Category Archives: Newsletter Articles

Caught in a Data Breach? How to Reclaim Control of your Credit and Identity

Posted by Gary Raetz

By the end of the first quarter 2014, more than 200 data breaches compromised millions of consumer records, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, which keeps track of reported data breaches. Stunned? Data breach stats are even more staggering if you’re among the millions of Americans caught up in one every year.

In addition to the potential monetary loss and identity theft risks, data breaches can also rob you of your sense of security and confidence. When you learn you’ve been involved in a data breach, it’s important to take steps to help protect your identity and financial accounts, and to rebuild your sense of security.

Often, breached organizations will offer affected customers some form of credit monitoring for a set period of time (usually one year) after the breach. While such services may go a long way toward making you feel more secure, be sure you understand exactly what the offered product can – and can’t – do to help you recover from the potential impact of a data breach.

Data breaches, credit monitoring and identity theft risks

Consumers whose personal or financial information is compromised in a data breach may be at greater risk of experiencing identity theft. In 2013, more than 13 million Americans experienced identity fraud, according to a study by Javelin Strategy.

Credit monitoring products aim to help minimize identity theft risks by keeping an eye on your credit accounts, where evidence of potential fraud and identity theft may first appear. Identifying such signs early may help mitigate some of the damages associated with identity theft.

While it’s true that consumers can do on their own virtually everything a credit monitoring product does, going it alone can sometimes be time-consuming and burdensome. Convenience is a significant benefit of a credit monitoring product. Not all credit monitoring products are alike, however, and if a company offers you this product in the wake of a data breach, don’t hesitate to carefully review the product and ask questions, including:

  • Does the product provide daily monitoring of credit files?
  • Will you receive timely alerts of key changes in your credit files?
  • Does the product monitor your credit file at all three of the major credit reporting agencies, or only one? For example, Equifax Complete monitors information from all three bureaus.
  • Are financial alerts included, and is it possible to link your bank and credit card accounts to the monitoring product? This allows you to be alerted when withdrawals from your bank account and/or charges to your credit card are processed, based on threshold amounts that you define.
  • Is Internet scanning for your Social Security Number and credit card numbers included? This may help detect unauthorized posting of your Social Security number and credit card numbers on certain suspicious trading sites.

If a breached company cannot answer these questions, or you’re not satisfied that the credit monitoring product being offered is comprehensive enough for your needs, you may need to take additional steps. First, you should ask the breached company for a different product. Such companies are increasingly aware of the impact data breaches can have on their reputation, and may be more willing to engage with those customers who feel they’re not receiving an appropriate response in the wake of a data breach. If a company refuses to respond to your request, consider also subscribing to a more suitable product of your choice on your own – it can be a key step toward regaining some confidence and peace of mind when you’re a data breach victim.

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The Real Cost of Delaying Retirement Savings will Shock You

Posted by Gary Raetz

Recent graduates have a lot on their minds: moving, finding a job and the looming repayment of school loans. Retirement is typically low on the list of priorities, but ignoring the issue entirely can literally cost young professionals hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It’s difficult to think about retirement when you’re just starting your career and trying to make ends meet.  It sounds counterintuitive but retirement planning should really be the first thing on a recent graduate’s mind.

Why?

The examples below demonstrate of how retirement planning can unfold when funds have the longest time possible to grow:

$100 a month for 20 years starting at age 21 = $468,236

A new grad invests $100 per month beginning at age 21, and continues that monthly investment for the next 20 years, stopping at age 41. Their total investment is $24,000.  Assuming an 8 percent annual return, compounded monthly, that $24,000 will become $468,236 by the time the grad retires at age 67.

$100 a month for 20 years starting at age 41 = $95,039

Wait until age 41 to begin investing $100 per month for the next 20 years, stopping at age 61. Their total investment is, again, $24,000. However, assuming the same 8 percent annual return, compounded monthly, the nest egg will only total $95,039 by age 67.

In this scenario the total cost of delaying retirement is $373,197.  WOW that’s a real difference!!!

These numbers are jarring, but losing out on thousands of dollars does not have to be your reality.  No matter your age, starting to build your retirement now can help you maximize your options and retirement assets.

Below are some expert tips for new grads to get a head start on saving for retirement:

Save regularly

Save a portion of each paycheck. Even a minimal amount, when compounded over time, adds up. Use savings as your emergency fund or toward major purchases, such as a new car or a down payment on a house.

Budget

Track your monthly income and expenses and plan accordingly. Differentiate needs from wants and prioritize wants by happiness, rather than cost. Cut the items that don’t provide long-term happiness. That way, it won’t feel like as much of a sacrifice.  Then, set short and long-term goals. This will show what you can realistically afford now and help you avoid racking up credit card debt that will affect your future ability to save and invest.

Use employer-sponsored retirement plans

If your employer offers a retirement plan, enroll as soon as you are eligible. An employer-sponsored retirement plan, like a 401(k), deducts money from your paycheck before taxes. Many employers match your contributions, so take advantage of this important benefit at the highest match possible. This is essentially “free” money, so if you don’t take it now, you’ll lose the match and the potential tax breaks.

Continue your education

Understanding important money topics and available resources can help you become financially savvy. Subscribe to an investing magazine or podcast, visit financial websites or follow a credible financial blog.

Get a reality check

Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to your personal finances. Determine your long-term goals and use free calculators (like the ones on our website) to help assess your situation and develop an action plan to pursue your financial potential.

Talk it out

Parents, trusted family and peers can provide great insight into financial matters based on their own successes and mistakes. Use their experience to your advantage to make smart money decisions. Of course, financial decisions today do not set in stone what will ultimately happen in the market. Rather than traced back to a good or bad decision about this stock or that industry, the final results of investing are always going to be unpredictable. If you are looking for an example of the past not predicting the future, investing is just such a place. Also, no matter your age, it’s never too soon to meet with a financial advisor to go over your goals and create a plan for retirement. Be sure to consider the tax aspects of your retirement options as well, discussing these with your tax advisor is an important part of a serious look at retirement planning.

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Your Life Insurance Policy May Provide Value for You Now

Posted by Gary Raetz

There are times in our lives when we realize the importance of what we do and how good it feels to be able to helps our clients.  Our very own Thomas Raetz, knows this feeling first-hand.  Thomas has seen how a chronic illness can adversely affect a family’s financial plan.

Thomas’ client, 64, retired, a husband and a father, who suffered a stroke and also diagnosed with kidney failure has experienced a significant depletion in financial assets due to the costs of his care.  Specifically, tapping into his pension dollars to pay for his medical bills.

Wanting to help him protect his client’s family’s assets Thomas suggested his client should apply for Accelerated Death Benefits.

Accelerated Death Benefits or Living Benefit Riders allow plan holders to access income tax-free death benefits to offset costs associated with chronic or terminal medical conditions, severe disabilities or long-term care.

For Thomas’ client it helped him eliminate debt, secured is family’s financial future and saved his dignity.

Provisions for accelerated or living benefits may be included in a policy when purchased or attached as a rider.  These are sometimes referred to as “accelerated death benefits” or “accelerated benefits riders.”  Requirements vary from company to company. Some companies only charge you for the option if you use it.  Some riders add extra cost to your monthly life insurance premium; however, an accelerated death benefit rider is usually included on most term life insurance policies at no additional cost.  These riders are usually a part of only term life insurance policies, since term policies have no cash value.  A permanent life insurance policy accrues cash value, and therefore a loan may be taken against the policy to cover the kinds of expenses that would need to be covered by an Accelerated Death Benefit rider.

Death benefits from a life insurance policy are usually left behind for your loved ones when the policy holder dies.  But what if you are faced with a terminal illness?  Certain medical circumstances can trigger eligibility for early payment of all or a portion of your policy’s proceeds, including

  • Terminal illness, such as cancer, with death expected with 24 months
  • Acute illness, such as acute heart disease or AIDS, which would drastically reduce life span without extensive treatment.
  • Catastrophic illness requiring extraordinary treatment, such as an organ transplant
  • Long-term care needed because you cannot perform a number of daily living activities such as bathing, continence, dressing, eating or toileting.
  • Permanent confinement in a nursing home

Once the insured meets the health impairment criteria, benefits are approved and the elimination period (if any) has been satisfied your fund will be available.  Funds can be used for:

  • Adult daycare
  • Assisted living
  • Family care
  • Nursing home care
  • Virtually any expense, even those unrelated to the illness

In general, accelerated benefits can range from 25% to 95% of the death benefit.  The payment depends on your policy’s face value, the terms of your contract, and the state you live in.  Some companies will permit you to accelerate 100% of your policy’s face value but will reduce the amount of your benefit to compensate for the interest it loses on early payout.  Additionally, any outstanding loans against your policy will also reduce your benefit.

Each life insurance contract or rider specifies the method of payment or options.  Payments may be made monthly or in a lump sum.  Some life insurance policies will allow the policyholder to choose the method of payment.

Since life insurance is usually purchased to protect a spouse, children, or other dependents from the financial burden of a premature death, if you use all or part of your policy benefits, there may be little left for your family.  The amount paid to beneficiaries upon the policy holder’s death is reduced by the amount they received from the Accelerated benefit.  If the policy proceeds are entirely depleted, no benefit is paid after death.

In most cases, accelerated death benefits are not subject to federal income taxes.  Under the federal tax code, a terminally ill person (defined as a person having only 24 months to live) would not have to pay taxes on accelerated benefits.  A chronically ill person is usually exempt but may have to qualify for the exemption by being certified each year.  To ensure compliance with current tax laws, check with a local tax advisor.

Accelerating death benefits may affect eligibility for Medicaid.  You cannot be forced to collect accelerated death benefits from your life insurance policy before qualifying for Medicaid, but if you choose to, that money could be considered income, which might affect your Medicaid eligibility.

Some states are now passing or trying to pass legislation that requires policy owners to sell a life insurance policy to the viatical settlement market if the face value is greater than $10K.  The purpose of such laws are to lower the financial burden on the state’s Medicaid Fund by requiring Medicaid applicants to spend down all of their assets before being accepted.

If the life insurance company denies your claim for accelerated death benefits based on their eligibility requirements, there may be other options available.  Taking a loan against the policy cash value may be an option or a viatical settlement is another alternative.

A viatical settlement is an alternative to accelerated benefits by allowing a policy owner to sell their life insurance policy to a state licensed financial institution in exchange for ownership and beneficiary rights to the policy.  With a viatical settlement, a viatical settlement company buys your life insurance policy, and pays you a percentage of the death benefit upfront in exchange for the ownership and beneficiary rights.  That viatical settlement company pays all the premiums and receives the full benefits when you die.  Your beneficiaries will not receive any benefits under a viatical settlement unless specifically negotiated as a term of the settlement agreement.

 

FOR FEDERAL EMPLOYEES ONLY

If you are a federal employee and enrolled in Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Program (FEGLI) you or a person holding your Power of Attorney may elect to receive a lump-sum payment called a living benefit if you are terminally ill and have a documented medical prognosis that you are not expected to live more than nine months.  Eligible annuitants may elect a full lump-sum payment equal to their Basic life insurance amount, plus any extra benefit for persons who are under age 45, which would be in effect nine months after the date of the Office of Federal Employee’s Group Life Insurance (OFEGLI) receives a completed claim for living benefits.  If the life insurance is reducing, the lump sum will be the reduced amount payable nine months after OFEGLI receives the completed claim form.  Annuitants cannot elect a partial living benefit payment; this option is available only to employees.

Your living benefits payment will be reduced by a nominal amount to make up for lost earnings to the Life Insurance Fund because of the early payment of benefits.

If you receive living benefits after retirement, no Basic life insurance will be payable after your death.  Basic life insurance premiums will no longer be withheld from your annuity.  If you elected living benefits before you retired, the amount of Basic life insurance payable after your death and the premiums withheld from your annuity will depend upon the amount of living benefits you received before retirement.

Your election of living benefits has no effect on the amount of any optional life insurance you may have.  Premiums for option insurance will continue to be withheld.

For more information or further assistance you may call the Office of Federal Employees Group Life Insurance at 1-800-633-4542 to obtain Form FE-8, Claim for Living Benefits.

 

Sources:

LifeInsurance.org

Welcomefunds.com

OPM

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Long-Term Care: Most Asked Questions Answered

Posted by Gary Raetz
Have you thought about the consequences living a long life will have on your family?

Although everyone’s situation is unique, I can only imagine there are millions of individuals who are concerned with aging.  Either an aging parent or how they themselves are aging.  And to make matters worse are terrified at the thought of possibly needing care.  Everyone wants to preserve their lives through dignified care in their final years.  I can also only imagine that those same individuals are probably looking for a professional to guide them through unfamiliar territory of planning for their care or the care of an aging parent.  The need for long-term care is one of the biggest financial threats you could potentially face.

Let’s start by defining what Long-Term Care is.  Long-term care involves a variety of services designed to meet a person’s health or personal care needs during a short or long period of time.  These services help people live as independently and safely as possible when they can no longer perform many everyday activities on their own.

Have you thought about what your responsibilities would be as a care giver if a parent wished to receive care at home?

Independent activities of daily living include:  chores, finances and managing prescriptions.  These duties usually are performed by a family member in the form of unpaid labor and referred to as “informal care”.

But what about the daily activities of living – such as: eating, bathing, dressing and toileting?  Most care givers feel those activities are better suited for health care professionals.

Once the difference between informal and formal care are understood it is easy to recognize how Long-Term Care Insurance is really there to help the family through a difficult time.

The need for Long-Term Care must be discussed

Many families are spread out across the nation, which amplifies the need for long-term care plans. Adult children who are geographically distant from their parents, can really feel the weight of this issue.  They have careers and families of their own and sometimes cannot shoulder the burden of taking care of their parent(s) should the necessity arise.  At the same time, it is important to them that their parents are cared for.  This is an important lesson to remember as you plan your own retirement.  No one wants to be a burden on someone else.

Financing Long-Term Care is critical in any retirement plan.

People work a lifetime to accumulate a portfolio which will generate sufficient income in order to maintain their standard of living.  Therefore, their portfolio is reduced to the income it generates.  If the money saved for that standard of living does not have money allocated to pay for care, where will the money come from?  Have you thought about the tax consequences of liquidating assets in order to pay for care?  What if the portfolio needs to be sold in a bear market?

If long term care is not part of a retirement plan, a client is forced to rely on either a government program such as Medicare, Medicaid, or the Veterans Administration, or must ultimately reallocate retirement income and assets.

Long-Term Care Insurance is a professional tool that, when used correctly, can protect a family and their assets from the devastating cost of providing care.  Long-Term Care Insurance is meant to assist families, not replace them AND Long-Term Care Insurance is for long term care, not just nursing home care.

Most people don’t have enough money to pay for all long-term care costs on their own, especially ongoing or expensive services like a nursing home.  Often, they rely on a combination of resources to pay for care.  Resources such as:  personal funds, private health insurance plans, private financing options, such as long-term care insurance, life insurance policies, and reverse mortgages.  Lastly, government health insurance programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid.  However, government assistance would usually not kick in until not only that person’s assets were virtually depleted, but the assets of their spouse as well, if the assistance is even available at all.  Therefore, anyone with assets to protect may want to consider this insurance.

There are many reasons to purchase Long-Term Care insurance.

