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Social Security Washington Public Affairs Specialist
Between April 2018 and April 2019, Medicare will mail new Medicare cards to help protect you and your clients from identity theft. Fraudsters are always looking for ways to get your Social Security number. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is removing Social Security numbers from all Medicare cards to make them safer.
New cards will have a new Medicare number that’s unique to its owner. The new card will help protect their identity and keep their personal information more secure. Your Medicare coverage and benefits will stay the same.
Medicare will automatically mail a new card at no cost to the address you and your clients have on file with Social Security. If you need to update your official mailing address, you can do that with your online my Social Security account at www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount. You can also call us at 800-772-1213, however the best way to update, is online.
Medicare will never call you uninvited and ask you to give personal or private information to get your new Medicare Number and card. Scam artists may try to get personal information (like your current Medicare Number) by contacting you about your new card. If someone asks you for your information, for money, or threatens to cancel your health benefits if you don’t share your personal information, hang up and call us at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). For more information about the new Medicare card, visit go.medicare.gov/newcard. You can also visit www.Medicare.gov/fraud for tips to prevent Medicare fraud.
When the Wall Street Journal talks, people tend to listen, and that certainly applies to a subject as frequently misunderstood as reverse mortgages. A year or so ago this article appeared in the pages of this authoritative financial paper, and we have to imagine that it caused a few skeptics to sit up and take notice. It’s called “New Thinking About Reverse Mortgages,” written by financial writer Jeff Brown. He predicts these powerful and versatile financial tools will become more and more appealing to homeowners in the early years of their retirement journey. “Younger retirees,” says Brown, “may benefit from using reverse-mortgage lines of credit as interest rates rise.”
Of course, in the case of a reverse mortgage, “younger” is a relative term, since only those 62 and older can apply. As the Wall Street Journal piece explains, “A reverse mortgage is a type of loan taken against equity in a home, available to borrowers who are at least 62. It requires no monthly payments, with interest charges instead added to the loan balance and paid only after the homeowner sells or dies. The loan can be taken as a lump sum or as monthly income, or as a line of credit, with no interest charges on unused amounts.” Author Jeff Brown points out that it used to be more common for qualified homeowners to wait until they were older to take a reverse mortgage, because older borrowers could typically qualify for bigger loan payouts. But that thinking appears to be changing.
“In recent years,” Brown writes, “more financial advisers have warmed up to the idea of homeowners taking a reverse-mortgage line of credit when they are as young as 62, as a way to boost their nest egg. The key to this strategy is that the credit line grows over time, by amounts tied to the course of interest rates, and the unused portion can be converted to a substantial monthly income years later.” Brown predicts that these credit lines will become increasingly valuable, with both inflation and interest rates widely expected to rise. “Now is an exceptionally good time to be considering adding a [reverse-mortgage] credit line to the retirement blueprint,” says Shelley Giordano, chair of the Funding Longevity Task Force at the American College of Financial Services. With interest rates low, the credit limit on reverse mortgages increases, and if rates rise over the life of the loan, that will add to the growth of the credit line. Giordano calls the growing line of credit “an inflation hedge.”
According to the Wall Street Journal analysis, the strategy of setting up a line of credit and then allowing it to grow unused is sometimes referred to as a standby reverse mortgage, or SRM. A number of financial experts cited in the article have advocated this idea, a few as early as 2012. In the words of author Jeff Brown, some of these academics “recommend drawing from the credit line when investments like stocks and bonds are down, so the homeowner enjoys a steady income and gives other investments time to recover, allowing them to last longer.” Others point out that allowing the line of credit to grow for, say, 20 years can help provide a source of steady income to augment later years of retirement when health care costs may be more likely to spike. That’s all the more reason to start early.
Additionally, if you set up your reverse mortgage now when home values are high, you’re protected against a downturn in prices. “Taking a credit line at an early age could also mitigate the danger of the home’s value falling, a decline that would reduce the amount of credit available through a reverse mortgage taken later,” says the Journal’s Brown. “The credit line grows regardless of changes in the home’s value. If the home’s value soars, the homeowner could scrap the old credit line and take out a new, larger one against the higher value.”
