Is there anything that can be done to stop the annoying
robocalls my husband and I keep getting? It seems like
we get two or three a day offering lower credit card
interest rates, medical alert devices, home alarm
systems and more.
What can you recommend?
A: There’s been a huge spike in robocall scams in
the U.S. over the past few years. In fact, the Federal
Trade Commission gets more then 200,000 complaints every
month about this widespread problem.
Here’s what you should know, along with some tips that
can help you protect yourself.
Whenever you answer the phone and hear a recorded
message instead of a live person, it’s a robocall.
You’ve probably gotten robocalls about candidates
running for office, or charities asking for donations.
These robocalls are legal and allowed. But if the
recording is a sales message and you haven’t given your
written permission to get calls from the company on the
other end, the call is illegal. In addition to the phone
calls being illegal, their pitch most likely is a scam.
Some common robocall scams that are making the rounds
these days are offering lower credit card interest
rates, mortgage relief, free vacations, medical alert
devices or home security systems, or they falsely notify
you about changes in your health benefits or bank
account. But be aware that new scams are constantly
evolving, and they all have only one goal in mind – to
get your personal and financial information.
The reason for the spike in robocalls is technology.
Fraudulent robocallers are using autodialers that can
send out thousands of phone calls every minute for an
incredibly low cost, and are very difficult to trace.
When these kinds of calls come in, your caller ID
usually displays “spoofed” (fake) numbers, or just says
Your first step to limiting at least some unwanted calls
is to make sure your phone number is registered with the
National Do Not Call Registry (see donotcall. gov or
call 888-3821222). This, however, will not stop
telemarketing scams or illegal robocalls.
Another tip, if you have a caller ID, is to simply not
answer the phone unless you recognize the number.
But if you do answer and it’s a robocall, you should
just hang up the phone.
Don’t press 1 to speak to a live operator and don’t
press any other number to complain about the call or get
your number off the list. If you respond by pressing any
number, you’re signaling that the autodialer has reached
a live number and will probably lead to more robocalls.
You should also consider contacting your phone provider
to ask them to block the number, and whether they charge
for that service. But keep in mind that telemarketers
change caller ID information easily and often, so it
might not be worth paying a fee to block a number that
Another call-blocking option you should check into is
Nomorobo. This is a free new service and works only for
people who have an Internet-based VoIP phone service.
Anyone with phone service from Comcast and Time Warner
Cable can use it too. Nomorobo uses a “simultaneous
ring” service that detects and blocks robocalls on a
black list of known offender numbers. It isn’t 100
percent foolproof, but it is an extra layer of
protection. To sign up, or see if Nomorobo works with
your phone service provider, visit
It’s also important that you report illegal robocalls
you receive to the FTC at
ftccomplaintassistant.gov or call 888-382-1222.
NEXT TUESDAY: Automobile aids that can help
Resources are available for caregivers to ease with
Feb. 25, 2014
What resources do you recommend that offer help to
caregivers? I’ve been taking care of my 82-year-old
mother, and it’s wearing me to a frazzle.
Filing federal taxes depends on gross income, age
Jan. 28, 2014
A: Taking care of an elder loved one over a period
of time can be incredibly taxing, both physically and
mentally. Fortunately, there are a number of tips and
services you can turn to that can help lighten the load.
Here are several to consider.
Assemble a care team: A good first step is to put
together a network of people (family, friends and even
neighbors) that you can call on to help out when you
can’t be there or need a break.
Tap local services: Most communities offer a
range of free or subsidized services that help seniors
and caregivers by providing things like home-delivered
meals, transportation, senior companion services and
more. Also, look into respite services (see
respitelocator.org) that can provide short-term care
to your mom so you can take some time off. Your Area
Agency on Aging (call 800-677-1116 for contact
information) can refer you to services available in your
Use financial aids: If you’re handling your mom’s
financial chores, make things easier by arranging direct
deposit for her income sources, and set up automatic
payments for her utilities and other routine bills.
