Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Most Popular Retirement Stories of 2017

Each December, the Baby Boomer Retirement blog looks back at the retirement news which captivated our readers the most during the preceding year.  The most popular retirement stories of 2017 ranged from financial concerns to the latest news on how to live a long, healthy life while remaining free of dementia.  One interesting new retirement community also made our list of top stories.

All of the major topics covered in the past year were important both to people who have already retired, as well as those who are still planning their retirement.  Below is a list of the most popular articles of 2017, with links so you can read the entire article for yourself.

If there are additional topics which may interest you, use the pull down menu or tabs at the top of this page to find links to almost 500 helpful articles, organized by topic.

2017 Most Popular Retirement Stories

How to Find Jobs Late in Life - Millions of Americans are discovering they simply cannot retire on Social Security and their savings alone.  When this happens, their best option in many cases is to find a job and continue working as long as possible.  This article contains both general tips for finding a retirement job, as well as links to specific sites where you can explore the available jobs or find job retraining opportunities.

Travel Scams to Avoid - One of the joys of retirement is the ability to travel whenever you want, without concern for your children's school schedule or similar issues.  However, older people are also more likely to be victimized by scammers. Learn about some of the most common travel scams and the steps you can take to avoid falling victim to them.

How to Live Longer - Add Years to Your Life - Although no one can guarantee that you will live to be 100 years old, there are some interesting traits which appear to be common in those with the greatest longevity.  Read the tips in this brief article and learn how to minimize your odds of dying an early death.

Social Security Myths and Misunderstandings - Have you been told that it is too late to save our nation's Social Security program and there will be no money left by the time you retire?  Do you think the problem is result of people living too long?  You may have become a victim of some of the myths and misunderstandings which are prevalent about Social Security.  Learn the truth and discover the practical suggestions Congress could enact in order to save the Social Security for yourself and future generations.

Tips for a Sharper Brain and Better Memory - What can you do to keep your brain sharp and fully functioning?  What are the cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure numbers you should strive to achieve?  Do you know the connection between good heart health and good brain health?  This article will help you understand what your lifestyle, health and diet goals should be if you want to maximize your memory and brain function.

Margaritaville Retirement Communities - Remember the Jimmy Buffett song "Margaritaville?"  Many Baby Boomers think of it as a great theme for their retirement.  Now, a developer in Florida is actually building a collection of retirement communities which have been designed around a Margaritaville theme.  Learn more about these communities in this article and decide if one of these retirement communities might be right for you.

Early Diagnosis of Dementia is Possible - Many people are surprised to learn that memory loss is NOT the first sign that someone could be developing dementia.  Some of the earliest symptoms are much more subtle, such as anxiety, aggression, apathy and poor impulse control, to name a few. Learn more about how to recognize that you or a loved one could be developing dementia, so early treatment can be started.

How to Retire without a Car - Most Americans dread the day when they might have to give up their car. It could happen because the expense becomes too much for you to handle on a retirement income, or you may develop health conditions which make it impossible for you to drive.  Whatever the reason, there are a variety of affordable alternatives to driving which would make it possible for you to continue to get around and enjoy your life, even without a car.

Opiod Addiction in Retirees - Every year, approximately one-third of all Medicare patients are prescribed opioid painkillers by their doctors.  As a result, millions of Americans over the age are 50 have begun abusing these dangerous drugs.  In fact, roughly 42 percent of all the opioid overdoses in the U.S. have happened to people over the age of 45.  Learn more about this health crisis, including the names of the most commonly prescribed opioids, so you can insist that your own physician does not put you on the dangerous road to addiction.

Short on Retirement Savings? - One-half of all Baby Boomers have saved less than $100,000 towards retirement.  One-third have less than $50,000.  To make matters worse, the average amount of Social Security benefits is less than $1400 a month.  This article contains a number of practical solutions for helping to solve your retirement income shortfall so your senior years can still be enjoyable.

Medicare and Cancer Benefits - Prevention, Diagnosis and Treatment - If you are on Medicare and receive a cancer diagnosis, you may be worried about your insurance coverage.  This article was written by a Medicare insurance specialist and will help put your mind at ease, in most cases.

Vacation Timeshare Risks and Benefits - Millions of Americans own timeshares, with the number increasing every years.  Many time share owners appreciate the convenience of owning a "second home" without bearing the full burden of the annual expense and maintenance.  However, there are also disadvantages to timeshare ownership and they can be difficult to resell.  Learn more about timeshare ownership. 

How to Hire a Home Care Agency - Assuming you are fortunate enough to live a long life, it is likely that eventually you or someone in your family will need the services of a caregiver. What requirements should you look for in a home care agency?  What characteristics are important in the caregiver they send to your home?  This article will help you find a reputable agency and high-quality caregiver for yourself or someone you love.

If you are interested in learning more about financial planning, Social Security, Medicare, where to retire, common health problems and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

Watch for my book, Retirement Awareness:  10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement, which is due to be released by Griffin Publishing in 2018.

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Photo credit:  Twitter photo of a senior Tai Chi class

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

What is a Long-Term Care Ombudsman?

If you are a senior citizen living in a long-term care facility and you have no friends or family members who can be advocates for you, a long-term care ombudsman could help make sure your needs are being met.  This federally mandated program is provided free by trained volunteers.  Every licensed facility in the United States is required to prominently display an Ombudsman poster which features the program's local contact information and a list of the services they can provide.

Ombudsmen are Well-Trained

In California and most other states, ombudsmen must go through an orientation which involves visiting skilled nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in their area.  They also must take a 36 hour class, spend time in the field under supervision and receive state certification.

The Ombudsman Program is based on the concept that even the very elderly have the right to privacy, confidentiality, self-determination, dignity and respect. They have the right to have someone listen to their concerns and make sure their wishes are carried out.  They also have the right to know that someone will take their complaints seriously and investigate accusations of abuse, neglect or theft.

There is a large need for volunteers who want to serve the elderly in their community as ombudsmen.  In my small California county alone, Orange County, there are over 1,000 licensed long-term care facilities, and each one is likely to contain at least a few seniors who do not have anyone who can stand up for their rights.