It’s important to note that a reverse mortgage is not the right answer for every retiree, as the Wall Street Journal clearly states. It can limit the amount of equity available for other purposes and make it harder to pass along your home free and clear to your heirs. There are also fees to consider. Nevertheless, financial experts seem to be increasingly bullish. “A reverse-mortgage line of credit can be a saving grace for the baby boomers who simply do not have enough retirement savings” if home equity is ignored, states Professor Jamie Hopkins of the American College of Financial Services. “If home equity is incorporated more strategically in the future, we will see vast improvements in the financial security of retirees.”
Here at AgingOptions our advice to you is to get the facts. Don’t listen to the tales told by uninformed friends and family, and at the same time don’t assume that a reverse mortgage will magically make all your financial and retirement challenges disappear. We strongly suggest that you contact a trusted, objective expert such as Laura Kiel of Kiel Mortgage and find out the truth – pro and con – about a reverse mortgage and how it might apply in your individual situation. Laura is a professional who will lay out a straight, unvarnished analysis for you and let you choose for yourself. And if you do decide to go ahead, Laura will be with you every step of the way.
In a similar manner we at AgingOptions want to be at your side every step of the way on the journey toward planning for a secure and fruitful retirement. That’s why we offer powerful, free seminars called LifePlanning Seminars, featuring the insightful and eye-opening teaching of Rajiv Nagaich. Why not set aside a few hours and join Rajiv soon at a LifePlanning Seminar near you? There’s absolutely no obligation. Click here for details and online registration, or give us a call during business hours and we’ll gladly assist you. It will be our pleasure to meet you soon at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar.
The statistics are sobering: more and more seniors are entering retirement burdened with debt. As a result, many of these aging Americans are literally dying broke, with little of their financial lives remaining but unpaid bills. That means a growing number of adult children are suddenly becoming heirs to an estate ladened with debt, and they’re asking themselves and their financial advisors – “Am I on the hook? Have all those debts become my problem?”
Because we encounter this exact situation frequently in our practice at AgingOptions, we were drawn to this helpful article that appeared last week on the USNews website. It’s called “When Your Parents Die Broke,” and the subtitle sets the stage pretty clearly. “More seniors are carrying debt such as mortgages and credit card balances into retirement and they have fewer assets,” the article says. The implied question is, “What happens when they pass away?”
The article was written by financial columnist Liz Preston, and we think it’s a must-read for just about anyone who feels they may be likely to inherit a financial disaster when their mom or dad dies. That’s what happened to one man Preston profiles, a man named John Schmoll. His father “left a financial mess when he died: a house that was worth far less than the mortgage [and] credit card bills in excess of $20,000.” But worst of all were the debt collectors: these aggressive sharks insisted that Schmoll was legally obligated to pay the debts his father left behind.
“Fortunately,” Preston writes, “Schmoll knew better.” He had spent 20 years working in finance as a stockbroker and financial writer, and he knew he was not legally liable for any of his father’s indebtedness. But this caused us to ask ourselves, how many other heirs are far less informed and fall prey to aggressive debt collectors out of fear and ignorance?
Preston’s USNews article paints the picture in bleak terms. “Baby boomers are expected to transfer trillions to their heirs in coming years,” she writes. “But many people will inherit little more than a pile of bills.” That’s because nearly half of seniors will pass away with financial assets worth less than $10,000, according to a 2012 study for the National Bureau of Economic Research. “Meanwhile, debt among older Americans is soaring,” says Preston. The number of people 75 and older who have a mortgage has shot up 400 percent since 1989, now numbering nearly one-quarter of all older adults. Slightly more, 26 percent, have credit card debt, according to 2016 stats from the Federal Reserve. This means you as an heir have a significant chance of “inheriting” debt when your parents pass away. So, says Liz Preston, here are four things you need to know.
First, the good news is that you probably aren’t responsible for your parents’ debts. “When people die,” says Preston, “their debts don’t disappear. Those debts are now owed by their estates.” But if the estate lacks the assets to pay all of the bills, some of those bills are simply going to remain unpaid. It’s true that a spouse may bear some liability, depending on state law, but unless the non-spouse heir is also a co-signor on the debt, they usually owe nothing. Even inherited assets such as “pay on death” bank accounts, life insurance policies, retirement plans and the like are protected from creditors.
