Dear Savvy Senior,
How long should a person hang on to old receipts, stock
records, tax returns and other financial documents? I
have accumulated boxes full of such papers over the
years and would like to get rid of some of it now that
This is a great time of the year to get rid of
unnecessary or outdated paperwork and to organize your
records in preparation for filing your tax return in the
spring. Here’s a checklist of what to keep and what to
toss out, along with some tips to help you reduce your
future paper accumulation.
receipts and bank-deposit slips as soon as you match
them up with your monthly statement.
*Credit card receipts after you get your statement,
unless you might return the item or need proof of
purchase for a warranty.
*Credit card statements that do not have a tax-related
expense on them.
*Utility bills when the following month’s bill arrives
showing that your prior payment was received. If you
wish to track utility usage over time, you may want to
keep them for a year, or if you deduct a home office on
your taxes keep them for seven years.
To avoid identity theft, be sure you shred anything you
throw away that contains your personal information. It’s
best to use a crosscut shredder rather than a strip one,
which leaves long paper bands that could be reassembled.
Keep One Year
*Paycheck stubs until you get your W-2 in January to
check its accuracy.
*Bank statements (savings and checking account) to
confirm your 1099s.
*Brokerage, 401(k), IRA and other investment statements
until you get your annual summary (keep longer for tax
purposes if they show a gain or loss).
*Receipts for health care bills in case you qualify for
a medical deduction.
Supporting documents for your taxes, including W-2s,
1099s, and receipts or canceled checks that substantiate
deductions. The IRS usually has up to three years after
you file to audit you but may look back up to six years
if it suspects you substantially underreported income or
returns with proof of filing and payment. You should
keep these for at least seven years, but many experts
recommend you keep them forever because they provide a
record of your financial history.
forms that you filed when making nondeductible
contributions to a traditional IRA or a Roth conversion.
*Receipts for capital improvements that you’ve made to
your home until seven years after you sell the house.
*Retirement and brokerage account annual statements as
long as you hold those investments.
*Defined-benefit pension plan documents.
*Savings bonds until redeemed.
*Loan documents until the loan is paid off.
*Vehicle titles and registration information as long as
you own the car, boat, truck, or other vehicle.
*Insurance policies as long as you have them.
*Warranties or receipts for big-ticket purchases for as
long as you own the item, to support warranty and
Personal and family records like birth certificates,
marriage license, divorce papers, Social Security cards,
military discharge papers and estate-planning documents
(power of attorney, will, trust and advanced directive).
Keep these in a fireproof safe or safe-deposit box.
Reduce Your Paper
reduce your paper clutter, consider digitizing your
documents by scanning them and converting them into PDF
files so you can store them on your computer and back
them up onto a USB flash drive or external hard drive
like icloud.com or carbonite.com.
can also reduce your future paper load by switching to
electronic statements and records whenever possible.
Could You Have COPD?
Jan. 27, 2016
Dear Savvy Senior,
I have struggled with some shortness of breath for the
past five years or so. I just thought I was getting
older and out of shape, but a friend recently mentioned
I may have COPD. What can you tell me about this?
COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a
serious lung disease that, over time, makes it hard to
breathe. What’s more, an estimated 24 million people
have COPD today, but about half of them don’t know it.
people mistake shortness of breath as a normal part of
aging, or a result of being out of shape, but that’s not
necessarily the case. COPD - a term used to describe a
variety of lung diseases including emphysema and chronic
bronchitis - develops slowly, so symptoms may not be
obvious until damage has occurred.
Common symptoms include: an ongoing cough or a cough
that produces a lot of mucus; shortness of breath,
especially during physical activity; wheezing; and chest
Those most at risk are smokers or former smokers over
age 40, and people who have had long-term exposure to
other lung irritants like secondhand smoke, air
pollution, chemical fumes and dust. There is also a rare
genetic condition known as alpha-1-antitrypsin, or AAT
deficiency that can increase the risks.
you’re experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms,
you need to get tested by your doctor. A simple
breathing test called spirometry can tell if you have
COPD, and if so, how severe it is. Early screening can
also identify COPD before major loss of lung function
you do indeed have COPD, you need to know that while
there’s no cure, there are things you can do to help
manage symptoms and protect your lungs from further
Quit smoking: If you smoke, the best thing you can do to
prevent more damage to your lungs is to quit. To get
help, the National Cancer Institute offers a number of
smoking cessation resources at smokefree.gov or call
1-800-QUIT-NOW. Or ask your doctor about prescription
antismoking drugs that can help reduce your nicotine
Avoid air pollutants: Stay away from things that could
irritate your lungs like dust, allergens and strong
fumes. Also, to help improve your air quality at home,
remove dust-collecting clutter and keep carpets clean;
run the exhaust fan when using smelly cleaning products,
bug sprays or paint; ban smoking indoors; and keep
windows closed when outdoor air pollution is high (see
airnow.gov for daily air-quality reports).