If you need help, hire a professional daily money
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. They charge $25 to
$100 per hour. Or, if your mom is low-income, a similar
service is offered by AARP (aarpmmp.org)
in select communities for free.
Benefitscheckup.org is another excellent resource
you should use to look for financial assistance programs
for lower-income seniors.
Get insurance help: If you have questions about
Medicare, Medicaid or longterm care, your State Health
Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) is a great resource
that provides free counseling on all these issues. Call
800-633-4227 or visit
shiptalk.org to locate a nearby counselor.
You can also get help online at
and through the Medicare Rights Center, which staffs a
hotline at 800-333-4114 to help answer questions.
Use technology: If your mom lives alone, consider
renting her a medical alert device, which is a small
pendent-style “SOS” button that she wears, that would
allow her to call for help if she falls. These are
available through companies like
lifefone.com for about $1 per day. Or, check out
home monitoring systems at
There are also a number of great websites you can draw
on for caregiving information and support like
caring.com, along with
alzheimers.gov and thiscaringhome. org for
caregivers of dementia patients. And, if you’re sharing
care responsibilities with others, sites like
caringbridge.org can help you coordinate together.
Hire help: Depending on your mom’s needs and
budget, you may want to hire a part-time “home care
aide” that can help with things like preparing meals,
doing laundry, bathing or dressing, or if she needs
health care services, a “home health aid.” Costs can run
anywhere from $12 up to $40 per hour depending on where
you live and the qualification of the aide. To find
someone, ask for referrals through friends, doctor’s
offices or hospital discharge planners, or visit
If you need additional guidance, consider hiring a
geriatric care manager (caremanager.org)
who can help you manage and facilitate your mom’s care.
Care managers generally charge between $100 and $200 per
NEXT TUESDAY: How can seniors
guard against robocall scams?
Q: What are the IRS income tax filing
requirements for seniors this tax season? My income
dropped way down when I retired last year, so I’m
wondering if I need to even file a tax return this year.
Whether or not you are required to file a federal income
tax return this year depends on your gross income, as
well as your filing status and age. Your gross income
includes all the income you receive that is not exempt
from tax, not including Social Security benefits, unless
you are married and filing separately.
a detailed breakdown on federal filing requirements,
along with information on taxable and nontaxable income,
call the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a
free copy of the “Tax Guide for Seniors” (publication
554), or see
meantime, here’s a rundown of the IRS filing
requirements for this tax season. If your gross income
from 2013 was lower than the amount listed in your
filing status, you probably won’t have to file. But if
it’s over, you will.
Single: $10,000 ($11,500 if you’re 65 or older by Jan.
Married filing jointly: $20,000 ($21,200 if you or your
spouse is 65 or older; or $22,400 if you’re both over
Married filing separately: $3,900 at any age.
Head of household: $12,850 ($14,350 if age 65 or older).
Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child: $16,100
($17,300 if age 65 or older).
aware that there are some special financial situations
that require you to file a tax return, even if your
gross income falls below the IRS filing requirement. For
example, if you had net earnings from self-employment in
2013 of $400 or more, or if you owe any special taxes to
the IRS such as alternative minimum tax or IRA tax
penalties, you’ll probably need to file.
figure this out, the IRS offers a resource on their
website called “Do I Need to File a Tax Return?” that
asks a series of questions that will help you determine
if you’re required to file, or if you should file
because you’re due a refund. You can access this page at
or you can get assistance over the phone by calling the
IRS help line at 800-829-1040. You can also get
face-to-face help at a Taxpayer Assistance Center. See
www.irs.gov/localcontacts or call 800-829-1040
to locate a center near you.
Check your state
if you’re not required to file a federal tax return this
year, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re also excused
from filing state income taxes. Check with your state
tax agency before concluding that you’re entirely in the
clear. For links to state and local tax agencies see
- click on “State Agencies/Links” on the menu bar.