It is not unlikely you’ll one day need long-term care and if you do, it could bankrupt you.  Statistically, 70 percent of those 65 and older will need long-term care, either at home or in a nursing home.

A life-changing occurrence can occur at any age.  If you are left paralyzed at 30, you could conceivable need life assistance of some sort for the next 60 years.  If you’re covered, you could be set.  If not, it’s too late.

Cost

LTC policies are complicated and expensive and cover a risk that most of us would rather not think about.  These policies are typically defined by how long they pay benefits (in years) and how much they pay each day (maximum daily benefits).  All are different. Make sure you fully understand the payout policy on any coverage you are considering.

If you’re considering ways to reduce costs and are forced to choose between flexible benefits and the length of coverage, trim back length before cutting options like inflation protection and home care.  Exhausting even a three-year policy is pretty uncommon.  That’s because most care begins at home or in an assisted-living facility where you’re likely to be spending less than your maximum daily benefit.

Policies also come with a deductible (called the elimination period) which is typically 90 days.  However, a policy’s deductible may run 30 days, 60 or 120 days. Which means the insurance will not pay for the first 30, 60, 90 or 120 days of your care.  With the average nursing home more than $200 a day – how much of this can you afford to fund yourself?

There is no “one size fits all” solution.  Your cost for insurance protection will be based on your age and health when first applying, as well as how much coverage and what options you choose.  You will never be younger or healthier than you are today.  Planning now gives you the most options and you may be able to qualify for good health discounts.  Discounts that remain even if your health changes.

Many policies include a clause that increases your benefit with inflation, without raising your premium.  Most analysts expect costs to rise 4% each year.  Be sure to ask about it.

Shared Care options are available for couples who wish to link their policies in order to share benefits in the event one person’s benefits become exhausted.  This could be an effective and inexpensive addition.

According to Thinkadvisor.com if you live in Kansas or Missouri consider yourself somewhat lucky.

Kansas ranks 11th least expensive for Long-Term Care Costs in 2014

Average annual cost of $42,005,

Adult day care: $18,200

Licensed home care: $41,184

Assisted Living:  $44,760

Nursing home (private room): $63,875

 

Missouri ranked 4th least expensive for Long-Term Care Costs in 2014

Average annual cost of $38,208

Adult day care: $19,500

Licensed home care: $43,472

Assisted Living:  $30,000

Nursing home (private room): $59,860

For a complete list of cheapest states and most expensive states visit:

Top 15 Cheapest States for Long-Term Care Costs:  2014
Top 15 Most Expensive States for Long-Term Care Costs:  2014

Types of policies:

While the wording may differ per policy, there are three basic categories into which care may fall:  home settings, assisted living and skilled nursing facility.  The ideal policy will cover all three since you never know which you will need.

Sometimes a complex product to understand.

Different policies dictate different reasons for the policy to kick in, such as a cognitive impairment, failure of ability to perform daily activities, and medical impairment.  But not all policies allow for all reasons, and some policies even refuse to consider medical necessity as a trigger.

When should you buy LTC?

Again, there is no “one size fit’s all” answer, but the sweet spot is in your late fifties.  The longer you wait the higher your premium will be.  A lifetime policy that costs a 55-year old couple $4,800 would cost $6,400 for 60-year olds.  Your risk of being turned down as you age also goes up.  In your 50’s you have a 1-in-7 chance of not qualifying.  In your 60’s there’s a 1-in-4 chance says the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.

Who should buy LTC?

For many purchasers it is the ability to preserve assets to pass on or to protect a spouse’s lifestyle.  If you have assets of at least $250,000, not including your home to protect, you should consider purchasing Long-term Care Insurance.

Why now?

Because changes in health happen and can make it impossible for you to obtain coverage.

As always with insurance, you hope you never need it.  But what if you do????  And worse yet, what if you had the chance to plan for it – but you didn’t??

 Got a Question

What’s my next step?

Find out what coverage costs

See if you can qualify

Ask what discounts you qualify for

Contact Benchmark Financial Group

 

Sources:

NIH Senior Health

American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance

Think Advisor

 

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Five Secrets for Long-term Financial Success

Posted by Gary Raetz

By Rhiannon Williamson

Future financial success is not a guarantee that any one of us can rely upon, no matter how wealthy we are now or intend to become.

There are however five future proofing financial steps that we can take to protect our current financial status, improve our future financial prospects and secure our long-term financial success.

1) Know The Different Between Good Debt & Bad Debt

Bad debt is any debt that accrues interest month after month on outstanding balances and includes credit card debt of course, which is now the most common type of bad debt that we are all burdened with. Other examples of bad debt include store card debt, home secured loans other than your mortgage and any money borrowed from lenders dealing with high risk borrowers as they charge the highest rates of interest and have the most restrictive and inflexible terms and conditions.

Good debt is really only your mortgage, although some people would argue with me and include car finance in this category even though a car is not an essential item for most people – if we’re honest with ourselves! Good debt in the form of your mortgage enables you to afford the roof over your head and for most of us it is the only way we will ever be able to afford a home.

A mortgage with an attractive and affordable interest rate will of course cost you money but at the same time it enables you to purchase a capital growth appreciating asset that you can later sell and redeem cash from or pass to your heirs upon death and that will be a positively tangible asset to benefit their financial futures.

2) Get Out Of Bad Debt

Examine all of the bad debt you have and prioritize the amounts to be paid off first by beginning with the most expensive debt in interest and charge terms. Every month pay off as much as you can afford from your number one debt and proceed with this approach right through every bad debt you have until you have no outstanding amounts remaining.

Then – take on no new bad debt! Keep out of credit card and loan hell.

3) Pay Off Your Good Debt

Having worked hard for as long as it takes to pay off all of your bad debt you can now turn your attention to your mortgage – some mortgage lenders penalize for early repayment so consider re-mortgaging if you can get a better or same rate of interest and you won’t incur arrangement fees, or try to arrange new terms with your current lender that will allow you to make regular lump sum repayments.

The shorter the life of your debt the less interest you will pay and the sooner you will own your own home – your most significant financial asset – outright. This will give you massive security and also free you up financially to enjoy life to the full and save more towards your retirement.

4) Save For Retirement

Most governments of the civilized world reward their citizens with tax breaks on retirement savings made. Furthermore many conscientious employers add to an employee’s contribution to a works pension scheme. Find out what benefits you’re entitled to and get a retirement savings plan in place immediately. It is never too early to start saving for retirement.

Whilst paying off your debt is an essential step on the road to long-term financial success, so ensuring your future is secured through saving today for your own financial wellbeing is an essential step. After all, if you don’t look after your best interests, no one else will.

Put as much as you can possibly afford each month into the best savings or investment product to suit your requirements and circumstances – and start today.

5) Protect Your Personal & Financial Assets

Insure your life, your family, your health, your business and your home – then use the services and advice of qualified taxation and trust professionals to find out whether there are legal and legitimate ways in which you can reduce your overall taxation burden and your estate’s future inheritance or death taxation burden.

Look after your personal interests today and ensure that your financial assets are protected for life.

 

About the Author:
Rhiannon Williamson is a freelance writer whose many articles about onshore saving and offshore investing have appeared in financial publications around the world. Visit this link to read her latest articles about Offshore Investment

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How To Keep Your Health Up and Costs Down

Posted by Gary Raetz

No matter your age, you can help keep your body healthy and your money out of the health care system by eating right, exercising and avoiding habits that contribute to chronic illness.  Having the appropriate insurance may also help your bottom line more than you think.  Follow this guide to see if you have what you need at various stages in life.

20’s

Younger people tend to have fewer medical issues, but that doesn’t mean you should ditch health insurance altogether.  To save money while making sure you’re covered, consider a qualified high-deductible plan.  Also known as a catastrophic health plan, this type of insurance typically covers costs for serious illness or unexpected accidents.  But you’re responsible for minor or routine expenses.  You’ll pay a lower monthly premium and a higher deductible than with a traditional plan.  It also comes with a powerful triple tax benefit:  Not only are contributions tax-deductible, but earnings and qualified withdrawals are tax-free too.

Here’s another option:  If you’re an unmarried dependent who doesn’t have access to employer-sponsored health care, you can stay on your parents’ health plan until you turn 26.

30’s

Consider broadening your coverage.  You may want to supplement your regular health insurance with accident insurance.  It can help cover emergency treatment and related expenses, such as transportation and lodging, if you or covered family members are injured.

While a health plan may cover much of your treatment costs, a critical illness plan typically pays a lump-sum benefit if you’re diagnosed with a significant illness or suffer a heart attack or stroke.  It may provide extra money for things like child care and housecleaning while you’re on the mend.  The benefits provided by accident and critical illness insurance help take away the financial stress so you can focus on recovering.

Health insurance can pay some of your medical bills, but what about the income you could lose if you become seriously sick or are injured and can’t work?  That’s what disability insurance is for.  Your employer may provide some coverage, but it usually isn’t portable, so consider a personal policy you can take with you if you quit or lose your job.

Consider a flexible spending account.  Your employer may offer one of these tax-advantaged plans that let you use pretax dollars to pay for medical expenses and dependent care, too.

40’s

While it’s smart to begin saving for retirement in your 20’s, most people start to focus a little more on the specifics once their 40’s roll around.  As you start crunching the numbers more seriously, be sure to factor health care costs into your assumptions about your spending needs in retirement.  Out-of-pocket expenses for a 65-year old couple could suck hundreds of thousands of dollars from a retirement nest egg, according to the Employee Benefit research Institute.

Start learning about long-term care insurance.  If you equate long-term care insurance with nursing home coverage, thing again.  While it can cover those costs, it generally does something even more appealing – help give you the resources you need to stay in your home.

50’s

Stop putting off long-term care insurance.  Long-term care expenses can pose a real threat to your retirement savings and lifestyle.  This insurance can be flexible in its design – you can typically vary the features of the policy to stay within a budget while still reducing risk to your assets.

If you’ve become a caregiver for a parent or other family member, tap into information resources such as care.com or those provided by the National Alliance for Caregiving to make your role as easy as possible.

60’s

Don’t go without.  If you retire early and lack employer-provided health insurance, don’t be tempted to cut costs and skip insurance until you’re eligible for Medicare at 65.  Consider buying an individual policy to bridge the gap, if you have no other option.  To avoid making important decisions under pressure, learn about your Medicare choices well before you have to make them.

 

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Ask the Pharmacist: Expert Advice for Navigating Medicare Part D Enrollment.

Posted by Gary Raetz

If you’re confused about health care reform and Medicare you’re not alone.  Thousands of Americans are looking for answers too.

A new survey from Express Scripts titled “Fifty States of Confusion,” confirms that seniors are misinformed about how leath care reform will impact their Medicare benefits.

“It’s worrisome; one-in-five seniors think they’ll be able to enroll in health or prescription drug plan through a public health insurance exchange,” says Paul Reyes, an Express Scripts’ pharmacist and host of Ask the Pharmacist radio series.  “These exchanges are part of the Affordable Care Act, but are only for uninsured people under the age of 65.”

Although Medicare Part D has been around since 2006, with some states offering upwards of 36 different plans, the survey revealed that 60 percent of seniors still think that choosing the right Medicare plan is confusing.  And with more than half of seniors falsely believing they’ll be paying more for their prescriptions drugs as a result of health care reform, they are taking matters into their own hands.

“Seniors are skipping doctor’s appointments, delaying medication refills and skipping medication doses,” say Reyes.  “These misconceptions may not only cost seniors, but could also lead to decisions that may be bad for their health.”

Whether you are preparing to enroll into Medicare Part D plan or you’re helping a family member or friend, Reyes provides some tips to simplify the process.

1.  Know the basics:  You are eligible for Medicare Part D when you turn 65.  Each year during the Annual Enrollment Period, it’s smart to review your current prescription drug plan and compare it against other available plans in your area. Plan details and your healthcare & prescription needs can change, and you might just find a better option. Enrollment for 2014 has ended, unless you’re turning 65 this year. The next Annual Enrollment Period is October 15 through December 7, 2014, for coverage to begin January 1, 2015.

2.  Do your homework:  Consider the premium, deductible and co-pays when assessing the overall cost of the plan.  Make sure that the drugs you need to take are on the plan’s formulary (the list of covered medications).  Also, look at the plan’s network of pharmacies.   Some plans, like the Express Scripts Medicare Choice Plan, offer a preferred pharmacy network, which would save you money.

3.  Care and convenience:  Consider a plan with round-the-clock pharmacist access to help you get the support you need and the savings you want from your plan.  Pharmacists can identify shortcuts to help you stick to your treatment regimen and avoid potentially harmful drug interactions.

4.  Making the most of your Medicare dollars:  To achieve the most valuae from your Part D plan, make sure to take your medications as prescribed, use generic medications when clinically appropriate, ask about home delivery and take advantage of the free preventative screening and vaccinations under Medicare Part B.

To help seniors and caregivers make informed decisions Express Scripts’ developed a consumer eGuide titled “Navigating Medicare and Reform: A Roadmap for Seniors and Caregivers,” available at www.roadmapformedicare.com.  Seniors can also visit www.medicare.gov to learn more about the available Medicare Part D plans in their region.

 

 

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Behind in Saving for Retirement? Approaches to Catching Up

Posted by Gary Raetz

Does the pace of your busy personal and professional life leave you feeling like you’re always playing catch up? From finally reading that best-seller that’s been sitting on your book shelf for a year to getting a solid eight hours of sleep to making sure you have enough money set aside for the future, it can be difficult to regain lost ground. If you were among the millions whose retirement savings and investments suffered during the recession, there’s good news: you can start to catch up with a few simple steps.

On average, baby boomers say they have saved or invested $275,000 for retirement, but believe they’ll need a median of $750,000 to live comfortably, according to a Boomers & Retirement Survey released by TD Ameritrade, Inc., a broker-dealer subsidiary of TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation. That means some boomers may face a shortfall of nearly a half a million dollars as they head into retirement.

Smart retirement planning, thoughtful choices and a handy -option called a “catch-up contribution,” can help boomers regain ground lost during the recession. A catch-up contribution allows people older than 50 to increase their contributions to their IRA or employer-sponsored retirement plans beyond the usual limits for such tax-deferred retirement plans.

Anyone approaching retirement should consider different opportunities, like catch-up contributions, that might make sense for their retirement investing plans. These catch-up contributions could help workers 50 years and older save thousands more – perhaps even hundreds of thousands of dollars more – toward their retirement. When planning for retirement, every dollar counts, especially when it’s going into a tax-deferred vehicle.

Guidance for baby boomers approaching retirement:

* There is no standard target amount for retirement. When setting a target for your retirement investing or savings, you need a realistic idea of how much you’ll need to maintain the standard of living you desire in retirement. Online calculators and tools, like those found on TD Ameritrade’s online retirement center can help you set goals by exploring various real-world scenarios that might impact your assets over time and at retirement. For example, do you have health challenges that may create medical expenses? Perhaps you and your spouse would like to travel when retired. Different objectives and circumstances will influence how much you’ll need to save in order to live comfortably.

* Don’t rely on Social Security benefits, but don’t overlook them, either. They should be a part of your overall retirement plan, but not the heart of it. Unfortunately, 65 percent of retired boomers said they rely on Social Security benefits, and nearly one-third said they wouldn’t be able to live comfortably without these payments, according to TD Ameritrade’s survey. The best way to avoid having to rely completely on Social Security is to set a retirement savings goal and work toward it prior to retiring.”

