How to Guard Against Deadly Aortic Aneurysms 


Nov. 27, 2015

Jim Miller

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

Dear 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.

An 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 women.

• 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.

The 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 screened.

You 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 their life.

If 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.


AAA Protection

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 or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for help.

You 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 necessary, medication.



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.

Planning Ahead


Dear Planning,

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 penalties:

— RMD Rules

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.

But 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.

Also 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 it.


— Distribution Amounts

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.

IRA 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 accounts.

With 401(k) plans, however, you must calculate the RMD for each plan and withdraw the appropriate amount from each account.

To calculate the size of your RMD, you can use the worksheets on the IRS website – see and click on “Required Minimum Distributions.” Or, contact your IRA custodian or retirement-plan administrator who can do the calculations for you.

For 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



How to choose a good nursing home    
Nov. 11, 2015

Dear Savvy Senior,

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.

Overwhelmed Daughter

Dear Overwhelmed,

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 This tool provides a 5-star rating system on recent health inspections, staffing, quality of care, and overall rating.

You 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

- 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 Medicaid.

- 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.

To help you rate your visit, Medicare offers a helpful checklist of questions to ask at, as does the Alzheimer’s Association at 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.

Most nursing home residents pay for care from either personal savings, a long-term care insurance policy, or through Medicaid once their savings are depleted.

The National Clearinghouse for Long-Term Care Information website ( 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, or call 800-677-1116.

For more information, see Medicare’s online booklet “Your Guide to Choosing a Nursing Home” at



Understanding Reverse Mortgages: Beware of Misleading Ads      
Nov. 4, 2015

Dear Savvy Senior,

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?

Need the Money


Dear Need,

When 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.

The Basics

A 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 house.

It’s 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.

To be eligible, you must be at least 62 years old, own your own home (or owe only a small balance) and currently be living there.

You 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.

Loan Details

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.

How 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

You 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 closing.

To 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.


Get Educated

To learn more, read the National Council on Aging’s online booklet “Use Your Home to Stay at Home,” which you can download at

Also 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, or call 800-569-4287.


Social Security’s Viagra Benefit for Kids    
Oct. 29, 2015

Dear Savvy Senior,

I’ve been told that my children, who are 13 and 16 years old, may be eligible for Social Security when I file for my retirement benefits. What can you tell me about this?

Older Dad


Dear Older,

It’s true. If you’re retired and are still raising young children, there’s a little-known Social Security benefit dubbed the “Viagra benefit,” that can put some extra money in your family coffers.

Here’s how it works. When you file for Social Security retirement benefits, each of your minor children can get money on your work record equaling half of what you would receive at full retirement age, which is currently 66. Even if you were to take a smaller benefit by claiming earlier, your kids will still get half of your full-retirement age amount.

To qualify, your kids - whether they’re biological, adopted or step children - must be unmarried and under age 18. Kids that are over 18 but still in high school, can collect too until they graduate or turn 19, whichever comes first. (Other rules apply to kids that are disabled.)

But that’s not all.

Because you have one child that’s only 13, your wife (if you’re married) can collect Social Security benefits on your work record too. And it doesn’t matter if she’s just 40 years old. The minimum age requirements to collect retirement benefits (62) or survivor benefits (60) do not apply when it comes to collecting benefits as the caregiver of a young child. The spouse’s benefit, which is also worth up to half of your benefit, will stop when your child turns 16.

But be aware that there are limits to the amount of money that can be paid to a family. The Social Security “family maximum payment” is determined by a complex formula (see and can range from 150 to 180 percent of your full retirement benefit amount. If the total exceeds that, each person’s benefit, except yours, is cut proportionately until it equals the maximum.

Here’s an example of how that’s figured. Let’s say, for example, that your full retirement age benefit is $2,000. After doing the Social Security math computations that would make your family maximum benefit $3,500.