Guard against flu: The flu can cause serious problems
for people who have COPD, so get a flu shot every fall
and wash and sanitize your hands frequently to avoid
getting sick. Also ask your doctor about getting the
pneumococcal immunizations for protection against
Take prescribed medications: Bronchodilators (taken with
an inhaler) are commonly used for COPD. They help relax
the airway muscles to make breathing easier. Depending
on how severe your condition, you may need a
short-acting version only for when symptoms occur, or a
long-acting prescription for daily use. Inhaled steroids
may also help reduce inflammation and mucus and prevent
How to Find Discounts for People with Disabilities
Jan. 20, 2016
Are there any worthwhile discounts available to people
with disabilities, and if so, how can I find them? My
wife - who’s 48 - has Multiple Sclerosis that now
requires her to use a wheelchair.
Need to Save
There are actually a wide variety of discounts and
services available to people with disabilities and those
living with a chronic illness that can literally save
you hundreds and even thousands of dollars each year.
Here are some tips to help you find them.
first thing to know is that most businesses that offer
discounts to people with disabilities or their escorts
don’t publicize them, so it’s important to always ask.
note that most nonprofit organizations and government
agencies that provide disabled services or benefits will
require proof of disability through a letter from your
doctor or some other form of verification before they
will accommodate you.
disabled discounts available to your wife will vary
depending on where you live, so a good place to start is
to contact the local chapter of the nonprofit
organization that specializes in your particular disease
or disability - in your wife’s case that would be the
National Multiple Sclerosis Society (nationalmssociety.org,
Local chapters often know where to find discounts on the
medical supplies, mobility equipment and support
services. Some organizations have even negotiated
special discounted rates with suppliers, and a few even
provide subsidized equipment directly.
search for other disability or disease specific
organizations, use any Internet search engine, any type
in your disease or disability followed by organizations
- for example “Arthritis Organizations” or “Hearing Loss
DisabledDiscounts.com is one of the best resources for
finding disabled discounts online. This is a free
website that lists thousands of discounts in all 50
states. You search by state and county in 30 different
categories ranging from assistive technology to federal
and state tax discounts, entertainment to education and
so much more.
visit Benefits.gov and BenefitsCheckUp.org, two great
sites that will help you look for financial assistance
programs your wife and you may be eligible for, and will
tell you how to apply. And see Disability.gov, a site
that connects people with disabilities to helpful
programs and services in your area.
Types of Discounts
Here are a few examples of the different types of
disabled discounts and services that are out there.
Recreation: Most movie theaters, museums, zoos, theme
parks and aquariums provide reduced admission to people
with disabilities or their escort. And, the National
Park Service offers the “America The Beautiful Access
Pass” (see nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm) to disabled
residents, which provides a lifetime of free access into
all national parks and federal recreational lands.
Taxes: There are numerous federal tax deductions and
credits available to people with disabilities, and a
number of states and counties also offer property tax
deductions to disabled homeowners.
Utilities: Many utility companies, including electric,
gas, phone, water and trash services offer discounts to
customers who are disabled, elderly or low income.
Communication devices: 47 states have equipment
distribution programs (see tedpa.org) that offer free
amplified telephones to residents with hearing
modifications: There are a number of federal, state,
local and nonprofit organizations that help pay for home
accessibility improvements like wheelchair ramps,
handrails and grab bars for elderly and disabled people
Travel: Amtrak offers a 15 percent rail fare discount to
adult passengers with a disability and up to one
Reading services: For those with vision or physical
impairments that make it difficult for them to read, the
Library of Congress (see loc.gov/nls) offers a “Talking
Books” program that provides free audiobooks, magazines
and audio equipment. And the National Federation of the
Blind offers a free newspaper and magazine reading
service at nfbnewslineonline.org.
How to Keep Tabs On an Elderly Parent with Video
Jan. 14, 2016
you recommend some good home video monitoring devices
that can help my sister and me keep an eye on our
elderly mother? Over the holidays, we noticed that her
health has slipped a bit, and would like to keep a
closer eye on her.
There are lot’s of great video monitoring cameras that
can help families keep a watchful eye on an elderly
parent from afar, but make sure it’s OK with your mom
first. Many seniors find this type of “I’m watching you”
technology to be an invasion of privacy, while others
don’t mind and even welcome the idea. With that said,
here are some top monitoring devices for keeping tabs on
the technology has improved and the costs have come
down, video monitoring/surveillance cameras have become
very popular for keeping an eye on your home, business,
child or pet (via smartphone, tablet or computer), but
they also work well for monitoring an elder loved one
who lives alone.
home video monitoring cameras today are sleek, small and
easy to set up, but do require home Wi-Fi.
Although camera capabilities will vary, the best devices
all provide wide-view angles, HD quality video, night
vision, built-in motion and sound detection that can
notify you when something is happening, and two-way
audio that let’s you talk and listen.
they also offer a video recording option (for an extra
fee) that saves past video to a cloud, so you can rewind
and review what you missed.
of the best products available today that does all this
and more is the Nest Cam (nest.com), which costs $199,
but if you want their video recording option, it’s an
extra $100 per year for a 10-day video history, or
$300/year for 30 days.
check out the Piper NV (getpiper.com), which - at $279 -
is more expensive than the Nest Cam but allows free
Internet cloud storage. And the Simplicam (simplicam.com),
which is the cheapest of the three but the video quality
isn’t quite as good. They charge $150 for the camera, or
$200 for the camera plus 24-hour video storage for one
If your mom is uncomfortable with video monitoring, and
doesn’t want you to be able to peek in on her whenever
you want, another less invasive option to consider is a
“sensor” monitoring system.
