Monday, February 1, 2016

Bowie, Rickman, Frey! How much time do we have left?

"Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up," - A.A. Milne, English author best known for his books about Winnie-the-Pooh. (1882-1956).

Get your affairs in order: estate planning basics
1. Make a will.  In a will, you state who you want to inherit your property.
2. Consider a trust. If you hold your property in a living trust, your survivors won't have to go through probate court, a time-consuming and expensive process.
3. Health care directives. Write out your wishes for health care.
4. Assign Power of Attorney. With a durable power of attorney for finances, you can give a trusted person authority to handle your finances and property if you become incapacitated and unable to handle your own affairs.
5.Beneficiary forms. Name beneficiaries for bank accounts and retirement plans makes the account automatically "payable on death" to your beneficiary.
6. Funeral expenses. Set up a payable-on-death expense account at your bank and deposit funds into it to pay for your funeral and related expenses.
7.Final arrangements. Make your wishes known regarding organ and body donation and disposition of your body -- burial or cremation.
8. Documents. Make sure your attorney-in-fact and/or your executor has access to your important documents.

The deaths earlier this year of pop star David Bowie, actor Alan Rickman and the co-founder of the Eagles rock band, Glenn Frey have baby boomers asking themselves, “just how much time do I have left?”
Bowie and Rickman were both 69. Frey, 67.

Even though we may have parents who are living into their 80s and 90s, these high profile deaths remind us that we are on the downhill curve. The first baby boomers born in 1946 will celebrate their 70th birthdays this year. Yikes!
Estate planners say baby boomers could do themselves and their heirs a big favor and “get their affairs in order” even if they think they’ve got lots of time left.

But planning for your final years and ultimate death is not an easy topic for many. According to Forbes magazine, 55 percent of Americans do not even have a last will, leaving their heirs vulnerable to costly court fees and legal battles.
“How many people like to talk about death and dying,” asks Margaret Phelan, an estate planning attorney in Vancouver, Wash. “People think they have time that this is not going to happen to them today. That’s why we have two crystal balls in our conference room. It would be a lot easier if we knew the future, but we don’t.”

Phelan says basic estate planning is a good idea for anyone over age 18, but especially important for baby boomers who may be in a blended marriage, who may own significant real estate and hold substantial assets in retirement investment funds. “Or you may have a relative with special needs, you may want to avoid probate court or you may wish to donate to a special charity,” she said. 

While it is easy to delay estate planning, the experts say getting the basics in place is doing everyone a big favor. Here are questions to ask yourself:
Do I have a will spelling out how I want my assets distributed at my death?
Is my will up-to-date? Has it been revised in the past five years?
Do I have medical care directives spelling out how I would like my end-of-life care to be managed if I no longer can make those decisions? Have I named someone to act on my behalf with a durable power of attorney for health care?
For those in a late in life second marriages -- Do I have a written “personal property memorandum” spelling out how my tangible assets are to be distributed among children and step-children at my death?

Average life expectancies

The average life expectancy in the U.S. is 78.8 years, a record high, according to the Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. Life expectancy for females is 82 years, for men, almost 77.
Among the leading causes of death? Heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke and diabetes. The bottom line is that we all die of something.

Meanwhile, seven out of 10 Americans say they would prefer to die at home, according to a 2010 Frontline report. The reality is that nearly 70 percent of us die in a hospital, nursing home or long-term care facility where other people may participate in treatment and care-taking decisions. Yet, only 20 to 30 percent of Americans say they have an advance directive spelling out their end-of-life wishes such as a living will.

Professionals say that organizing the basics of estate planning may cost as little as a few hundred dollars or several thousand dollars depending on the complexity of the documents.
In many areas, those with lower annual income may seek discounted or free estate planning consulting services through the local bar association or senior center.

Phelan cautions against using online forms for wills and other documents.
“I’m not a fan of these forms because they are not state specific and they may ask for information such as Social Security numbers that you do not want in the public record,” she said. “The biggest problem is that in filling these out, people often make mistakes. Those mistakes may not be discovered until there is a crisis or someone has died.”

