Sunday, March 30, 2014

Social Security Decisions are Complicated!

Many people assume that when they reach their early to mid-60's, they will simply quit their jobs, start collecting Social Security and the whole process will be fairly predictable.  In fact, this is actually what the vast majority of people do.  Sometimes it works out; sometimes people have regrets, especially when they learn that their friends are receiving a lot more money than they are.  Making the right choices about Social Security actually involves some of the most complex decisions you will make in your lifetime.

No one likes to make a costly and embarrassing mistake.  It is easy to do, however, when you consider that there are actually 2700 rules that will affect your benefits.  What are some of the decisions you need to make?  Should the breadwinner in your family collect as soon as they turn 62, wait until their full retirement age of 66 - 67, or postpone receiving their benefits until the maximum age of 70? At what age should the spouse, and ex-spouses, apply for their benefits?  Should you take the "file and suspend" option?  Do you even know what that is?

After reading several books on the subject, I realized that I would have to write dozens of articles on Social Security, and keep them updated, in order to even come close to providing the helpful information that is available in this book:  "Social Security Income Planning: The Baby Boomer's Guide to Maximize Your Retirement Benefits."  (Use this link to see the book on

This book takes you through virtually all of the different options you have and the advantages and disadvantages of each.  It also explains how to invest your investment savings in such a way that you will minimize the income taxes you will pay on your retirement income.

Make sure you read the most recent edition of this or any other retirement book that you order.  Several significant laws changed at the beginning of 2016.  For example, the File and Suspend option is no longer available to couples ... a program that substantially increased the retirement income of many couples in the past.

After looking over the different books that have been written about Social Security, I felt that this was the most comprehensive and up-to-date book I could find.  Whether you are getting ready to retire in a few years or you are decades away, this book will help you make the decisions that are right for you.

Whether you read this book, a different one, or order all the available government brochures that explain Social Security, you owe it to yourself to thoroughly research what you want to do BEFORE you stop working and start collecting.  After that, it is really too late.

Since Social Security benefits make up the largest part of the retirement plans for the majority of people, this is not an area you want to neglect.  There are many legal tricks you can use to maximize your benefits ... and the employees of the Social Security Administration are not allowed to tell you about them.  All they will do is implement your benefits when you ask them to.

You may also want to use the tabs at the top of this blog for links to hundreds of articles about where to retire in the United States or abroad, medical issues that may come up as you age, family issues and more financial planning ideas.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Keeping Track of New IRA Rules

Are you looking forward to a retirement that includes travel, playing golf, pursuing your hobbies and feeling comfortable about your financial situation?  If so, the sooner you start your retirement planning, the better off you will be.

There are a lot of different choices, however, and at first they may seem confusing.  In addition to deciding whether you need an IRA, a Roth IRA, a 401K or a combination of several retirement plans, you also have to decide which broker to use.  Even then, your retirement account decisions will not remain static.

It seems as if IRA rules are changing constantly, and 2013 was no exception.  The company that handles your IRA or Roth IRA for you should keep you up-to-date on all the annual changes and they should also let you know how the changes could affect the amounts you are depositing in your accounts each year.

Because of all the different choices that are available, I always encourage my readers to do their own research in order to have all the information they need to make wise decisions.   Having a good investment adviser is an important part of your retirement planning strategy.  Taking the time to compare their advice to what others are saying is just smart.

If you have not yet selected a broker to handle your IRA for you, the sooner you get started, the better off you will be when you are finally ready to stop working.  One website I have found that will help you compare brokers is IRA Success.  They have put together an excellent list of popular brokers including Charles Schwab, eTrade, Fidelity, Scottrade and others.  Their chart tells you the commissions rates, account minimums and IRA fees.  Using their chart is so much easier than contacting each company on your own, so I wanted everyone to have this direct link to the IRA Broker Comparison Chart.

I am also providing a link to an IRA contribution cheat-sheet that IRA Success also provides and updates annually.  The information they give on their cheat-sheet, as well as in some of their blog posts, is quite useful in helping you decide which type of retirement savings plan will best meet your needs.