Tax prep assistance
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 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-Aid site call
888-227-7669 or visit
You don’t have to be an AARP member to use this service.
NEXT TUESDAY: What resources are available to help
How do you know if you have prediabetes?
Feb. 11, 2014
62-year-old sister was recently diagnosed with Type 2
diabetes and was surprised when the doctor told her that
she’s probably had it or prediabetes for many years. My
question is what determines prediabetes and how can you
know if you have it?
A: Underlying today’s growing epidemic of Type 2
diabetes is a much larger epidemic called prediabetes,
which is when the blood sugar levels are higher than
normal but not high enough to be called diabetes.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that as many
as 79 million Americans today have prediabetes. Left
untreated, it almost always turns into Type 2 diabetes
within 10 years. And, if you have prediabetes, the
longterm damage it can cause – especially to your heart
and circulatory system – may already be starting.
But the good news is that prediabetes doesn’t mean that
you’re destined for full-blown diabetes.
Prediabetes can actually be reversed, and diabetes
prevented, by making some simple lifestyle changes like
losing weight, exercising, eating a healthy diet and
cutting back on carbohydrates. Or, if you need more
help, oral medications may also be an option.
Work-at-home employment opportunities available for retirees
Because prediabetes typically causes no outward
symptoms, most people that have it don’t realize it. The
only way to know for sure is to get a blood test.
Everyone age 45 years or older should consider getting
tested for prediabetes, especially if you are overweight
with a body mass index (BMI) above 25.
cdc.gov/bmi to calculate your BMI.
If you are younger than 45 but are overweight, or have
high blood pressure, a family history of diabetes, or
belong to an ethnic group (Latino, Asian, African or
Native American) at high risk for diabetes, you too
should get checked.
To help you determine your risk of diabetes, the
American Diabetes Association has a quick, online quiz
you can take for free at
There are several tests your doctor can give you to
determine whether you have prediabetes like the “fasting
blood glucose test” or the “oral glucose tolerance
test,” that each require an eight-hour fast before you
take it. And the “hemoglobin A1C test,” that can be
taken any time regardless of when you ate.
If you’re reluctant to visit your doctor to get tested,
an alternative is to test yourself. To do that, you’ll
need to purchase an A1C home test kit that measures your
average blood glucose over the past two to three months.
The ReliOn A1c Test sold at Walmart (or
walmart.com) for $9 is a popular option. With this
test kit, you provide a small blood sample (about a
drop), and send it to the lab in a postage-paid return
mailer for analysis. The results are usually sent back
within a week.
A1C tests measure the percentage of glucose in the
bloodstream. A reading of 5.7 to 6.4 percent is
considered prediabetes, while 6.5 percent or greater is
If you find that you are prediabetic or diabetic, you
need to see your doctor to develop a plan to get it
NEXT TUESDAY: What are the IRS income tax filing
requirements for seniors this tax season?
Feb. 4, 2014
Q: Can you recommend some popular work at home jobs for
retirees? I’m interested in earning a little extra cash,
but would also like to stay at home and have a flexible
If you have a computer with high-speed Internet access
and a home phone, there are unlimited work-at-home
opportunities for retirees depending on your skills and
interest. But beware of scams. Work-at-home scams that
offer big paydays without much effort are rampant on the
best way to avoid these scams is to use websites that
weed out scammers like the ones mentioned in this
column, and never invest any of your own money without
thoroughly checking out the business with the Better
Business Bureau at bbb.org. It’s also a good idea to use
search engines like Google or Bing to research a
potential employer to make sure it’s legitimate.
are a few popular home-based career opportunities to
check out, along with some trustworthy resources to help
you search for employment.