What Services are Performed by Ombudsmen?

There are a number of ways in which an ombudsman is able to help the residents of a long-term care facility:

*  Most importantly, they listen to residents, particularly their complaints
*  They make frequent, unannounced visits to care facilities to evaluate what the day-to-day life is like in the facility
*  They make sure the facilities are clean and well-maintained
*  They confirm the food being served is appropriate for the patients' medical conditions
*  They investigate suspected cases of physical and emotional abuse or neglect
*  They investigate cases of lost or stolen personal belongings
*  They confirm that medications are dispensed in a timely and correct manner
*  They report suspected problems to licensing agencies
*  They attend resident council meetings at the long-term care facilities
*  They can help mediate disagreements between residents and their families or caregivers
*  They can be a witness on an Advance Healthcare Directive so the final wishes of residents will be respected.

How to Get More Information

Whether you want to volunteer as an ombudsman in your community or you have a family member who might need the services of an ombudsman, you can get more information at:

 National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center

If you are looking for more information about retirement planning, common medical problems, where to retire, Social Security, Medicare, changing family relationships and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

Watch for my book, Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement, which will be published by Griffin Publishing and Watering Seeds in 2018.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Get Paid to Retire in these Locations

Did you know there are places where you can get money or property if you move there?  People often worry about the high cost of retirement, especially if they know their retirement income will not be large enough for them to survive in their current location.  Many people have spent their working years in expensive cities like New York, Seattle, Boston, Los Angeles or San Francisco.  When they approach retirement, they are distressed to realize there is no way they can afford to retire in their current location.  Where can they go?

One solution is to look for affordable places which will actually pay you to relocate!  Yes, there are places which desperately want more residents and they are willing to offer financial incentives to those who will move there. Kiplinger and a few other online sites provided the information for the list below.

The locations on the list offer a variety of rewards for people willing to relocate, including housing allowances, free lots or home building sites, tax rebates, help with student loan repayment and more. Depending on the incentives which are offered, your entire family may even be motivated to relocate somewhere new.  As a result, this list does not contain just those offers which would be appealing to senior citizens, but also those which might make life easier for other family members, as well.

Places Which Will Pay You to Live There

Rural Kansas - If you would like to move to rural Kansas, and you have not lived in the state for the past five years, 77 of the state's 105 counties offer state income tax waivers for up to five years.  Seventy of those counties also offer student-loan repayments of up to $15,000, if you have a young adult in your family who would like to relocate with you.  They must have received an associate's, bachelor's or post-graduate degree and meet other requirements. A few of the counties are also offering free lots or other incentives. This could be an opportunity for your entire family to get a fresh start.  Kansas also has an affordable cost-of-living and some couples will find they can live there on the average amount of Social Security alone.

The State of Alaska - When my husband and I traveled in Alaska about ten years ago, we were amazed by the number of people we met who had spent their working years in the "lower 48 states" and then retired to Alaska.  The incentive is that Alaska pays mineral royalties to all their residents each year.  The annual royalties have ranged from less than $500 to over $2,000 per person in the family.  You cannot be absent from the state for over 180 days a year and you cannot have been convicted or incarcerated for a felony or certain misdemeanors.  Residents must apply each year between January 1 and March 31.  The royalties are a terrific way to supplement your retirement income.  In addition, many of the retirees we met were working during the summer in the tourist industry as bus drivers, store clerks and tour guides.  In the dead of winter, residents of Alaska often take their vacations or visit relatives who live in more moderate climates, so you are not stuck living there all year long.  In fact, you can spend half the year living in a more temperate climate, while still receiving the annual royalties.

Harmony, Minnesota - This town of roughly 1,000 people will give you a $12,000 cash rebate if you build a new home in the community.  There are lots available in the town for about that price, so basically they are giving you the cost of a home building site.  There are several large companies in the area which create some job opportunities for people nearing retirement or other members of their family. If you enjoy outdoor life and an affordable, small town environment, this offer could make it possible for you to build your own retirement home.

The Province of  Saskatchewan, Canada - If you are willing to relocate to Canada, the Province of Saskatchewan wants to attract and keep more college graduates.  If you or other family members are recent college graduates, they will reimburse the tuition fees which were paid during college.  In turn, this money could be used to pay off college loans.  If the adult children in your family are looking for a way to pay off their student loans, and they want to live in an area with other highly educated people, this could be an exciting place for the entire family to relocate.

New Haven, Connecticut - Because of the low homeownership rate in the city, they are offering as much as $80,000 in incentives to help residents purchase homes or make energy-saving home upgrades.   Your children or grandchildren can even get free tuition to any Connecticut college if they graduate from public school in the state and are in good academic standing.  If you love the Northeast and are looking for a lovely state where you can enjoy your retirement, you may want to explore this offer.

Curtis, Nebraska - If you would like to build your own retirement home, but cannot afford to purchase a lot, another place you might consider is Curtis, Nebraska.  This small town of less than 900 people is offering free lots on which you can build a new home or set up a modular home.  This could be a very affordable opportunity for many retirees. You have to start construction within six months of being given the lot, and complete construction within 24 months.

Detroit, Michigan -  If you happen to work for certain companies which are located in the downtown or midtown parts of Detroit, they will give cash and loans to both renters and new homeowners who are willing to live in certain communities in the city. They are trying to attract new residents to the inner city so, if you are willing to be an urban pioneer and would like to work for one of the companies on their list during the years prior to retirement, this could be a good way to get yourself in a better position to retire.

Niagara Falls, New York -  This romantic mecca for honeymooners will help repay student loans for recent college graduates or those who have a two-year technical degree. Recipients can receive as much as $3,492 a year for two years.  In return, they must agree to live in certain parts of downtown Niagara Falls for the full two years.  Because the population of the city is shrinking, they are trying to attract young, educated adults.  If you have a young adult in your family who is struggling to repay their student loans, your entire family might find it beneficial to move to Niagara Falls.  Retirees may even be able to find work in the tourist trade in the area.