Second, you definitely need to consult a lawyer. “After a parent dies,” the USNews article explains, “the executor must follow state law in determining how limited funds are distributed and can be held personally responsible for mistakes. That makes consulting a lawyer a smart idea.” Typically any legal fees incurred will be covered by the estate, not by the heirs. The cost of good legal counsel will be money well spent when it comes to determining what debts the estate owes and how best to satisfy those obligations.
Third, advises Preston, you need to take meticulous notes. “The financial lives of people in debt are often chaotic,” says Preston, “and sorting it all out can take time.” John Schmoll, the man featured in the article, serves as a helpful example. As executor of his dad’s estate, “Schmoll dealt with over a dozen collection agencies, utilities and lenders, often talking to multiple people about a single account. He kept a document where he tracked details such as the names of people he talked to, dates and times of the conversations, what was said and required follow-up actions as well as reference numbers for various accounts.” As tedious as in sounds, this kind of record-keeping will prove invaluable in getting debts handled properly.
Fourth, you need to stop listening to the debt collectors. These individuals are relentless, and they will often resort to trickery, exaggeration and high pressure. Preston’s advice is not to give in to their efforts, but instead to know your options and know when to hang up the phone or ignore the collection letters. Don’t allow the debt collectors to play on your emotions or make you feel guilty.
Here at AgingOptions our passionate pursuit is to help retirees avoid becoming a burden to those they love. If you’re worried about how to protect your assets when you retire, it’s time for you to discover the power of an AgingOptions LifePlan. Similarly, if you’re serving as a financial advisor to an aging parent, you probably find yourself needing some good, solid, objective advice, and a LifePlan can be the solution for you, too. Only an AgingOptions LifePlan helps you plan for your future by blending all aspects of living into one seamless plan – encompassing financial, legal, housing, medical and family dimensions. Wherever you are in your life, now is a terrific time to join Rajiv Nagaich and find out for yourself at a free LifePlanning Seminar. It will be one of the most important information sessions you’ll ever attend.
For a complete listing of currently scheduled seminars, click on this link to our Live Events page. You can register online for the seminar of your choice, or contact us during the week. It will be our pleasure to help guide you into the fruitful and secure retirement you’ve always hoped for! We’ll see you soon.
According to this eye-opening article that we recently discovered on the website called HealthDay, there’s a new study out from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that should grab the attention of every senior and every caregiver. The CDC has just examined recent statistics on the number of seniors who suffer from falls every year, and the price tag – financial, physical and emotional – is truly staggering.
“Falls by older Americans have devastating medical and economic consequences, reaching $50 billion a year,” says HealthDay. The lead researcher on the recently-released CDC study calls falls “a common, costly and growing public health problem,” one that will only get worse as today’s baby boomers continue to age. Payments for non-fatal falls in the most recent year in which data is available – 2015 – cost the Medicare system almost $29 billion and Medicaid nearly $9 billion, with about $12 billion more paid out by private insurers. Falls affect about three in ten of all American adults 65 and older every year.
But the dollar costs tell only part of the story. One New York geriatrician termed these mishaps “individually devastating.” As the HealthDay article puts it, “Falls can trigger the start of a senior’s decline, leading to more care, and often a stay in a nursing home or long-term care center.” Tragically, the Injuries that result from falls “are also linked to loss of function and independence and to death.” This downward spiral resulting from a fall affects both women (who doctors say tend to suffer hip fractures) and men (more likely to incur head injuries). “With about 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, more falls are likely, with ever rising costs,” HealthDay reports.
The survey showed that older, lower-income Caucasian women are the ones most commonly hospitalized as the result of a fall, but in fact any senior can be vulnerable. With the increase in the 65-plus population, HealthDay states, the numbers could become truly frightening: in 2014 experts estimate the number of falls at about 29 million per year, but that number could mushroom to around 49 million by 2030, with the costs skyrocketing proportionately.