Subtract your $2,000 benefit from the $3,500 family maximum benefit, which leaves $1,500. That’s the monthly amount that can be split between your two children - $750 each. If your wife wants in on it too, the individual checks are smaller, at $500 a piece, but the family amount is the same.


File and Suspend

One other benefit boosting strategy you should know about that’s relevant here is “file and suspend.” If you’re still working and would like to wait, say to age 67 or even 70 to start claiming your own benefits, you can file and suspend starting at full retirement age 66.

This option gives you the ability to start monthly payments for your minor children and wife, but suspend your own benefit so you can collect a larger amount later. Your benefit will increase by 8 percent per year for every year you delay collecting your retirement benefit up until age 70. That means your retirement benefit at age 70 will be 132 percent of what it would have been if he had collected at age 66.

You should also know that minor children can collect Social Security benefits based on the earnings of a parent who is disabled or dead too.

To learn more, see the SSA publication (No. 05-10085) “Benefits For Children” at


How to Plan an Affordable Funeral    
Oct. 21, 2015

When my brother died last year, my sister and I had a regular funeral for him and got stuck with a $12,000 bill. Can you recommend some funeral cost cutting tips or cheaper alternatives? I don't want to stick my kids with a big funeral bill after I'm gone.

Looking Ahead

Dear Looking,

With the average cost of a full-service funeral running over $10,000 today, many people are seeking alternative options to make their final farewell more affordable. Depending on how you want to go, here are some money saving options to consider.


Traditional funeral: If you're interested in a traditional funeral and burial, your first money saving step is to shop around and compare funeral providers, because prices can vary.

If you want some help, contact your funeral consumer alliance program. These are volunteer groups that offer information and prices on local funeral providers. See or call 802-865-8300 for contact information.

There are also free websites you can turn to, like that lets you compare prices, and that will provide estimates from local funeral homes based on what you want.   

When comparing, make sure you take advantage of the 'funeral rule.' This is a federal law that requires funeral home directors to provide you with an itemized price list of their products and services so you can choose exactly what you want. Be sure to ask for it.

Another way to lower your costs is to buy your own casket. You can save at least 50 percent by purchasing one from a store or online and having it delivered to the funeral home, and the funeral home providing the service must accept it. Two good casket-shopping resources that may surprise you are and, which offer a variety of caskets and urns at discounted prices.

Direct burial: Another way to cut your funeral home bill is to get a direct burial. With this option your body would be buried shortly after death, skipping the embalming, viewing and use of the funeral facilities. If your family wants a memorial service they can have it at the graveside or at your place of worship without the body. These services usually cost between $1,000 and $2,000, not counting cemetery charges. All funeral homes offer direct burial.

Cremation: An increasingly popular and affordable way to go, cremation can run anywhere from around $600 (for a direct cremation) up to $4,000 or higher depending on the provider and services you choose. To locate funeral homes that offer cremation or cremation providers in your area, look in your local yellow pages under 'cremation' or 'funeral' or visit

Green burial: An eco-friendly green burial is another affordable option that costs anywhere from $1,000 to several thousand depending on the provider. With a green cemetery burial, the body is buried in a biodegradable coffin or just wrapped in a shroud, without embalming chemicals or a burial vault. The Green Burial Council (, 888-966-3330) has a state listing of cemetery operators who accommodate green burials, as well as funeral professionals who provide the services.

Veteran's burial: If you are a veteran, you're entitled to a free burial at a national cemetery and a free grave marker. This benefit also extends to spouses and dependent children. Some veterans may even be eligible for funeral expense allowances too. To learn more, visit or call the VA at 800-827-1000.

Body donation: Donating your body to a medical facility for research is another popular way to go, and it's completely free. After using your body, your remains will be cremated and your ashes will be buried or scattered in a local cemetery or returned to your family. To locate body donation programs in your state, see


How to find a better Medicare prescription drug plan   
Oct.15, 2015

Dear Savvy Senior,

I recently received a letter from my Medicare drug plan provider notifying me that they are increasing my co-pays next year. I’d like to look for a better plan but could use some guidance. What’s the easiest way to do this?