* Take advantage of catch-up contributions. As long as you will be 50 (or older) by the end of the calendar year, you may be eligible to contribute an extra $1,000 per year toward your IRA until you turn 70 (which is the last year to contribute to a traditional IRA). If you save an additional $1,000 per year for 20 years and get a 5 percent rate of return, you could have an additional $34,719 toward retirement. Fully fund your IRA with $6,500 a year between ages 50 and 70, and that could amount to an additional $225,675 for retirement.

Remember, it is never too late to start planning for retirement. If you experienced financial setbacks that stalled your retirement efforts, it may just mean you have to adjust your retirement expectations, work a little longer or think of other means of support that you may have not considered before. But it’s never too late to get started.

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Overcoming the top 5 challenges of being retirement ready in 3 simple steps

Posted by Gary Raetz

It’s no secret that Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement. Many people are coming up short when it comes to funding their nest egg. But why is the problem so wide-spread? Insight can be found in the human behaviors that tend to get in the way of saving adequately.

The top five challenges to being retirement ready include:

1. Living longer
Did you know a baby born today is more likely to live to 100 than to be born with blue eyes? The fact is, people are living longer, and it’s hard to know how long you’ll live. You may live many years beyond retirement, a time when you’re no longer creating income. The challenge is we still believe we’re living to 70 or 75 – but think about it. How old is the oldest person you know alive today? Chances are, you know someone who is well into their 90s. Saving for retirement now prepares you for the exciting possibility of having a longer retirement.

2. Procrastination
It’s human nature to procrastinate. And while some things take the same amount of time to do whether completed today or a year from now, others only get harder to do the longer you delay them. Saving for retirement is one example – every year you don’t save for retirement is less money you may have when it comes time to retire, making it that much more difficult to reach your goals and pursue your dreams.

3. Optimism
People in general are optimistic, which is a wonderful quality, except when it comes to retirement planning. It’s easy to think bad things won’t ever happen to us – including unexpected health issues, loss of a job, or a bad accident. It’s important to be realistic when planning for retirement, and always plan for the unexpected.

4. Following the pack
Humans are social beings. If enough people are doing something, we tend to want to follow because we assume there must be a good reason. The urge to follow the pack can get us in trouble, though, particularly when it comes to saving and investing. Make sure you define your own goals for retirement and work with a financial advisor to create an individual plan that works for you.

5. Instant gratification
The newest car, computer or video game – it’s easy for Americans to feel like they need to keep up with the Joneses. Spending too much on impulse purchases rather than funding savings can be devastating, particularly for your retirement. Learning to delay gratification and keep a budget is key.

We all want to imagine living out our dreams in retirement – rather than worrying about money. Whether you’re in your 20s or your 50s, retirement savings should be top of mind. In addition to knowing and conquering the top challenges of retirement readiness, here are three simple things you can do today to ensure you’re on the right path:

1. Workplace retirement opportunities
If your place of work offers a retirement program, sign up for it as soon as possible. From employer matches to potential tax benefits, retirement programs deliver numerous positives for employees. Remember, compound interest is an important factor in building retirement income, so it literally doesn’t pay to put saving off.

2. Diversification
Putting all your eggs in one basket is risky when it comes to retirement funding. A diversified investment strategy can help protect you from the unexpected.

3. Financial planner
Working with a professional can help you learn about various savings options for reaching your personal retirement goals. The expertise of a financial planner can make the stressful and confusing process easier.

For more information about retirement challenges and what you can do to become retirement contact us.  We are here to help.

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July 2013 LIMRA Survey

Posted by Gary Raetz

In July 2013, LIMRA conducted an online survey of 1,636 U.S. consumers to gauge their understanding and basic knowledge of disability insurance, government programs, and the risk of being disabled.

They asked consumers a series of true/false and multiple-choice questions on topics selected to measure how well consumers understand both disability insurance and the financial risk of disability.  Questions covered how disability plans work, common benefit features and associated costs, the risk of becoming disabled and government programs such as workers compensation and Social Security Disability.  The sample was weighted to be representative of the general population.

Correct answers are indicated in red:

What is the chance of a worker age 20 or older becoming disabled before they retire?

  1. 10% (14%)
  2. 20% (18%)
  3. 25% (19%)
  4. 33% (13%)
  5. Don’t know (36%)

What is the leading cause of disability?

  1. Serious accident (25%)
  2. Serious illness, such as cancer, stroke, heart disease (21%)
  3. Depression/anxiety (4%)
  4. Back/joint pain (17%)
  5. Lifestyle choices/substance abuse (5%)
  6. Pregnancy (2%)
  7. Don’t know (26%)

How long does the average long-term disability last?

  1. 1 year (13%)
  2. 3 years (14%)
  3. 5 years (8%)
  4. More than 5 years (18%)
  5. Don’t know (47%)

On average, how soon after someone becomes disabled will a long-term disability policy start paying benefits?

  1.  1-3 months (20%)
  2. 3-6 months (23%)
  3. 6-9 months (12%)
  4. 9-12 month (7%)
  5. Don’t know (38%)

Workers compensation covers injuries that occur on and off the job.

  1. True (18%)
  2. False (66%)
  3. Don’t know (16%)

Your disability payment may be reduced if you qualify for Social Security Disability payments.

  1. True (44%)
  2. False (11%)
  3. Don’t know (45%)

Disability benefits can be paid weekly, monthly, or as a lump sum.

  1. True (37%)
  2. False (21%)
  3. Don’t know (42%)

Disability benefits are not taxable

  1. True (28%)
  2. False (33%)
  3. Don’t know (39%)

Disability insurance replaces 100% of your salary, including bonuses.

  1. True (8%)
  2. False (67%)
  3. Don’t know (25%)

(Split sample of 50% getting part 1 and 50% getting Part 2)

Approximately, how much does an average disability policy/benefit obtained or purchased through work cost per year, regardless if you or your employer pays the premium?

  1. Less than $200 per year (11%)
  2. $200 – 400 per year (14%)
  3. $400-600 per year (11%)
  4. $800-1,000 per year (10%)
  5. Don’t know (54%)

Approximately, how much does an average disability policy that you purchase yourself outside of work cost per year?

  1. Less than $400 per year (12%)
  2. $400-600 per year (13%)
  3. $800-1,000 per year (10%)
  4. $1,500-2,000 per year (8%)
  5. Don’t know (57%)

What’s your most valuable asset?  The ability to earn an income.

When is the best time to buy Disability Insurance?  The moment you start earning a paycheck.

If you have questions or for more information, contact us.

 

Resource:  LIMRA

 

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I don’t know anyone who is disabled, so it probably won’t happen to me.

Posted by Gary Raetz

Did you know that disabled is more than a wheelchair?

Is your income needed each month to pay family expenses or is it extra cash?

Is there money left over after you pay your bills each month  or do you fall short?

Could you live on less?

If you are the primary bread winner how will you take care of your family?

Sick leave and vacation time can be used to cover expenses during a disability, but the benefits usually run out in a matter of weeks – at a time when the expenses are often increasing.  In many cases, a disability can last for three months.

What DO you think the chances are of becoming disabled at your age?  How about at age 40 or 50?

Do you know someone with a chronic illness?  Maybe you know someone with asthma, multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Every street corner has a handicapped crosswalk.  Every building has handicap access

There are many causes and conditions that can impair mobility and movement. The inability to use legs, arms, or the body because of paralysis, stiffness, or pain is common.  It may be the result of birth defects, disease, age, or accidents.

Did you know that insurance statistics show that only nine percent of long-term disabilities actually resulted from serious accidents.  The top causes of disability are often triggered by more common, chronic conditions, including one out of four caused by muscle and bone disorders like back problems, joint pain and muscle pain.

Did you know that disabled individuals are the largest minority?

Everyone says they don’t know anyone who is disabled  ~ but that is because they don’t hang out where you do.  Yet living with a chronic illness involves more than the physical limitations created by the illness.  It also contributes to financial, relationship, and emotional challenges as well.

Family life may be vastly altered if the primary wage earner is unable to work or if treatment requires long-term changes in the family routine and activities.

What would you do?

Test your basic knowledge of disability insurance, and the risk of becoming disabled.

Click here to see the 2013 LIMRA Survey and take the test

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When Should I Start Taking Social Security Benefits?

Posted by Gary Raetz

You may be thinking about taking your Social Security benefits early. After all, you have paid Social Security on your earnings for years and you deserve to have them pay you for a change. And, since you are allowed by the government to take Social Security income as early as age 62, and “Normal Retirement Age” is 67 for all Americans born in 1960 or later, giving up those benefits for 5 years seems like way too much. What you may not realize is how much that early payout may cost you.

Taking early retirement benefits from Social Security affects how much you get for the rest of your life, affects your cost of living increases for the rest of your life, and affects how much your spouse will get if he or she is drawing based on your earnings. If you are in reasonable health, and can live without taking the benefits now, you may want to wait.

The biggest and most apparent bad effect of taking Social Security before your normal retirement age is that they cut the amount that you get per month — and they cut it by a lot. If you take benefits at age 62, you will have your monthly benefit cut by 30%. What this means to you in dollars is that if you were expecting Social Security of $1500 per month, your benefit is going to get cut to $1,050. Wow!

Basically, if you take your benefit early, your Social Security is cut by 5/9% per month for 36 months, then by 5/12% per month thereafter, up to the maximum of 60 months. So even taking benefits at what you may think of as still the right age for retirement — age 65 — reduces your monthly benefit and cost of living increases by 13 1/3%.

Obviously, if your health is poor and you have reason to believe that you only have a few years left, you may want to take what you can while you can, but that decision also affects your surviving spouse. The maximum survivors benefit is limited to what you received when you were still alive. So whatever percentage cut you take will affect his or her benefit (if it is based on your earnings record) for the rest of his or her life as well. Note that if your spouse would receive a benefit based on his or her own earnings record that is greater than what they would receive based on your record, they will receive the greater amount.

If you don’t need your Social Security benefits right away, you can delay taking them. Generally, if you were born in 1960 or later, you can get up to 8% more benefit each year for each year you delay taking your Social Security. So, you would have to live for as much as 12 ½ years (with no cost of living increases) for the delay to pay off, but given that your life expectancy may be as high as 88, you would get that extra 8% on both your starting benefit and your cost of living increases for as many as 20 years or even more.

The amount that you and your survivors will receive is based on a complex interaction between your own personal health and life expectancy, your normal retirement age, when you start your benefits and when your survivors take their benefits.  You can go to the nearest Social Security office to see a government employee who will explain the choices to you, but they can sometimes be rushed.  A financial planner can help you evaluate your alternatives for a fairly small fee.

Reprint with permission IARFC Register, Vol. 14 No. 10
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You’ve invested your money, but do you own it?

Posted by Gary Raetz

(BPT) – Many people don’t take enough ownership over what they pay when it comes to investing. A recent study by Charles Schwab in May 2013 of investors who are highly engaged in their everyday lives shows that most Americans do research before making a major purchase. Yet just 51 percent say they know how much they pay for their investments and only 16 percent who work with an investment professional have asked how fees and commissions impact their portfolio’s returns.

It can really pay to pay attention, says Mark Riepe, head of Schwab Center for Financial Research, who adds, “One way to reduce your investment return is to ignore fees.”

A seemingly small difference in fees can make a potentially big difference in your return. Here’s a hypothetical example: let’s assume you make a $10,000 investment that earns six percent each year for the next 20 years. If you were to pay one-half of one percent in fees each year on that investment, after 20 years your after-fee balance – or net return – would be about $29,000. But if your annual fee was closer to 1.5 percent, after 20 years that $29,000 would shrink to about $24,000 – or about 20 percent less.

So how can you make sure to take ownership over the money you’ve invested and your financial future? Knowledge is the first step – here are some of the most common fees to be aware of:

Commissions

Commissions are the fees you are charged when you place a trade with a brokerage firm. If you trade frequently, commissions can add up fast. There are many brokerage firms that offer commission-free products, such as certain exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and no-load mutual funds.

Portfolio management fees

If you use a professional to help you with portfolio management, there are two primary fees to keep in mind. The first is an annual fee, which is usually a set percentage and can vary depending on the advisor and the amount of assets in your portfolio. For example, you might pay one percent of $250,000 you have invested, or $2,500 per year. But there can also be fees for the underlying investments in your portfolio, including commissions and operating expenses that you pay on top of the annual fee.

Mutual fund fees

Mutual fund investors are charged a percentage of the fund’s average net assets. This is called the operating expense ratio, or OER, and it covers the fund’s management expenses. These fees can vary, so investors should always compare OERs before purchasing a mutual fund, especially when deciding between two similar funds. OERs are listed in the fund’s prospectus and most can be found online. Typically, the more complex the fund, the more management it requires and the more it costs. It’s important to know that OERs are charged on top of any transaction fees or commissions you might pay to invest in the fund.

Bond fees

In most cases with bonds, when you buy or sell you either pay a percentage or flat fee, however the yield on a bond is impacted by what you pay for it, so finding the lowest cost is to your advantage. It is a good idea to compare prices from multiple bond dealers before settling.

Exchange traded fund fees (ETF)

An ETF is a fund that can be traded like a stock. Depending on how frequently you buy and sell ETFs you may be more or less concerned with some of their fees. For example, if you trade ETFs more frequently, the commission you are charged for each transaction can add up quickly. You also want to pay attention to the bid/ask spread – the prices at which people are willing to buy and sell the fund. If you’re planning to hold an ETF over a longer period of time, the commission and spread become less important, since they are one-time costs. But “buy and hold” ETF investors should pay close attention to the fund’s expense ratio, which is a recurring fee.

Of course lower expenses do not necessarily translate into higher returns, but they are important to understand. One way to be more aware of the fees you’re paying is to regularly review your statement. Being an informed and engaged investor today can have a real impact on your ability to achieve your investing goals tomorrow, whether that’s retirement, saving for your child’s education or purchasing a home.

 

Scenario is hypothetical in nature and not intended to predict or project the performance of any specific investment product.

Investors should carefully consider information contained in the prospectus, including investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses.  Please read the prospectus carefully before investing.

Investment returns will fluctuate and are subject to market volatility, so that an investor’s shares, when redeemed or sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Unlike mutual funds, shares of ETFs are not individually redeemable directly with the ETF. Shares are bought and sold at market price, which may be higher or lower than the net asset value (NAV).

Bond, investments are subject to various risks, including changes in interest rates, credit quality, market valuations, liquidity, prepayments, corporate events, tax ramifications, and other factors

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The Safety Net that Helps Americans with Disabilities Stay Afloat

Posted by Gary Raetz

(BPT) – John Miller never much thought about the possibility that he might one day become disabled; he was too busy building and renovating homes throughout suburban Washington, D.C. For 40 years, Miller (a pseudonym to protect his privacy) worked long days with his brother – until an unexpected illness and injury struck.

Like thousands of American workers who find themselves sidelined by illness or injury, Miller could no longer work. As in many jobs, if you don’t work, you don’t earn. Miller soon found himself in dire straits, both financially and in terms of his health. He had never accepted any kind of public assistance, but now he desperately needed help just to pay basic living expenses.