Important:  Be sure to thoroughly check out the offers which interest you.  Each one of them has special requirements which you may or may not be willing to accept.  For example, you may be required to build your home within a certain length of time or in a certain neighborhood; or you may be required to work for a particular company.  Make sure you fully understand the offer before making a major move.  

If you are looking for more ideas about where to retire in the United States or other countries, financial planning, common medical problems, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

Watch for my book, Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement, which will be released by Griffin Publishing in 2018.

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Photo credit:  Google images

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Do You Have Alzheimers or Dementia?

As we grow older, every memory lapse can cause us to worry and wonder if we are getting some type of dementia, especially Alzheimers.  The slightest mistake or moment of confusion can strike fear in our hearts.  If we are married or have elderly parents, we may carefully observe everything they say and do, watching for signs of cognitive impairment.  When we do see the symptoms, it can be heart-breaking.

My own mother, pictured here, died of dementia in her mid-80s.  By the time she died, she was very confused about where she was living and who lived with her.  She could no longer drive or handle money. She recognized my father and sister, but was hostile towards most other people.  Her dementia was obvious, but that is not always the case.  How do we know if everything is operating normally with our brains, or when we should be worried?

Fortunately, the Cleveland Clinic has put together a list of behaviors which are normal, along with a list of memory problems which can indicate a serious problem.

Normal Cognitive Aging of the Brain

*  Trouble remembering a phone number
*  Forgetting where you left your car keys
*  Taking longer to perform basic math
*  Forgetting why you entered a room
*  Momentarily forgetting the next step in a process
*  Forgetting the name of a public figure or a person you have not seen in a while
*  Taking longer to come up with the right word

Abnormal Cognitive Impairment or Signs of Dementia

*  Difficulty managing your finances
*  Problems performing tasks which involve a sequence
*  Failing to recognize familiar people
*  Getting lost in familiar places; inability to follow directions
*  Problems following your medication prescriptions
*  Trouble remembering how to do things you have done many times before
*  Asking the same questions repeatedly
*  Difficulty following conversations
*  Easily losing your train of thought
*  Increasingly poor judgment

Relax if the Cognitive Impairment is Mild

If the majority of your memory lapses fall in the top category, it is time to relax.  Some memory and cognitive problems are normal for everyone, beginning in your 60s.  Feeling stress, or worrying and obsessing over your memory will only make things worse, so lighten up on yourself.

What to do if the Cognitive Impairment Seems Abnormal

If you or someone you care about is having memory lapses which fall in the second category, you need to become more proactive.  There are several actions you can take.  Most of these actions are a good idea, even if your memory seems normal:

*  Talk to your doctor about prescription medications which could help slow down the dementia symptoms
*  Ask your doctor to make sure you are not experiencing a B12 deficiency, thyroid problems, or side effects from your medications
*  If you are experiencing hearing or vision loss, sleep apnea, or depression, get those problems treated because they can lead to dementia
*  If you smoke or drink too much, give up these high-risk behaviors
*  Eat a heart healthy, Mediterranean-style diet that is plant based; anything which is good for the heart is also good for the brain
*  Get at least 30 minutes of exercise, such as brisk walking, a minimum of 5 times a week
*  Keep your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and other blood factors at optimal levels
*  Play online brain games, particularly those which involve speed of processing.  They have been shown to be the most effective games at slowing down your cognitive decline.  Check out Luminosity or any number of brain game apps on your smartphone or mobile device.
*  Stimulate your brain in other ways, such as reading books, solving crossword puzzles, learning a foreign language or how to play a musical instrument.
*  Stay socially engaged with other people.  Isolation increases your dementia risk.

Learn more about dementia from the Cleveland Clinic website.

If you are interested in learning more about common health problems as we age, financial planning, where to retire in the U.S. or overseas, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of other useful articles.

Watch for my book "Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement" which will be published by Griffin Publishing in 2018.

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Photo credit: Author's personal family photo

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Annual Medicare Open Enrollment Period

We are fortunate to have another guest post from Medicare expert, Danielle Kunkle, who has provided us with a clear and detailed explanation of the annual Medicare Open Enrollment Period.  This is timely information, because we are currently in the middle of open enrollment.   It is important for seniors to understand they are not limited to the open enrollment period if they are signing up for Medicare for the first time.  You are also not affected if you have a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan.  However, if you are unhappy with your current Medicare Advantage or drug plan, the information below will be useful.

Medicare Open Enrollment

The Medicare Open Enrollment period each fall is a time when Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their Medicare Advantage plans and Part D drug plans.  This annual enrollment period runs from October 15 to December 7.

Beneficiaries will receive an Annual Notice of Change letter from their current insurance company in September.  This letter will outline all the changes to the plan for the following year.   It is common for the plan's monthly premiums or co-pays to change.  Pay close attention, as well, to see if any of your medications are being added or dropped from the plan's formulary.

If you are unhappy with the changes which are being made to your current plan, the fall open enrollment period is the time to look for new coverage.  We recommend you visit to use their Plan Finder Tool.  You will enter your zip code, your medications and your preferred pharmacies.  Then, this handy tool will crunch the numbers and tell you exactly which plans for next year will offer you the lowest possible out-of-pocket spending.

It's important to note that the Open Enrollment Period in the fall only applies to drug plans and Medicare Advantage plans.  It does not affect your Medicare Supplement (Medigap plan).  Unlike drug plans and Advantage plans, your Medigap plan does not change its benefits from year to year.

You can actually change your Medigap plan at any time of year, though in most states it will require you to answer health questions and go through medical underwriting to do so.

The graphic along the sidebar will help you understand the Medicare Open Enrollment period.

About the author:

Danielle Kunkle is the co-founder of Boomer Benefits, an insurance agency specializing in Medicare-related insurance products.  They help baby boomers new to Medicare learn about their benefits and coverage options across 47 states.

If you are interested in learning more about Medicare, Social Security, financial planning, where to retire, common medical issues and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

Watch for my book, Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement, which is being published by Griffin Publishing in 2018.

