
filing status, you probably wonít have to file. But if
itís over, you will.
Single: $10,300 ($11,850 if youíre 65 or older by Jan.
Married filing jointly: $20,600 ($21,850 if you or your
spouse is 65 or older; or $23,100 if youíre both over
Married filing separately: $4,000 at any age.
Head of household: $13,250 ($14,800 if age 65 or older).
Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child: $16,600
($17,850 if age 65 or older).
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 ďTax Guide for SeniorsĒ (publication
554), or see irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p554.pdf.
There are, however, some other financial situations that
will require you to file a tax return, even if your
gross income falls below the IRS filing requirement. For
example, if you had earnings from self-employment in
2015 of $400 or more, or if you owe any special taxes to
the IRS such as alternative minimum tax or IRA tax
penalties, youíll probably need to file.
figure 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 youíre
required to file, or if you should file because youíre
due a refund.
can access this tool at irs.gov/filing - click on ďDo
you need to file a return?Ē 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 youíre not required to file a federal tax return
this year, donít assume that youíre 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 youíre entirely in the
clear. For links to state tax agencies see taxadmin.org/state-tax-agencies.
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.
check with AARP, a participant in the TCE program that
provides free tax preparation at more than 5,000 sites
nationwide. To locate an AARP Tax-Aide site call
888-227-7669 or visit aarp.org/findtaxhelp. You donít
have to be an AARP member to use this service.
Choosing a Hospice Care Program
Feb. 17, 2016
Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you offer any information on hospice care, how to
choose a good provider, and whether Medicare covers it?
My grandmother has terminal cancer and wants to die at
home, if possible.
Hospice can be a wonderful option in the last months of
life because it offers a variety of services, not only
to those who are dying, but also to those left behind.
Hereís what you should know.
Hospice care is a unique service that provides medical
care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual
support to people who are in the last stages of a
terminal illness - it does not speed up or slow down the
process of dying. Hospiceís goal is to simply keep the
patient as comfortable and pain-free as possible, with
loved ones nearby until death.
various services provided by a hospice program comes
from a team of professionals that works together to
accommodate all the patientsí end-of-life needs.
team typically includes hospice doctors that will work
with the primary physician and family members to draft
up a care plan; nurses who dispense medication for pain
control; home care aids that attend to personal needs
like eating and bathing; social workers who help the
patient and the family prepare for end of life; clergy
members who provide spiritual counseling, if desired;
and volunteers that fill a variety of niches, from
sitting with the patient to helping clean and maintain
hospices even offer massage or music therapy, and nearly
all provide bereavement services for relatives and
short-term inpatient respite care to give family
caregivers a break.
hospice patients receive care in their own home.
However, hospice will go wherever the patient is -
hospital, nursing home or assisted living residence.
Some even have their own facility to use as an option.
receive hospice, your grandmother must get a referral
from her physician stating that their life expectancy is
six months or less.
also important to know that home-based hospice care does
not mean that a hospice nurse or volunteer is in the
home 24 hours a day. Services are based on need and/or
what you request. Hospice care can also be stopped at
anytime if your grandmotherís health improves or if she
decides to re-enter cure-oriented treatments.
best time to prepare for hospice and consider your
options is before itís necessary, so youíre not making
decisions during a stressful time. There are more than
5,500 hospice programs in the U.S., so depending on
where you live, you may have several options from which
locate a good hospice in your area, ask your
grandmotherís doctor or the discharge planner at your
local hospital for a referral, call your state hospice
organization (see hospicefoundation.org/hospice-directory
for contact information), or search online at sites like
the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization at
choosing, look for an established hospice that has been
operating for a few years and one that is certified by
Medicare. To help you select one, the American Hospice
Foundation provides a list of questions to ask at
Medicare covers all aspects of hospice care and services
for its beneficiaries. There is no deductible for
hospice services although there may be a very small
co-payment - such as $5 for each prescription drug for
pain and symptom control, or a 5 percent share for
inpatient respite care. Medicaid also covers hospice in
most states, as do most private health insurance plans.
more information, see the ďMedicare Hospice BenefitsĒ
online booklet at medicare.gov/pubs/pdf/02154.pdf. And
if you have financial questions or concerns, talk to
your hospice provider. Most hospices offer financial
assistance to help families in need.
How to Calculate Your Retirement Number
Feb. 10, 2016
Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you help me calculate about how much my wife and I
need to save for retirement? We are both in out
late-50es and want to see where we stand.
Calculating an approximate number of how much youíll
need to save for a comfortable retirement is actually
pretty easy, and doesnít take long to do. Itís a simple,
three-step process that includes estimating your future
living expenses, tallying up your retirement income and
calculating the difference. There are even a host of
online calculators that can help you with this too.
first step is the most difficult - estimating your
living expenses when you retire. If you want a quick
ballpark estimate, figure around 75 to 85 percent of
your current gross income. Thatís what most people find
they need to maintain their current lifestyle in
you want a more precise estimate, track your current
living expenses on a worksheet and deduct any costs you
expect to go away or decline when you retire, and add
whatever new ones you anticipate.
Costs you can scratch off your list include work-related
expenses like commuting or lunches out, as well as the
amount youíre socking away for retirement. You may also
be able to deduct your mortgage if you expect to have it
paid off by retirement, and your kidís college expenses.
Your income taxes should also be less.
the other hand, some costs will probably go up when you
retire, like health care, and depending on your
interests you may spend a lot more on travel, golf or
other hobbies. And, if youíre going to be retired for 20
or 30 years you also need to factor in the occasional
big budget items like a new roof, furnace or car.
two is to calculate your retirement income. If you
and/or your wife contribute to Social Security, go to
ssa.gov/myaccount to get your personalized statement
that estimates what your retirement benefits will be at
age 62, full retirement age and when you turn 70.
addition to Social Security, if you or your wife has a
traditional pension plan from an employer, find out from
the plan administrator how much you are likely to get
when you retire. And, figure in any other income from
other sources you expect to have, such as rental
properties, part-time work, etc.
The final step is to do the calculations. Subtract your
annual living expenses from your annual retirement
income. If your income alone can cover your bills,
youíre all set. If not, youíll need to tap your savings,
including your 401(k) plans, IRAs, or other investments
to make up the difference.
letís say for example you need around $55,000 a year to
meet your living expenses and pay taxes, and you and
your wife expect to receive $30,000 a year from Social
Security and other income. That leaves a $25,000
shortfall that youíll need to pull from your nest egg
each year ($55,000 - $30,000 = $25,000).
Then, depending on what age you want to retire, you need
to multiply your shortfall by at least 25 if you want to
retire at 60, 20 to retire at 65, and 17 to retire at 70
- or in this case that would equate to $625,000,
$500,000 and $425,000, respectively.
25, 20 and 17? Because that would allow you to pull 4
percent a year from your savings, which is a safe
withdrawal strategy that in most cases will let your
money last as long as you do.
you need some help, thereís a bevy of free online
retirement calculators to assist you, like the ones
offered by T. Rowe Price (troweprice.com/retirement) or
Financial Mentor (financialmentor.com/calculator).