These systems use small wireless sensors (not cameras)
placed in key areas of your mom’s home that can detect
changes in her activity patterns, and will notify you
via text message, email or phone call if something out
of the ordinary is happening.
great company that offers this technology is Silver
Mother (sen.se/silvermother), which provides small
sensors that you attach to commonly used household
objects like her pillbox, refrigerator door, TV remote,
front door, etc.
for example, if your mom didn’t pick up her pillbox to
get her medicine or didn’t open the refrigerator door to
make breakfast like she usually does, or if she left the
house at a peculiar time you would be notified and could
check on her. You can also check up on her anytime you
want online or through their mobile app. Silver Mother
costs $299 for four sensors, with no ongoing monthly
Paying Income Tax on Social Security Benefits
Jan. 6, 2015
Will I have to pay federal income taxes on my Social
Security benefits when I retire?
Whether or not you’ll be required to pay federal income
tax on your Social Security benefits will depend on your
income and filing status. About 35 percent of Social
Security recipients have total incomes high enough to
trigger federal income tax on their benefits.
figure out if your benefits will be taxable, you’ll need
to add up all of your “provisional income,” which
includes wages, taxable and non-taxable interest,
dividends, pensions and taxable retirement-plan
distributions, self-employment, and other taxable
income, plus half your annual Social Security benefits,
minus certain deductions used in figuring your adjusted
How To Calculate
help you with the calculations, get a copy of IRS
Publication 915 “Social Security and Equivalent Railroad
Retirement Benefits,” which provides detailed
instructions and worksheets. You can download it at
irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p915.pdf or call the IRS at
800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a free copy.
After you do the calculations, the IRS says that if
you’re single and your total income from all of the
listed sources is:
*Less that $25,000, your Social Security will not be
subject to federal income tax.
*Between $25,000 and $34,000, up to 50 percent of your
Social Security benefits will be taxed at your regular
*More than $34,000, up to 85 percent of your benefits
will be taxed.
married and filing jointly and the total from all
*Less that $32,000, your Social Security won’t be taxed.
*Between $32,000 and $44,000, up to 50 percent of your
Social Security benefits will be taxed.
*More than $44,000, up to 85 percent of your benefits
will be taxed.
you’re married and file a separate return, you probably
will pay taxes on your benefits.
limit potential taxes on your benefits, you’ll need to
be cautious when taking distributions from retirement
accounts or other sources. In addition to triggering
ordinary income tax, a distribution that significantly
raises your gross income can bump the proportion of your
Social Security benefits subject to taxes.
How to File
you find that part of your Social Security benefits will
be taxable, you’ll need to file using Form 1040 or Form
1040A. You cannot use Form 1040EZ. You also need to know
that if you do owe taxes, you’ll need to make quarterly
estimated tax payments to the IRS or you can choose to
have it automatically withheld from your benefits.
have it withheld, you’ll need to complete IRS Form W-4V,
Voluntary Withholding Request (irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw4v.pdf),
and file it with your local Social Security office. You
can choose to have 7 percent, 10 percent, 15 percent or
25 percent of your total benefit payment withheld. If
you subsequently decide you don’t want the taxes
withheld, you can file another W-4V to stop the
In addition to the federal government, 13 states -
Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri,
Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode
Island, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia - tax Social
Security benefits to some extent too. If you live in one
of these states, check with your state tax agency for
questions on taxable Social Security benefits call the
IRS help line at 800-829-1040, or visit an IRS Taxpayer
Assistance Center (see www.irs.gov/localcontacts) where
you can get face-to-face help.
Helping an aging parent with their finances
Dec. 29, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior
Can you offer any tips on helping an elderly parent with
their finances? My 82-year-old mother is having some
trouble keeping up with her bills, and I just found out
that she has been making a lot of small contributions to
Millions of adult children today serve as financial
helpers to their elderly or ill parents or other loved
ones. They provide services like paying bills, handling
deposits and investments, filing insurance claims,
preparing taxes and more. Here are some tips and
resources that can help you help your mom.
Taking on some or all of the financial responsibility of
an elderly parent or other loved one can sometimes be
awkward and difficult.
first step in helping your mom is to have a thoughtful
and respectful talk with her, expressing your concerns
and offering your help in simplifying her financial
life. If you have siblings, it can be a good idea to get
them involved too. This can help you head off any
possible hard feelings, plus, with others involved, your
mom will know everyone is concerned.
your mom is willing to let you help manage her financial
affairs your first order of business is to get organized
by making a list of her financial accounts, and locate
her important legal documents. This will help you get a
handle on her overall financial situation and let you
know if any key documents are missing. Your list should
-Monthly bills: Phone, cable, water and trash, gas,
electric, credit card accounts, etc.
-Financial accounts: Including bank accounts, brokerage
and mutual fund accounts, safe-deposit boxes, and any
other financial assets she has.
-Company benefits: Any retirement plans, pensions or
health benefits from your current or former employer.