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Photo credit:  Google Images

Infographic credit:  Danielle Kunkle

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Health Benefits of Helping Others

As the holidays approach, many of us have a strong desire to reach out and help others.  Often, we are overcome by feelings of gratitude for the good things in our own lives and we want to make life a little easier for others.  However, did you know there are actual health benefits you receive when you help someone else?  It really does appear to be more blessed to give than receive.

Health Benefits You Receive by Helping Others

You May Live Longer - No one is quite sure why this is true, but several studies indicate that helping others increases your longevity.  In one study, reported in the Huffington Post article "19 Healthy Reasons to Help Others," 423 married couples over age 65 in Detroit were asked if they helped anyone other than each other in the previous year with tasks such as transportation, errands, shopping, housework, or childcare. The people who helped others were approximately half as likely to die over the next five years than those who didn't.

Helping Others Reduces Your Stress - When you reach out to help others, your body releases oxytocin, which lowers stress and increases your sense of trust and tranquility.  Oxytocin is also known as the compassion hormone.  It helps in cell repair, in the storage of nutrients, and in growth.  No wonder helping others helps us live longer!

Caring About Others Improves Your Immune Function - In an 1988 experiment, Harvard researchers discovered that immunoglobulin A levels increased when subjects were shown a video about Mother Teresa.  They didn't even have to actually help someone else; they just had to watch someone else helping people.  

You Will Feel Great About What You are Doing - One of the best reasons for helping others is that you simply feel good.  There are chemical reasons why we feel better, including the fact that our body releases dopamine, which soothes us, and sometimes serotonin, which is a brain chemical often used to treat depression.

Volunteering Can Help Ward off Loneliness and Depression - In fact, just helping someone else could be therapeutic for someone with mild to moderate depression.  One group which has seen this first hand is Alcoholics Anonymous.  Members who help others stay sober are less likely to be depressed themselves.  The same principal holds true in other organizations where people who suffer from a medical condition, for example, help others who suffer from the same health problem.

Helping Others Can Improve Your Physical Health -  In an article from Harvard titled "Volunteering may be Good for Body and Mind,"  they discovered that helping others can lower your blood pressure and improve your longevity.

You Can Keep it in the Family -  According to the Huffington Post article, parents who teach their children to be caring and compassionate also receive the health benefits of volunteering.  While I have no research to prove it is also true for grandparents, as well, there have been studies which have shown that grandparents who spend a few hours a week taking care of their grandchildren tend to be happier.  In other words, anytime you reach out to help others, no matter who it is, it benefits you, as well.  There is something else you should feel good about.  If you help your grandchildren be more caring and compassionate, you may be improving their lifelong health, too.

Tips for Getting the Most Benefit from Helping Others

Just a Few Hours of Volunteering is all You Need -  According to the Huffington Post article, it doesn't take a lot of time to reap the health benefits.  Just two hours of volunteering a week is enough to reap the maximum benefit.  Of course, you can do more if you want, but two hours is all you need to benefit.

Find Something You Care About - It will not benefit you if you force yourself to commit to a volunteer opportunity which you do not care about.  In other words, make sure you actually want to help this particular person or group of people and you are not doing it because you think it will improve your health.  Help people who mean something to you, either because they are related to you, they share a common health problem with you, or they are someone whose welfare you truly care about.

Do Not Overdo It - If you put so much effort into volunteering that you burn yourself out, you will lose all the health benefits.  Do what you can, but do not let yourself be talked into doing so much that you hurt yourself financially, emotionally or physically.

Realize You Cannot Solve Someone Else's Problems - Although you may begin to truly care about the people you help, you need to realize that you cannot solve all their problems.  Keep some emotional distance.  You cannot fix everything that is broken.  It is enough that you occasionally make life a litter easier for someone else.  You do not have to try to carry all their burdens.


"19 Healthy Reasons to Help Others"

"Volunteering May be Good for Body and Mind"

If you are interested in learning more about taking care of your health as you age, where to retire, financial planning, Medicare, Social Security and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of helpful articles.

Watch for my book, "Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement," which is scheduled to be released by Griffin Publishing in 2018.

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Photo credit:  Photo of volunteers fighting human trafficking taken by author

Monday, November 13, 2017

Should you Retire with a Mortgage?

While the majority of homeowners manage to pay off their mortgages before retirement, more people than ever before are retiring while they still owe money on a mortgage.  According to a 2013 survey done by the Federal Reserve, in 2001 approximately 74 percent of homeowners had managed to pay off their mortgages prior to retirement.  By 2013, that number had dropped to only 61 percent.  The median mortgage loan still had 17 years left before it would be paid off.  For some senior citizens, a large, lengthy mortgage could put their retirement at risk. Others, however, will be able to handle the expense.  What should people consider before beginning retirement with a mortgage?

Can Your Retirement Budget Handle a Mortgage?

People who retire with a large investment income in addition to Social Security and/or a pension will often be capable of handling a mortgage, especially if they are able to maintain an income which is nearly the same as their pre-retirement income.  They may even find that the mortgage deduction they get on their taxes benefits them enough to make it wise to have a mortgage.

Homeowners with a modest retirement income will need to look at the numbers more carefully.  If they have owned the home a long time and can afford the payments, it may be wise to continue to live in the home until it is paid off, especially if they only have a few years left on their mortgage.  By that time, it would feel as if they were getting a raise in their retirement income, since their expenses would drop.  On the other hand, they need to realize that they may not get a tax benefit, since they may only be using the standard deduction when they file their taxes.  They need to look at their long-term financial situation.

What If You Cannot Afford Your Mortgage?

If you decide your retirement budget will not be able to handle your current mortgage, you have a few options.

You could try to pay off the mortgage prior to retirement, while you are still employed.  You could make extra house payments or refinance your loan into a 15 year mortgage, as long as you do it ten or fifteen years prior to retiring.  However, you do not want to take money out of your retirement savings accounts or add to other debts in order to pay off your home faster.  Those moves would either reduce your future retirement income or increase your other expenses, which would not actually solve the problems caused by having a mortgage you cannot afford.