You may also want to read a good book on investment savings so that you have a better understanding of the different types of retirement savings accounts and how to best take advantage of them.  I think the two books listed below are especially helpful and you can click on their titles to be taken directly to their Amazon page.  Read an excerpt from each book and their reviews and decide if one of these books would be helpful to you in dealing with your retirement planning:

Preparing for Retirement:  A Comprehensive Guide to Financial Planning
The AARP Retirement Survival Guide

If you have gone to the trouble to save money towards your retirement, you owe it to yourself to make sure you have a plan in place for maximizing your contributions, reduced your investment costs and increasing your principle.  Using the websites and books I have mentioned here are a great way to make certain you are on the right track!

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Using Humor to Enhance our Health

As we age, most of us are going to suffer from a variety of ailments.  Many of them will merely be inconveniences ... a bit of arthritis, tennis elbow, or sore muscles.  In other cases, we may face life-threatening illnesses such as cancer or heart disease.  In addition, we will all face periods of stress ... the death of a loved one, a distant move, or financial difficulty.   Some people will even have to endure all of those events.

How can we get through these experiences without letting discomfort, life-threatening illnesses and stressful circumstances destroy us?  Occasionally, I recommend books or articles that I find on other sites, especially if I think they will help my readers have a happier and more satisfying retirement.  In that spirit, I recently discovered a book that I that I feel many Baby Boomers will find useful in dealing with life's struggles.

According to Jan Marshall, the founder of the International Humor & Healing Institute and the author of "Dancin' Schmancin' with the Scars: Finding the Humor No Matter What," most of us will be healthier and happier if we approach all of life's complications with a sense of humor.

Ms. Marshall practices what she preaches, too.  As you read through her book, you will discover her own profound experiences with breast cancer and other difficulties.  However, after allowing herself time to cry and grieve over her personal losses, she used her own indomitable spirit and sense of humor to get herself through some of the worst trials many of us will have to face.

She concludes her book with a chapter full of tips that will help her readers find a sense of humor in their life challenges, too.

Here are two of my favorite quotes from her book:

"If we can eventually discover humor in a dire situation, we probably have defeated and survived it."

"Not a shred of evidence exists that life is serious ... "

I recently spent some time with Jan, sitting next to her a rather boring business meeting for a club in our retirement community.  I was so glad I was sitting at the back of the room, because she was such a delightful conversationalist.  She is a frequent public speaker on the topic of humor and healing and, in fact, founded the International Humor & Healing Institute in 1986. 

Once you read her book, I'm sure you will have a few favorite quotes from it, too.  Other readers who have already discovered her charming wit have given her book a 5-star rating on

You can order her book directly from Amazon by using this link:

"Dancin' Schmancin' with the Scars: Finding the Humor No Matter What!

If you are in the process of planning your own happy retirement, you may also want to check out the tabs at the top of this blog to find links to other articles that may be of interest to you.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Cut your Heart Attack Risk in Half

According to a special report on our local ABC News affiliate in Los Angeles on February 3, 2014, many people are not aware of the fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women.  In fact, someone dies from heart disease in the United States every 90 seconds.  Unfortunately, 30% of adults are not doing anything to reduce their risk of developing heart disease.  Furthermore, according to the ABC News report, while we can't completely eliminate our heart attack risk, taking a few simple actions can cut your risk in half.

The specialists who were interviewed for the ABC report said there were five things people should do to reduce their risk of a heart attack:

* Eat right
* Get exercise
* Lower your blood pressure if it is elevated
* Stop smoking (or don't start)
* Lower your cholesterol if it is elevated

Eat Right

Reduce your sodium intake.  In particular, they mentioned that people should watch the amount of sodium in bread products.  Many bread products, including bagels, waffles, pancake mixes, bread dressing, etc., contain a lot more sodium than people realize.

People should also lower the amount of sugar and unhealthy fats that they consume.  Many people mindlessly consume far more sugar than they know, simply by having a soda and a pastry every day.  Everyone should avoid saturated fats from animal sources, as well as transfats or partially hydrogenated fats.  Replace these bad fats with reasonable amounts of healthy fats, such as olive oil and coconut oil.

Get Exercise

You don't have to become an athlete.  However, everyone should walk for at least 30 minutes three times a week.  This is a reasonable goal and will probably encourage you to walk even more frequently, for longer distances, as time goes by. 

Lower Your Blood Pressure If It is Elevated

If you follow the first three suggestions by eating right, reducing your sodium intake and getting exercise, your blood pressure may stay within the normal blood pressure range without a problem.  However, if your blood pressure remains high, you should consider taking medication for it.  High blood pressure not only contributes to heart disease, but is also a factor in strokes, kidney disease and other health issues.