Miller knew nothing about Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), the federal program that provides financial support to millions of Americans unable to work because of injury or chronic illness. Learning about the program and securing benefits took months, but now Miller knows his monthly SSDI benefits will at least help him put food on the table.

“My benefits check is something I can count on every month,” he says. “I know that I’ll be able to eat and that I’ll be able to stay in my house for another 30 days.”

Established in 1956, SSDI is an important part of our nation’s Social Security system for disabled workers, retirees, dependents and survivors. Funded through payroll taxes, SSDI provides vital financial support for Americans with severe disabilities and chronic health conditions. Workers earn coverage for SSDI and other Social Security benefits through payroll tax contributions, and may only become eligible for benefits if they have earned coverage and their health prevents them from working.

Currently about 8 million Americans receive SSDI benefits. While the number of people receiving SSDI benefits has risen recently, the increase was expected, and experts say that influx will level off soon. Baby boomers reaching the disability-prone years of their 50s and 60s account for much of the increase. The growing number of women in the workforce also accounts for much of the rise, as they are now eligible for benefits in greater numbers than ever before. The rise in retirement age has also contributed to the increase.

Benefits are modest. On average, SSDI pays individuals just $1,132 a month and families just $1,919 a month. The requirements to qualify for benefits are very strict. Applicants must present extensive medical proof of significant disability. In fact, qualifying disabilities are so severe that about one in five men and one in six women receiving SSDI will die within five years of receiving benefits, and those eligible for benefits are three times more likely to die than other people their age, according to Kathy Ruffing of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Applying for SSDI benefits is a complex process, especially for people who are unfamiliar with how the system works or who are already dealing with significant illness or injury and the emotional and financial strain that accompanies poor health. Many people find that getting help from a disability advocate or lawyer can help ease the process and relieve some of the stress.

Securing approval for SSDI benefits took Miller 35 months. His experience is far from unique. Miller’s disability meant that after spending his entire career taking care of the homes of others, he wasn’t even able to perform needed maintenance on his own home. After nearly three years of waiting, he is finally able to use the benefits he earned while working on other peoples’ homes, to hire someone to repair his own home. “I’d love to go out there today and work,” he says. “Now I have to get someone else to do the work on my house that I had done for years.”

To learn more about Social Security Disability Insurance and to find help navigating the application process, visit www.nosscr.org.

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Protecting Your Paycheck – for Today and Tomorrow

Posted by Gary Raetz

(BPT) – People insure their homes, their cars and even their vacations without giving it a second thought. But many do not think about insuring their most important asset – their income – from a disability caused by illness or injury. And it’s not just income during working years that is at risk. A disability can also put a serious dent in your ability to enjoy retirement.

That can happen in two ways, according to Sandy Botcher, vice president of disability income insurance at Northwestern Mutual. “When a family loses its usual source of income due to a disability, sometimes the only alternative is to dip into retirement savings to cover normal household expenses,” she says. “And even if you don’t have to take money out of savings to replace income, the other consequence of a disability is that it decreases your potential to contribute to your retirement plan.”

Botcher adds that from the moment you start working until the day you retire, your ability to earn an income is your most important financial asset.

Consider this example: A $60,000 annual salary results in $2.4 million earned over a 40-year career, and that doesn’t take into account inflation, salary increases, or the long-term growth potential of money invested in retirement saving vehicles along the way. If a disability prevents the individual from earning this income, or requires him to access a portion of what’s already been saved (often with a tax penalty), it can have devastating impact on retirement dreams.

Recent research demonstrates the need to prepare for the unexpected. Over the past three years, 22 percent of Americans had dipped into retirement savings and 22 percent had stopped or reduced their savings contributions, according to Northwestern Mutual’s 2013 Planning and Progress Study. More than half of those surveyed say unexpected expenses are to blame. Yet 23 percent of respondents say they want to be more cautious with their money, and feel they have a lot of catching up to do.

“The Great Recession has reminded us that we cannot afford to lose our incomes,” says Botcher. “But we also need to remember that our chances of losing our incomes are determined by more than just our employers’ viability or our career success.”

In the minds of consumers, few things seem more unexpected than a disability. Yet the Social Security Administration reports that about one in four 20 year olds today will become disabled before retirement.

One way to prepare for the possibility of being unable to work is disability income (DI) insurance, designed to help pay living expenses, maintain lifestyle needs and preserve assets accumulated for retirement and other purposes. Many employees think that coverage they get through their employer’s group disability policy is enough. They should think again.

Group DI typically has a cap at 60 percent of salary; other forms of compensation like bonuses or commissions may not be covered. In addition, the benefits are taxable. So, if earning less than two-thirds of one’s current salary would make it difficult to make ends meet as well as work toward goals like continuing to fund retirement, it’s important that another option be considered to bridge the gap.

That option is an individual DI insurance policy. Premiums for individual DI policies are paid after taxes, so the benefits are not taxed, and the policies are portable.

-“We can’t forget that the source of a retirement program is the ability to work. Having individual disability income insurance is a way to address one of the key risks to achieving your retirement goals,” Botcher says.

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Boomers turning 65 face complex healthcare choices

Posted by Gary Raetz

(BPT) – Every day, about 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare. Not everyone will sign up, but it’s important to understand the importance of early choices when enrolling in Medicare for the first time.

You can enroll in Medicare three months before turning 65, the month you turn 65 or up to three months afterward.

“Turning 65 opens the door to Medicare eligibility, but it brings with it some complex choices,” says Paula Muschler, manager of the Allsup Medicare Advisor, a personalized Medicare plan selection service. “Choices seniors make at this time can impact their healthcare costs over the long term and their entire family.”

Muschler offers the following key steps for Medicare first-timers.

1. Take a look at your existing group health plan coverage and think about how it will coordinate with Medicare. Many people work past age 65. As a result, Medicare-eligible individuals who have health coverage through their employer or their spouse’s employer may be able to wait to enroll in Medicare Part B, which covers outpatient medical care. This is not true in every case, however. This option depends on other factors, such as the size of the employer and how soon you expect to retire after reaching 65. You may want to consider enrolling in Medicare Part A, which includes hospital coverage, even if you defer Part B.

2. Consider the options for first-time enrollment, keeping in mind your current health needs and financial resources. If you choose traditional Medicare, you have an average of 31 Medicare Part D prescription drug plans from which to choose. You can also choose from 10 standard Medigap policies for supplemental coverage, ranging from basic to comprehensive coverage. The price for these plans also can differ from one company to the next.

Adding to the complexity, Medigap plans are not required to accept you after your initial enrollment period. This is one reason first-time choices are crucial. Seniors evaluating Medicare Advantage plans over traditional Medicare also have an array of options – an average of 20 plans, depending on where you live. “We’ve been able to help Allsup customers find plans that cost less and match their specific healthcare needs,” Muschler says.

3. Follow Medicare enrollment rules to avoid costly mistakes. Penalties are in place for decisions related to Part B and Part D coverage. The late-enrollment penalty is 10 percent for each full 12-month period you could have been enrolled in Part B. Likewise, Part D imposes a penalty if you go for more than 63 days without coverage after enrolling in Part B.

“Your first-time Medicare plan choices also are more complicated if you have retirement dates, COBRA coverage or dependent coverage to consider,” Muschler says. “These are good reasons to contact a Medicare specialist, who can help answer the right questions and provide guidance to seniors so they make choices that match their situations.”

4. Understand how higher income and changes in your income affect Medicare costs. Higher-income beneficiaries pay higher premiums for Medicare Part B and prescription drug coverage. For Part B, the 2013 monthly premium is $104.90 for joint filers with income of $170,000 or below ($85,000 for single filers). However, the premium increases to between $146.90 and $335.70 for those with incomes above these thresholds. Likewise, higher-income beneficiaries can expect to pay from $11.60 to $66.40 more each month in prescription drug premiums.

The Social Security Administration uses IRS records when determining premiums. Social Security may reduce an individual’s income-related monthly premium with verification. “Social Security has specific requirements about how you can document changes in your income when you are requesting reduced Medicare premiums,” Muschler explains.

5. Review healthcare coverage for your spouse and dependents to determine how your choices may affect their coverage. If you are nearing Medicare eligibility, you can find yourself at a crossroads when it comes to providing healthcare for your entire family.

Some employers may continue to provide coverage to a worker’s family, or you may need to purchase COBRA coverage or private coverage for family members. “One early step is to talk with your benefits plan administrator to see what options you may have and then plan for your family,” Muschler says.

Seniors turning 65 have seven months during their initial enrollment period to make critical decisions. But you can begin evaluating your options earlier to be better prepared. For a free brochure on “Turning 65 and Medicare Enrollment” or for an evaluation of Medicare options, call an Allsup Medicare Advisor specialist at (866) 521-7655 or go to Medicare.Allsup.com.

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Are You Prepared for Your Retirement? Most of You Aren’t

Posted by Gary Raetz

By: Kim Kirmmse Toth

I read a lot about the lives of women after 50. Being one myself and even though I am a business coach, clearly there are other things going on for us. One of them is our retirement. It’s frightening out there and most women do not feel confident. How are you going to support yourself in your older years?One very sad statistic is that 50% of women fear becoming a ‘bag ladies’. That’s half of all women!! And yet, another statistic says women control a larger share of personal wealth in the U.S. than ever before by 66%.This worry of how to finance your retirement has gotten worse since the recession. Employer retirement plans have gone downhill and many employers have laid workers off to save their own bottom lines.

As women, older women, you are resilient, savvy and can accomplish many goals. What can you do now to be rest assured you can support yourself in the years to come?

Many women have to catch up on retirement savings, if you have any, because you either stayed at home to raise children, have been care takers to parents, got divorced, being widowed or a myriad of other reasons to not have enough sacked away. For some of you the lack of planning and preparation has put you in a difficult situation. Too many women will work into their 70’s so they can supplement their social security. It’s one thing to work because you want to, it’s another thing to work because you have to.

Another statistic: From the 2013 Women, Money & Power Study nearly half of all women have the fear of being a ‘bag lady’, even 27% who make over $200,00.00 per year. This study also stated that the root of the problem is that most women don’t know where they honestly stand financially.

So, do you know where you stand? Are you brave enough to really take a good hard look at your numbers? Your retirement depends on it. How late in life you work depends on it. How confident you feel depends on it.

In this day and age you have more earning power than ever before. Are you using it wisely? Are you really taking a good hard look and knowing where you stand?

This is not a time to put your head in the sand. I read articles all the time of the challenges and fears of older women in their retirement years. I don’t want to be a part of this statistic and I don’t want you to be either.

How are you going to take care of yourself? What is your plan? Are you working now? For someone else or for yourself?

Be brave and look at your financials. If you are not ‘retirement ready’ now or in the next 10 years, what are you going to do about it? It may be time for a plan, not a dream, a plan.

 

Article Source:  http://www.ArticleBiz.com

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Taking the Intimidation out of Saving for Retirement

Posted by Gary Raetz

Saving for retirement is a scary prospect for many Americans. In fact, just 14 percent feel confident they will have enough money to live on when they retire, according to the 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. And 60 percent say they have less than $25,000 saved for retirement, the survey reveals.

Retirement planning and saving doesn’t have to be frightening or fruitless. Knowledge is power, and when it comes to preparing financially for retirement, the more you know, the more likely you are to succeed – and feel secure about your future in your golden years.

How much is enough?

Uncertainty over how much they need to save is a big concern among workers. Thirty-four percent of Americans have no retirement savings at all, according to a poll by Harris Interactive. How much you need to save now in order to have a good life when you retire depends on many factors, including your current income and age, the age at which you plan to retire and the expenses you anticipate you’ll face during retirement.

Fortunately, retirement calculators can help you get a better picture of how much you need to save. You’ll find plenty of calculators and information about saving for retirement from resources like freecreditscore.com. The calculators can give you an idea of how much income you’ll need from investments to live on during retirement, and how much of your current income you need to save between now and retirement.

Crunching credit numbers

Another important consideration is how you will interact with credit when you retire. It’s important to manage credit wisely during retirement, just as it is throughout your adult life.

Studies show that many Americans don’t regularly monitor their credit, which can be a costly mistake. In fact, 65 percent of Americans have not ordered a copy of their credit report within the past year, and 31 percent don’t know their credit score, according to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling’s Financial Literacy Survey.

Your credit report and score are important during retirement for a number of reasons. First, your score directly affects the cost of many important financial needs, such as auto insurance and interest rates. Also, while you should strive to minimize debt during retirement, it may not be practical – or even desirable – to completely eliminate credit use in your golden years. Finally, not keeping an eye on your credit report and score may mean you fail to quickly catch instances of fraud or identity theft. Senior citizens are often a favorite target for identity thieves and scammers.

Understanding your credit – leading up to retirement and during – should be a key part of your retirement planning. Websites like freecreditscore.com can help by offering enrolled members monthly statements, credit reports, credit score alerts, identity protection alerts and fraud resolution support.

Understanding your Social Security benefits

Too often, people planning for retirement either rely too much on Social Security or overlook it altogether. Neither route is best. It makes sense to incorporate Social Security as part of your overall retirement saving plan, as long as you understand what to expect from the program.

The Social Security Administration provides every taxpayer with statements about how much they can expect to receive when they retire. Your SSA statement is now available online. Simply log on to www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount for an estimate of the amount of Social Security benefits you could receive upon retiring. Knowing how much you can expect from Social Security can help you plan your retirement savings strategies.

Saving for retirement doesn’t have to be intimidating. It’s never too late – or too early – to take control of your retirement savings goals.

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Don’t Let These Myths Rain on Your Retirement Party

Posted by Gary Raetz

Do you dream of the day you can retire, but aren’t sure how to get there? You’re not alone. Many people find it easier to avoid reality when it comes to planning for retirement.

That can lead to big mistakes in your retirement income planning.

Here’s a look at five common myths that could derail your expectations for income when you retire.

Myth 1: You won’t be around long enough to go through your money

The reality: Life expectancies are at record highs in the United States, so it’s important to acknowledge that you or a family member may spend as many years in retirement as you did working. According to a 2010 report by the National Academy of Social Insurance, for a 65-year-old married couple, there’s a 48 percent chance that one spouse will live to age 90.

To help stretch your money, consider incorporating immediate and deferred annuities into your planning. Created to provide guaranteed, lifelong income in retirement, they can also offer guaranteed growth while you’re saving for it.

A long retirement extends your exposure to one of financial planning’s most subtle enemies: inflation. As you invest, it’s important to seek a mix of assets that guard against the declining value of the dollar and that is in line with your risk tolerance and goals.

Myth 2: You should get out of stocks when you retire

The reality: Stocks can help provide the long-term growth you need to make your assets last longer since your retirement could span several decades.

You’ve probably heard you should reduce your investment risk as you age. But with traditional pensions being replaced by 401(k) plans, you’re wholly responsible for making asset allocation decisions.

Dampening portfolio risk at retirement doesn’t mean getting rid of stocks entirely.  Rather, regularly reviewing, and if necessary, rebalancing your portfolio based on your risk tolerance can lock in gains from strong-performing asset classes and allow you to buy those that underperform at cheaper prices.

Myth 3: You can just keep working

The reality: Counting on being able to work as long as you want is dangerous.  Employers are feeling pressure to cut costs, and with high unemployment, finding work is always a challenge.  A disability also could force you to stop working prematurely.