A popular choice is to sell your current home and use the equity to buy another one which is less expensive.  You might even be able to pay cash for the new home.  If not, you will at least end up with a much less expensive mortgage which will better fit into your retirement plans.  You could look for a smaller home in your current neighborhood or consider moving into an active adult retirement community.  Many retirement communities have homes which are modestly priced and well designed for people who are aging.  This could also save you from spending money to modify your current home so it is accessible for someone using a wheelchair or walker, which could be an issue for you or your spouse in your later years.

Should You Consider a Reverse Mortgage?

Reverse mortgages can be very helpful for retirees who want to remain in their home until they die.  However, it is not a good idea to get a reverse mortgage too early in your retirement, especially if you hope to retain some equity in your home so you can leave to your children, or if you hope to use your equity to cover the cost of a nursing home or memory care facility at the end of your life.  Before getting a reverse mortgage, you need to weigh the pros and cons very carefully.

You do not need to pay back a reverse mortgage as long as you remain in your home.  However, the debt and interest continue to accrue and, eventually, you may no longer have any equity left in your home.  When you die or move into a nursing home, the mortgage company can sell your house and pay themselves back the amount of the loan, plus the interest and selling costs.  You or your heirs will only receive whatever is left.  If you have had the loan a long time, there may be nothing left.  That is why it is best to wait as long as possible before you turn to a reverse mortgage.

Whether or not you decide to retire with a mortgage depends on your personal financial situation.  However, it is important for you to weigh your decision carefully.

If you are interested in learning more about retirement planning, where to retire, common medical problems, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

Watch for my book, Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement, which will be published by Griffin Publishing in 2018.

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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Vacation Timeshare Risks and Benefits

There are over 9.2 million timeshare owners in the United States, and many of them are retirees.  Timeshares can be an affordable way to own a portion of a vacation home and many people love the time they spend in them.  They make it possible for owners to budget and pay for their annual vacation over time.  Millions of people look forward to spending a week or more each year in a luxurious condo in a beautiful resort.  Many timeshares give owners the ability to trade their week in one resort for a week in a different one, which means owners can travel to a wide variety of vacation destinations over the years.  Some of them even give owners the option to trade their week for a trip on a cruise ship.

Timeshare Costs

Prices range from about $10,000 to $40,000 and give the owner the right to stay in a resort for one week a year, for as long as you own the timeshare.  Used timeshares can sell for significantly less.  While some owners purchase the timeshares for cash, others make monthly payments for a set number of years, until the purchase price has been paid off.

In addition to the purchase price, the annual maintenance fee averages from about $500 to $1000 a year and owners must also share in paying the annual property taxes.  Owners should expect both of these expenses to rise with inflation.  The maintenance fee may go up faster than the inflation rate, because the property will age and need more attention.  There may also be special assessments whenever a major upgrade needs to be made.  Some timeshares bill the owners for the utilities for one week of usage a year.  For those owners who want to trade their week at one resort for a week at a different one, there may be an additional fee to make the trade.

If you own your timeshare for many years, you may come to see that purchase price as a real bargain.  The longer you own it, the less you will have spent per year on your vacations.  However, if you decide you do not want it after a few years, it can be nearly impossible to recoup your costs.

Risks of Owning a Timeshare

While timeshares may be a great deal of fun and used by your entire family, there are risks to this type of property ownership.   While buying a timeshare may seem like a great idea during the prime years of your career, it can become a burden if you lose your job, suffer a financial setback, or become too ill to use it any longer, which is a common problem for older owners.

Common Problems with Timeshares

Although most owners are very happy with their decision to own a timeshare, there are potential problems you need to consider before you make the purchase.

1.  If you are making payments on the purchase price, plus paying the annual maintenance fee, property taxes and other costs, your timeshare may be more expensive than you expected.  In addition, you have to consider other vacation related expenses you will have when you use it,  such as the cost of traveling to the location and spending money on restaurant meals and local attractions.

2.  Owning a timeshare could limit your choice in vacation destinations.  While many timeshare operators such as Marriott and Hilton have multiple locations, there may be times when you would like to take a vacation somewhere exotic, or stay someplace other than one of the resorts owned by your timeshare operator.  If your annual vacation time is limited, you may have to choose between letting your timeshare week go to waste, gifting it to a friend, or using it when you would rather have stayed somewhere else. 

3.  Timeshares can be very difficult to resell.  Once you own it, it is your property.  In addition, if you or your heirs are not able to resell it, your adult children might inherit it, depending on the terms of your contract, and it can become their responsibility to keep up with the annual maintenance fees and other costs.  If your children look forward to using the timeshare, this may not be a problem for them.  However, if they are not in a position to use it regularly and the mortgage payments and maintenance fees become unaffordable for them, they may consider it an expensive liability which they do not want.

4.  Sellers may try to resell their condo back to the company, but the resort owners may decline to repurchase it.  The owners can also try listing it on a site like, for a fee, but there is no guarantee it will sell.  If anything, by announcing that you want to sell your condo, you could put yourself out there for scammers to find.

5.  Scammers frequently target owners who want to get rid of their timeshare.  In the June/July 2017 AARP Magazine, they published an article called "Time-Share Bandits."  It described how people who advertise their timeshares for sale are often called by scammers who tell the sellers there is a buyer who is interested in their timeshare.  The seller just has to put up a few thousand dollars in advance to cover escrow and title services.  Financially strapped sellers often jump at the chance to get rid of their timeshare, only to be told after a few months that the buyers "backed out."  Often the same sellers have been targeted repeatedly, paying fake escrow fees over and over again.

6.  You may decide to keep your timeshare, and donate the use of it to a charity during those years when you are unable to use it yourself. has a list of charities which would like timeshare donations.  The downside of this choice is that you cannot get a tax deduction for your donation.  According to a U.S. News and World Report article titled, "Should You Invest in a Timeshare," the IRS ruled there is no value for the time used during a donated week.  As a result, you have to keep making your payments, even on the years when you cannot use the timeshare, and you cannot get a charitable deduction, even if you donate it.