Finding an attorney

How do you find an attorney to help with your estate planning? Seek out those who administer the plans that they draft. Ask them how many plans they do annually and how long they’ve been specializing in this work. Ask how you can get to know them through a seminar or work shop at no cost.
“I would run from anyone who quotes you a fee without first knowing what they will be doing for you,” Phelan said. “You really want someone who does both the planning and the administration of estate plans.”
The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys NAELA, founded in 1994, is a place to start when searching for a qualified local professional. Searches can be done by zip code or by city.

First steps to a plan

To get started, Phelan advises her clients to make a list of what they own in terms of real estate assets, investments, bank accounts, life insurance policies or other holdings such as savings plans for grandchildren.
Then she asks them to think about who they trust to make decisions for them while they are alive and who they would want to make decisions to settle their estate when they die.
Phelan, who has been in practice for 30 years, feels so strongly about these issues that with her law partner, Karen Webber, she co-wrote a book, “What You Really Need to Know for the Second Half of Life,” that outlines the basic elements of estate planning.

For those worried about attorneys’ fees for the cost of estate planning, Phelan likes to ask this question, “How much will it cost if you don’t have a plan in place?”

To do nothing, means there’s no power of attorney and no appointed executor for a will, she said. There’s the cost of going through probate court and expense of any challenges to the settlement.
“Usually there’s a huge savings by doing an estate plan rather than doing nothing," she said.
By the way, David Bowie left an estate worth $100 million to be divided among his wife and children.

For more:
National Institute on Aging, click here.
"Plan Your Estate," from NOLO, click here.
“What You Really Need to Know about the Second Half of Your Life” by Phelan-Webber, click here. 
The Wall Street Journal Complete Estate-planning Guidebook, click here.
Retirement Mobilization Toolkit, American Institute of CPAs, click here.

Helpful Web sites:

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

When your long-time ex-husband's new girlfriend banishes you to the outer rim

"What you remember about a relationship often depends on how it ends," Marcia Reynolds, Psychology Today.

First some background. My ex- and I married in 1968. We were from different cultural backgrounds and from opposite sides of the country. For both of us, the grass was definitely greener. After 13 years, three kids, eight moves and a business failure, we divorced in late 1982. It was my idea. I went on to have other relationships and a full-time journalism career. There was sorrow on both our parts, and anger. But for the kids and because we cared about each other, we never stopped speaking. Until now.

Over the years, we’ve seen each other at numerous events for our children (two sons and one grandson). My ex- has been to my house, I to his for the holidays, for visits. Last year we spent several days together when he hosted a ski weekend for all of us at his timeshare condo.

In the past year, we’ve spoken weekly about our kids. Last spring I bought a house from him so that he would be financially free to relocate closer to our older son and our grandson. All his stuff is still in the house. So far, so good. He’s 73. I’m 69 and married.

In the past few months he’s apparently fallen in love with someone who appears threatened by former relationships including his ex-wife from his second marriage that lasted 20 years.

Through a couple of abrupt text messages and a short written note, my ex- is telling me that we now are done. No more touching base, no more conversations, The real shock was at Christmas when he and his new girlfriend (who I’ve met…she’s been married twice) returned a Christmas present along with a note saying, “the past does not belong in our relationship.”

And further, he would “prefer to not talk about the lives of our children on a regular basis” unless there’s something urgent. “I would prefer to talk directly to the boys when necessary,” he said. “Thank you for your understanding.”
Ouch!! This is from a man who has a generous loving heart, who has always included me in his thinking about the kids and who has been collaborative when it comes to helping them get ahead.

This is a 48-year relationship. He is the father of my children and someone who I have always thought of as a friend, if not part of my family. The best ex-husband that someone could have. And at this point, a close friend.
This banishment feels mean-spirited, hurtful and controlling. Please, we’ve been divorced since 1983. Why should she make an enemy when she doesn’t have to?

My friends also wonder about my ex-. Why would he go along with this edict if he were in full control of his faculties? Maybe his recent angioplasty procedure did something to his brain, they ask.

I see no option but to suck it up. If that’s the way it’s going to be, then so be it. But will we no longer celebrate our children’s birthdays together. How about the grandson…two parties….one with us, one with them?  Who’s going to write his obit or settle his estate when he dies? His kids, or her? We live in a community property state. Has he thought about how a late-in-life relationship works when it comes to assets? (He's a medical professional). Is she going to have him spending more money than he should? Hey it’s his life but this does have implications for our children.