Need a Change


Dear Need,

Cost increases and coverage changes are an annual event for many Medicare Part D prescription drug plans. Fortunately, during the open enrollment period (which is Oct. 15 - Dec. 7), you have the ability to shop and compare plans and choose one that better fits your needs and budget. Your new plan will go into effect Jan.1, 2016. Here are some tips that can help with this process.

Shop Online

If you have Internet access and are comfortable using a computer, you can easily shop for and compare all Medicare drug plans in your area, and enroll in a new plan online.

Just go to Medicare’s Plan Finder Tool at, and type in your ZIP code or your personal information, enter in how you currently receive your Medicare coverage, select the drugs you take and their dosages, and choose the pharmacies you use. You’ll get a cost comparison breakdown for every plan available in your area so you can compare it to your current plan.

This tool also provides a five-star rating system that evaluates each plan based on past customer service records, and suggests generics or older brand name drugs that can reduce your costs.

It’s also important to keep in mind that when you’re comparing drug plans don’t judge a plan strictly by its monthly premium cost. Low-premium plans are often associated with higher prescription co-payments and may end up being more expensive. Look at the “estimated annual drug costs” that shows how much you can expect to pay over a year in total out-of-pocket costs - including premiums, deductibles and co-pays.

Also, be sure the plan you’re considering covers all of the drugs you take with no restrictions. Most drug plans today place the drugs they cover into price tiers. A drug placed in a higher tier may require you to get prior authorization or try another medication first before you can use it.


Need Help?

If you need some help choosing a new plan, contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), which provides free one-on-one Medicare counseling in person or over the phone. They also conduct seminars during the open enrollment period at various locations throughout each state. To find the contact information for your local SHIP visit, or call the eldercare locator at 800-677-1116.


Shrinking Donut Hole

You also need to know that Medicare’s “donut-hole” - the coverage gap in which you must pay out-of-pocket for your drugs - continues to shrink. In 2016, you will get a 55 percent discount on brand-name drugs, and the federal subsidy for generic medications will rise to 42 percent.

The 2016 coverage gap begins when your total drug cost exceeds $3,310 (that includes your share and the insurer’s share of the costs) and ends when your total out-of-pocket costs reach $4,850. After that, your Part D plan usually covers around 95 percent of your remaining drug costs for the year.


Low-Income Assistance

Also, be aware that if you’re income is under $17,655 or $23,895 for married couples living together, and your assets are below $13,640 or $27,250 for married couples not counting your home, car or life insurance policy, you may be eligible for the federal Low Income Subsidy known as “Extra Help” that pays Part D premiums, deductibles and copayments. For more information or to apply, call Social Security at 800-772-1213 or visit



Specialized Services That Help Seniors Relocate      
Oct. 7, 2015

Dear Savvy Senior,

I need to find some help with selling my elderly mother’s house - where she’s lived for almost 50 years - and relocating her to an apartment or condo closer to where I live. Can you recommend any businesses or services that specialize in helping seniors relocate?

Overwhelmed Daughter


Dear Overwhelmed,

The process of selling a house and moving to a new home, or downsizing to a condo, apartment or senior housing facility is a big job for anyone. But it can be especially overwhelming for seniors who are moving from a long time residence filled with decade’s worth of stuff and a lifetime of memories. Fortunately, there are several specialized services available today that can help make your mom’s move a lot easier.


Real Estate Specialist

To get help selling your mom’s home and/or finding her a new one, you should look into hiring a Seniors Real Estate Specialist (SRES) or a Certified Senior Housing Professional (CSHP). These are realtors that have received special training, making them better equipped to help seniors and their family members through the financial and often complex emotional issues that can come with selling a long time family home and relocating.