Stop Smoking

Every smoker already knows that this habit contributes to a wide variety of health problems, so I will not nag you about it!

Lower Your Cholesterol If It is Elevated

Avoiding sugar, saturated fats and transfats should go a long way towards lowering your cholesterol level.  However, for some people, diet and exercise alone are not adequate.  If you are one of those people, it is important to take the appropriate medication so that plaque does not build up in your veins.

More Ideas for a Healthy Heart

The February, 2014 issue of Reader's Digest also put together their own list of easy things people can do to reduce their heart attack risk.  Some of these suggestions are so appealing that it may be worth it to pick out two or three and give them a try!

Drink three cups of tea a day 
Eat less meat
When you do eat meat, choose products with no antibiotics, hormones or additives
Eat more sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon and herring
Get more physical activity
Practice yoga for a few minutes a day
Love a pet
Sit in a sauna ... especially an infrared sauna
Compile a gratitude list
Have sex at least twice a week
Open your windows and let out the polluted indoor air
Clean with vinegar, lemons, baking soda and cornstarch
Get rid of your plastic food containers and use glass, ceramic or stainless steel containers instead.

If you are retired or planning to retire someday, use the tabs at the top of this page to find links to hundreds of articles that will be useful to you ... on topics ranging from where to retire in the United States or overseas, to medical concerns, retirement income, family issues, travel and more.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

Resources for Retiring Overseas

Whether it is for financial reasons or because they want to experience something new and exciting, thousands of Americans choose to retire overseas every year.  Large enclaves of ex-patriot Americans now exist all over the world.

The longer I have written this blog, the more I have come to understand the appeal of many of these places.  While it may be very difficult for a couple to comfortably retire in some regions of the United States on $2,000 to $3,000 a month, there are many places in other parts of the world where you could comfortably retire on that amount of money and still hire a full-time housekeeper, eat out frequently and have money to do some traveling.

Using the "Retire Overseas" tab at the top of this blog, you will find links to articles about a number of popular locations to retire overseas, as well links to a few articles about the advantages and disadvantages of retiring in another country.  I highly recommend that you read these articles if you are considering making such a significant lifestyle change.  I will be adding to this list of articles on a regular basis.

In addition, you will want to check out my online Squidoo review of the book, "How To Retire Overseas: Everything You Need to Know to Live Well (For Less) Abroad."  This book has detailed information about retiring in the countries of Argentina, Belize, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Thailand and Uruguay.  The article also contains links to a couple of other helpful books about retiring overseas.

The author of "How to Retire Overseas" has lived in a number of different countries and understands what it is like to arrange a foreign move and create a new life in an unfamiliar place.  Anyone who would like to move to another country will feel much more comfortable with their decision after reading this book or one of the others mentioned in my review. 

You can check out my review at "Retirement Book Review: How to Retire Overseas."

If you are planning to retire soon, you will also want to check out the other tabs at the top of this blog to learn more about great places to retire in the United States, handling your retirement money, medical concerns, travel, family relationships and more.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

One-Third of Scam Victims are Over Age 65

None of us believe we will ever fall victim to a scam.  We are smart, educated, have common sense and we have decades of real-life experience.  There is no way that someone could fool us.  Right?  Unfortunately, professional scammers are working day and night to come up with new ways to cheat us out of our hard-earned money and, I'm sad to say, many of them have gotten really good at it.

According to the AARP and the National Council on Aging, people over age 65 comprise only about one-eighth of our population; however, they are the victims in approximately one-third of all scam cases.

If we are going to make sure our retirement savings last the rest of our lives, it's not enough to be certain that it is invested well.  We must also be sure that no one can trick us into turning some of it over to a fraudulent business.

Seven Common Scams Against Senior Citizens

Sweepstakes:  Beware of letters, emails and phone calls announcing that you have won a contest or sweepstakes, especially one that you do not remember entering.  If the contest administrators ask for money to pay them money in advance to cover taxes, insurance or other fees, it is almost certainly a fraud, since honest contests are not allowed to do this.  Call your local sheriff's office or county prosecuting attorney's office.