Customer-service agent: These jobs answer inbound
customer calls for big companies - you don’t place
telemarketing calls. Agents earn an average of $8 to $15
an hour and you can usually set your own hours and pick
an employer whose products or services are suited to
your knowledge and interests. To find these jobs see
arise.com, alpineaccess.com, liveops.com and
Web search evaluator: Most large search engines like
Google and Bing rely on home-based evaluators to test
the accuracy of online search results, examining
different search terms and the websites they turn up.
Basic Internet skills are required and the pay ranges
between $10 and $15 per hour. See lionbridge.com/careers
and leapforceathome.com to apply.
Tutor: If you’re a college graduate, and have
expertise in English, math, science or social studies,
you could make money as an online tutor at tutor.com/apply.
Tutors work with students from grade school through
college and make between $10 and $15 an hour.
Transcriptionist: If you have good typing skills
there are transcriptionist jobs that pay around $10 per
hour for typing verbatim accounts of board meetings,
presentations, conference calls, etc. Some companies
that hire transcriptionists include rev.com,
tigerfish.com, ubiqus.com and ctran.com.
Translation services: If you’re fluent in more than
one language you can do interpretation over the phone,
or translate documents or audio files not just word for
word but often with cultural differences in mind. Learn
about opportunities at telelanguage.com, sdl.com,
verbalizeit.com, ubiqus.com and atanet.org. The pay can
range from $15 to $40 an hour or more for languages in
Write or edit: If you have some writing experience,
freelance writing assignments are available online and
pay around $10 to $20 an hour. Contact writersmarket.com,
freelancewriting.com and writerfind.com for
opportunities. Or, if you’re a skilled writer, or have
expertise in a particular area like food, travel, art,
etc. consider submitting writing samples to magazines,
trade publications, newsletters, websites or local
newspapers as a freelance writer. Proofreading is
another option, if you have some editing experience this
pays $12 to $20 per hour. See firstediting.com and
cactusglobal.com to look for proofreading jobs.
Selling online: At sites like ebay.com,
craigslist.org, amazon.com and etsy.com, you can sell
your own stuff or you can purchase items at garage
sells, flea markets or online and resell them for a
you don’t find these options appealing, try flexjobs.com,
which lists around thousands of legitimate work-at-home
jobs from nearly 3,700 employers. You can gain access to
their listings for $15 for one month, $30 for three
months or $50 for a year.
NEXT TUESDAY: How do you know if you have prediabetes?
How to choose a financial adviser depends on several factors
Jan. 28, 2014
Q: Can you give me some tips on how to choose a good
financial planner or adviser? My wife and I are five or
six years away from retiring and could use some
professional help to get us on track.
With all the different financial advisers and services
available today, choosing a trusted professional that
can meet your needs can be a bit confusing. Here are
some suggestions that can help.
Where to start
good place to start your search is by asking friends or
relatives for recommendations. If you don’t know anyone
who can give you a referral, and you’re looking for
broad-based financial advice, hire a certified financial
planner, or CFP, who are considered the “gold standard”
in the industry. To get the CFP credential, they must
have a college degree and be educated in a wide range of
personal finance subjects, pass a two-day exam, have at
least three years experience, meet continuing-education
requirements and abide by a code of ethics.
are taught to look at the big-picture view of your
finances, talking you through your goals, as well as
advising you on the details of your financial life.
You’re also probably better off hiring a CFP that’s a
fee-only planner, verses one who earns a commission by
selling you financial products. Fee-only planners charge
only for their services - for example you might pay $150
to $300 an hour for a financial tune-up, a flat fee per
project or an asset-based fee.
find a fee-only planner in your area, use the Financial
Planning Association (fpanet.org) or the National
Association of Personal Financial Advisors (napfa.org),
which has online directories. Or try the Garrett
Planning Network (garrettplanningnetwork.com), which is
a network of fee-only advisers.
your needs are more specific, some other financial
professionals to consider are a registered investment
adviser who is registered with the Securities and
Exchange Commission or a state securities regulator to
manage investment portfolios; a chartered financial
consultant, who specializes in insurance and estate
planning; and a certified public accountant, who can
help with tax planning.
leery of many other financial advising titles,
designations and certifications that are out there like
the certified financial consultant or the wealth
management specialist. Many of these require no more
than a few courses at a seminar or online, which means
they’re not worth much. You can read more about nearly
every certification or designation at www.finra.org/investors
- click on “Tools & Calculators,” then on “Understanding
Investment Professional Designations.”