Many people think they can simply work longer if they don’t have enough money to retire. According to a recent survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 74 percent of workers plan to work at least part time during their retirement years, as working in retirement has become a necessity for many.

Good planning doesn’t rely on good fortune. Rather, your plan should both keep you from having to work the rest of your life and deal with the consequences of unexpected surprises that prevent you from earning a paycheck.

Myth 4: An inheritance will bail you out

The reality: You may be hoping for an inheritance as a potential retirement boost. But hope is not a strategy, and counting on an inheritance can create big problems if it doesn’t come through.

Many people who expect to inherit money never do. And even for those who do inherit money, it’s often too little or comes too late to make a difference in their retirement planning. The safer thing to do is to treat an inheritance as an unexpected bonus rather than relying on it.

Myth 5: Your taxes will be lower in retirement.

The reality: Big government deficits make future tax increases much more likely. Also, taking money out of retirement accounts, such as traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, creates taxable income that can push you into higher tax brackets.

One suggestion is to consider converting part of your eligible retirement assets to a Roth IRA. By doing so, you’ll pay taxes now, but you’ll create a tax-free pool of money to tap in retirement. Diversifying with both Roth and traditional IRAs is a possible way to handle future tax uncertainty.

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Boomerang kids: When your empty nest fills up again

Posted by Gary Raetz

A survival guide for parents with recent graduates and young adults moving back home

With a slowly growing economy and a still sluggish job market, there has been a continued increase in children moving back home after having lived independently on their own. These so called “boomerang kids” are popping up more frequently and when this situation is managed improperly, it can cause serious tension in a family.

However, many parents are viewing this “boomerang” as an opportunity. It can allow youth to begin saving money for the future, continue a job search or to get out of debt, but only when expectations are clear and roles are known.

This is not necessarily the troubling scenario it was once thought to be and this can actually be a very productive time for both children and parents if it’s handled well. When children move back home a closer bond can form between young adults and their parents, and this can lead to the young adults receiving financial, practical and emotional support from their parents.

In May, sociologists Karen L. Fingerman and Frank F. Furstenburg reported that “in 1988 less than half of parents gave advice to a grown child in the past month, and fewer than one in three had provided any hands-on help. Recent data show that nearly 90 percent of parents give advice and 70 percent provide some type of practical assistance every month.”

This type of increased financial co-dependence between parent and child can lead to strain when living together again after a separation. If you are a parent with a young adult at home, it is important to communicate about expectations and responsibilities and to help your child build a solid financial foundation for their future.

Reviewing these tips can smooth the transition and can guide both the child and parent through a tough time:

1. Set expectations

Discuss with your child how much he/she should contribute to household expenses and tasks. A key to making the transition easy on everyone is having clear expectations for everyone involved both financially and otherwise.

2. Review your insurance and taxes (and theirs)

Save time and money by seeing if your boomerang child is covered by your health and/or car insurance. Also see if you are able to claim your child as a dependent.

3. Consider having them “pay rent”

Consider having your child pay rent or at least a token amount for living expenses. This gets the child into the habit of paying a monthly amount. Or have a set amount of money go into a saving account monthly that the child could later use for a down payment on a house or car.

4. Help them keep busy

While waiting to get hired, your child could continue to expand their resume. For example, remind them to consider volunteering, joining a professional organization, connecting with a networking group or participating in an internship, even if it’s unpaid.

5. Focus on your own finances first

You may be tempted to use retirement dollars toward financial assistance for your child, but don’t derail your own financial plans. Make sure your savings and retirement plans remain intact. Not sacrificing your own livelihood and continuing to invest in important options like life insurance, disability income insurance and long-term care insurance is critical to maintaining your overall financial health.

Though you may not have planned on it, helping support your child after they’ve left home can be a springboard toward a healthy financial future for them. Following these tips can help ensure that the boomerang experience remains positive and the relationship remains strong.

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Tips to take charge of your financial future in the current tax environment

Posted by Gary Raetz

With the agreement reached at the eleventh hour of 2012 to avert components of the so-called “fiscal cliff,” nearly all taxpayers will be affected in some way.- With that in mind, there are still many things you can do this year to prepare for potential additional tax changes and to take control of your financial situation.-

Below are 10 options for you to consider as you prepare for your financial future in 2013 and beyond.

1. Consider an IRA-qualified charitable distribution.

People 70 1/2 and older, who are required to take minimum distributions from their traditional IRAs, may give up to $100,000 directly from their IRAs to qualified charities. This will satisfy the required minimum distribution, or RMD, requirements and no taxes will be due on the amount of the contribution.

2. Know your tax bracket.

Now that tax rates are higher at some levels, it’s more important than ever to know which tax bracket you fall into. Ask your financial representative and accountant about strategies to keep your taxable income at a reasonable level.

3. Consider converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA.

Given current historically low federal tax rates, you may want to consider locking in now and paying taxes while rates are low for most people. If you choose to convert later, you may be doing so at a higher rate.

4. Look closely at your 401(k) contributions.

You may want to consider making after-tax Roth 401(k) contributions, due to the low tax rates. Conversely, higher-income earners may want to focus on making pre-tax 401(k) contributions to decrease their taxable income.

5. Consider investing in municipal bonds.

The interest earned on municipal bonds is generally exempt of federal income tax and can help to diversify your overall portfolio.

6. Consider cash value life insurance.

In addition to protecting your family financially after you die, fixed cash value life insurance also can help you reach your broader financial goals while you’re living by helping you to diversify your assets.

7. Understand the benefits of inherited IRAs.

They can help your beneficiary take distributions over the maximum period allowed by federal required minimum distribution (RMD) rules, and give your assets the potential to continue to grow tax-deferred for your heirs.

8. Consider harvesting long-term capital gains.

Sell eligible assets while top tax rates for most taxpayers on long-term capital gains is just 15 percent.

9. Consider using unneeded life insurance and annuity contracts to pay long-term care insurance premiums.

The exchange may be free of federal income taxes and help preserve your estate and way of life. This is especially important to households hit by the 3.8 percent Medicare surtax and higher income tax rates.

10. Review your financial and estate strategies

Based on history and our debt situation, it’s likely federal (and state) income tax rates will increase sometime in the future. Review your financial and estate strategies and take appropriate actions now that estate law is permanent.

Taking the opportunity to take a closer look at the recent changes and how they might affect your financial future is critical.  Change seems to be constant and working with a financial services professional can help to ensure you’re adequately prepared no matter what happens in 2013.

EDITOR’S NOTE:

The discussion of taxes in this piece is not intended to be comprehensive and is subject to change at any time. Tax law and regulations are complex and depend on individual circumstances. We make no guarantees regarding tax treatment – federal, state, or local – of life insurance or other assets.

Benchmark Financial Group, LLC and its respective associates and employees cannot provide legal, accounting, or tax advice or services. Work with your Benchmark representative, and as appropriate your attorney and/or tax professional for additional information.

Securities and Advisory Services Offered Through Client One Securities, LLC Member FINRA/SIPC and an Investment Advisor.

 

1 Municipal Bonds are subject to risks which include, but are not limited to, credit risk and interest rate risk. Some issues may be subject to state and local taxes and/or the alternative minimum tax. Any increase in principal value may be taxable. Bonds are subject to price change and availability. If you sell prior to maturity, you will receive current market price, which may be more or less than you paid. Interest generated from municipal bonds is generally expected to be free from federal income taxes. If the bonds are held by an investor resident in the state of issuance, state and local income taxes such as interest income, may be subject to federal and/or state AMT. Investing in municipal bonds for the purpose of generating tax-exempt income may not be appropriate for investors in all income tax brackets. Please consult your tax advisor for detailed discussion on your specific situation. These and other risks are described in the Fund’s prospectus.

Investing in a mutual fund involves risks, including the possible loss of principal. The prospectus contains more complete information on the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses of the fund, which investors should read and consider carefully before investing.
For additional information, please contact Benchmark Financial Group, LLC.

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Why Alzheimer’s should factor into your retirement plan

Posted by Gary Raetz

(BPT) – In an ideal world, you will retire and enjoy many years fulfilling your dreams and spending time with those you love the most. Your retirement years can be some of the happiest and most enjoyable years of your life. But while we all hope for the best outcome possible, it may be prudent for you to plan for the possibility that life may deal you a difficult hand.

Your retirement plan should address the very real possibility that a chronic illness could strike – whether it’s you, your spouse or another loved one that’s affected. For many retirees, there is a good chance the chronic illness they may face later in life will be Alzheimer’s disease.

Today, more than 5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s and nearly half of people 85 and older have Alzheimer’s. So, while living well past your retirement age is desirable to practically everyone, living a long life does come with challenges.

The financial costs associated with Alzheimer’s

Put frankly, Alzheimer’s is an expensive disease to deal with. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, payments for care associated with Alzheimer’s totaled $200 billion in 2012. That’s just for care related directly to treating the patient; it does not factor in lost wages or other expenses loved ones may incur when caring for the person with Alzheimer’s. And care received in a nursing home or assisted living facility can easily run $3,000 a month or more, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The good news is that planning ahead can help put you in a position where you can afford chronic care. It should be part of any discussion you may have concerning life insurance and chronic care needs in retirement.

“A plan for dealing with the costs of chronic care needs to be implemented before you develop Alzheimer’s or another chronic disease,” says Dr. Robert Pokorski, chief medical strategist for The Hartford’s life insurance programs.

The Hartford offers a couple of optional add-ons to its life insurance policies that are designed to help retirees combat costs associated with chronic care. The LifeAccess Accelerated Benefit Rider(R), for example, allows an individual who becomes certified as chronically ill and satisfies the terms of the rider to access the death benefit in the insurance policy, and the benefit can be used for both medical and non-medical expenses.

You are not powerless in fighting Alzheimer’s

“It’s important to remember that while there’s no known cure for Alzheimer’s, living a heart-healthy lifestyle can help delay the onset of the disease,” Dr. Pokorski says.- He offers this “AGELESS” prescription for living a long, healthy life:

  • Attitude – see the glass as half full
  • Good medical care – see your doctor regularly
  • Exercise – it has mental benefits as well as physical
  • Learn – exercise your brain by learning new skills, playing games, reading, traveling, engaging in hobbies and interests
  • Eat right – eat a balanced diet to help maintain a reasonable weight, cholesterol level and blood pressure
  • Sleep – try to get at least eight hours each night
  • Socialize – spend time with friends and loved ones

No one wants to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but lifestyle and financial decisions you make today can help you avoid many of the hardships that come along with it. For more information on life insurance policies and riders that can help you plan for a financially secure retirement, visit www.hartfordinvestor.com/livingbenefits.

EDITOR’S NOTE:

The LifeAccess Accelerated Benefit Rider(R) is supplementary to the primary need for death benefit protection and is available at issue for an additional cost. Licensed health care practitioner certification of chronic illness must recur annually and must state the insured is in need of services under a plan of care that is likely to be needed for life. The Rider may not cover all of the costs associated with the chronic illness of the insured. Receiving benefits under the rider will reduce the death benefit available to the policy’s beneficiaries. Rider benefits may be taxable depending on the owner’s particular circumstances.- A tax adviser should be consulted.

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Expert Advice on the Do’s and Don’ts of Planning for Retirement

Posted by Gary Raetz

(BPT) – As with most things in life, it’s never too early to plan. And even if you are not at the doorstep of retirement, there are some critical do’s and don’ts related to retirement planning that anyone could benefit from.

We’re offering these tips with one goal in mind: helping Americans achieve a more secure retirement.

1. Don’t think of your home as a retirement asset.

Whether you are a new homeowner or near retirement, you should not think about your home as a retirement assets, for these reasons:

  • A home is, first and foremost, a place to live, and you will always need a place to live.
  • Your home is an inherently un-diverse investment.
  • A home may be subject to debt, which means it is less valuable than it appears and could be an ongoing expense when living in retirement.
  • Relying on a home as retirement savings tends to discourage other savings.

2. Don’t think maximizing investment return is a savings plan.

Maximizing investment return is an important focus of retirement planning. However, sometimes we fall into the trap of seeking outsized returns to compensate for our failure to save consistently over our lifetime. There is no substitute for disciplined and regular savings.

3. Do maximize Roth assets.

A Roth IRA or 401(k) can provide tax-free income, if you hold the account for five years and have attained age 59 ½. Roth IRAs also have the added benefit of being exempt from the tax rules requiring distributions starting at age 70 ½ .
Prior income limits on converting a traditional IRA or 401(k) to a Roth IRA were eliminated in 2010, which makes these unique retirement planning products more broadly available. Of course, converting a non-Roth retirement asset into a Roth retirement asset triggers recognition of the tax gain on the converted value.

4. Do have a retirement income plan.

Some financial professionals suggest 80 percent of your pre-retirement income is a good retirement income goal. With this goal you can then compare your expected monthly retirement income from Social Security and any pension plan to your target monthly retirement income amount. Any shortfall is the amount you will need to make up each month by tapping your other savings. Also consider an annuity contract from a life insurer to provide additional guaranteed lifetime income, which will both cover more of your target income and manage the risks that you invest poorly or live longer than expected.

5. Do plan for inflation and increasing health care costs.

Inflation and health care costs are twin traps that can erode the value of your retirement plan if you do not consider and plan for them. On strategy is to calculate a more modest income at the beginning of retirement and then increasing the income amount each year by the inflation rate.

6. Do maximize Social Security as insurance protection.

For most Americans the decision to defer Social Security payments as long as possible is an important action to ensure not outliving one’s assets. Social Security is typically a large source of retirement income, and its value is enhanced because it is government guaranteed and provides inflation-adjusted payments.

7. Do stress test your retirement plan.

The 2008 economic recession gave rise to bank ballouts and, in turn, the stress testing of banks to ensure ongoing viability. This thinking can and should also be applied to your retirement planning. For example, how would your retirement plan work if your investments grow at 3 percent a year instead of 8 percent? What if your income declines over time?

Stress testing your retirement plan could suggest you change your planning assumptions. You might decide to work longer, which reduces the number of years that you will need your retirement assets to support you. Other adjustment that you can make include saving more now, changing the risk profile of your investments, and buying products with a lifetime income guarantee so that you are less exposed to market risk and the risk that you will live longer than expected.

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Women Face Concerns About Reaching Retirement Goals

Posted by Gary Raetz

(BPT) – Women today exude confidence, juggling work and home life responsibilities seamlessly. One area where they are not so sure of themselves though is their ability to maintain their standard of living during retirement.

While women are taking greater responsibility for their own and their families’ finances, women earning more than $50,000 per year have become less confident about maintaining their lifestyle in retirement, according to a recent study. -Prudential Financial’s latest biennial study on the “Financial Experience and Behaviors Among Women” shows that a majority of women doubt their ability to achieve their retirement goals. The study also shows that with women in more control than ever of their finances, they face significant challenges when it comes to financial decision making, and admit to a lack of knowledge about financial solutions that can help them.

So what’s really behind this lack of financial confidence? Research points to a few culprits, including the country’s financial downturn. As many as 30 percent of women surveyed are struggling to make ends meet, a situation which can psychologically undermine even the most financially savvy among us.