-Insurance policies: Life, home, auto, long-term care,
-Important legal documents: A will, advanced medical
directive which includes a living will and health-care
proxy, and durable power of attorney which gives one or
more people the legal authority to handle her finances
if she becomes incapacitated. Make sure these documents
-Taxes: Copies of your mom’s income tax returns over the
past few years.
-Contact list: Names and phone numbers of key contacts
like insurance agents, financial advisor, tax preparer,
family attorney, etc.
If your mom has considerable assets or a complex
financial situation, you and your mom should sit down
with her financial advisor or attorney to review her
situation. If she doesn’t have anyone, consider hiring a
reputable fee-only financial planner who can help you
figure things out and put a smart plan in place.
Fee-only planners do not earn commissions by selling you
financial products. They charge only for their services,
which can be around $150 to $300 an hour. To locate one
in your area, visit napfa.org or
One of the easiest ways to simplify your mom’s monthly
financial chores is to set up automatic payments for her
utilities and other routine bills, and arrange for
direct deposit of her income sources. You can also make
arrangements to have her bank statements mailed directly
to you, so you can monitor what’s coming in and going
out each month. Or, you could set up your mom’s online
banking service (if available), so you can pay bills and
monitor her account anytime.
more tips on financial caregiving, the Consumer
Financial Protection Bureau offers four guides on
“Managing Someone Else’s Money” that you can read online
you need some help or live far away, you may want to
consider hiring a daily money manager (aadmm.com,
877-326-5991) who can come in once or twice a month to
pay bills, make deposits, decipher health insurance
statements and balance her checkbook. Costs range
between $50 and $150 per hour.
Pill splitting dos and don’ts
Dec. 21, 2015
Is pill splitting safe? I have several friends who cut
their pills in half in order to save money, but I have
some concerns. What can you tell me?
splitting - literally cutting them in half - has become
a popular way to save on pharmaceutical costs but you
need to talk to your doctor or pharmacist first, because
not all pills can be split.
reason pill splitting is such a money saver is because
of a quirk in the way drugs are manufactured and priced.
A pill that’s twice as strong as another may not be
twice the price. In fact, it’s usually about the same
price. So, buying a double-strength dose and cutting it
in half may allow you to get two months worth of
medicine for the price of one. But is it safe? As long
as your doctor agrees that splitting your pills is OK
for you, you learn how to do it properly and you split
only pills that can be split, there’s really no danger.
Ask Your Doctor
If you’re interested in splitting your pills, talk to
your doctor or pharmacist to find out if any of the
medicines you use can be safely split. It’s also
important to find out whether splitting them will save
you enough money to justify the hassle.
pills that are easiest to split are those with a score
down the middle. However, not every pill that’s scored
is meant to be split. Pills that are most commonly split
-Cholesterol-lowering drugs, like Crestor, Lipitor,
Mevacor, Pravachol and Zocor.
-Antidepressants, like Lexapro, Celexa, Serzone, Paxil
-High blood pressure medicines such as, Accupril,
Zestril, Diovan, Avapro, Norvasc, Tenormin, Toprol and
-Erectile dysfunction pills, like Viagra, Cialis and
Use a splitter
Having the right equipment is very important too. Don’t
use a knife or scissors to cut your pills in half. It
can cause you to split them unevenly resulting in two
pieces with very different dosages, which can be
dangerous. Purchase a proper pill cutter that has a
cover and a V-shaped pill grip that holds the pill
securely in place. You can find them at most pharmacies
for $3 to $10.
convenience, you might be tempted to split the whole
bottle of pills at once. But it’s best to do the
splitting on the day you take the first half, and then
take the other half on the second day or whenever you
are scheduled to take your next dose. That will help
keep the drugs from deteriorating due to exposure to
heat, moisture or air. It will also help ensure that any
deviation in the size of one dose is compensated in the
next. It’s also important to know that pills are only
safely split in half, and never into smaller portions
such as into thirds or quarters.
Don’t split these
pills should never be split. Drugs that are
time-released or long-lasting and tablets that contain a
combination of drugs probably shouldn’t be split,
because it’s difficult to ensure a proper amount of
active ingredient in each half. Pills with a coating to
protect your stomach, and pills that crumble easily or
irritate your mouth shouldn’t be split either, along
with chemotherapy drugs, anti-seizure medicines, birth
control pills and capsules containing powders or gels.
Again, your doctor or pharmacist will know which drugs
can and cannot be split. If you’re taking a medicine
that can be split, you’ll need to get a prescription
from your doctor for twice the dosage you need. Then you
can start splitting safely, and saving.
How to make your kitchen safer and easier to use
Dec. 17, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips can you recommend for making a
kitchen senior-friendly? My wife, who loves to cook, has
had several kitchen-related accidents over the past
year, which is why we would like to modify to make it
safer and more practical.
There are a number of simple
modifications and inexpensive add-ons that can make a
big difference in making your kitchen more age-friendly.
Depending on your wife’s needs, here are some tips for
each aspect of the kitchen
- Floors: If you have kitchen throw rugs,
to reduce tripping or slipping, replace them with
non-skid floor mats or consider gel mats, which are
cushiony and more comfortable to stand on for long
periods. GelPro.com and WellnessMats.com offer a nice
- Lights: If the lighting in her kitchen
is dim, replace the old overhead fixture with a bright
new ceiling light, and add under-cabinet task lighting
to brighten up her kitchen countertops.