If you’re a caregiver or someone who is involved in the life of a senior you care about, you need to know, as the HealthDay article emphasizes, that falls are not inevitable. Various surveys by the CDC and others have evaluated proactive programs designed to reduce the number of falls, and these have been shown to have positive results, cutting the number of incidents by about 24 percent. If these programs were implemented more widely the result could be billions of healthcare dollars saved, not to mention millions of seniors living longer and healthier lives. Whether your loved one lives alone or in a senior community, HealthDay suggests you have their doctor assess their likelihood of falling and work with patients and family to lower the risk. Evaluate medications, especially the kind that can cause dizziness, such as prescriptions for blood pressure and diabetes. This is one of the reasons why we at AgingOptions recommend that seniors use the services of a geriatrician to coordinate their health care, because these professionals are trained to deal positively and thoroughly with the medical needs of older patients.
(If you would like a referral to a geriatric physician in your area, please contact us at AgingOptions and we will gladly provide the information you need.)
Here are a few more helpful ideas from HealthDay that can make your loved one less prone to falls.
If a senior’s health permits, age-appropriate exercise can be a big help. It not only builds muscle, but exercise can also improve balance and build confidence. (Check with your loved one’s physician before beginning a new exercise regimen.)
Make certain your loved one has regular exams for vision and hearing. The right glasses and hearing aids can help make falls less likely.
Make your loved one’s home less hazardous by getting rid of tripping hazards and installing better, brighter lighting. Stairs need proper railings and bathrooms should have grab bars professionally installed. Your loved one may want to age in place, but you may have to be the one to help make certain living at home is the safe choice.
What about tips on retirement planning? You may be a caregiver watching out for the needs of someone else, but who will watch out for you in ten, twenty or thirty years? How will you make certain your assets are protected and that you can avoid being forced against your will into institutional care? Can you keep from becoming a burden to those you love? Where do you turn to set in place a comprehensive retirement plan so you can enjoy a joy-filled, purposeful and secure life as you age? These questions are precisely why we’re here. At AgingOptions our commitment is to help people just like you answer questions just like these. We specialize in a type of comprehensive retirement planning called LifePlanning, an approach in which all the vital aspects of retirement living – finances, legal affairs, medical coverage, housing choices, and family communication – mesh together seamlessly.
There’s a simple and enjoyable way to find out more about LifePlanning. Make plans now to join Rajiv Nagaich at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar. These free sessions will open your mind to the power of retirement planning in a way you’ve never experienced before. For details and registration, click here, or call us this week. Let us guide you into a brighter, more secure retirement future. Age on!
Every few months, a flurry of news articles appears that tells the same sad tale: Americans simply aren’t saving enough to enjoy any kind of freedom in retirement. But our attention was recently drawn to this comprehensive article on the subject of retirement savings that we found on the GOBankingRates website. In the midst of another set of gloomy statistics, the article says, there’s a glimmer of good news.
“The tide might be turning when it comes to retirement savings in America,” the article states. This is now the third year in a row during which GOBankingRates has surveyed adults across the U.S. to find out how much the average person has saved for retirement, and this most recent survey shows marked improvement in the percentage of Americans with $300,000 or more in a retirement nest egg. Even more encouraging, the number of people with no retirement savings at all, or very little, appears to have declined dramatically.
The GOBankingRates survey included 1,000 respondents in each of three groups – millennials, Gen X’ers, and baby boomers. The survey asked each age group the same question: “By your best estimate, how much money do you have saved for retirement?” Respondents could select one of the following options:
Less than $10,000
$10,000 to $49,999
$50,000 to $99,999
$100,000 to $199,999
$200,000 to $299,999
$300,000 or more.
Overall, said the 2018 survey just released, about 42 percent of total respondents have less than $10,000 set aside for retirement, and about one in seven reported having saved absolutely nothing. At the other end of the spectrum, however, about one-quarter of respondents say they’ve saved $200,000 or more for their retirement future. When you drill down to the baby boomers, those aged 55 and older, the picture improves somewhat but millions are still lagging behind: roughly one-third have less than $10,000 saved for retirement compared with a slightly higher percentage in the $200,000-plus category, and the rest scattered in between. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has calculated that adults 65 and older spend an average of roughly $46,000 per year to live on, so it’s clear that a significant number of tomorrow’s retirees are going to find it difficult if not impossible to enjoy anything beyond a pretty basic lifestyle in the future.