The study also found a difference in the level of confidence between women younger than 35 and female baby boomers. Both groups have clearly defined financial goals, but younger women see themselves as novice investors and feel ill-equipped to make important financial decisions. Amid all this uncertainty, women of all ages are encouraged to begin taking baby steps toward planning for a secure retirement. The good news is some of the best confidence-boosters are fairly simple:

* Take stock. How much have you saved already? How long do you plan to work? Will having children impact your ability to save for the future? Getting a clear picture of where you are will help you see where you need to go.

* Protect yourself. If you are married, have you and your spouse established adequate financial safeguards such as life insurance or long term care insurance? While these conversations can be difficult, they are an important aspect of a solid financial plan.

* Do your homework. The Internet offers a wealth of educational materials to help you build confidence and knowledge when it comes to financial products and services. Make use of online tools and checklists to help you prepare for a meeting with a financial professional. Then take the next step and make an appointment.

Taking action can help boost your confidence and give you the tools you need to secure your financial future.

Contact us, we would be glad to help you with your financial future.

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‘Til Death Do Us Part, But How Do You Handle ‘In Sickness And In Health’?

Posted by Gary Raetz

Survey highlights gender differences in long-term care perceptions

(BPT) – Apparently “in sickness and in health” can mean different things to men and women. As the population ages and the need for extended health care increases, a recent nationwide omnibus survey of 1,005 American adults shows that men and women approach the issue of long-term care planning and insurance from different perspectives.

Those differences, according to the Thrivent Financial for Lutherans survey, could have a significant impact on their retirement years – and their family relationships.

Men vs. women

With women living longer than men, there should be some concern about who will actually foot the bill of the costs should a woman require long-term care. With married couples, the woman is more likely to need long-term care – she will likely care for her husband during his final days, and then may rely on long-term care herself since she is likely to outlive him.

Despite that, according to Thrivent Financial’s survey, males seem more versed in the topic of long-term care insurance than females. The survey indicated that men are more likely than women to own or plan to buy long-term care insurance. For example:

* 12 percent of females surveyed currently own long-term care insurance.

* 19 percent of males surveyed currently own long-term care insurance.

* 60 percent of females don’t intend to buy long-term care insurance in the future.

* 53 percent of men don’t intend to buy long-term care insurance in the future.

* 27 percent of both men and women surveyed plan to purchase long-term care insurance in the future.

In short, men seem to be coming around to the necessity of preparing for long-term care, while women appear to be slower to acknowledge the need.

The sandwich generation issue: stuck in the middle – but continuing to work?

When it comes to providing care, the differences between the sexes continue. When asked how they would care for both their children and one or both of their parents or another loved one at the same time, male and female respondents had differing opinions.

* Twenty-six percent of women reported they would quit their job to be the primary caregiver for a loved one should the need arise.

* Only 14 percent of men said they would consider that option.

* Thirty-three percent of men said they would rely on the savings and assets of those needing care and continue working.

* Only 21 percent of women would rely on the savings and assets of those needing care and continue working.

And what will you do in retirement?

Long-term care in retirement is an important issue facing both men and women but it is often overlooked during the retirement planning process. According to Thrivent Financial’s survey:

* Only 10 percent of women considered the possibility of caring for someone else while retired.

* Only 6 percent of men considered the possibility of caring for someone else while retired.

In contrast, 43 percent of women and 41 percent of men plan to retire fully and devote their time to travel, philanthropy and/or hobbies. Unfortunately, many don’t stop to consider the impact to those plans should the need for extended care arise. What will be given up to pay the expenses? Are family members trained to provide the type of needed health care? Who is willing to alter plans when push comes to shove?

“The disconnect between our expectations for a long, healthy and independent life and the reality of the chances of needing long-term care is staggering,” says Dean Anderson, product leader at Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. “Planning ahead is critical for both men and women, given the potential the consequences to the emotional, physical and financial well-being of your family.”

The moral of the story

Taking the time to discuss priorities and plans when it comes to future care needs can help alleviate worry and stress in relationships – and ensure that expectations are appropriately set and finances allocated. Women should be especially sure to consider all the benefits that long-term care insurance brings. For more information about long-term care, contact us.

 


EDITOR’S NOTE:

About the Long-Term Care Insurance Survey
Data for this survey was collected via national omnibus survey by Ipsos. Interviewing took place between Aug. 31 and Sept. 4, 2012, among a national cross-section of 1,005 adults age 18+ of whom 49% were male and 51% were female.

Long-term care insurance may not cover all of the costs associated with long-term care. You are advised to review your contract carefully. The contract has exclusions, limitations, reductions in benefits and terms under which the contract may be continued in force or discontinued. Contract provisions and benefits may vary by state.

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YEAR-END FINANCIAL PLANNING: A CHECKLIST

Posted by Gary Raetz

The best financial decisions are made with the benefit of time, thoughtful consideration, and trusted professional advice.  As tax time approaches, take the time to prepare for sound long-term financial decisions and minimize expenses, taxes, and the headache of organizing your finances at the last minute.

Organize Your Tax Records Early

In preparing for this year’s tax filing, begin to organize tax records, including year-end investment statements, capital gains and losses from asset sales, transaction records from real estate transactions, interest and dividend records for the year (1099s), payroll and withholding statements (W-2s), records corresponding with deductible expenses such as property taxes and insurance, business income and expense records, etc.  Some of these will not come until January or February of the following years.

Review Your Insurance Coverages

At least once each year, gather your insurance records together and review the adequacy of your insurance policies.  Be sure to evaluate all coverages, including life insurance, disability income insurance, homeowners insurance, auto insurance, liability insurance, renters insurance, long-term-care insurance, etc.

Store Your Documents Safely

All your hard-to-replace legal and financial documents should be stored in a safe and fireproof location.  Consider renting a safe-deposit box at your local bank or credit union, or purchase a fireproof lockbox from your local office supplies outlet.  Documents you should store include wills, trusts, powers of attorney, titles of ownership (your home, cars, etc.)  Social Security cards, birth certificates, photographic negatives, list of personal possessions, and so forth.

Review Your Estate Plan

Does your will still fairly reflect your personal wishes for the distribution of your assets?  Have your personal or financial circumstances changed or your beneficiaries significantly changed over the past year?  Have you considered a gifting program to move assets from your estate to those you wish to enrich?  Have you reviewed your estate plan in light of changing estate tax laws or changes in your personal financial position?

Prepare to Minimize Your Income Tax Liability

Consider estimating your federal and state income tax liabilities periodically to ensure proper withholding levels and quarterly estimate tax payments.  This will prove especially important if you sell significant assets during the year or experience large swings in your income level.  Consider maximizing your deductible expenses and savings such as qualified retirement plans, charitable giving, deductible expenses, etc.  Be careful to meet all IRS dates and deadlines for withholdings and filings.

Review and Improve Your Balance Sheet

The one true path to financial independence over the long term is increasing your long-term savings and decreasing your debt.  If you are not maximizing your tax-deductible employer-sponsored retirement plans and your individual tax-advantaged savings plans, evaluate your monthly cash flows with an eye toward increasing your monthly savings.  The other side of your balance sheet, the liabilities side, is equally important in maintaining a healthy personal financial position.  Every effort should be made to eliminate completely the need for short-term debt (credit cards and debit balances) and to efficiently manage your long-term debt (mortgages).

Simplify Your Financial Holdings

Simplifying your financial holdings can eliminate much of the drudgery of financial recordkeeping.  If you have credit cards you don’t use, cancel them and eliminate the extra statements.  Consider consolidating your credit lines to the greatest extent possible.  Review your investment holdings for non-performing assets or redundant accounts and consolidate your investments.

To Sum Up….

Although you may be able to think of more exciting ways to spend your time, organizing your financial records and planning your financial future will pay huge dividends in the long run.  Do what you can on your own and seek professional advice from a trusted advisor where additional planning needs to be done.

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The Top Ten Reasons Why People Need Long Term Care Insurance

Posted by Gary Raetz

10.  The government isn’t going to pay for long-term care at home, in a nursing home, or in an assisted living center. Medicare pays 100% of long-term care for 20 days and all but $95.00 per day for the next 80 days–after that nothing. However Medicare only pays for skilled care and most long term care is not skilled care.

9.  The national average cost for nursing homes is approximately $105.00 per day. Assisted    living ranges anywhere from $50 – $90 per day. If you live on the Eastern Seaboard you can  easily spend $50,000 to $80,000 for a year’s stay in a nursing home. These costs are perfectly capable of wiping out a lifetime of savings-not to mention the emotional effect long-term care has on a family.

8.  A Harvard University study showed that 69% of single people and 34% of married couples would exhaust their assets after 13 weeks in a nursing home. 13 Weeks = 91 days!.

7.  At age 65, a woman has a one out of two chance of spending some time in a nursing home.  A man has a one out of three chance. In the case of men, mortality catches up with morbidity.

6.  Medicaid kicks in only after a person’s assets and dignity are gone. In many states the         eligibility threshold for single people is $1,500 in assets. After all Medicaid is WELFARE.

5.  Children would like to help, but children often have children of their own. They certainly can’t quit their jobs to care for their parents.

4.  Health rarely improves with age.

3.  People can’t buy long-term care coverage at crisis time or when they are ready to use it.

2.  American’s have access to the best health care in the world, if they can pay for it.

1.  Most People want to choose where they go instead of having to go where they are taken, and if independence is important to them, they will need to have either a big estate or adequate insurance

 

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Social Security Spousal Benefits: What Social Security Does Not Tell You

Posted by Gary Raetz

Social Security spousal benefits can be confusing, but it is well worth your time to do your homework and learn how to take full advantage of them. You may receive thousands of dollars of additional income when you had no idea that it was available. The American Association of Retired People states that $10.1 billion in Social Security (SS) benefits are left unclaimed each year and a major part of that amount is left by senior couples who do not understand how to take full advantage of their Social Security spousal benefits.

Too many seniors only think about their own SS accounts when they are planning their retirement. They do not realize that they can take draw Social Security spousal benefits on their spouse’s account as well as their own accounts. Let’s take a typical couple, John and Linda. John is three years older than Linda. Both John’s and Linda’s full retirement age is 66.

Linda’s benefit at 66 will be $705 per month. John’s benefit at 66 will be $2150 per month.

 

Original Plan

Linda is planning to wait until age 66 to start drawing her benefit and John is planning to wait until age 70 to draw his benefit. Then John reads a retirement planning book that explains how to maximize Social     Security benefits and they formulate a new plan.

New Plan – Part 1

Linda will start drawing on her own SS account at 62 at the reduced rate of $518 per month. When she reaches 66, she will stop drawing on her account and start drawing spousal benefits on John’s account. Drawing on her account from age 62 to 66 (48 months) will give her $28,864 additional benefit income   during the 48 months ($518 x 48 = $28,864).

New Plan – Part 2

At age 66, when she starts drawing spousal benefits on John’s account, the amount will be one half of his benefits at his full retirement age ($2,150 / 2 = $1,075). This will be $370 more per month than the full    retirement benefit from her account.

Remember that John is not going to start drawing his benefit until age 70. However, for Linda to start receiving her spouse benefit from his account, John must apply for his benefit. SS has a provision that allows a person to apply to receive her/his benefit and then suspend receiving it.  John will apply for his own benefit at age 66 and immediately suspends its collection. This will allow Linda to start drawing her Social Security spousal benefits on John’s account when she hits 66.

New Plan – Part 3

Since Linda will start drawing her benefits at 62, John can start drawing his spouse benefits on Linda’s account when he reaches age 66. This amounts to $352 per month which is one half of her benefit. John will draw this benefit until age 70 when he discontinues the spousal benefit and starts to draw his own benefit which will be 32% higher than if started drawing his benefit at age 66.

 

A recap of the increased Social Security benefits received:

  • Linda will receive 48 months of her reduced benefit she was not planning to receive ($28,864).
  • Linda will receive SS spousal benefits on John’s account at age 66 which will be $370 more than her own benefit at age 66. This increased benefit will continue until she dies.
  • John will receive 48 months of spousal benefits from Linda’s account he was not planning to receive ($16,896).

 

The take home ideas from this article:

  • Determine what the benefits are for both individual’s SS accounts
  • Determine what the Social Security spousal benefits will be for each spouse’s account for the other spouse.
  • Consider all combinations of individual and spousal benefits.
  • Develop a plan to utilize the individual and spousal benefits to maximize your Social Security income.

You must take action on your own.  Social Security will not notify you that you are not taking full advantage of all your benefits.

 

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Retirees Can Use Fixed Term SPIAs to Keep in Control of Their Money

Posted by Gary Raetz

By: Shane Flait

Today’s retirees often don’t have a company pension. Their only steady source of income is their Social Security benefits (SSB). But often that’s not enough and they want to count on an income that’ll cover their living expenses. If they’ve acquired a decent amount of savings they can use an annuity to assure them an adequate income without losing control of their money. Here’s how.

For a lump sum, you can buy a Single Premium Immediate Annuity (SPIA) that can supply a monthly income for life or for a fixed term. That lump sum amount is now out of your control since you’re taking it as income. If you take it at 65 with a payout to you for life, it’ll take a large lump sum and may deplete all your savings leaving little or no legacy for your kids.

To assure yourself a reliable income yet maintain control of your money and legacy, consider a fixed term payout from an SPIA. How much of your savings you’ll use for the SPIA depends on how much assured income (i.e. SSB and pension) you have already, and what stage of retirement you’re in. If you’re ‘loaded’ or have a great company pension you don’t need to annuitize for the assurance of not outliving your money.

Let’s consider some options for purchasing an SPIA

*The fixed term SPIA option:

Here, we’re looking at a fixed term SPIA where you purchase the SPIA for an immediate payout, but only for a fixed term – perhaps 5, 10 or 15 years depending on your age.

The idea is to buy the fixed term SPIA with only 50% of your savings. The term you choose depends on how much extra assured income you need – beyond your SSB and pension – and what you plan to do with your other 50% of savings. Let’s see some examples for this approach.

*A New retiree’s approach:

If you’re a 66 year old man beginning retirement with about $400,000 or more in savings but no company pension, you may complement your SSB with an annuity income while you pursue some endeavor for the first 10 years of your retirement. But, you don’t want to lose control over your assets for later alternative choices.

As an option, you could purchase a 10 year term SPIA that would pay you about $2,000 per month to supplement your SSB for about $202,000 (you must do some research on this). This would leave you with at least $200,000 in savings that you can invest to grow over the next 10 years. With the assurance of the income that your SPIA gives you, you can invest the remainder of your savings more aggressively for a higher return.

If you can invest at a 7 or 8% growth rate you may recover your $202,000 lump sum with your investment money over those 10 years. The growth rate you can reasonably expect will depend on your choice of investment and the tax-deferred status of your savings. A tax-sheltered account (like an IRA) would allow you to seek tax-deferred high income investments. Or, you could buy a deferred annuity at a guaranteed rate. The key is that you’re in control of your remaining savings for later use and choices.

With assets under $100,000, don’t tie up your money in an annuity. It’s not going to provide enough income to make the purchase worthwhile. Consider part-time work and delaying retirement to increase your assets. Later when you’ve increased your savings, stopped working, and receive Social Security, consider the annuitizing options.