How to choose
After you find a few candidates in your area, call them
up and schedule an appointment to meet and interview
them. Find out about their experience, expertise and the
types of services they provide; how they charge and how
much; what is their investment philosophy; and how will
they handle your ongoing questions or financial needs.
Look for someone whose clients are in situations similar
to yours and who’s available as often as you need them.
also wise to do a background check on your potential
adviser. You can look up firms and individuals at
finra.org or sec.gov, and even check state financial
regulation departments (see nasaa.org for state contact
information) and Better Business Bureau records at
bbb.org. Also, ask to see the adviser’s ADV Form, part
2. This is a form that the SEC requires advisors to list
their education, services, fees, disciplinary actions
and conflicts of interest.
the end of your meeting, ask yourself: Do I like this
person? If you have any reservations, move on. There are
plenty of qualified advisers out there who can help you.
more tips on choosing a financial adviser, visit the CFP
Board at letsmakeaplan.org.
NEXT TUESDAY: Employment opportunities for retirees at
Stretching paramount for seniors to regain their flexibility
Jan. 8, 2014
Q: Can you offer some good stretching tips and resources
for seniors? I’ve gotten so inflexible in recent years I
can hardly bend over to tie my shoes anymore.
Of all possible exercises, stretching tends to be the
most overlooked and neglected among seniors, yet nothing
is more vital to keeping an aging body limber and injury
free. Here’s what you should know along with some tip
and resources to help you regain some flexibility.
we age, our muscles naturally lose their elasticity if
you’re not active, which can make common day-to-day
activities like reaching down to tie your shoes, or
looking over your shoulder to back your car out of the
the good news is, by incorporating some simple
stretching exercises into your routine (at least three
times a week) you can greatly improve your flexibility,
as well as enhance your balance, posture and
circulation, relieve pain and stress, and prevent
injuries. In addition, stretching is also important as a
warm-up and cool-down for more vigorous activities, and
leg stretching is an excellent way to prevent nighttime
leg cramps too.
Stretching exercises should focus on the muscles in your
calves, front and back thighs, hips, lower and upper
back, chest, shoulders and neck. If you’ve had hip or
back surgery, you should talk to your doctor before
doing lower-back flexibility exercises.
If you don’t have any experience with stretching, there
are books like “Stretching for Dummies” and “Stretching
for 50+” that you can purchase at your local bookstore
or amazon.com that provides instructions and
illustrations of proper techniques.
There are also a number of DVDs and videos you can buy
to guide you through a series of stretching exercises
you can do at home. Collage Video (collagevideo.com,
800-819-7111) sells several at prices ranging between
$10 and $20, as does iefit.com and amazon.com.
see go4life.nia.nih.gov, a resource created by the
National Institute on Aging that offers a free exercise
DVD and booklet that provide illustrated examples of
stretching exercises. You can order your free copies
online or by calling 800-222-2225.
While stretching, it’s very important to listen to your
body. You want to stretch each muscle group to the point
where the muscle feels tight. If it hurts, you’ve gone
too far. Back off to the point where you don’t feel any
pain, then hold the stretch for 10 to 20 seconds. Relax,
then repeat it three to five times, trying to stretch a
little farther, but don’t bounce. Bouncing greatly
increases your chance of injury.
also a good idea to warm up a little before you start
stretching by walking in place and pumping your arms.
And remember to breathe when you stretch. Also keep in
mind that muscles that have not been stretched in a
while take time to regain their flexibility. So be
patient and go slow.