Darn it. This came out of the blue and actually really hurts. I've had friends drift away and felt sad. There have been other losses in my life that have caused heartache. But at this stage after all these years there's also comfort in the relationships that have endured. I’ve always told my friends that I loved the guy, I just couldn’t live with him. OK, I suppose the girlfriend has smelled that out. Who knows what he’s told her. Hey, even though I'm almost 70 and married, I'm being dumped. Don't we all have ex-spouses? Don't we still care? I do.

It isn’t just me…he’s not supposed to speak to his second wife, either. We’ve been banished to the waste land of the outer solar system never to be spoken of or spoken to, again.

According to the experts, what you may remember most about a relationship depends on how it ends. After 48 years, this one is ending badly. Frankly, I was happy when I heard that he’d found someone to share his life with. It never occurred to me that she would need to put at stake through the heart of past relationships, those that has lasted a lifetime, until now.
Maybe I am not the one to question this new relationship but maybe he should be.

For more:
8 Expert Reasons to Finally (and Permanently!) Lt Go of Your Ex, click here.
3 Keys to Ending a Relationship with Dignity, click here.
Ending a relationship, click here.
Better Endings, click here.
14 things to remember after you've been dumped, click here.
How to get over being dumped, click here.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Should we be required to take a financial literacy test? When it comes to interest rates, yes

"Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it...he who doesn't... pays it," -- Albert Einstein, physicist. (1879-1955).

Interest rates have constantly been in the news as the Federal Reserve Board of Governors dithered and then finally raised a key interest rate charged to U.S. banks. But how well does the average American understand interest rates and the role they play in our financial lives? For that matter, how is the rest of the world doing with interest rate financial literacy?

A new worldwide study from Standard & Poor’s Global Finance shows that many people have difficulty understanding the basics of interest math -- How compound interest works (when you earn interest on re-invested interest), the effects of inflation on savings and what loan interest rates mean.

Those who don’t get these concepts are more likely to be ripped off by payday lenders, fork over higher credit card fees and misunderstand what they are in for when they take out a loan to buy a house or a car. (The Great Recession was in part the result of lending to people money who should never have been allowed to take out mortgage).

Oh, and there's that itty bitty interest annual rate fee charged by our 401(k) retirement savings that over time adds up to thousands of dollars in lost income.

The S&P research reveals that a third of the American population does not grasp the basic concepts of interest and how interest is calculated. These folks could not correctly answer this simple question: Which is greater: $105 or $100 plus 3 percent?

This lack of financial literacy is a global problem, even worse in some other countries than in the U.S. For example 60 percent of the world’s population could not correctly answer the above question.

But when we buy a house, when we take out a loan and pay interest to the lender for the cost of the loan, it seems essential that we understand how interest rates function. But three in 10 Americans with a housing loan are unable to perform basic interest calculations on their loan payments, said the study.

Same when buying a car. We pay back the loan plus an interest fee on the loan until it’s all paid off. Interest rates come up in other ways. The rising cost of living is figured as an inflation rate…calculated as a percentage increase each year.
Do people understand that by putting cash under a mattress, they are actually losing money because inflation eats into the buying power of the cash? (For more info, click here.)

Our children are charged an interest rate on their student loans. And when we put money into a saving account or certified deposit, we earn interest on that savings (or soon will, if interest rates keep going up). It's important to know that you can pay interest, and as well, earn interest. But even in advanced economies like ours, one-third of the population does not understand interest rates, the Standard & Poor research indicated.

What can be done to help people become more financially literate about interest rates?
It seems clear that we should be doing a better job in schools (maybe junior high, or younger) to educate our kids on basic math related to real life….credit card interest rates, how mortgage loans and car loans work, how compound interest works with a savings account.

In addition, should we be required to take a financial literacy test when we open a bank account or take out a mortgage loan? We see health warnings on the back of cigarette packs. Why not require regulators to educate borrowers on the risks and rewards of interest rates when they sell a loan product, asked the folks at S&P Global.

In teaching our grandchildren about money, get them to think about compound interest earnings by asking this question: "Would you rather have $1 million, or start with one penny and double your savings each day for four weeks?" Because a million dollars is a lot, and pennies are not, most kids will confidently choose the million dollars. A chart at will show them why at the end of four weeks compound interest will have earned back the $1 million, plus an additional $342,177.28. Click here.