*Older retiree approach – worrying about a legacy and living expenses:

If you’re an 80 year old with $200,000 in savings and a house with no mortgage, you may be drawing down your savings at about $2,000 per month and are worried about depleting your savings and losing your legacy to your children.

You could purchase an SPIA for a fixed term – perhaps 10 years – with a fraction of your savings to cover the monthly drain on her savings that your SSB can’t handle. Your age may make opting for a life annuity, rather than a fixed term, a good option since your low remaining life expectancy would give you more income per lump sum dollar invested.

But use your remaining savings to invest in a deferred annuity to grow for later use or as a legacy

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My Health Insurance Is Through My Employer? What Do I Do When I Retire? Health Insurance In Retirement

Posted by Gary Raetz

By:  Dana Anspach, www.moneyover55.about.com

If you’ve held a stable job for most of your career, it’s likely you haven’t had to give much thought to your health insurance plan. Instead, it’s been a benefit consistently offered through your employer. With retirement approaching, now what? You’ll want to follow the steps below to evaluate your health insurance retirement options.

1. Learn About Your Group Health Insurance Benefits In Retirement

The first thing to do is learn all about your existing health insurance benefits and how they change in retirement. Do you have the option to continue in your group plan? Have you worked there for enough years, or reached an age where you become vested in certain health insurance benefits? Attend workshops and read all the literature your employer provides on health insurance in retirement.

2. Explore Your Choices For Health Insurance In Retirement

Next, explore your options. When you’re age 65, most of you will become eligible for Medicare, but you’ll still have choices to make. The most accurate information you can find is on Medicare.gov, but if you’re like the rest of us, you’ll still want professional help in making such an important decision, which means you’ll want to move on to Step 3.

3. Talk To An Agent Contracted With Most Major Carriers To Compare Health Insurance Retirement Choices

Your best choice will be to talk to a health insurance agent who is contracted with most major health plans in your area. Particularly, look for a health insurance agency that specializes in health insurance in retirement; they can conduct a complete analysis of your options by asking you about your existing doctors and medications and then tell you which plans will provide the most cost-effective benefits based on your personal medical situation.

I found such a health insurance agency with Strategic Growth Insurance Associates. Licensed in over twenty states, they provide a spreadsheet of your options, helping you objectively evaluate your health insurance choices.

4. Once You Have Health Insurance In Retirement, Then What?

Whether over or under age 65, once you have secured health insurance in retirement you should be proactive about evaluating it by conducting an annual review of your coverage options. Benefits and costs change, and it is possible a new plan may offer you better coverage at a lower price; you won’t know unless you look. Once again, you’ll want to talk with an agent who is contracted with all major carries to get an objective analysis.

 

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Making an Informed Decision on When to Retire

Posted by Gary Raetz

By: Richard Gaudiosi, Social Security Administration Public Affairs Specialist

It’s never too early to start thinking about your retirement.  When you do, one of your first questions may be, “When’s the best time to start receiving retirement benefits?”

There is no “best age” for everyone and, ultimately, it is your choice.  You should make an informed decision about when to apply for benefits based on your individual and family circumstances.

With that in mind, Social Security has published a new fact sheet to help you make the decisions that is best for you. When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits is available on line at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs .

Things to consider are your current cash need, health, family longevity, whether you plan to work after you retire, future financial needs and obligations, and the amount of your benefits and other income, such as pensions and deductions from retirement funds.  Do you have investments to draw from when you need extra money?  Will it last as long as you expect to live?

Keep in mind that people are living longer than they used to.  About one out of every four 65 year olds today will live past age 90, and one out of 10 will live past age 95.  If you decide to retire early, at age 62 or any time before your full retirement age, you can get your benefits sooner, but you will get a reduced benefit for the rest of your life.  Your monthly benefit will last as long as you do.  Therefore, the reduction in monthly payment for taking early retirement can add up to a big difference over the life of your benefits.

Your decision can affect your spouse and family, too.  If you die before your spouse and dependent children, they may be eligible for survivor’s benefits.  But, if you took early retirement, payments to your widow would be based on your reduced benefit amount.

When you reach your full retirement age, you can work and earn as much as you want and still receive your full Social Security benefit payment.  If you are not at full retirement age and your earnings exceed certain dollar amounts, some of your benefit payment during the year will be withheld.

On the other hand, if you put off retirement benefits until after your full retirement age, your benefit amount will increase.  In fact, your benefit amount will continue to go up until you reach age 70 or start receiving benefits, whichever comes first.

And when thinking about Social Security, don’t forget Medicare.  You should sign up for Medicare three months before reaching age 65, no matter when your full retirement age is—even if you decide to delay retirement benefits.  Otherwise, your Medicare, as well as prescription drug coverage, could be delayed and you could be charged higher premiums.

Learn more and make an educated decision about when to retire.  Visit the online fact sheet, When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits, at www.socialsecurity.gov/pubs.

 

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Life Insurance Buyer’s Guide Prepared

Posted by Gary Raetz

By: The National Association of Insurance Commissioners

  • Buying Life Insurance
  • How much do you need?
  • What is the Right Kind?
  • Finding a Low Cost Policy
  • Things to Remember
Buying Life Insurance

When you buy life insurance you want coverage that fits your needs and doesn’t cost too much. First, decide how much you need – and for how long – and what you can afford to pay. Next, find out what kinds of policies are available to meet your needs and pick the one that best suits you. Then, find out what different companies charge for that kind of policy for the amount of insurance you want. You can find important cost differences between life insurance policies by using cost comparison indexes as described in this guide.

It makes good sense to ask a life insurance agent or company to help you. An agent can be particularly useful in reviewing your insurance needs and in giving you information about the kinds of policies that are available. If one kind doesn’t seem to fit your needs, ask about others. This guide provides only basic information. You can get more facts from a life insurance agent or company or at your public library.

How much do you need?

To decide how much life insurance you need, figure out what your dependents would have if you were to die now, and what they would actually need. Your new policy should come as close to  making up the difference as you can afford.

In figuring what you have, count your present insurance – including any group insurance where you work, social security or veteran’s insurance. Add other assets you have – saving, investments, real estate, and personal property.

In figuring what you need, think of income for you dependents – for family living expenses, educational costs and any other future needs. Think also of cash needs – for the expenses of a final illness and for paying taxes, mortgage or other debts.

What is the Right Kind?

All life insurance policies agree to pay an amount of money when you die. But all policies are not the same. Some provide permanent coverage and others temporary coverage. Some build up cash   values and others do not. Some policies combine different kinds of insurance, and others let you change from one kind of insurance to another. Your choice should be based on your needs and what you can afford. A wide variety of plans is being offered today. Here is a brief description of two basic kinds – term and whole life – and some combinations and variations. You can get detailed information from a life insurance agent or company.

Term insurance covers you for a term of one or more years. It pays a death benefit only if you die in that term. Term insurance generally provides the largest immediate death protection for your premium dollar.

Most term insurance policies are renewable for one or more additional terms even if your health has changed. Each time you renew the policy for a new term, premiums will be higher. Check the premiums at older ages and how long the policy can be continued.

Many term insurance policies can be traded before the end of a conversion period of a whole life policy-even if you are not in good health. Premiums for the new policy will be higher than you have been paying for the term insurance.

Whole Life Insurance covers you for as long as you live. The common type is called straight life or ordinary life insurance – you pay the same premiums for as long as you live. These premiums can be several times higher than you would pay at first for the same amount of term insurance. But they are smaller than the premiums you would eventually pay if you were to keep renewing a term policy until your later years.

Some whole life policies let you pay premiums for a shorter period such as 20 years, or until age 65. Premiums for these policies are higher than for ordinary life insurance since the premium payments are squeezed into a shorter period.

Whole life policies develop cash values. If you stop paying premiums, you can take the cash – or you can use the cash value to buy continuing insurance protection for a limited time or a reduced amount. (Some term policies that provide coverage for a long period also have cash values).

You may borrow against the cash values by taking a policy loan. Any loan and interest on the loan that you do not pay back will be deducted from the benefits if you die, or from the cash value if you stop paying premiums.

Combinations and Variations. You can combine different kinds of insurance. For example, you can buy whole life insurance for lifetime coverage and add term insurance for the period of your greatest insurance need. Usually the term insurance is on your life – but it can also be bought for your spouse or children.

Endowment insurance policies pay a sum or income to you if you live to a certain age. If you die  before then, the death benefit is paid to the person you named as beneficiary.

Other policies may have special features which allow flexibility as to premiums and coverage. Some let you choose the death benefit you want and the premium amount you can pay. The kind of insurance and coverage period are determined by these choices.

One kind of flexible premium policy, often called universal life, lets you vary your premium payments every year, and even skip a payment if you wish. The premiums you pay (less expense charges) go into a policy account that earns interest and charges for the insurance are deducted from the account. Here, insurance continues as long as there is enough money in the account to pay the insurance charges.

Variable life is a special kind of insurance where the death benefits and cash values depend upon investment performance of one or more separate accounts. Be sure to get the prospectus provided by the company when buying this kind of policy. The method of cost comparison outlined in this Guide does not apply to policies of this kind.

A simple comparison of the premiums is often not enough. There are other things to consider.  For example:

  • Do premiums or benefits vary from year to year?
  • How much cash value builds up under the policy?
  • What part of the premiums or benefits is not guaranteed?
  • What is the effect of interest on money paid and received at different times on the policy?
Finding a Low Cost Policy

After you have decided which kind of life insurance is best for you, compare similar policies from different companies to find which one is likely to give you the best value for your money.

Comparison Index numbers, which you get from your life insurance agents or companies, take   these sorts of items into account and can point the way to better buys.

Comparison Indexes. There are two types of comparison index numbers. Both assume you will live and pay premiums for the period of index.

Yield Comparison Index . The Life Insurance Yield Comparison Index is a measure of cash value growth over the Index period which takes into account the interest credited, the estimated value of the death protection provided, and the expenses charged. A higher yield index number generally indicates a better buy. Since this index reflects items other than interest earnings, it may differ from the credited interest rate advertised or guaranteed in your policy. For the same reasons, the Yield Index may differ from the return on a pure investment like a savings account. Keep this in mind if you attempt to compare Yield Indexes with investment returns.

The Net Payment Cost Comparison Index helps you compare costs over the Index period assuming you will continue to pay premiums on your policy and do not take its cash value. It is  useful if your main concern is the benefits that are to be paid at your death.

Guaranteed an Illustrated Figures. Many policies provide benefits on a more favorable basis than the minimum guaranteed basis in the policy. They may do this by paying dividends, or by charging less than the maximum premium specified. Or they may do this in other ways, such as by providing higher cash values or death benefits than the minimums guaranteed in the policy. The “currently   illustrated basis” reflects the company’s current scale of dividends, premiums or benefits. These scales can be changed after the policy is issued, so that the actual dividends, premiums or benefits over the years can be higher of lower than those assumed in the Indexes on the currently illustrated basis.

Some policies are sold only on a guaranteed or fixed cost basis. These policies do not pay dividends; the premiums and benefits are fixed at the time you buy the policy and will not change.

Using Comparison Indexes. The most important thing to remember is that, when using the Net Payment Cost Comparison Index, a policy with smaller index numbers is generally a better buy than a similar policy with larger index numbers. When using the Life Insurance Yield Comparison Index, the opposite is true: a policy with larger Yield Comparison Index numbers is generally a better buy than one with smaller Yield Comparison Index numbers.

Compare index numbers only for similar policies – those which provide essentially the same benefits, with premiums payable for the same length of time. Where possible the same amount of planned premium should be used. Make sure they are for your age, and for the kind of policy and amount you intend to buy. Remember than no one company offers the lowest cost at all ages for all kinds and amounts of insurance.

Small differences in index number should be disregarded, particularly where there are dividends or non guaranteed premiums or benefits. Also, small differences could easily be offset by other policy features, or differences in the quality of service from the agent or company or differences in the strength of companies. When you find small differences in the indexes, your choice should be based on something other than cost.

Finally keep in mind that index numbers cannot tell you the whole story. You should consider:

The level and quality of service from the agent or company, the strength and reputation of the company, the history (track record) of how the company treats carious classes of policyholders e. g. longtime policyholders versus current purchasers.

The pattern of policy benefits. Some policies have low cash values in the early years that build rapidly later on. Other policies have a more level cash value buildup. A year-by-year display of values and benefits can be very helpful. (The agent or company will give you a Policy Summary that will show benefits and premiums for selected years).

Any special policy features that may be particularly suited to your needs.

The methods by which non guaranteed values are calculated. For example, interest rates are an   important factor in determining policy dividends. In some companies dividends reflect the average interest earnings on all policies whenever issued. In others, the dividends for policies issued in a   recent year, or a group of years, reflect the interest earnings on those policies; in this case, dividends are likely to change more rapidly when interest rates change.

Things to Remember

  • Review your particular insurance needs and circumstances. Choose the kind of policy with   benefits that most closely fit your needs. Ask an agent or company to help you.
  • Be sure that the premiums are within your ability to pay. Don’t look only at the initial premiums, but take account of any later premium increase.
  • Don’t buy life insurance unless you intend to stick with it. It can be very costly if you quit during the early years of the policy.
  • Read your policy carefully. Ask your agent or company about anything that is not clear to you.
  • Review your life insurance program with your agent or company every few years to keep up with changes in your income and your needs.
  • Contact Benchmark Financial Group, LLC for all your insurance needs:  913-227-4224  www.benchmarkfinancialgroup.com

 

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How Living Expenses Change During Retirement

Posted by Gary Raetz

By:  Ian Filippini

There are some upsides to being a retiree—senior discounts, lower taxes, subsidized healthcare and regular Social Security checks among them. On the other hand, mature Americans must contend with worrisome issues such as rising costs of medical care, long-term care, prescription drugs, and even basic necessities such as food and energy.

To determine your monthly expenses during retirement, you might start by dividing costs into two categories; those you believe will change and those you believe will remain largely the same

Costs You Believe Might Change

Housing expenses—particularly if you plan to live in your paid-off home or plan to downsize to a smaller dwelling

Medical insurance—which may shift from a premium for HMO coverage to a Medigap policy

Costs of dependents—if you have children you believe will be self-sufficient by the time you retire.

Entertainment and travel expenses—for some people, these might decline precipitously; for others, they might be far higher.

Taxes—most retirees find their combined tax burden is less than during their working years.

Automobile-related costs—retirees generally drive less than workers who commute to their jobs every day, thus spending less on maintenance, gasoline, etc.

Monthly contributions toward retirement savings accounts—not only can you stop making this contribution, you might even consider spending it.

Costs You Think Will Remain the Same

Food

Clothing—unless you previously spent large amounts of money on uniforms or other job-specific wardrobe items.

Household expenses—such as telephone, utilities, cable, etc

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Estimate Your Retirement Benefits

Posted by Gary Raetz

How can I calculate my own retirement benefit estimates?

We suggest you use the Retirement Estimator at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator. The Retirement Estimator produces estimates based on your actual Social Security earnings record, so it’s very accurate. Also, you can use it to test different retirement possibilities based on what age you decide to start benefits or get an estimate with changes to your future benefits.

You also can go to the Benefits Calculators at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/benefitcalculators.htm and use the earnings shown on your Social Security Statement to calculate estimates. The calculators will show your retirement benefits as well as disability and survivor benefit amounts. These benefit calculators are not linked to your Social Security record, so you do not need to establish a password to use them.