- Cabinets and drawers: To reduce bending
or reaching, organize your kitchen cabinets and drawers
so that the items you most frequently use are within
comfortable reach. You can also make your cabinets and
pantry easier to access by installing pullout shelves or
lazy susans. And D-shaped pull-handles for the cabinets
and drawers are also recommended because they’re more
comfortable for arthritic hands to grasp than knobs.
- Faucet: If you have a twist-handle
kitchen faucet, replace it with an ADA-compliant
single-handle faucet. They’re easier to use, especially
for seniors with arthritis or limited hand strength.
There are also kitchen faucets on the market today (like
the Delta Touch20 faucet and Moen MotionSense) that will
turn themselves on and off by simply touching the base
or moving your hand over a motion sensor. And, for
safety purposes, set your hot water tank at 120 degrees
to prevent possible water burns.
- Microwave and stove: If your microwave
is mounted above the stove, consider moving it to a
countertop. This makes it safer and easier to reach. And
if you’re concerned about your wife remembering to turn
the stove off, there are automatic stove shut-off
devices you can purchase and install to prevent a fire.
See cookstop.com, stoveguardintl.com and
pioneeringtech.com for some different options.
If you’re looking to upgrade some of your
appliances too, here are some different senior-friendly
features you should look for when shopping:
Refrigerator and freezer: Side-by-side doors work well
for seniors because the frequently used items
(refrigerated and frozen) can be placed at mid-shelf
range for easy access. Pullout adjustable height shelves
and a water/ice dispenser on the outside of door are
also very convenient.
Stove or cooktop: Look for one with controls in the
front so you won’t have to reach over hot burners to
turn it off, and make sure the controls are easy to see.
Flat surface electric or induction burners, or
continuous grates on gas stoves are also great for
sliding heavy pots and pans from one burner to the next.
And ask about automatic shut-off burners.
Oven: Self-cleaning ovens are a plus, and consider a
side-swing door model. They’re easier to get into
because you don’t have to lean over a hot swing-down
door. Also consider a wall-mounted oven, installed at
your wife’s preferred height to eliminate bending.
Dishwasher: Consider a dishwasher drawer that slides in
and out, and is installed on a 6 to 10-inch raised
platform. These require less bending to load and unload.
Washer and dryer: Front-load washers and dryers with
pedestals that raise the height 10 to 15 inches are also
back-savers and easy to access.
How much you’ll pay for Medicare in 2016
Dec. 9, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior,
I know there won’t be a cost-of-living increase in
Social Security benefits next year but what about
Medicare? I’ve heard some beneficiaries will get hit
with a big Part B monthly premium increase in 2016. What
can you tell me, and who will this affect?
All things considered, the news regarding your Medicare
costs next year is pretty good. For about 70 percent of
the nation’s 52 million Medicare beneficiaries, there
will be no Part B premium increase in 2016. And thanks
to the 2015 Bipartisan Budget Act that was signed into
law by President Barack Obama on Nov. 2, the other 30
percent will pay much less than previously projected.
Here’s what you can expect.
Part B Premiums
Because the Social Security Administration will not be
giving out a cost of living increase (or COLA) in 2016,
the Medicare Part B premiums for most current
beneficiaries will not go up either. Thanks to the “hold
harmless” provision in the Medicare law, which prohibits
Part B premiums from rising in any year that there’s no
COLA, the 2016 monthly premium will remain at $104.90
for most current Medicare participants.
However, this provision does not protect new Medicare
enrollees (those who enroll in 2016), beneficiaries who
are directly billed for their Part B premium, or current
beneficiaries who have deferred claiming their Social
Security. This includes people 65 or older who are still
working but have signed up for Medicare because their
employer doesn’t offer health insurance. It also hits
people who have filed and suspended Social Security
benefits to allow a spouse to claim.
you fit into any of these categories, your Medicare Part
B premium will increase to $121.80 a month in 2016 -
which is much lower than the $159.30 that it would have
been, had the budget deal fell through.
hold-harmless rule also does not protect high-income
Medicare beneficiaries who already pay higher Part B
premiums because their annual incomes are above $85,000
for an individual or $170,000 for a couple. If you fit
into this category, here’s what you’ll pay for your Part
B premium next year, based on your 2014 tax returns.
-Individuals with incomes of $85,000 to $107,000, or
married couples filing joint tax returns with incomes of
$170,000 to $214,000, will pay $170.50 per month.
-Individuals earning $107,000 to $160,000 (couples
$214,000 to $320,000) will pay $243.60.
-Individuals with incomes of $160,000 to $214,000
(couples $320,000 to $428,000) will pay $316.70.
-Individuals over $214,000 or couples above $428,000
will pay $389.80.
Another increase high-income beneficiaries (those with
incomes over $85,000, or $170,000 for joint filers) need
to be aware of is the surcharge on Part D premiums.
Affluent seniors that have a Medicare Part D
prescription drug plan will pay an additional $12.70 to
$72.90 per month, depending on their income, on top of
their regular Part D premiums.