By the way, that question ---  which is greater: $105 or $100 plus 3 percent? Sixty percent of the world’s population can’t answer that correctly!

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services Global Financial Literacy Survey, click here.
Compound interest and your return,, click here.
"I want to teach my 11 year old about compound interest, click here.
"Plan, save, Succeed!, from, click here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Part II: Finding and keeping a job after age 50. First-person tips

Editor's note: Below is a first-person account from a friend of mine about her experience in finding work after losing her long-time professional job at age 56. This is a follow-up to my previous post and provides excellent tips on finding and keeping a new job. Thank you, Cami for your contribution. Julia

Dear sixtyandsingle readers,
You might have to take a circuitous route to get back into the work force after age 50 and since retail jobs are fairly plentiful, start there.

Six months of retail work can help you get considered for all sorts of other positions (and my advice is to keep applying for other jobs by highlighting whatever skills you acquire in the retail environment). To get into retail, focus your one-page resume on the retailer's needs. Bottom line, they want to generate sales and profit, so start your resume with a short, focused statement under your contact info.

Here is an example. It's always a work in progress: "Offering excellent customer service and cashiering skills to generate business for Costco." 

As for qualifications, I list six or seven short bullet points of skills that meet the needs of the job and also describe my personality. Use terms such as "accurate," "well groomed" and "prompt." At the same time, tell the employer you're good at math, a team player, etc.
       Bonded cashier with excellent customer service skills.
       Prompt, organized, and detail-oriented professional; knack for understanding procedures.
       Excellent math, money-handling and computer skills.
       Strong time-management skills; able to prioritize tasks and meet deadlines.
       Efficient problem-solver who can turn complex situations into manageable tasks.

 Next, use the heading: People Skills and list bullet points like these:
     Friendly and empathetic personality with patient listening skills to put patrons at ease.
     Knack for recognizing opportunities to generate positive outcomes.
     Articulate and effective working with people of different backgrounds and temperaments.
     Genuinely enjoy helping people while maintaining a positive, friendly attitude.
     Polite and well versed in traditional customer service, including saying, “Thank you.”
     Exceptional command of English with great writing skills.
     Cooperative team player who will encourage others and go above and beyond job duties.

Use the heading "Education," to list your degrees and where you got them - no need to add dates, if you don't want to, but you'll likely have to list the dates on the online application. If you don't have a BA or associate's degree, list college classes and any courses you took during your career, such as, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Crucial Conversations.

Last, under "Work History," list your previous jobs using your specific employers.
     Cashier, self-checkout, customer service.
     Staff reporter - daily newspaper.
     Communications - non-profit agency.
     Sales Associate - department store.

No need to list the dates here, either - but you can, if you were employed for several years by some of those employers. That shows you'll stay at the job. Again, the online application will ask for the dates. (Fill out all boxes included in online application.)

Keep the cover letter short for retailers. They don't want your life history or how "excited" you are, etc. They'll get all they need from your online application. Plus, most retailers also administer a multiple-choice skills and personality test aimed at finding out how honest you are and whether you're a team player, good with people and have common sense. Piece of cake for us baby boomers.

Also, on the online application, list that you are available for ALL shifts and rearrange your schedule when you get the job.

Sample cover letter:
Dear Hiring Manager,
I am writing to apply for the teller/customer service position at your branch office listed on the Washington WorkSource Web site. I have enclosed my resume for your review and am certain that I can be an asset to the team while striving to meet the goals and objectives for the position.
I respect your time and feel confident that my value, past achievements and ability to contribute are well outlined in my resume. If you feel, as I do, that I would be a significant permanent member of your staff, I would welcome an interview at your earliest convenience. I have listed references to assure you that the information contained on my resume is truthful and accurate.
Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing back from you.
Sincerely, etc.

The interview: When you get an interview, show up well groomed - neat nails, hair, wearing clean and pressed slacks and a blouse. Be there 10 minutes early and smile at front-counter employees (because some of us older gals tend to look like we're frowning when we aren't smiling). You want your potential coworkers to whisper to the interviewer, "Hey, she looks like a good candidate."