To find out why so many people have set aside no money at all, GOBankingRates conducted a second survey, asking 1,000 of the “zero savers” why they had no reserves. The reasons were predictable. Among respondents 55 and older, more than 40 percent said they didn’t make enough money to afford any savings. Another 25 percent gave a related but somewhat different response, claiming all their money was going toward paying the bills. A far smaller group, fewer than one in 10, claimed they weren’t saving because they weren’t going to need the money. Our guess is that these folks may be in for a rude awakening.
So what about the “good news” mentioned earlier? According to the GOBankingRates article, as sad as it is that 42 percent of survey respondents can claim less than $10,000 in retirement savings, that number actually represents a major improvement. In 2016 and 2017 the “under-$10,000” number was about 55 percent. What’s more dramatic is the drop in the number of people with no savings at all: in 2018 it was about 14 percent of survey respondents, but last year and the year before it was closer to 33 percent. Maybe people are at least starting to get the message.
As these articles typically do, this one ends with a familiar admonition to save more, work longer and adjust your lifestyle both now and in the future to be able to live on less. This is all good advice, but we think it’s only part of the solution. As you navigate into an uncertain future, you’ll certainly need a good, solid, comprehensive financial plan, one that evaluates and allocates your current and future resources with clarity and wisdom. But there’s far more to retirement than finances. In order to be truly effective, your plan should also help you decide what type of housing will be best for you both now and in the future. It should provide you with a legal framework to protect you and your heirs, not to mention your estate. And it should include clear instructions for your loved ones since they will be intimately involved in your life as you grow older. (After all, aging is a family affair.)
Is there such a plan? There absolutely is, and it’s called a LifePlan from AgingOptions. Only an AgingOptions LifePlan weaves all these critical elements together into one seamless and well-integrated retirement blueprint to help you build the retirement of your dreams. But don’t take our word for it: find out for yourself, without obligation, at a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar with Rajiv Nagaich. Do what thousands like you have done and spend a few hours learning from Rajiv. You’ll be very, very glad you did. We have several LifePlanning Seminars coming up, so click here for all the details plus online registration. Whether you’re retiring in a few years or a few decades – or are already retired – come join Rajiv Nagaich soon for one of these information-packed seminars. We’ll look forward to meeting you!
Social Security Washington Public Affairs Specialist
Every day thousands use it to do business with Social Security. We strive to offer the kind of services that meet people’s needs. And sometimes you want fast and direct answers over the phone. We have that option.
You can call us toll free at 1-800-772-1213. Social Security offers some automated services that allow people to receive service without waiting to speak to a representative. The automated services are available 24 hours a day and include some of the most popular services that people need. With automated services, you can request a benefit verification (proof of income) letter, replace a lost SSA-1099 (tax summary needed for taxes), request a replacement Medicare card, ask for form SSA-1020 to apply for help with Medicare prescription drug costs, or request an SS-5 application for a Social Security card.
When our automated services ask such things as, “How can I help you?” Just say, “Get a proof of income letter” or “Replace Medicare card.” Next, you will be asked for some personal information to identify yourself, then we will respond to your request. We will mail you the document or form you requested. It takes less time to use automated services than to reach a representative by phone on a busy day.
Sometimes, you just need Social Security information such as, “What date will my check arrive?” or “What is the SSI program?” Automated services feature some informational messages about these popular topics. If payment delivery date is the type of info you need, when asked “How can I help you?” just reply “Payment delivery date.” You will hear a recorded message stating the current month and the future month’s payment dates. Other topics include direct deposit, SSI messages, the cost-of-living adjustment, Medicare prescription drug program, tax information, representative payee, and fraud. Dial, and listen — what a simple way to stay informed.
Whether you use our automated services, speak to a representative by phone, use our website, or visit an office, Social Security wants to connect with you. Connection is a vital part of helping you secure your today and tomorrow. To connect with us through our automated services, visit http://www.socialsecurity.gov/agency/contact/phone.html.