For More Information About Timeshares

Despite the risks of timeshare ownership, you may still want to own one.  If you are interested in buying a timeshare, you can learn much more from ARDA, the American Resort Development Association.  With approximately 1,000 members, they represent vacation ownership and resort development companies, in both the U.S. and other countries.  They can help you find legitimate timeshare operators to help you.

American Resort Development Association
1201 15th Street N.W., Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 2005
(202) 371-6700

Get More Information from the Federal Trade Commission:

If you are interested in learning more about financial planning for retirement, travel, where to retire, common medical issues as we age, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

Watch for my book, Retirement Awareness:  10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement, which will be published by Griffin Publishing in 2018.

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Home Safety Modifications for Senior Citizens

The vast majority of Americans plan to continue to live in their pre-retirement homes as long as possible.  In order to make that possible, many of them will need to make a few modifications to their homes so they are more accessible and safer.  Some of the modifications may be minor and can be done by the homeowner.  Others may require hiring a contractor.

Whether you do it yourself or hire someone to make the changes for you, the safer you can make your home the less likely you are to have an accident and be injured.  This is important because, according to the Centers for Disease Control, every year one out of three adults age 65 and older will experience a fall. Below is a list of common modifications and suggestions for hiring a reliable contractor so you will be able to safely stay in your home as long as possible.

Common Home Safety Modifications

Power stair lifts - If you own a two-story home and do not have a bedroom and full bathroom on the main floor, a power stair lift may make it easier for you to stay in your home even if you have surgery or find it difficult to climb stairs for other reasons.  Stair lifts can be expensive, so talk to several companies before making a decision.  Despite the cost, installing one will probably be cheaper than moving.

Grab bars in the shower or tub - If you add bars to the shower wall and an inexpensive shower chair, you can more easily continue to enjoy showers with less fear of slipping and falling.  A professional may be required to secure the bars to the wall, so it is done without cracking your tiles.

Walk-in tub - For those who prefer a bath to a shower, a walk-in tub is much safer than a traditional tub which requires you to step over the edge to climb in and out.  Contact several companies and try sitting in the tubs in the showroom before making your final selection.

Hand rails in hallways and stairs - If you have stairs around your home, make sure you have handrails to hold onto as you age.  Be especially aware of short outdoor stairs which often do not have rails alongside them.   A simple rail installed next to the stairs can make it much safer for you to use the steps.

Wheelchair / walker ramps - If the only way to currently enter your home is by using stairs, you may want to add a ramp so it will be easier to enter if you ever need to use a wheelchair or walker, even temporarily.  You do not want to wait until you need a ramp before you consider adding one.

Lower counters in kitchen and bathrooms - For the same reason you do not want to wait until you need them before you lower your kitchen and bathroom counters, you may want to investigate the idea of lowering yours before you find yourself using a wheelchair.

Changing door and cabinet knobs to levers - Levers are easier to use if you develop severe arthritis in your hands.  They are also attractive and easy to install years before you need them.  If you are handy, you may be able to handle this improvement yourself.

Widen doorways to accommodate a walker or wheelchair - There are narrow wheelchairs which can go through nearly any normal doorway.  However, if you are a very large person or have an unusually narrow door or tight space, you may want to see if you could widen the openings.  You may even consider making changes to your floorplan to open up the living area of your home.

Electrical Alterations - If you bring a contractor into your home to do other work, you may also consider asking them to raise your outlets and lower your light switches so both are easier to reach if you loose some of your mobility.

Make Simple Changes to Prevent Tripping - If your floors are covered with an assortment of rugs, you may consider removing them or using rubber mats under them to prevent their movement.  In addition, look for any other dangerous situations in your home, such as electrical wires and extension cords which you have to step over.  Change anything that could be dangerous in order to reduce your fall risk.  For example, instead of wearing normal socks in the house, it may be safer to wear indoor shoes or special socks with knobby, rubberized bottoms, which are not as slippery.  Take a long, hard look at your home and lifestyle, then do everything you can to reduce or eliminate dangerous situations.

How to Find a Reliable Contractor

For those home improvements which you are not able do yourself, you will need to hire a contractor.  However, you want to make sure you choose someone who is familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act and is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist.  You can get a list of these contractors in your area from the National Association of Home Builders at  The person you hire should be able to evaluate the safety of your home and make a variety of suggestions in a range of prices.

In addition, call your State Contractor License Board to see if they have any additional information about the contractors in your areas.  Once you select a contractor, ask for their license number and verify its status with the board.  Do NOT use an unlicensed contractor.

Get at least three bids before making a final decision.  This could save you money.  At the same time, you do not necessarily want to use someone whose bid is dramatically lower than the other bids, unless you understand specifically why they are able to do the work so much more cheaply than their competitors.

Learn more about home modifications from the National Resource Center on Supportive Housing and Modifications at

If you are interested in learning more about how to safely retire in your own home, common medical problems, other places to retire, financial planning, Social Security, Medicare and more, use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

Watch for my book, Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement, which is due to be released by Griffin Publishing early in 2018.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Choose a Financial Planner or Advisor with Experience

While many people do not want to admit it, very few of us are experts at handling our own retirement investment accounts.  It is difficult for us to fully understand all the different choices in mutual funds, annuities, dividend paying stocks, growth stocks, life insurance and other investment options which are available.  In addition, even fewer people fully understand the tax and estate planning implications of the different investment choices.  As a result, it is very important to choose a financial planner or advisor who is qualified to give us the investment advice we need.

Investment Advisor Certifications

First of all, you will want to choose someone who is experienced, has completed a course of study, passed a challenging exam and is fully certified.  There is literally an alphabet soup of designations for financial advisors and you will want to confirm your advisor has at least one of them. This is by no means a complete list, but some of the common types of certifications are:

Certified Financial Planner (CFP) - They must complete a program which covers stocks, bonds, taxes, insurance, retirement planning and estate planning.

Chartered Financial Analyst  (CFA) - Their courses of study include accounting, economics, portfolio management and security analysis.

Investment Advisory Representative  (IAR) - Like the others, they must take classes and pass an exam.  They are also required to register with the SEC.  They give advice on investing in stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other types of investments.  They may also manage portfolios.