Other changes you need to know about that will affect
all Medicare beneficiaries include the Part B
deductible, which will increase to $166 in 2016 (it’s
currently $147); and the Part A (hospital insurance)
annual deductible which will go up to $1,288 (it’s
currently $1,260) for hospital stays up to 60 days. That
increases to $322 per day for days 61-90, and to $644 a
day for days 91 and beyond. And the skilled nursing
facility coinsurance for days 21-100 will also increase
to $161 per day (it’s currently $157.50).
more information on all the Medicare costs for 2016
visit Medicare.gov and click on “Your Medicare Costs”
tab at the top of the page, or call 800-633-4227.
Getting a lift
Dec. 2, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior,
I am interested in purchasing a recliner that lifts and
lowers off the ground, or some other type of
senior-friendly furniture that can help my elderly
father. He’s arthritic and overweight and struggles
mightily with getting up from most of the cushioned
furniture in the house. What can you recommend?
Need a Boost
The task of sitting down and/or getting up from soft
cushioned furniture is a problem for many seniors who
struggle with excessive weight, arthritis or other
mobility issues. Here are some different product
solutions that can help.
of the most popular types of cushioned furniture on the
market today for mobility challenged seniors is an
electric recliner lift chair. While they look just like
regular recliners, powerlift recliners come with a
built-in motor that raises and lowers the entire chair,
which makes sitting down and getting up much easier.
literally dozens of different types and styles of lift
recliners to choose from, here are a few key points that
can help you select a good fit for your dad.
Chair size: The recliner needs to fit the person sitting
in it, so your dad’s height and weight will determine
the size of chair he needs.
Reclining options: Aside from the lifting system, the
degree in which the chair reclines is your choice too.
Most lift recliners are sold as either two-position,
three-position or infinite-position lift chairs. The
two-position chairs recline only to about 45 degrees,
which makes them ideal for watching TV or reading. But
if your dad wants to nap, he’ll probably want a
three-position or infinite-position chair that reclines
almost completely horizontally.
Style and features: You’ll also need to choose the type
of fabric, color and back style you want the chair to
be, or if you want any extra features like built-in
heating or massage elements, or a wall hugging chair
which is great if you’re tight on space.
While there are many companies that make lift recliners
— such as Med-Lift, NexIdea, Catnapper, Berkline,
Franklin and La-z-boy — Pride Mobility (pridemobility.com)
and Golden Technologies (goldentech.com) have been
around the longest and have some of the best
reputations. With prices typically ranging between $600
and $2,000, you can find lift recliners at many medical
supply stores and online.
You’ll also be happy to know that Medicare provides some
help purchasing a lift chair. They cover the lift
mechanism portion, which equates to around $300 towards
powerlift recliners don’t appeal to your dad, another
option to consider is a Risedale chair. These are
open-legged, wing back chairs that are different from
lift recliners because only the seat cushion lifts
instead of the whole chair. Sold by Carex Health Brands
(carex.com), the Risedale costs $725.
you’re looking for something less expensive, or if your
dad doesn’t want different furniture, there are also a
number of assistive products that can be added to his
current furniture that can help too, like the Stander
CouchCane or EZ Stand-N-Go (see stander.com).
These products provide support handles that make sitting
down and standing up a little easier, and they both work
on couches and recliners. Available online at Amazon.com,
the CouchCanes sell for around $110, and the EZ
Stand-N-Go costs $129.
Another way to make your dad’s furniture more accessible
is by increasing its height with furniture risers. These
typically range from 2 to 5 inches in height, are made
of heavy-duty plastic or wood, and are inserted under
the base of the legs or supports of his furniture. Costs
typically range from a few dollars up to $50 or more and
can be purchased at retail stores like Walmart and
Target, or online at Amazon.com.
How to Guard Against Deadly Aortic Aneurysms
Nov. 27, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior,
My father died several years ago, at the age of 76, from
a stomach aneurysm, which now has me wondering. What are
my risk factors of getting this, and what can I do to
protect myself, as I get older?
Just Turned 60
Stomach aneurysms, also known as “abdominal aortic
aneurysms,” are very dangerous and the third leading
cause of death in men over 60. They also tend to run in
families, so having had a parent with this condition
makes you much more vulnerable yourself.
abdominal aortic aneurysm (or AAA) is a weak area in the
lower portion of the aorta, which is the major artery
that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the
body. As blood flows through the aorta, the weak area
bulges like a balloon and can burst if it gets too big,
causing life-threatening internal bleeding. In fact,
nearly 80 percent of AAAs that rupture are fatal, but
the good news is that more than nine out of 10 that are
detected early are treatable.
Who’s At Risk?
Around 200,000 people are diagnosed with AAAs each year,
but estimates suggest that another 2 million people may
have it but not realize it. The factors that can put you
at increased risk are:
Smoking: Ninety percent of people with an AAA smoke or
have smoked. This is the number one risk factor and one
you can avoid.
Age: Your risk of getting an AAA increases significantly
after age 60 in men, and after age 70 in women.
Family history: Having a parent or sibling who has had
an AAA can increase your risk to around one in four.
Gender: AAAs are five times more likely in men than in
Health factors: Atherosclerosis, also known as hardening
of the arteries, high blood pressure and high
cholesterol levels also increase your risk.