Exude energy, walk with confidence and good posture. Retail jobs involve long periods of standing. Let them know you can do it. Showing up early tells them you'll be prompt for work. Remember, you're likely competing with younger people for the job. And ageism is rampant, but the youngsters often don't take as much care in their appearance and they often have tons of tattoos. If you have tats, cover them up.

Prepare for the interview, which will likely consist of a list of "scenario" questions.
Believe me, the interviewers really want actual scenario answers to questions like, "Tell me about a time that you dealt with a difficult customer. How did you resolve the issue." Go into the interview with rehearsed, specific answers to these questions.

"When I worked in (customer service, volunteer work - whatever), I had a customer who was upset because the name-brand product we carried fell apart at the seams. She became very agitated and angry. I let her finish telling me her story with a sympathetic look on my face. Then I explained that our options were to exchange the item or send it out for repair. She ended up being so happy with our store that she came back often and asked for me to help with her selections."

Make sure that your answers do not involve calling in a supervisor. Retailers want to know that you can handle most situations without additional help from overworked staff.

In the new job.
Once you get hired, the real work begins. Invest in the best pair of shoes for standing on concrete. It's imperative. Bring a notepad because you will have to catch on quickly, take every single shift they give you, not call in sick.

Show up early for work, come back on time from your breaks and lunches, and maintain a positive attitude at ALL TIMES. Don't complain - ever. Most retail jobs start out as "seasonal positions." If you want to stay on, you can't call in sick or have a "bad attitude." Show that you can be dependable and you might get hired as a permanent, which gives you something to talk about at your next interview.

Use your ongoing retail experience to apply for better jobs - and keep applying. That retail experience can open the doors to a lot of better-paying positions within companies that might not have considered you before such as bank telling, front-counter jobs with government agencies and call centers. So, keep applying.

Retail allows you to add new skills to your resume, such as up-selling, return processing, internet sales processing, POS transactions, educating self-check-stand customers, processing credit card payments, issuing store credits - all sorts of things.

And you can be picky about other potential positions. Now that I am working at a big home improvement store, I am earning well above minimum wage, plus I have health insurance, a 401k plan and company stock. When I am called for a job interview with another employer, I ask up front about pay potential. If the new job means starting at the bottom again, I turn it down. I am confident that I'll be working in a better position by this time next year.  
Cheers, Cami.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Looking for work over 50? Here's how

"I do not believe we can repair the basic fabric of society until people who are willing to work have work.  Work organizes life.  It gives structure and discipline to life." -- Bill Clinton,  42nd U.S. President, (1946 -   )

Tips for finding work after 50 (or 60)
Start your new job hunt before you leave your current job.
Demonstrate that you are tech-savvy. Set up email and LinkedIn accounts.
Be prepared to fill out applications online using key search words.
Shorten your resume. No need to cover your entire work history.
Build your network. Tell friends you’re looking for a job.
Explain why you’re not overqualified.
Expect a more casual work environment.
Go to job fairs. Look for retraining opportunities.
Build your confidence, remind yourself that you can do it

"Over 50, Female and Jobless as Others Return to Work," NYT (Jan. 1, 2016), click here.

According to national research, it typically takes five months longer for an older worker to find employment than the average seven months of searching needed by a younger worker, under 50.
Even with an improving job market, older workers may face challenges in finding new employment because their skills could be out-of-date, they may seem overqualified or they are clueless about the new online job-search universe.
If you've been in the same job for a long time or have been out of the work force for a while, you will find that a lot has changed about how you search, apply and interview for jobs.

Meanwhile, it may not be a surprise that a growing number of older workers are returning to the job market. For multiple reasons:
- Some may have held long-time jobs but who have been laid off by employers who are still cutting costs because of the uneven economic recovery. Others may have accepted an early retirement package but are running short of income.
- Others may have found that they simply cannot live on just Social Security, alone.
- Some might be facing a family health emergency and unplanned medical bills. Rising housing costs, especially for those in rental apartments, may be a factor.
- In addition, the staff that I spoke with at the local job-coaching nonprofit, say, they are seeing more women 50 and older who are newly divorced and who have been out of the work force. Now, they are financially on their own maybe for the first time and desperately seeking job-hunting assistance.

“More people than ever in the 50 and older group are looking for work,” said Christine Humphrey, job developer at People in Careers a Vancouver, Wash. nonprofit that helps people find work. “We are seeing more this year than in past years. Many are running short of income.”