As mentioned above, there are also other types of certifications. Some advisors may have more than one designation.  It is important to make sure the advisor you use is properly registered, is in good standing with the government agency which regulates them, and adheres to a code of ethics as a fiduciary, which means the advisor will put your interests above their own.

Questions to Ask Your Investment Advisor

You will want to get recommendations from friends, your lawyer or your CPA when you choose your investment advisor.  Find out how much experience they have and if their clients have been satisfied with their service.

Once you have found an investment advisor whom you trust, you need to ask them an assortment of questions which will help you decide if they have your best interests at heart and if they can provide the services you need:

1.  How do they get paid?  What fees and commissions can you expect to pay?  How often?  Will you pay a quarterly management fee or will you pay a commission for each transaction?  Which will be the better value for your account?

2.  Will they manage your portfolio prudently?  Will they keep your costs to a minimum?  Will they diversify your investments and re-balance your portfolio periodically?  Do they avoid conflicts of interest such as steering you towards certain types of investments which would pay them higher commissions?

3.  Are they willing to work with your attorney to help with your estate planning?

4.  Are they willing to coordinate with your CPA to help you decide the type of IRA you should have, when you should take investment losses and when you should make charitable contributions?

5.  Can they help you set up a stream of income during retirement?  Will they help you decide the best time to take your Social Security?  Will they help you learn how much you are required to withdraw from your IRA each year and how to make your IRA last as long as possible?  Will they help you plan a realistic retirement budget?

What You Cannot Expect from a Financial Planner

No matter how experienced and careful they are, there are a couple of things you cannot expect from your financial planner.

Do NOT expect them to be able to time the stock market.  The best experts in the world can rarely guess when the stock market has peaked and when it has hit its bottom during a recession.  The best you can hope for is that they can help you survive recessions with most of your assets intact ... while maximizing your income when times are good.

Do NOT expect them to magically cut your taxes.  There are only so many legal and wise deductions you can take.  It does not make sense to cut your taxes by making foolish decisions such as intentionally taking out an excessively large mortgage, choosing a bad investment in order to get a tax loss, or giving more money to charities than you can afford.

What are Your Responsibilities in Working with a Financial Planner?

It is just as important for the client to be honest in their financial dealings as it is for the financial planner to be honest.  A planner does not want to be pulled into a shady investment scheme because, in the long run, it will not benefit either of you.

In addition, you should pay attention to your portfolio and consider the suggestions of your financial planner thoughtfully.  You should also carefully review your statements and transaction confirmations.  Sometimes, even when you and your planner do everything right, the traders or corporate offices for the company could make an error.  When this happens, you want to catch it as quickly as possible. It is your money, so you need to pay close attention to what is happening in your portfolio.

If you pick a planner carefully, have reasonable expectations, and do your part in following your money, you will get the most value out of having a professional financial advisor manage your assets.

If you are interested in additional information about retirement planning, where to retire, common medical problems, Social Security, Medicare, family relationships and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional articles.

Watch for my book, Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement, which will be published by Griffin Publishing in 2018.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

2018 Social Security COLA and Medicare Premium Increases

Most retirees in the U.S. have been hoping they would finally get a meaningful increase in their Social Security checks in 2018.  Over the past few years, most retirees have seen such small cost-of-living increases in their Social Security that the benefit was eaten up by rising Medicare premiums and other expenses.  Unfortunately, for the vast majority of retirees, this year will be no different.

The Social Security Administration recently announced the COLA for 2018 will be 2 percent.  For someone receiving $2600 in Social Security benefits (near the top of the range), this will amount to $52 a month, bringing their total benefit to $2652.  However, as you will see in the details below, beneficiaries will not be able to keep all of that increase.

For someone currently receiving the average benefit of $1330 a month, their COLA will amount to approximately $26.60, raising their monthly benefit to $1356.60. Unfortunately, typical beneficiaries will only be able to keep a tiny portion of that increase.

While receiving any increase in income sounds positive, the truth is that most retirees should not expect to see a meaningful net increase in their Social Security benefits in 2018.  This is because the amount which will be deducted for Medicare premiums is expected to rise to $134 a month.  Many current Medicare beneficiaries only pay between $109 to $112 a month.

If your Social Security benefit is so low that deducting $134 a month would actually reduce the size of your current benefit check, then the Medicare premium will be adjusted so you will not pay the full amount until your Social Security benefit is high enough in the future to absorb the full $134, and that is assuming Medicare premiums do not rise more in future years.

You could also have a larger increase in your Medicare premiums for another reason, and that is if your income went up significantly last year.  Sudden increases in retirement income, because of an unusually large IRA withdrawal or windfall, can cause your Medicare premiums to increase dramatically and retirees should consult their tax attorney and take into consideration all of the financial consequences of a large IRA withdrawal or income increase. However, the Medicare premium increase should only apply to the year following the increase in income, unless it is permanent or continues for several years. This will only apply, however, to people who have a very large increase in their retirement income.

Below are details of what most people can expect regarding changes to the typical Medicare premium:

If your Current Social Security Benefit is $2600 a month:

Current Social Security: $2600.00
Current Medicare cost:     -112.00
    Current Income:          $2488.00

2018 Social Security:     $2652.00
2018 Medicare cost:          -134.00
    2018 Income:              $2518.00

Net extra income is $30 a month

If your Current Social Security is $1330 a month:

Current Social Security:  $1330.00
Current Medicare cost:       -109.00 
    Current Income:           $1221.00

2018 Social Security:      $1356.60
2018 Medicare cost:           -134.00
    2018 Income:               $1222.60

Net extra income is $1.60 a month

Obviously, the exact amount you will receive in your 2018 checks will depend on what you currently receive and whether or not you have your Medicare deducted from your Social Security benefits.  (About 30 percent of beneficiaries do not have Medicare deducted from Social Security, either because they participate in a public employees pension plan instead of Social Security or because they have delayed collecting their Social Security benefits).   However, it is important to note that no matter how much Social Security you currently receive, your 2 percent COLA is likely to be much less significant than what you probably hoped to receive in 2018.

