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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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Safety Rules for Grandchildren

Many of today's grandparents are very involved in the lives of their grandchildren.  Three million grandparents are currently raising their grandchildren; millions more regularly babysit them. However, at the 2017 Pediatric Academics meeting, the attendees discussed the fact that many safety rules have changed over the past few decades and grandparents could be unintentionally putting their young grandchildren at risk.  Whether you are actively raising your grandchildren or occasionally babysitting them, it is important to learn the new rules for keeping them as safe as possible.

Why Grandparents Are Not Aware of Safety Recommendations

Grandparents are often confused by the changing recommendations. Young parents are constantly bombarded by new recommendations on how to keep their children safe.  Grandparents, however, are only rarely included in the visits to pediatricians and they are even less likely to have conversations with their peers about the best way to feed, transport and care for an infant.  As a result, they are frequently left out of the loop when new suggestions are released by experts.  In addition, some grandparents are resistant to the idea that things have changed since they raised their kids and they need to change their child-rearing ideas, too.

Modern Safety Recommendations for Infants and Young Children

1.  Today's pediatricians recommend that babies be put to sleep on their back, not on their sides or stomach as they were in the past.  Caregivers should not put blankets, toys or pillows in the crib with an infant. Making these changes can reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), which is the leading cause of death for infants between the ages of one month and one year.

2.  If a child is burned, butter is not the proper treatment for it.  If the burn is severe, call the child's pediatrician or take the baby to the emergency care or urgent care center nearest your home.

3.  Injuries should be cleaned and covered with a bandage to reduce the risk of infection.

4.  When a child has a fever, they should NOT be put in an ice bath, although this treatment was common 30 or 40 years ago.  Today's experts point out that this treatment can drop the body temperature too much and cause hypothermia.

5.  Infants should be transported in a rear-facing car seat as long as possible.  Toddlers should ride in a forward facing car seat with a five point restraint system. Older children can use booster seats after they outgrow their car seat.  The exact age and size of the children in each type of seat varies from state to state, so make sure you know the requirements for your state.  Before you offer to car pool with another parent or grandparent, make sure your vehicle can accommodate all the necessary car seats and booster seats.  Many cars can only accommodate a maximum of two car seats in the back seat. Children cannot ride in the cargo area of an SUV or station wagon, which was common a few decades ago.  Below are the laws in the State of California, according to the California Highway Patrol website in 2017.  The laws may vary slightly in the state where you live:

2017 California Child Safety Seat Laws
  • Children under 2 years of age shall ride in a rear-facing car seat unless the child weighs 40 or more pounds OR is 40 or more inches tall. The child shall be secured in a manner which complies with the height and weight limits specified by the manufacturer of the car seat.
  • ​Children under the age of 8 must be secured in a car seat or booster seat in the back seat.
  • Children who are 8 years of age OR have reached 4’9” in height must be secured by a safety belt.
  • Passengers who are 16 years of age and over are also subject to California's Mandatory Seat Belt law.
How Grandparents Can Stay Up-to-Date on Childcare Recommendations

The rules above are just the tip of the iceberg, and new suggestions for proper child and infant care are released frequently, including when to begin feeding solid foods to an infant, the types of food they should eat, and the products which are safe to use on an infant. As a result, if you are raising a grandchild or occasionally babysit one, it is important you stay current.  Go to well-baby checkups at the pediatrician's office, if possible.  In addition, attend parenting meetings and read current books and magazines on child rearing.

Below are a few sites where you can learn the latest childcare recommendations:

American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children Website

For Car Seat Laws, check your state Highway Department website

If you are interested in additional information for grandparents, or tips for senior citizens, including where to retire, financial planning, Social Security, Medicare, 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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