Detection and Treatment
Because AAAs usually start small and enlarge slowly,
they rarely show any symptoms, making them difficult to
detect. However, large AAAs can sometimes cause a
throbbing or pulsation in the abdomen, or cause
abdominal or lower back pain.
best way to detect an AAA is to get a simple, painless,
10-minute ultrasound screening test. All men over age 65
that have ever smoked, and anyone over 60 with a
first-degree relative (father, mother or sibling) who
has had an AAA should talk to their doctor getting
should also know that most health insurance plans cover
AAA screenings, as does Medicare to beneficiaries with a
family history of AAAs, and to men between the ages of
65 and 75 who have smoked at least 100 cigarettes during
an AAA is detected during screening, how it’s treated
will depend on its size, rate of growth and your general
health. If caught in the early stages when the aneurysm
is small, it can be monitored and treated with
medication. But if it is large or enlarging rapidly,
you’ll probably need surgery.
While some risk factors like your age, gender and family
history are uncontrollable, there are a number of things
you can do to protect yourself from AAA. For starters,
if you smoke, you need to quit – see smokefree.gov or
call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for help.
also need to keep tabs on your blood pressure and
cholesterol levels, and if they are high you need to
take steps to lower them through diet, exercise and if
Required IRA and 401(k) withdrawal rules for retirees
Nov. 18, 2015
Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you give me the details on required
IRA and 401(k) distributions? I turned 70 this year, and
want to be clear on what I’m required to do, and when
I’ll have to do it.
The old saying “you can’t take it with you” is
definitely true when it comes to Uncle Sam and your
tax-deferred retirement accounts. Here’s what you should
know about required retirement account distributions
along with some tips to help you avoid extra taxes and
Beginning at age 70½, the IRS requires all seniors that
own tax-deferred retirement accounts – like traditional
IRAs, SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, SARSEPs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s
and 457s – must start taking annual required minimum
distributions (RMDs), and pay taxes on those
withdrawals. The reason: The IRS doesn’t want you
hoarding your money in these accounts forever. They want
their cut. Distributions are taxed as income at your
ordinary income tax rate.
There are, however, two exceptions. Owners of Roth IRAs
are not required to take a distribution, unless the Roth
is inherited. And if you continue to work beyond age
70½, and you don’t own 5 percent or more of the company
you work for, you can delay withdrawals from your
employer’s retirement plan until after you retire. But
if you have other non-work-related accounts, such as a
traditional IRA or a 401(k) from a previous employer,
you are still required to take RMDs from them after age
70½, even if you’re still working.
— RMD Deadlines
Generally, you must take your distribution every year by
Dec. 31. First timers, however, can choose to delay
taking their distribution until April 1 of the year
following the year you turn 70½. So, for example, if
your 70th birthday was in March 2015, you would turn 70½
in September and your required beginning date would be
April 1, 2016. But if your 70th birthday occurred later
in the year, say in August, you wouldn’t turn 70½ until
2016. In that case, you would be required to take your
first distribution by April 1, 2017.
be careful about delaying, because if you delay your
first distribution, it may push you into a higher tax
bracket because you must take your next distribution by
December 31 of the same year.
note that you can always withdraw more than the required
amount, but if you don’t take out the minimum, you’ll be
hit with a 50 percent penalty on the amount that you
failed to withdraw, along with the income tax you owe on
Your RMD is calculated by dividing your tax-deferred
retirement account balance as of Dec. 31 of the previous
year, by an IRS estimate of your life expectancy. A
special rule applies if your spouse is the beneficiary
and is more than 10 years younger than you.
withdrawals must be calculated for each IRA you own, but
you can withdraw the money from any IRA or combination
of IRAs. 403(b) accounts also allow you to total the
RMDs and take them from any account or combination of
401(k) plans, however, you must calculate the RMD for
each plan and withdraw the appropriate amount from each
calculate the size of your RMD, you can use the
worksheets on the IRS website – see irs.gov/Retirement-Plans
and click on “Required Minimum Distributions.” Or,
contact your IRA custodian or retirement-plan
administrator who can do the calculations for you.
more information, call the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask
them to mail you a free copy of the “Distributions from
Individual Retirement Arrangements” (publication 590-B),
or see irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p590b.pdf.
How to choose a good nursing home
Nov. 11, 2015
Can you give me some tips on picking a good nursing home
for my mother who has Alzheimer’s disease? I’ve been
taking care of her at home, but she’s gotten to the
point where she’s too much for me to handle.
Choosing a good nursing home for a loved one with
Alzheimer’s disease is a very important decision that
requires careful evaluation and some homework. Here are
some steps that can help you find a good facility and
avoid a bad one:
Make a list: There are several sources you can turn to
for referrals to nursing homes in your area: Your Area
Agency on Aging (call 800-677-1116 for contact
information); your mom’s doctor or nearby hospital
discharge planner; or friends, family or neighbors who
may have had a loved one in a nursing home. Ideally, the
nursing homes should be close to family members and
friends who can visit often, because residents with
frequent visitors usually get better care.
Compare nursing homes: To research and compare the
nursing homes on your list, use Medicare’s nursing home
compare tool at medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare. This
tool provides a 5-star rating system on recent health
inspections, staffing, quality of care, and overall
should also contact your local long-term care ombudsman.