If you have a high income, which is defined as $85,000 for an individual or $170,000 for a couple, your Medicare premium will be even higher than $134.

You can get more details about how things will change in 2018 at

Expect Additional Increases in Medicare Co-Pays and Drug Prices

In addition to higher Medicare premiums, beneficiaries may also pay higher Medicare co-pays and drug prices, depending on their plan.  Annual maximum out-of-pocket expenses could rise for some beneficiaries, as well.  Check your Evidence of Coverage schedule from your plan administrator to see how you will be affected.

If you have a Medigap plan, you could also pay higher premiums for your extra insurance, depending on your specific plan and insurance carrier.

The bottom line is that most Social Security recipients will continue to see their net income fall behind the rate of inflation, since any small amount they may receive is unlikely to be enough to offset the higher cost of food, utilities, automobile fuel and other necessities in 2018.

Once again, Social Security recipients should expect to do more belt tightening.

If you are interested in learning more about Social Security, Medicare, financial planning, where to retire, common medical issues and more, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

Watch for my book, Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement, due to be released by Griffin Publishing in 2018.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Medicare and Cancer Benefits - Prevention, Diagnosis and Treatment

On occasion, this blog allows guest experts to submit a post on a complicated topic.  This week, I am delighted to have a post on how Medicare will cover the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.  The post also goes into detail on the differences in your coverage if you have a Medigap or Medicare Advantage plan.

This post on Medicare and cancer benefits was written by Danielle Kunkle, the co-founder of Boomer Benefits, an insurance agency specializing in Medicare-related insurance products in 47 states. Her contact information is included at the end of this article.

Medicare and Cancer Benefits

If you have cancer or a family history of cancer, you may have concerns about how Medicare will cover treatment of cancer. Treatment for cancer can be expensive, but Medicare will be an enormous help with diagnosing and treating this health condition.

Medicare provides a wide range of cancer services from preventive care all the way to surgery and chemotherapy. Understanding Medicare’s coverage of cancer treatment starts with first understanding the parts of Medicare.

Original Medicare Parts A and B

Part A is your hospital insurance. It will pay for hospitalization, skilled nursing, blood, home health care and hospice.

Part B is your outpatient insurance. It covers doctor visits, lab-work, durable medical equipment, surgeries, ambulance and many other medical services. In relation to cancer, Part B will also pay for chemotherapy, radiation, second opinions before surgery, drugs administered in a clinical or hospital setting, and physical therapy or rehab care.

Medicare Part B also provides mental health care to deal emotionally with your diagnosis and preventive care screenings, such as mammograms, cervical screenings, prostate exams and colonoscopies.

Medicare Part D Drug Coverage

Part D is for your retail prescription drugs. Although Part D is optional, it is really very important when it comes to cancer care. This is because some cancer medications and anti-nausea medications are now in an oral form which you pick up yourself at a pharmacy. You will want good coverage for these potentially expensive medications.

Your Part D pharmacy card will provide drugs to you at a copay level instead of you paying full price. Most importantly, all Part D plans provide catastrophic coverage. After your spending reaches a certain annual limit, the insurance company then must pay 95% of the cost of your medications for the rest of the year.

Common Questions Regarding Medicare and Cancer

Here are some of the most common cancer questions we receive in relation to Medicare’s coverage of cancer treatment.

Is Immunotherapy covered by Medicare?

Immunotherapy is a form of treatment which helps the body’s immune system fight cancer. Medicare Part B provides coverage for most intravenous medications which are considered reasonable and necessary. Check with your doctor before beginning treatment.

What will be my cost for cancer treatment under Medicare?

You are responsible to pay for your hospital and outpatient deductibles, which are set by Medicare each year. You are also responsible to pay 20% of the cost of your Part B services. There are Medigap plans available which pay after Medicare pays its share. The one with the most comprehensive coverage is Plan F, which will cover 100% of your cost-sharing responsibility.

Medicare beneficiaries can enroll in any Medigap plan without health questions during the first 6 months after their Part B effective date. There are no pre-existing condition exclusions or waiting periods if you apply during this Medigap open enrollment period.

If a Medigap plan is not in your budget, another alternative is Medicare Advantage. Also called Part C, Medicare Advantage plans are private plans which pay instead of Medicare. These plans usually have a network of doctors from whom you will get your care. Some plans require you to choose a primary care doctor who can then refer you to your oncologist and other specialists.

Medicare Advantage plans often have lower premiums than Medigap, but you will pay copays for your various treatments as you go along. As long as you apply during a valid election period and live in the plan’s service area, most people with Original Medicare can get approved for a Medicare Advantage plan. There is only one health question about end-stage renal disease which could prevent you from being covered under a Medicare Advantage plan.

Which cancer doctors can I see while on Medicare?

Medicare has over 800,000 providers. Many cancer treatment centers and specialists participate in Medicare. Visit Medicare’s website to find a list of participating providers.

How Do I Know if a Drug is Covered by Part B or Part D?

Part B typically covers drugs which are offered in intravenous form. However, if your doctor prescribes an oral version of one of these medications or an anti-nausea medication, Part B may cover it. Your doctor must give it to you within 48 hours of your cancer treatment.

If you take a drug which only comes in oral form, your Medicare Part D drug plan will likely cover it. Should you be prescribed a drug that is not on the formulary, your doctor can file an exception with your drug plan to request coverage for it.

Does Medicare cover second opinions?

Sometimes cancer patients want a second opinion before a surgery. Medicare Part B does cover this at 80%. Most Medigap plans will cover the other 20%. If you are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan, check your plan’s summary of benefits to determine what your copay will be for this doctor visit.

Author Bio
Danielle Kunkle is the co-founder of Boomer Benefits, an insurance agency specializing in Medicare-related insurance products. They help baby boomers new to Medicare learn about their benefits and coverage options across 47 states.  You can reach her at or 1-855-732-9055.

If you are interested in more information on common medical issues as you age, retirement planning, Social Security, Medicare, and more, please use the tabs or pull-down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.

Watch for my book, Retirement Awareness: 10 Steps to a Comfortable Retirement, which will be released by Griffin Publishing in 2017.

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