Online Dating:  If you put your profile on a dating site, be cautious if, after weeks or months of pleasant messages, the person you have connected with online begins to express a need for money.  They may say they want the money so they can afford to visit you or because they have a medical or personal emergency.  Frequently they will ask that you send the money in a wire transfer.  American women over the age of 50 are the most common victims of these scams.  They lost a reported $34 million in 2012, while American men lost approximately $5 million.  It is believed that many more cases go unreported because the victims are too embarrassed to tell anyone.  Each incident costs the victim an average of $10,000. 

Phony Charities:  I have repeatedly listed on this blog that people need to thoroughly vet any new charity before they make donations to it.  Never give your credit card information to someone who comes to your door or calls you with a charitable request.  Be skeptical of any charities that you have never heard of.  Check them out with the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance,, or a similar charity evaluator.  Otherwise, stick to charities that you have dealt with in the past and trust, such as your religious organization, the Red Cross, United Way and similar well-known non-profits.

Grandparents Scam:  Two personal friends of mine have fallen victim to this scam.  Both of them were intelligent women who never thought they would fall for something like this.  Both of them discussed the situation with their husbands before sending money.  One of them is married to a retired Deputy Sheriff and even he was fooled.  In this scam, a upset "grandchild" or other relative calls, desperately begging for money and sobbing at the same time, so it is hard to recognize their voice.  Think you wouldn't be fooled?  People in the United States have reported losing $110 million a year to this scam ... and many more may not have reported it!

Home Repair Scams:  These scams happen most often after a major catastrophe that damages homes in your neighborhood; however, they can happen at other times, as well.  Someone may show up at your door offering to repair your gutters, fix your driveway, replace roof shingles or make other home repairs.  They can cheat you in one of two ways: either they ask for an upfront fee and then disappear; or they make shoddy repairs and keep asking for more and more money to fix new "issues" they find (or create).  Get recommendations for contractors from your friends, neighbors or insurance company before you use anyone.  Make sure they have a contractor's license.  Never hire anyone who unexpectedly shows up at your door.

Healthcare Thieves: This has been going on for a long time, but it is expected to become worse for a while because so many people are confused about the new Affordable Care Act.  A stranger, pretending to be a consultant, may offer to help you get free medical supplies or to help you understand changes to your insurance.  What they are really trying to do, however, is steal your identity, get medical care under your name, and leave you with the bill.  A woman here in Orange County, California, where I live, was arrested a few years ago for stealing another woman's medical identity and using the other person's identity to get several elective surgeries, including cosmetic surgery!

Investment Scams:  Unfortunately, these types of crimes did not end with the arrest of Bernie Madoff.  I have known several people who have fallen for these types of smooth-talking crooks.  One elderly couple we know lost nearly all their savings and were stunned when they discovered that "the nice young man" they trusted had actually stolen from them. This scam may start with a free-lunch seminar or some other special program set up under the guise of helping seniors find "low-risk" investments. People can be wiped out before they realize there is a problem.  Once again, stick with major investment firms or those that you know very well.

If you believe you have been a victim of a thief or scammer, contact your local police department, sheriff's department or the prosecuting attorney's office.  Keep any evidence you have that will help them identify the person behind the scam.

Other scams that often target senior citizens are counterfeit drugs, funeral scams, anti-aging products, and deceitful practices involving financial services such as reverse mortgages.  Always discuss major outlays of money with other family members as well as trusted financial advisers.

Bottom line:  Be careful.  Be skeptical.  Rely on all those years of experience that have kept you safe during your younger days.  You do not want to give away your hard-earned savings to criminals.

Whether you are already retired or about to retire, you may enjoy reading some of the other articles available on this blog.  Simply use the tabs at the top of the page to find the topics of most interest to you.  The tabs contain links to hundreds of additional articles.

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AARP Bulletin, Fall, 2013.

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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Do You Think You Are Ready to Retire?

Retirement is your key to easy street. Right? It's not unusual for people to believe that all they need to do when they start thinking about retirement in their 60's is to decide when they want to quit their job and then do it.  It sounds simple enough.  However, if you want to save yourself time, frustration and money, there are a few things you really need to figure out BEFORE you turn in that letter of resignation.

In fact in some cases, such as deciding when to collect your Social Security or where you are going to live, making a decision too hastily can cost you thousands of dollars.  While you can change your mind regarding some issues such as where you want to live, there are other decisions, such as those you make regarding Social Security, that are permanent.  Once you have begun collecting checks, you can't go back and say "I didn't know I could have chosen another option that would have paid me more."  You are stuck with the first decision you made.