Another popular way to improve your flexibility is
through gentle yoga or chair yoga. In chair yoga you
replace the yoga mat with a chair where most poses can
be duplicated. This is much easier on tight, inflexible
get started, there are DVDs and videos that offer yoga
instructions and routines for seniors that you can do at
home. Some good resources for finding them are
peggycappy.net and yogaheart.com, or check with your
local public library.
Tai chi is another good exercise option for improving
flexibility and balance. To learn it, it’s best to work
with an instructor who can teach you the correct
movements and breathing techniques. To locate a class in
your area, call your local senior center, health club or
wellness center or check your yellow pages. If nothing’s
available, tai chi DVDs for seniors (see amazon.com,
collagevideo.com and iefit.com) is a good alternative.
How to select a continuing-care retirement community
Jan. 14, 2014
Q: Can you give me some tips on picking a
good full-service retirement community that offers all
levels of housing, from independent apartment-style to
nursing home care? My wife and I are both approaching 80
and are looking to downsize from our current home, but
we want our next move to be our last.
A: If you want your next move to be your
final one, a full-service retirement community - better
known as a continuing-care retirement community (or CCRC)
- is a good option to consider, but they aren’t cheap,
so you need to be prudent when choosing.
CCRCs are different from other types of
senior housing because they provide all levels of
housing, services and care in one convenient location.
While they vary greatly in appearance and
services, most CCRCs offer apartments or sometimes
single- family homes for active seniors who need little
if any help with their daily needs. In addition, they
also offer on-site assisted living for people who
require aid to bathe, dress or perform other basic
tasks, and nursing home care for residents who need
full-time skilled-nursing care.
CCRCs also provide a bevy of resort-style
amenities and services that include community dinning
halls, exercise facilities, housekeeping, and
transportation as well as many social and recreational
But be aware that all these services come
at a hefty price. Most communities have entry fees that
range from $20,000 to $500,000 or more, plus ongoing
monthly service fees that can vary from around $1,000 to
over $5,000 depending on the facility, services and the
long-term care contract option you choose.
With nearly 1,900 CCRCs in operation
throughout the U.S, finding a facility that fits your
lifestyle, needs and budget can take some legwork. Here
are some steps you can take to help you proceed.
Make a list: Start by calling the Area
Agency on Aging (call 800-677-1116 for contact
information) in the area you want to live for a list of
CCRCs. You can also search online at
or carf.org/aging that has a national listing of
Call the facilities: Once you’ve located
a few, call them to find out if they have any vacancies,
what they charge and if they provide the types of
services you want or need.
Take a tour: Many CCRCs encourage
potential residents to stay overnight and have a few
meals in their dining hall. During your tour, notice the
upkeep and cleanness of the facility, and talk to the
current residents to see how they like living there.
Also, check out the assisted living and nursing
facilities, and find out how decisions are made to move
residents from one level of care to another.
To checkup on a facility, call the state
long-term care ombudsman (see ltcombudsman.org) who can
tell you if the assisted living and nursing facilities
within the CCRC have had any complaints or other
problems. Also, use the Medicare nursing home compare
tool (medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare), which provides a
Investigate fees: During your visit, get
a rundown on the different kinds of contracts that are
available and their costs. Also, find out what types of
services are included and what costs extra. What yearly
price increases can you expect? How much of your entry
fee is refundable to you if you move or die? And what
happens if you outlive your financial resources?
Research the community’s financial
health: Find out who owns or sponsors the facility, and
get a copy of their most recently audited financial
statement and review it, along with the copy of the
contract with your lawyer or financial adviser. Also get
their occupancy rate. Unless it’s a newer community
filling up, occupancy below 85 percent can be a red flag
that the facility is having financial or management
Send your senior questions to: Savvy
Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit
Adult children need to know about parents’ finances, estate
Jan. 10, 2014