Medicare Enrollment Help is Plentiful

Medicare posterOpen enrollment starts Oct. 15 for people who’ve signed up for Medicare and must buy into or change their supplemental Advantage or Part D prescription drug plans.

The Medicare Rights Center in New York tells me that you can “make as many changes as you need during this period” and that “only your last coverage choice will take effect Jan. 1.”

A long list of resources appears at the end of this blog to help Medicare beneficiaries through the enrollment process. But there’s a lot of hoopla around the Oct. 15-Dec. 7 enrollment period, so it’s important to know what Oct. 15 is not about.

One’s birthday – and not a date on the calendar – determines when people should initially enroll in the Medicare program. Most people turning 65 who are not covered by their own or their spouse’s employer health insurance at work are required to enroll in Medicare Parts A and B during a seven-month period that starts three months prior to their 65th birthday. During this seven-month window, new Medicare participants must also sign up for their Part D drug plans – or risk paying a lifelong penalty. Oct. 15 is not the trigger date for selecting Medigap plans either.

Here’s what the Medicare open enrollment that starts Oct. 15 is about: figuring out the right Advantage or Part D drug plan to buy or switch to. This is a complex process that involves multiple choices, anticipating your future health care needs and expenses, and a lot of research into the plans available.

It’s an implicit recognition of Medicare’s complexity that so many resources are available to help with this process, from private and government-funded consultants to YouTube videos and detailed web pages on the Medicare website. The following resources and blogs can help answer your questions: …Learn More

Financial Product Legalese – it’s on You

Road sign

The Center for Plain Language had this to say about the legal fine print that overran one advertisement for an investment product:

“Once again a financial institution that expects me to trust them with my money makes it impossible for me to know what they are going to do with my money.”

The Center had singled out a Charles Schwab & Co. ad for a Wondermark “award” for unintelligible writing. But the center might have been referring to any of the hundreds of financial institutions that inundate us daily with online and television ads or the credit card offers that come in the mail.

Consumers are often faulted for making poor financial decisions, but surely much blame falls on financial companies that present consumers with terms of use agreements chock full of legalese or with disclosures that are difficult to read and understand.

Financial minefields pervade all aspects of our lives too. The 2016 Wondermark awards went to Victoria’s Secret for the “mumbo-jumbo” in its lengthy credit card agreement and to a Phoenix healthcare company that offers discounts to low-income customers – but first, they must decipher the confusing chart that explains who qualifies.

The person who nominated the healthcare company for an award said its discount information “seems like a classic case of the 0.2% who understand this chart will receive 85% of the Medical Financial Assistance, but they are clearly 400% above the average American who just got out of the hospital and has 0% of a clue as to what they’re talking about.” [Oddly, this chart seems to indicate that customers with higher incomes get larger discounts.] …Learn More

Illustration of different family types

Finances Change with US Family Structure

  • One out of every 10 Generation X mothers is single – many more than in the generation born during World War II.
  • Nearly two-thirds of single older people are the survivors of divorce – far more than in the past.
  • About one in three couples has moved away from their hometowns and from both of their mothers – blame this geographic mobility on the growing share of U.S. workers who are college educated.

These are just a few of the dramatic changes in U.S. family structure and behavior that have developed over the past half century.  These changes have had enormous financial consequences for everyone, especially women.

Squared Away has documented some of the financial impacts in previous blogs. A Lucky 7 such blogs, most of them based on studies by the Retirement Research Consortium, are summarized below (with links to each one):

  • Women are having babies five years later, on average, increasing their earnings substantially over their lifetimes.
  • About half of Americans don’t live near their mothers, creating new pressures for caregivers. This video explains who they are.
  • In the aftermath of divorce, many women figured out how to rebound in the labor force and earn more.
  • But when it comes to retirement preparedness, a doubling in the divorce rate since 1990 has put more baby boomers at a financial disadvantage.
  • Stepchildren, divorced parents, blended families – the structure of the parent-child relationship has grown more complex, and so have the parents’ wills. …

Learn More

From Anxious Child to Finance Star

An interesting psychology powers this video in which the youngest daughter of a low-income, single mother explains how she migrated into the financial services industry – and then became the company president.