SRES and CSHP designees are educated and knowledgeable in such areas as downsizing, aging-in-place, senior housing options, reverse mortgages, as well as ways to use pensions, 401k accounts and IRAs in real estate transactions. And, if you need help from other professionals, a SRES and CSHP can put you in touch with qualified home inspectors, movers, attorneys, CPAs and other experts.

To learn more or to locate a professional in your area, contact the SRES Council (, 800-500-4564) which also offers a free “Moving On” guide that help seniors and their family members with the decisions and transitions that come with moving. And to find a CSHP see


Moving Manager

To help your mom get packed up and move, you should consider hiring a “senior move manager.” These are organizers who assist older people with the challenges of relocating, and can minimize the stress of this major transition by doing most of the work for you.

They can help your mom pare down her belongings, decide what to take and what to dispose of, recommend charities for donations and help sell her unwanted items. They also get estimates from moving companies, oversee the movers, arrange the move date, supervise the packing and unpacking, have the house cleaned and just about anything you need related to her move.

Costs vary depending on the services and size of the move, but you can expect to pay between $1,000 and $5,000, not including the cost of movers.

To locate a senior move manager visit the National Association of Senior Move Managers website at or call 877-606-2766. You can also search at Caring Transitions (, the largest senior relocation and transition services franchised company in the U.S.

But, before you hire one, be sure you ask for references from previous clients and check them. Also find out how many moves they have actually managed, and get a written list of services and fees. And make sure they’re insured and bonded.

If you can’t find a senior move manager in your area, another option is to hire a certified professional organizer who specializes in downsizing and relocating. To find one, check the National Association of Professional Organizers who has a searchable database on their website at


How to Save on Hearing Aids   
Oct. 1, 2015

Dear Savvy Senior,

Where can we find affordable hearing aids? My husband needs a set but we can’t really afford to pay the exorbitant prices. Can you help us?

Loud-Talking Wife

Dear Loud,

It’s unfortunate, but millions of Americans with hearing loss don’t get hearing aids because they simply can’t afford them. Hearing aids - typically sold through audiologists’ offices - are expensive, usually costing between $1,000 to $3,500 per ear. What’s more, traditional Medicare doesn’t cover them and private insurance typically hasn’t either.

But there are numerous ways to save on hearing aids if you know where to look. Here are a few tips.

Check Your Insurance

While most private health insurance companies do not cover hearing aids, there are a few that do. United Healthcare, for example, offers high-tech custom hearing aids to their beneficiaries through HealthInnovations for $599 to $899 each.  And a small number of other plans will pitch in $500 to $1,000 towards the cost of hearing aids, or give you a discount if you purchase hearing aids from a contracted provider.

And due to state law mandates, three states - Arkansas, New Hampshire and Rhode Island - currently require private insurance companies to provide hearing aid coverage for adults and 20 require it for children. So check with your insurance provider to see if it offers a hearing aid benefit.

If your husband is a Medicare beneficiary you should know that while original Medicare (Part A and B) and Medigap supplemental policies do not cover hearing aids, there are some Medicare Advantage (Part C) plans that do. To look for a plan in your area that covers hearing aids visit

If he is a current or retired federal employee enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, some plans provide hearing aid coverage, including the Blue Cross Blue Shield plan that covers hearing aids every three years up to $2,500.

And, if you are on Medicaid, most state programs cover hearing aids, but requirements vary. To find out if he qualifies, contact your state’s Medicaid program or visit

Veterans Benefit

If your husband is a veteran, the VA provides a hearing aid benefit if his hearing loss was connected to military service or linked to a medical condition treated at a VA hospital. He can also get hearing aids through the VA if his hearing loss is severe enough to interfere with his activities of daily life. To learn more, call 877-222-8387 or visit

Assistance Programs

If your income is low, there are various programs and foundations that provide financial assistance for hearing aids to people in need. Start by calling your state vocational rehabilitation department (see to find out if there are any city, county or state programs, or local civic organizations that could help.

Also contact Sertoma (, 816-333-8300), a civic service organization that offers a comprehensive list of state and national hearing aid assistance programs on their website. Or call the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders at 800-241-1044, and ask them to mail you their list of financial resources for hearing aids.

Cheaper Buying Options

If you are unable to get a third party to help pay for your husbands hearing aids, you can still save significantly by purchasing his hearing aids at Costco or online.

Most Costco stores sell top brands of hearing aids for 30 to 50 percent less than other warehouse chains, hearing aid dealers or audiologists’ offices. This includes an in-store hearing aid test, fitting by a hearing aid specialist and follow-up care.

And websites like and, sell quality hearing aids directly from the manufacturer for as little as $400 or $500. But, he will need to get a hearing evaluation from a local audiologist first, which can cost between $50 and $200.


Roadside Assistance Services for Older Drivers  
Sept. 23, 2015

Dear Savvy Senior,

I would like to get my wife and I set up with some type of roadside assistance service in case we get a flat tire or our battery conks out. Can you recommend some good and affordable services for retirees on a budget?

Too Old to Fix a Flat


Dear Too Old,

Getting set up with a roadside assistance service you can call on day or night if your vehicle breaks down is a smart idea, and can provide you and your wife some real peace of mind. Here are some different options to look into that help you find a plan.


Already Covered?

For years, auto clubs like AAA were the only option drivers had when it came to roadside assistance, but today you have lots of choices. Most roadside assistance plans provide services like towing, flat-tire changes, jump-starting a battery, lost-key or lockout services, fuel delivery and help with stuck vehicles.

Before you start shopping for a roadside assistance plan, you first need to find out if you already have coverage, or have access to inexpensive coverage that you’re not aware of.

For example, if you drive a vehicle that is still under warranty, there’s a good chance you’re already covered. Most auto manufacturers now include comprehensive roadside assistance coverage for free when you buy a new or certified used car. This typically lasts as long as the basic warranty, but not always. Be sure you check.

Also check your auto insurance provider, your credit card issuers and cell phone service providers. Many of these services provide different variations of roadside assistance as add-on plans that cost only a few dollars per year, or they’re free.

But be aware that many of these services are limited in what they cover. When investigating these options, find out the benefit details including: Who’s covered (individuals and vehicles); how many roadside-assistance calls are allowed each year (three or four is typical); the average response time per service call; and the towing rules on where they will tow (to the nearest repair shop, or one that you choose) and how far (about 5 miles for basic plan is common, although some plans might cap the amount they pay for a tow at $100 or less).

Auto Clubs

If you find that you aren’t covered, or you want a better roadside plan than what’s currently available to you, you’ll want to check out auto/motor clubs. Most of these clubs offer two or more levels of membership depending on how much roadside assistance you want and are willing to pay for, and they often provide a variety of discounts on things like hotels, rental cars and other services.

One of the best known and longest running clubs, AAA ( offers comprehensive services and has an extensive network of more than 40,000 roadside assistance providers, which usually means fast response times. Costs vary widely from $48 to $162 per year depending on where you live and the plan you choose, plus an additional fee for adding a family member.

Some other clubs to consider that may be a little less expensive include Allstate Motor Club (; AARP Roadside Assistance ( for AARP members only; Better World Club (; BP Motor Club (; Good Sam (; and GM Motor Club (


On-Demand Assistance

Another new money saving option to consider is pay-on-demand roadside assistance services like Urgently ( and Honk ( If you use a smartphone and live in their service area, these non-membership app-based services will let you call for help via smartphone, and will only charge you for the assistance you need at a low price.


Adjusted Flu Vaccine Options Available to Seniors This Year     
Sept. 17, 2015

Dear Savvy Senior,

What can you tell me about this year’s flu shot? Last year’s vaccine was ineffective at preventing the flu, especially among seniors. What options are available to me this year?

Seeking Protection


Dear Seeking,

You’re right. Last season’s flu shot was not very effective at preventing the flu. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who got the shot were just 19 percent less likely to visit the doctor for flu than people who did not get the shot. In good years, flu shot effectiveness is in the 50 to 60 percent range.

The reason for the shot’s ineffectiveness last year was because the vaccine was mismatched to the circulating flu viruses, which can genetically shift from year-to-year.

This year, U.S. health officials have tweaked the flu vaccines to include last year’s missing strain, which will hopefully provide better protection. But a flu shot is still your best defense against the flu. So, depending on your health, age and personal preference, here are the flu vaccine options (you only need one of these) available to older adults this year.

- Standard (trivalent) flu shot: This traditional flu shot has been around for more than 30 years and protects against three different strains of flu viruses. This year’s version protects against two A strains (H1N1 and H3N2), and one influenza B virus.

- Quadrivalent flu shot: This vaccine, which was introduced two years ago, protects against four types of influenza - the same three strains as the standard flu shot, plus an additional new B-strain virus.

- High-dose flu shot: Designed specifically for seniors, age 65 and older, this trivalent vaccine, called 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. However, note that the high-dose option may also be more likely to cause side effects, including headache, muscle aches and fever.

- FluBlok vaccine: Created for adults 18 and older who have egg allergies, this is a trivalent flu vaccine that does not use chicken eggs in its manufacturing process.

- Intradermal flu shot: For those who don’t like needles, the intradermal flu shot uses a tiny 1/16-inch long micro-needle to inject the vaccine just under the skin, rather than deeper in the muscle like standard flu shots. This trivalent vaccine, however, is recommended only to adults, ages 18 to 64.

To locate a vaccination site that offers these flu shots, visit and type in your ZIP code. You’ll also be happy to know that if you’re a Medicare beneficiary, Part B will cover 100 percent of the costs of any flu shot, as long as your doctor, health clinic or pharmacy agrees not to charge you more than Medicare pays. Private health insurers are also required to cover standard flu shots, however, you’ll need to check with your provider to see if they cover the other vaccination options.


Pneumonia Vaccines

Two other important vaccinations the CDC recommends to seniors, especially this time of year, are the pneumococcal vaccines for pneumonia. Around 1 million Americans are hospitalized with pneumonia each year, and about 50,000 people die from it.

The CDC is now recommending that all seniors, 65 or older, get two vaccinations - Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23. Both vaccines, which are administered just once at different times, work in different ways to provide maximum protection.

If you haven’t yet received any pneumococcal vaccine you should get the Prevnar 13 first, followed by Pneumovax 23 six to 12 months later. But if you’ve already been vaccinated with Pneumovax 23, wait at least one year before getting the Prevnar 13.

Medicare Part B covers both shots, if they are taken at least 11 months apart.

How Seniors Can Stop Robocalls 
Sept. 10, 2015

Dear Savvy Senior,

What can I do to stop the perpetual prerecorded robocalls I keep getting? I’m signed up with the National Do Not Call Registry, but it seems like I still get three or four robo telemarketing calls a day offering lower credit card interest rates, medical alert devices and more.

Fed Up Senior


Dear Fed Up,

Millions of Americans on the National Do Not Call Registry ( complain they still receive unwanted calls from robocallers. Why? Because most robocalls are scams run by con artists who are only trying to trick you out of your money, and they simply ignore the law.

But there’s good news on the horizon. A few months ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed a rule giving telecommunication companies more leeway to block robocalls. Before this ruling, the FCC has always required phone companies to complete all calls, much in the same way the postal service is required to deliver all your mail, even the junk. So, look for your phone service provider to start offering call-blocking tools in the future. But in the meantime, here are some things you can do to reduce those unwanted calls.

- Set up “anonymous call rejection” option: This is a free landline-calling feature available from most telephone companies. It lets you screen out calls from callers who have blocked their caller ID information - a favorite tactic of telemarketers. To set it up, you usually have to dial *77 from your landline, though different phone services may have different procedures to set it up. Call your telephone service provider to find out if they offer this feature, and if so, what you need to do to enable it.

- Sign up for Nomorobo: This is a free service and works only if you have an Internet-based VoIP phone service. It does not work on traditional analog landlines or wireless phones. 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

- Buy a robocall-blocking device: If you don’t mind spending a little money, purchase a call-blocking device like the Sentry 2 ($59) or Digitone Call Blocker Plus ($100), sold at These small devices, which plug into your phone line allow you to blacklist numbers you no longer wish to receive, and set up a whitelist, or manually program the phone to recognize and accept a certain number of safe numbers. Both devices are very effective. 

- Don’t pick up: If you have a caller ID, another tip 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.

- Get a cellphone app: To help with robo telemarketing calls and robo spam texts to your cellphone, get a call-screening app like Truecaller ( or PrivacyStar ( that screens and blocks them.

It’s also important that you report illegal robocalls to the Federal Trade Commission at or call 888-225-5322, and sign the Consumer Union petition at to pressure phone companies to start offering free call-blocking technology.

Understanding the Responsibilities of an Executor       
Sept. 3, 2015

Dear Savvy Senior,

An old family friend recently asked me to be the executor of his will when he dies. I feel flattered that he asked, but I’m not sure what exactly the job entails. What can you tell me?

Concerned Friend

Dear Concerned,

Serving as the executor of your friend’s estate may seem like an honor, but it can also be a huge chore. Here’s what you should know to help you prepare.

Rules and Responsibilities

As the executor of your friend’s will, you’re essentially responsible for winding up his affairs after he dies. While this may sound simple enough, you need to be aware that the job can be tedious, time consuming and difficult depending on the complexity of his financial and family situation. Some of the duties required include:

*Filing court papers to start the probate process (this is generally required by law to determine the will’s validity).

*Taking an inventory of everything in his estate. 

*Using his estate’s funds to pay bills, including taxes, funeral costs, etc.

*Handling details like terminating his credit cards, and notifying banks and government agencies like Social Security and the post office of his death.

*Preparing and filing his final income tax returns.

*Distributing assets to the beneficiaries named in his will.

Be aware that each state has specific laws and timetables on an executor’s responsibilities. Your state or local bar association may have an online law library that details the rules and requirements. The American Bar Association website also offers guidance on how to settle an estate. Go to and type in “guidelines for individual executors and trustees” to find it.

Get Organized

If you agree to take on the responsibility as executor of your friend’s estate, your first step is to make sure he has an updated will, and find out where all his important documents and financial information is located. Being able to quickly put your hands on deeds, brokerage statements and insurance policies after he dies will save you a lot of time and hassle.

If he has a complex estate, you may want to hire an attorney or tax account to guide you through the process, with the estate picking up the cost. If you need help locating a pro, the National Association of Estate Planners and Councils ( and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys ( are great resources that provide directories on their websites to help you find someone.

Avoid Conflicts

Find out if there are any conflicts between the beneficiaries of your friend’s estate. If there are some potential problems, you can make your job as executor much easier if everyone knows in advance who’s getting what, and why. So ask your friend to tell his beneficiaries what they can expect. This includes the personal items too, because wills often leave it up to the executor to dole out heirlooms. If there’s no distribution plan for personal property, suggest he make one and put it in writing.

Executor Fees

As the executor, you’re entitled to a fee paid by the estate. In most states executors are entitled to take a percentage of the estate’s value, which usually ranges anywhere from 1 to 5 percent depending on the size of the estate. But, if you’re a beneficiary, it may make sense for you to forgo the fee. That’s because fees are taxable, but Uncle Sam in most states don’t tax inheritances.




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