Improving job market

The good news is that the national and regional job markets are robust with employers adding workers. Here in the Portland-Vancouver market, 40,000 new jobs have been created in the 12 months through September (2015), according to the Oregon Employment Department. The annual job growth rate of 3.6 percent is among the strongest in the nation. In demand are jobs in the health care industry, production manufacturing and transportation. These same sectors are growing, nationally.
Partners in Careers works with several hundred employers and nonprofits throughout the area to place workers. Similar organizations nationwide do the same work.

What you need to know if you're over 50

The advisers I spoke with say that if you’ve been in the same job for a long time or out of the work force for years, you will find that the process of finding and applying for jobs has changed. Everything is online from job openings to job application forms.

Your initial application may not even be read by a human but first scanned by a computer program looking for key words that fit the job description. If those words aren’t there, you are out of luck.
Most employers no longer even offer a way for an applicant to drop off an application, resume and cover letter. Everything goes through an employer Web portal.

Many employers also ask that you create a personal profile on their Web site. In doing so, be sure to fill in all requested fields. Some employers also are doing personality testing to find the best team players and collaborative problem-solvers.
“An applicant must make sure that their resume targets a job they want to do with the skills that match,” said Cadie Dye, a PIC employment specialist. “Everything must be job specific… no mass applications using the same resume. That goes for cover letters and what you say in an interview.”

Shorten your work history
As an older applicant it is not necessary to list or explain your entire work history. Give employers enough to see your value as an employee. When you get the interview, you can further explain that value.
And don’t expect to find that great job without networking.

Set up a network
“Set up a network on LinkedIn of neighbors, church friends and even people you know in volunteer organizations,” said PIC Executive Direct Sharon Pesut. “A friend circle can be very important. Don’t be afraid to say that you are looking for a job. For many people over 50, that’s hard to do.”
Who has more trouble finding new work, men or women? the experts say that men may have it slightly easier because they often have previous work experience in a skilled trade. With a bit of retraining they can take on a new job. Women may face bigger challenges because their technical skills may be out of date or they have limited work experience. But women are often more open to retraining, networking and upgrading their skills.
“Employers want to know if you can work with a team, communicate, manage your time and follow directions,” Pesut said. "That’s where a mature worker may be more attractive to an employer.”
Money magazine (2015) reported that “more companies are recognizing the value of mature workers and are starting to hire them” this year. That’s good news for an aging population and baby boomers who may not have saved enough for retirement.

Getting across your value

There are ways to get across your value as an older worker, say the experts.
In a resume and an interview, a job applicant should emphasize his or her experience, maturity and reliability rather than explain why they haven’t been working.
“It’s important to meet the needs of the job description,” said Humphrey. “That’s where we can help…we see ourselves as matchmakers with employers.”

In some ways, applying for jobs is easier now than even five years ago, they said. Instead of driving all over dropping off resumes, you can sit at a computer and deliver an application in a much more efficient way. And thanks to the Great Recession, more training resources are available to those who want to upgrade their skills.
More casual work place
If you land that face-to-face interview, what do you wear?
The work place has become much more casual even in the past five years. Experts recommend that you research the company culture online for what looks right. Casual slacks and an open shirt should work for both men and women with maybe a jacket. (No suits). And don’t expect to get any feedback, if you don’t get an interview or get the job. You likely won’t get a thank you note for applying.

Coaching can make a difference

“Coaching on all this is critical,” Pesut said. “It shortens the learning curve, which in turns gets you into a job quicker.”
A key piece of the job search process is developing self-confidence. Older workers need to remind themselves that they can to it. They can win the position. There’s hope but you have to be very intentional about your job search.

For more:
As age rises, American women face increasing bars to employment, MarketWatch, click here.
7 Tips for Getting Hired After Age 50, click here.
Over 50? 5 Smart Tips for Landing a New job, click here.
Job Hunting and Career tips for Older Workers, click here. -- Careers at 50 plus, click here.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Medicare - What's changing in 2016 and how to keep costs down

"To me, good health is more than just exercise and diet. It's really a point of view and a mental attitude you have about yourself."  --- Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) German theologian, philosopher and medical missionary. 