Mellody Hobson’s fascination with finance took hold as she watched her mother struggle with evictions, repossessed cars, and empty gas tanks. She once spent all her money on her daughters’ Easter dresses but then couldn’t pay the phone bill, Hobson recalls in the video above.

“I do not think it’s an accident I work in the financial industry,” she explains, “because as a child I was desperate to understand money – desperate.  I hated the fact that I felt this insecurity around money.”

Hobson is a celebrity in her industry. In other videos, she talks about being black, being a successful career woman, being financially savvy, and the trouble with credit cards.  Perhaps she’s all over YouTube, because she’s worth listening to.Learn More

Photos of different jobs

How Many Years Can You Do Your Job?

Physical power, fast reactions, steady hands, a crisp memory, and mental dexterity – these physical and mental abilities, taken for granted in youth, break down slowly but persistently over the years.

A unique combination of physical and mental skills help to determine whether each worker’s continued employment is more or less susceptible to aging. To better understand who can work longer and who can’t, researchers at the Center for Retirement Research developed a Susceptibility Index to rank 954 U.S. occupations.

Using the skills required for each occupation in the federal O*Net database, they ranked the occupations from 0 to 100 based on the risk that age-related decline will affect a worker’s ability to perform that particular job. The risk reflects the number and importance of the age-vulnerable abilities.

Click here to see where your job ranks.

Of course, individual workers experience aging in different ways, and some learn to compensate for declining skills.  But there are dramatic differences between occupations with very high and very low Susceptibility Indexes.

As one might expect, physically demanding blue-collar work suffers the adverse effects of aging: rock splitter in a quarry (90.3 Susceptibility Index), floor sander (91.0), steelworker (94.4), commercial diver (94.0), truck driver (96.4), and oil rigger (98.5).

Occupations with very low indexes are primarily white-collar: interior designer (5.8), lawyer (6.3), aerospace engineer (8.9), loan counselor (12.4), and radio announcer (14.8).

Where things get interesting is in the middle rankings. Mixed in with somewhat physically demanding jobs – personal care aide (52.7), warehouse order filler (53.7), baker (54.7), postal service clerk (56.3), and food server (58.2) – are white-collar desk or hospital jobs. These include private detective (44.8), surgeon (51.2), architectural drafter (52.8), anesthesiologist’s assistant (53.1), computer network architect (54.8), and critical care nurse (55.7).

After ranking the 900-plus occupations, the researchers concluded that “the notion that all white-collar workers can work longer or that all blue-collar workers cannot is too simplistic.” …Learn More

Social Isolation a Real Danger for Elderly

Social isolation kills – literally.

In this video, Professor James Lubben, founding director of Boston College’s Institute on Aging, discusses numerous research studies showing that people who lack a social network of friends or family are more likely to neglect good health practices and to experience psychological distress, cognitive impairment, the common cold, and even death – “it’s on a par with smoking,” he said.

Seniors become particularly vulnerable to becoming isolated as they decline physically, but isolation then makes them more vulnerable to worsening health.

Social health should “be as important as mental health and as physical health,” said Lubben, who also is a professor of social work here at Boston College.

Summers are a fun and busy time – this video is a reminder that elderly family members and neighbors who aren’t very mobile might need some company or someone to check in on them. Learn More

Personal Finance Videos Hit the Basics

These personal finance videos are like sensible shoes: they won’t win any awards, but they can be useful.

Produced by the College of Financial Planning, the short videos demystify the fundamentals of personal finance that the planners who teach and take courses at the college rely on in their practices.

  • “Free Money” (above) features Dirk Pantone, a vice president and certified financial planner, interviewing Kristen MacKenzie, who teaches there, about 401(k)s, 403(b)s, 457(b)s and the employer match.
  • “Living on Borrowed Time,” has Pantone and MacKenzie discussing the difference between good debt and bad debt, both of which impact credit scores.
  • “The Road to Investing Your Assets” explains why low fees and portfolio diversification are so important.

There are 13 videos.  Other topics covered include retirement, taxes, and financial literacy. To watch other videos, click here. …Learn More