Consequently, I recently wrote an article on Squidoo called, "What You Really Need to Know Before You Retire!"

This article gives you information about the decisions you need to make before you quit your job, and it also gives you links to the best books to help you get the detailed information that you will need in order make the smartest decisions for you and your family.

Even if you are already retired, you may still want to read this article because some of the information in it can help people even after they have retired, especially if they are thinking about moving to a new location or they are trying to determine how to invest their savings in order to maximize their income.

As the official "Retired and Loving It" Contributor for the online magazine Squidoo, I frequently write articles for them on topics that I believe will also interest my readers here at  As an added benefit for my blog followers, I post links here on this blog to interesting Squidoo articles that I or my fellow contributors have written regarding topics such as retirement, aging and health issues.

Here's another link to my Squidoo article:

You can also find additional retirement information by checking out the tabs at the top of this blog. They contain links to hundreds of articles about where to retire in the United States and overseas, medical issues for seniors, financial planning, family relationships and more.

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Warren Buffet's Retirement Advice

There are probably very few investors in the world who are better known or more successful than Warren Buffett.  His Berkshire Hathaway fund, headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, has done very well over the decades.

According to the Motley Fool investment advisers, at a shareholder's meeting in 2004, Mr. Buffett was asked by a participant how to invest their retirement savings.  Here is a summary of his comments:

*  First, he said, he and his associates never recommend that people either buy or sell shares of Berkshire-Hathaway.

*  Instead, they recommend that nearly everyone should invest their money in low-cost index funds, and spread the investment out over a ten year period of time, buying a little at a time.  According to Mr. Buffett, people who do this will be more successful than 90% of the people who try to pick individual stocks.

* According to Mr. Buffet, by spreading out your investment in an index fund out over ten years, you are also taking advantage of dollar-cost averaging, which means that your investment costs will be averaged out over years in order to have an average cost that is as low as possible.

* In this particular interview, the only company that he specifically mentioned was the Vanguard Index Funds, because they are cheap and reliable.  Vanguard has a variety of funds, including an S&P 500 ETF (exchange traded fund), a Vanguard FTSE All-World ex-US ETF, and a Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF.   If you invest in a little of each, you will have an extremely balanced investment portfolio.  According to Mr. Buffett, these actions will give you "diversification across assets and time, two very important things."

*  In addition,  he recommended that investors read books by John Bogle.  He said that any investor in funds should read them.  To aid the readers of my blog in finding them, here is a link to the correct page:  John Bogle's books on

*  Mr. Buffett discourages investors from keeping all their money in cash.  While everyone should have some cash on hand for emergencies, according to Mr. Buffett cash will lose value over time, while the majority of businesses held by exchange-traded funds will become worth more over time.

If you are still at the stage of your life while you are saving for retirement, you may wish to read the books mentioned above, do your own research, and decide for yourself if you wish to follow Mr. Buffett's advice.  While no one investment decision is right for everyone, it is always a good idea to read the opinions of successful investors.  At the very least, Mr. Buffett's advice is likely to be far safer than some of the more risky investments that often tempt us with their promises of high (and often un-realized) returns.

Disclaimer:  I am not in the investment business; all recommendations mentioned in this blog are only presented here in attempt to present my readers with some of the options available to them.  All final investment decisions are purely the decision of my readers.


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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Resources for Retiring in the United States

Are you trying to decide where you want to retire in the United States after you retire?  It can be a difficult decision.  Should you live near your current home, near your adult children or in an entirely new location?  Do you like winter sports, or are some empty beach chairs calling your name?

Your first step will be doing your research.  Do you know what the cost of living is in the different locations you are considering?  What is the weather like there?  Will your Social Security be taxed?  What about your other retirement income?  How much are the property taxes?

In the states that you are considering, which towns are the most affordable?  What types of sporting events, museums, golf courses and other entertainment options are available in the area?

If you are in the process of making up your mind about where you would like to live, you will want to be sure to check out the book review I wrote for the online magazine Squidoo about "Where to Retire: America's Best and Most Affordable Places."

This article also has links to a couple of other excellent books that will be useful in helping you find the perfect place to retire.  It's far easier, and cheaper, to do your research from the comfort of your current home than it is to drive all over the place or, worse, to move and realize that your new community is not what you expected.

If you are planning your retirement, you will also want to use the tabs at the top of this page to check out more articles about retiring in the United States or other countries, medical issues, financial concerns, and more.

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