Editor's note: Since writing this a few weeks ago, Congress has passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, which blunted the rate increase on seniors enrolled in Medicare but who have not yet begun taking Social Security benefits. The reduced premium "is really a loan from the U.S. Treasury," said writers at click here for more. 

Since turning 65, I’ve been buying a Medicare Advantage health insurance plan that started out costing me $55 a month. That coverage jumps to $104 a month in 2016, if I continue with that plan. That’s an 89 percent increase in three years during the same time frame that the Federal Reserve Bank says inflation is so low that there won’t be a Social Security increase in 2016.

Not only will my Medicare Advantage monthly rate increase but co-pays for doctors’ visits will jump by $10 a visit, along with other fees. I also learned that instead of a flat dollar amount  I now would be paying 20 percent of open ended costs related to any outpatient surgery. The big shocker was that my total maximum out of pocket expense with my plan went from $6,700 a year to $10,000. That’s real money.

To find out more about what’s going on, I attended a morning workshop last week hosted by the clinic where I receive medical care. The guy who led the presentation works for the clinic, so his one-hour talk only covered the six Medicare Advantage programs accepted by the clinic. He also gets a commission for signing people up to use the clinic.
The programs he talked about all also included drug coverage, which adds to the basic cost. After hearing all the comparables, I decided to jump to a new plan and drop the drug coverage since my annual drug costs come in below the coverage threshold.

So next year instead of a big increase, my monthly Medicare Advantage bill will drop to $45 a month. That’s a $59 a month ($708 a year) savings from what I would have been paying without the change. A better run plan? I don't know. On paper it looks as good as what I have been buying from the other insurance company.

Twenty other seniors were in this meeting, all trying to make sense of what’s going on with Medicare and the big insurance rate increases going on with coverage.

There are at least three groups that I care about being slammed this year.
- Seniors 65 and older who are on Medicare but are NOT yet collecting Social Security benefits.

- Seniors who are buying Medicare Advantage health insurance, which combines Medicare coverage with additional coverage from an insurance company.

- And people younger than 65 who are self-employed (or otherwise don’t have coverage) and must buy their own health insurance coverage. A self-employed friend of mine, who is over 60, but not yet 65 says her health insurance coverage is jumping from $620 to $740 a month, unless she makes some changes. There may be other categories but these three groups are seeing big increases in their 2016 health insurance costs

What is driving-up the price of health insurance for seniors?

There are a couple of reasons. We learned earlier this month that Social Security benefits won’t go up next year because overall inflation throughout the nation is so low. That means seniors now collecting Social Security benefits won’t see an increase in their Medicare withholding. That leaves seniors (over 65) who are NOT YET collecting Social Security as well as NEW 2016 Medicare enrollees picking up all that increase. Some of these rates are jumping by 52 percent. Ouch.

The other reason rates are jumping is because insurance companies now have had a year to see how Obamacare is affecting their operations. Guess what….the uninsured people who signed up for Obamacare are sicker and costing more than planned. So rates are going up to cover those increasing costs. Oregon for instance has approved individual rate increases of between 8 percent and 37.8 percent in 2016. "Our ultimate responsibility to Oregon consumers is to ensure that rates cover the cost of health care, " said Insurance Commissioner Laura Cali this fall . A Silver Standard Plan premium will range from $271 to $389 a month.

What should seniors do? Basically, do what I did….find out as much as possible about your options for holding down costs.

Look for work shops offered by your doctor or clinic. Shop around on the Internet, but keep your research to insurance companies operating your area. But when you find a plan that’s less expensive…make sure your doctor or clinic will accept that coverage. Don’t jump ship on your current coverage until you’ve received the OK from your doctor’s office that it will be accepted.

Here’s why. With Obamacare there are more people looking for doctors than there are doctors. Some providers are saying no to new Medicare patients and saying no to some health insurance plans. Keep in mind that Medicare alone only pays about 80 percent of the cost (as determined by the fed) of providing that care. Hospitals and doctors have long made up for those losses by charging the rest of us more.

Health care reform has changed the rules and the profit-loss formulas. My view is that Obamacare tried to do too many things at once. Now everyone is confused. Yes, we need health care reform…a single payer system would work for me. But that likely would put insurance companies out of business….so good luck with that.