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ESTATE PLANNING BASICS: PART V – WHY YOU DON’T NEED A TRUST

Posted by Gary Raetz

By:  Timothy Denker

An old friend of mine called me up and wanted to discuss what he needed for an estate plan. He was single, and had a few things, but nothing significant. My friend had spoken with a couple other attorneys who were suggesting he create a pretty complex estate plan. He was single with no kids, and wanted everything to go to just two people. We walked through the pros and cons of his estate planning options, and the one big question popped up: does he need a trust?

Every person needs to have an estate plan, no matter how simple their situation may be. It only takes one small mistake to significantly reduce the value of the property being inherited and the time it takes to actually inherit it. An instrument commonly used to help avoid that mistake is called a Trust, and a common question clients ask is whether they need one. To be able to assess whether you need a Trust consider a few of the basics.

Trusts come in many different forms and have many different purposes. They are extremely efficient instruments used to plan a person’s estate. Trusts can be living or testamentary; revocable or irrevocable. Trusts help avoid probate and paying estate taxes. They also help protect the assets and the beneficiaries of the estate. When used properly they will save your family all of the money, headache, time and hassle that could be incurred in an improperly planned estate. Everyone could definitely benefit by having a trust.

The main reason I wouldn’t recommend a trust to someone would be if it were not cost effective. One of the first things I ask my clients to do when beginning the estate planning process is to figure out their net worth (assets minus liabilities). This includes real property, bank accounts, life insurance, retirement accounts, debt, etc.; and it usually adds up to more than what most people realize. However, if I look at the estate and see little to no net worth, then consideration needs to be given to a more cost effective estate plan.

Another reason would be if you have a very simple distribution plan. Only having one or two heirs who don’t have their own children can leave things pretty simple, and we can use alternative vehicles to accomplish the plan you want laid out. Any changes to that plan in the future may be a bit time consuming, but could still be worth the savings.

A third possible reason would be if your only asset is a retirement investment account. These accounts have some very stringent rules regarding on-death transfers and the tax benefits of listing a person versus a trust should be explored with a professional.

Essentially, whether you are set up in a Trust is your decision. Your lawyer should provide you with other alternatives as well as the pros and cons of each plan. These alternative plans should all include a Will, but should definitely NOT be limited to just a Will. If an alternative plan to a Trust is used it is very important to remember the following: (1) it will take careful planning to make sure they are following the overall estate plan. Even the most well-crafted Will won’t undo a careless overall plan; (2) the initial efforts of proper titling of the assets are absolutely crucial to the execution of your plan; (3) it will require constant awareness, and maintenance/updating any time there is a change to your family, property or location; and (4) if the only thing in your estate plan is a Will you need to find out what is missing.

Timothy Denker
The Legal Center for New Families LLC
229 SE Douglas, Ste 210
Lee’s Summit, MO 64063
(816) 434-6610
[email protected]

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ESTATE PLANNING BASICS: PART IV – THE POWER OF ATTORNEY FOR FINANCIAL MATTERS

Posted by Gary Raetz

By:  Timothy Denker

A young woman in her 40s called me one day completely distraught. She was married with two adorable little girls, but her husband was hit by a drunk driver and had been in a coma for quite some time. Her income alone was unable to support her family, and the bills were starting to pile up. She wanted to sell her house so she could use and salvage the equity in their home that they’d worked so hard to build. The problem was that the house was owned by her AND her husband. While this may not seem to be too problematic, in actuality, it was. Without having a durable power of attorney for finance, she was unable to sign on her husband’s behalf even though he couldn’t do so himself.

Estate Planning is not just about planning what happens when you die. It’s also about planning for the possibility of you becoming incapacitated (unable to make your own decisions). No one thinks this could ever happen to them, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who was able to predict their own future. Tragedies occur. It’s cruel, but inevitable. Did you know that according to the Highway Patrol, in 2010, there were 54,875 people injured in car crashes just in the state of Missouri? And I see more and more people looking at and talking on their phones while they drive every day.

Last month, I talked about the Health Care Power of Attorney, which is needed to plan for your incapacity. Well, the Power of Attorney for Financial Matters is a separate document that also comes in very handy. Basically, this gives the person you designate the ability to handle your financial affairs in the event you can’t. It includes everything from paying your bills, to selling your property, to handling some overlooked last minute estate planning.

This Power of Attorney for Finance can either be durable or springing. If it’s durable, that provides quite a bit more flexibility, and allows the person’s agent to sign on his behalf in the event he is unavailable. A Springing Power of Attorney, on the other hand, only becomes enacted upon the actual incapacity of the person. My client’s husband did not have any type of power of attorney in place, and because of it, he exposed his wife and two little girls to the possibility of losing everything they’d worked so hard to attain.

So at what point should someone do this type of planning? Planning for one’s incapacity needs to start the second someone becomes a legal adult. Once you’re an adult no one has the authority to make those decisions for you anymore, and signing the marriage certificate does not provide your spouse with this authority either.

Fortunately for my client, she had some close relatives that ended up being able to help her through the difficult times, and she was able to save the house. But how many people really have that kind of luxury?

Timothy Denker
The Legal Center for New Families LLC
229 SE Douglas, Ste 210
Lee’s Summit, MO 64063
(816) 434-6610
[email protected]

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ESTATE PLANNING BASICS: PART III – YOUR HEALTHCARE DECISIONS

Posted by Gary Raetz

By:  Timothy Denker

Not everything about estate planning is done for your heirs. Much of it, in fact, is put in place to protect you. One of those documents is called a “Power of Attorney for Health Care and Health Care Directive.” I’ll simply call it “Directive” from here on out.

Most of us remember the Terri Schiavo story. To remind you, Terri suffered an accident that resulted in serious brain damage and was in a persistent vegetative state. Terri did not have a Directive and so a seven year legal battle ensued between her husband and friend, who wanted the life-prolonging procedures to be removed, and her parents, who wanted her to continue on life support hoping for a recovery. In the end, the decision was made by the courts. This situation cost the family constant and prolonged heartache, thousands of dollars, and at a certain point Terri went on government aid/taxpayer money. If Terri had just had a Directive, it would have been clear to all her family members what her wishes would be, and the fighting could have been avoided altogether.

Did you know that just because you’re married, your spouse does not have the automatic right to make those healthcare decisions for you? In fact, any person who is an adult and does not have a legal guardian should have a Directive in place.

So ask yourself: Who do you trust to be able to make (and handle) those incredibly important decisions for you? Your spouse? Your parents? Your kids? Is that person comfortable making that call? Then take it a step further. How should that person make those decisions?

A Directive not only provides the person you give the power to make health care decisions you are unable to make, but it also tells them what you want. Make sure you are the person who chooses what situations will determine the extent of your medical treatment. Don’t force your family to make that decision for you. And don’t force your family to fight in court over who has that say and what that say should be.

These are very emotional and sensitive decisions to make, and only you can really know what you want. Have your Power of Attorney for Health Care and Health Care Directive drawn up as a part of your overall estate plan, and remove the burden of that decision from your loved ones.

Timothy Denker
The Legal Center for New Families LLC
229 SE Douglas, Ste 210
Lee’s Summit, MO 64063
(816) 434-6610
[email protected]

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ESTATE PLANNING BASICS: PART II – WHAT DO YOU MEAN “PROBATE”?

Posted by Gary Raetz

By: Timothy Denker

A couple of years ago, a client came into my office trying to figure out how to transfer the title of their deceased father’s house into that client’s name. The father didn’t have a Will or any resemblance of an estate plan, so I kept asking questions. It turned out the father had another son who they didn’t talk to anymore and quite a bit of furniture and other household goods. While it was a pretty modest estate the house had to be sold to help pay for the probate expenses, it was going to take at least 9 months before everything was going to be resolved, and this was all based on the hope that his brother was going to actually cooperate, which rarely happens.

On my last blog I made a reference to “non-probate planning,” without really defining probate. Simply put, probate is the department in the courts that deals with passing property to heirs at a person’s death. However, the process itself is not as simple as the definition. There are a multitude of steps and rules that need to be followed. Is there a Will? What property is passing through the will? Who gets what? What if two of the heirs want the same piece of property? Is there enough money in the estate to pay the expenses, or will the heirs have to pony up their own money? The list of questions goes on and on and rarely is the answer simple. Here are a few of the more common questions I get. If any of this relates to you, make sure you talk to an attorney before acting. This is only generic advice, and may not directly apply to your situation.

When my parent dies am I responsible to pay off their debts? Basically, the answer is no. The only way you should pay any debts off or agree to pay debts off of the parent is if you were already obligated to do so. Otherwise, those should be dealt with accordingly when settling the probate estate.

Should I open up a probate estate if there’s more debt than assets? Probably. This answer depends on the situation (type of debt, type of property, etc.). The ultimate goal in these estates is to maximize the value of the assets to pass to the heirs while still paying off the necessary creditors pursuant to what the law provides.

If there is a Will, does that mean the property does not have to go through probate? No. This is a very common misconception. First off, everyone does need a Will. The Will provides a safety net in the event part of the person’s estate plan is not executed accordingly, is not modified when a triggering event occurs, or some extraneous event causes a probate case to be opened by a 3rd party (i.e. creditor, disinherited heir, etc.). However, the Will does not avoid probate.

The good news is that probate is completely avoidable, and planning to do so is one of the essential elements of every estate plan I put together for my clients. There are quite a few methods that can be used, and some are better than others. The key elements to having an effective non-probate plan are to (1) implement your plan immediately after you execute the rest of your estate planning documents; (2) review and update it when necessary; and (3) make sure it accurately reflects your chosen estate plan.

Timothy Denker
The Legal Center for New Families LLC
229 SE Douglas, Ste 210
Lee’s Summit, MO 64063
(816) 434-6610
[email protected]

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ESTATE PLANNING BASICS: PART I – MORE THAN JUST A WILL

Posted by Gary Raetz

By Timothy Denker

Recently, I met with a couple who was beginning to contemplate retirement. A family member told them they need to get Wills drawn up so they decided to find out how they should do that. “Well, we don’t really have anything, so we’re not sure why we would need a Will?” I can’t even begin to tell you how many times people say those exact words to me when I tell them that I help people plan their estates. It’s a common misconception that estate planning is only for the wealthy when in fact everyone should have it, and having a Will is just one of the things needed for a properly planned estate.

[On a side note, I would like to point out that a person’s estate includes every piece of property they own. This includes their house, car, bank account(s), stock, retirement account, life insurance, jewelry, furniture, etc. So even if you don’t think you have anything, there’s a very good chance you have at least something that needs to be addressed.]

Due to the variety of issues that are addressed in an estate plan, I’ve decided to break it up into several parts: Wills and non-probate planning, probate, the healthcare power of attorney and healthcare directive, the financial power of attorney, and trusts. For this article, I’d like to discuss not only the Will itself, but also what should be addressed outside of the Will to make it as easy on your loved ones as possible.

Everyone should have a Will. If a person dies without a Will, they died intestate. This means that any property passing through the probate court will go to whoever the state legislature has decided should get it. Do you really want someone else making that decision for you? Did you know that if you die with a surviving spouse and children, your spouse does not necessarily get everything?

If a person dies and has a Will, they died testate. So what exactly is a Will? Simply put it provides the opportunity to legally choose who will get what, and which person is trusted to handle divvying out that property according to the Will. There are many different provisions in a properly drawn up Will that will not only handle the basics of a Will, but will also address methods used if probate is necessary, the powers of the personal representative (a.k.a. the executor), whether the property should be placed in a trust, guardianship for minor children, and most importantly (in my opinion) helping keep your loved ones from fighting.

So in addition to having a Will drawn up and properly executed for you, a properly planned estate will include non-probate planning. Basically, getting the property to legally pass without having to use the probate courts. When an estate is planned properly, it will save your heirs significant amounts of time, money and hassle that would normally be incurred during the probate process.

Timothy Denker
The Legal Center for New Families LLC
229 SE Douglas, Ste 210
Lee’s Summit, MO 64063
(816) 434-6610
[email protected]

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ESTATE PLANNING AND THE FAMILY MEMBER WITH A DISABILITY

Posted by Gary Raetz

If you have a family member with special needs, such as a lifelong developmental, physical, or mental disability, your personal financial and legal advisors should be made
aware of this. This information is crucial in developing an appropriate estate plan.

Needs-based governmental programs, such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), are essential to persons with a disability. Persons with developmental
disabilities may live in a variety of settings in their communities. They may live in a group home, an extended family situation, or relatively independently. However, in all these
settings there is a services provider who is performing any combination of a number of tasks, which may include (to name a few) assisting with balancing a checkbook, grocery shopping, housekeeping, ensuring hygienic practices, and monitoring medication compliance. These services are provided as home and community-based programs, which are made available and funded through Medicaid. Even in cases where an individual may be living at home with parents, that individual is likely to be receiving services away from home during the day, such as job coaching services in employment or supervision at a workshop. Again, these services are provided and funded through a home and community-based Medicaid waiver program.

To qualify for Medicaid or SSI, an individual may not have assets exceeding a certain minimal threshold – $4,000 for Medicaid; $2,000 for SSI. In the event the individual
directly received an inheritance exceeding these levels, the individual would be required to pay out-of-pocket for their home and community-based services until once again below the applicable limit. Fortunately, however, the individual can be the beneficiary of a certain type of trust, known as a special needs trust or a supplemental needs trust, without the trust’s assets counting against the individual’s eligibility. The idea is to name the trust in your will to receive the share that otherwise would have gone to the disabled individual.

The trustee of the trust will have authority to make expenditures from the trust that would be in the individual’s best interests and that would enhance the individual’s quality
of life. The trust can be used to purchase desired goods or services which could not be paid for in any other way. For example, such trusts have been used to purchase electric powered wheelchairs controlled by a joy stick (neither Medicare nor Medicaid will pay for advanced wheelchairs), a handicap van conversion, or assistive devices. They have also been used to buy video games, entertainment, and trips. Most other expenditures you might think would be desirable to make could be made.

The trust device is a sound, reliable way of providing for a family member with a disability. By contrast, leaving all your property to your other children with a request that
the other children “take care of” the one with disabilities carries the risk that the property will be diverted to other uses. One of the other child’s creditors may execute a judgment against the property, or the property might get caught up in a divorce proceeding. Or, the sibling may just decide his house renovation is more important or pressing than some future expenditure for the sibling with the disability.

It is important to get this planning right while you are alive. It is possible for experts to divert an outright inheritance into a particular type of special needs trust after you have
passed away. However, the cost for that particular type of special needs trust is that particular trust must include a provision that the State will be reimbursed for Medicaid
received by the disabled individual after the individual’s death. The reimbursement would take priority over distribution to other family members. By contract, a reimbursement
provision is not required in a trust which you establish during your life as part of your estate plan.

The preparation of special needs trust is a specialized area of estate planning.  Such trusts require certain provisions to work correctly, and many estate planning attorneys
have little knowledge about them. So, make sure you find an advisor who has the requisite expertise.

The author of this article may be contacted at:

David W. Rowe
Kinsey Rowe Becker & Kistler, LLP
P.O. Box 85778
Lincoln, NE 68501-5778
(402) 438-1313 x21
(402) 438-1654 (fax)
[email protected]

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