This is a government official who investigates nursing
home complaints and can tell you which ones have had
problems in the past. To find your local ombudsman, call
your Area Agency on Aging or see ltcombudsman.org.
Contact the facilities: Once you’ve narrowed your
search, call the nursing homes you’re interested in to
verify that they have a dementia unit that can
facilitate your mom’s needs. Also, find out if they have
any vacancies, what they charge, and if they accept
Tour your top choices: During your nursing home visit,
notice the cleanness and smell of the facility. Is it
homey and inviting? Does the staff seem responsive and
kind to its residents? Also be sure to taste the food,
and talk to the residents and their family members, if
available. It’s also a good idea to visit several times
at different times of the day and different days of the
week to get a broader perspective.
Also, find out about their staff screening (do they do
background checks) and training procedures,
staff-to-patient ratio, and the staff turnover rate.
help you rate your visit, Medicare offers a helpful
checklist of questions to ask at medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare/checklist.pdf,
as does the Alzheimer’s Association at alz.org/visitinganursinghome.pdf.
Print these lists from your computer and take them with
you on your visit.
Paying for care: With nursing home costs now averaging
$250 per day nationally for a private room, paying for
care is another area you may have questions about or
need assistance with. Medicare only helps pay up to 100
days of rehabilitative nursing home care, which must
occur after a hospital stay.
nursing home residents pay for care from either personal
savings, a long-term care insurance policy, or through
Medicaid once their savings are depleted.
National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care Information
website (longtermcare.gov) is a good resource that can
help you understand and research your financial options.
You can also get help from your State Health Insurance
Assistance Program (SHIP), which provides free
counseling on all Medicare and Medicaid issues. To find
a local SHIP counselor visit shiptacenter.org, or call
more information, see Medicare’s online booklet “Your
Guide to Choosing a Nursing Home” at medicare.gov/publications/pubs/pdf/02174.pdf.
Understanding Reverse Mortgages: Beware of Misleading
Nov. 4, 2015
Can you give us a rundown of how reverse mortgages work?
I’ve see actors Fred Thompson and Henry Winkler pitching
them on TV, and they sound like a good deal. What can
you tell me?
it comes to celebrity spokespeople pitching reverse
mortgages on TV, don’t believe everything you hear. Many
of these ads are misleading and don’t always give you
the whole story. In fact, the Consumer Financial
Protection Bureau recently issued a warning to seniors
to watch out for these deceptive advertisements. With
that said, here’s the lowdown on reverse mortgages.
reverse mortgage is a unique type of loan that allows
older homeowners to borrow money against the equity in
their house that doesn’t have to be repaid until the
homeowner dies, sells the house or moves out for at
least 12 months. At that point, you or your heirs will
have to pay back the loan plus accrued interest and
fees, but you will never owe more than the value of the
also important to understand that with a reverse
mortgage, you, not the bank, own the house, so you’re
still required to pay your property taxes and homeowners
insurance. Not paying them can result in foreclosure.
be eligible, you must be at least 62 years old, own your
own home (or owe only a small balance) and currently be
will also need to undergo a financial assessment to
determine whether you can afford to continue paying your
property taxes and insurance. Depending on your
financial situation, you may be required to put part of
your loan into an escrow account to pay future bills. If
the financial assessment finds that you cannot pay your
insurance and taxes and have enough cash left to live
on, you’ll be denied.
Around 95 percent of all reverse mortgages offered today
are Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM), which are
FHA insured and offered through private mortgage lenders
and banks. HECM’s also have home value limits that vary
by county, but cannot exceed $625,500.
much you can actually get through a reverse mortgage
depends on your age, your home’s value and the
prevailing interest rates. Generally, the older you are,
the more your house is worth, and the lower the interest
rates are, the more you can borrow. A 70-year-old, for
example, with a home worth $250,000 could borrow around
$136,000 with a fixed-rate HECM. To estimate how much
you can borrow, use the reverse mortgage calculator at
also need to know that reverse mortgages are expensive
with a number of fees, including: a 2 percent lender
origination fee for the first $200,000 of the home’s
value and 1 percent of the remaining value, with a cap
of $6,000; a 0.5 percent upfront mortgage insurance
premium (MIP) fee, plus an annual MIP fee that’s equal
to 1.25 percent of the outstanding loan balance; along
with an appraisal fee, closing costs and other
miscellaneous expenses. Most fees can be deducted for
the loan amount to reduce your out-of-pocket cost at
receive your money, you can opt for a lump sum, a line
of credit, regular monthly checks or a combination of
these. But in most cases, you cannot withdraw more than
60 percent of the loan during the first year. If you do,
your upfront MIP fee will be bumped up to 2.5 percent.
To learn more, read the National Council on Aging’s
online booklet “Use Your Home to Stay at Home,” which
you can download at homeequityadvisor.org.
note that because reverse mortgages are complex loans,
all borrowers are required to get face-to-face or
telephone counseling through a HUD approved independent
counseling agency before taking one out. Most agencies
charge around $125 to $250. To locate one near you,
visit go.usa.gov/v2H, or call 800-569-4287.