Middle class seniors on fixed budgets are particularly vulnerable to health care cost increases. Both political parties talk about protecting the Middle Class….they could start by fixing Obamacare. I personally don’t like seeing a 90 percent increase in my health insurance rates when overall inflation is running at 2 percent a year.

Meanwhile, keep your doctor!!! The clinic I go to only accepts six Medicare Advantage plans….if you don’t have one of those plans, you can’t see their doctors.
For more:
Medicare Advantage vs. Medicare Supplement programs,
click here.
Medicare enrollment 2016, click here.
10 Things You Must Know about Medicare, click here.
U.S. News & World Report, What to know about Medicare, click here.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Investing -- what women are doing well, where we need help

"Five years into the financial recovery, researchers find that while women are taking control of household finances, they are no more prepared to meet long-term financial goals than they were a decade ago." -- Prudential Financial Inc.
Do women invest differently than men?

Several studies say yes, women do take a different approach to investing than their male counterparts. These reports also say that men and women would do well to learn from each other when it comes financial planning for the long-term.
How women approach money is a big topic of discussion in the investment brokerage industry these days as more working women near retirement and/or inherit assets from their mothers.

The largest wealth transfer in history (worth an estimated $8.4 trillion) is under way as Baby Boomers inherit assets from their elderly parents. A good portion of this wealth transfer is from 90-something mothers to their 60-something daughters.

So how are women -- single or married -- handling retirement and estate planning, inheritance and investing? And how is their approach different from men?

According to the National Center for Women and Retirement Research at, women are doing a lot of things right. That’s because women are more often in charge of household budgets. They are experienced at multi-tasking – juggling kids, work, bill-paying and planning. They make most of their family’s consumer purchases (85 percent). These responsibilities give women experience with money management.

As a result, women are more likely than men to research and ask questions before making financial decisions, they are more likely to work with a financial adviser and more willing to stay the course during turbulent market times, said a recent Fidelity Investments report.

“Overall, research indicates that women are more focused on comprehensive financial planning, while men tend to focus on investment returns,” said the report.

There’s more good news. Even though women are in and out of the work force and tend to earn less than men, they actually save a higher percentage of their income in tax-deferred retirement plans and are more likely to take advantage of catch-up savings opportunities once they hit 50.

But here’s the big difference: Despite a lot of money-management experience, despite a positive savings record, women are less confident when it comes to investing.

A Wall Street Journal report, “Male Investors vs. Female Investors” said that “while women believe in the value of saving, they don’t seem to trust themselves in the same way (as men) when it comes to investing.”

A Merrill Lynch study of 11,500 clients, said that 55 percent of women agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I know less than the average investor about financial markets and investing in general.” That’s compared with only 27 percent of men.

The Journal report said that women tend to have a greater portion of their portfolios in cash and are less willing to increase risk to seek higher returns.
This reluctance to get into the investment arena and to invest more aggressively may mean that women miss opportunities to grow their wealth and their retirement nest eggs over the long-term.

Meanwhile, men might gain by maintaining are more balanced portfolio instead of trying to win big on a single tech stock or other high-risk opportunity, advisers said.

Part of the reason for these differences may be because women have a longer time horizon than men.
According to the Centers of Disease Control, the average life expectancy for American women is 81.2 years while men can expect to live to an average age of 76.4.  Women now age 65 can expect to live another 20 years to age 85 while men age 65 will likely make it to 83.
A warning to all --- one out of every four Americans now age 65 will live past age 90.

Women, meanwhile, have a lot to be proud of --- higher business ownership, a narrowing wage gap and greater participation in retirement savings. But women still tend to invest too conservatively and worry too much. Women are twice as likely to describe themselves as financial “beginners,” said a recent Prudential Research Study.

“Women’s lack of confidence sometimes translates into disinterest,” said Kelley Holland in a report for CNBC. “Only 43 percent of couples plan for retirement together, and 80 percent of the spouses who were not involved are women. Given the high likelihood that women will outlive their husbands, that’s hardly a recipe for a comfortable retirement,” she said.

The experts agree that men and women could learn a lot from each other’s best investment habits. Men set financial goals and work to gain those goals. Women do the research and are less bothered by market ups and downs.

Investing for the long-haul takes determination, courage and confidence no matter who you are. So let the dialogue begin with our families, our financial advisers and the men in our lives.

For more: