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.
Social Security’s Viagra Benefit for Kids
Oct. 29, 2015
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?
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.
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
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.
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 ssa.gov/oact/cola/familymax.html) 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
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.
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.
should also know that minor children can collect Social
Security benefits based on the earnings of a parent who
is disabled or dead too.
learn more, see the SSA publication (No. 05-10085)
“Benefits For Children” at ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10085.pdf.
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.
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
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
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 funerals.org/affiliates-directory
or call 802-865-8300 for contact information.
There are also
free websites you can turn to, like funeralhomeindex.com
that lets you compare prices, and funeraldecisions.com
that will provide estimates from local funeral homes
based on what you want.
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 Walmart.com and Costco.com, which offer a variety of
caskets and urns at discounted prices.
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
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 cremation.com.
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 (greenburialcouncil.org,
888-966-3330) has a state listing of cemetery operators
who accommodate green burials, as well as funeral
professionals who provide the services.
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 www.cem.va.gov or
call the VA at 800-827-1000.
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
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
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
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
go to Medicare’s Plan Finder Tool at medicare.gov/find-a-plan,
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.
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.
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.
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 shiptacenter.org, or call the eldercare
locator at 800-677-1116.
Shrinking Donut Hole
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
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.
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?
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.
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
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
learn more or to locate a professional in your area,
contact the SRES Council (sres.org, 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
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.
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.
locate a senior move manager visit the National
Association of Senior Move Managers website at nasmm.org
or call 877-606-2766. You can also search at Caring
Transitions (caringtransitions.com), the largest senior
relocation and transition services franchised company in
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
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 napo.net.
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?
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.
there are numerous ways to save on hearing aids if you
know where to look. Here are a few tips.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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 VA.gov.
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
parac.org/svrp.html) to find out if there are any city,
county or state programs, or local civic organizations
that could help.
contact Sertoma (Sertoma.org, 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.
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.
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.
websites like EmbraceHearing.com and Audicus.com, 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?
Old to Fix a Flat
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
of the best known and longest running clubs, AAA (aaa.com)
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.
other clubs to consider that may be a little less
expensive include Allstate Motor Club (allstatemotorclub.com);
AARP Roadside Assistance (aarproadside.com) for AARP
members only; Better World Club (betterworldclub.com);
BP Motor Club (www.bpmotorclub.com); Good Sam (goodsamroadside.com);
and GM Motor Club (gmmotorclub.com).
Another new money saving option to consider is
pay-on-demand roadside assistance services like Urgently
(urgent.ly) and Honk (honkforhelp.com). 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
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?
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.
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, 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
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.
locate a vaccination site that offers these flu shots,
visit vaccines.gov 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
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.
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
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
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.
Millions of Americans on the National Do Not Call
Registry (donotcall.gov) 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.
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
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 Nomorobo.com.
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 Amazon.com. 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
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 (truecaller.com) or
PrivacyStar (privacystar.com) that screens and blocks
also important that you report illegal robocalls to the
Federal Trade Commission at consumercomplaints.fcc.gov
or call 888-225-5322, and sign the Consumer Union
petition at EndRobocalls.org to pressure phone companies
to start offering free call-blocking technology.
Understanding the Responsibilities of an Executor
Sept. 3, 2015
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?
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.
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
*Filing court papers to start the probate process (this
is generally required by law to determine the will’s
*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
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 americanbar.org and type in
“guidelines for individual executors and trustees” to
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.
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 (naepc.org) and the
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (naela.org) are
great resources that provide directories on their
websites to help you find someone.
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.
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