What if I Live to be 100?

When you reach your 60’s, as I have, you start taking a serious look at whether you are financially ready for retirement. As I talk with people about my own tentative plans, I frequently mention this concern: “What if I live to be 100?” Usually, people laugh.

I thought about that last week as I scanned a research report released last summer: “How Well Do Retirees Assess the Risks they Face in Retirement?” published by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. The research identified five major risks faced by retirees:

  • Longevity Risk – risk of outliving your money
  • Market Risk – market volatility
  • Health Risk – unusually high medical or long-term care costs
  • Family Risk – divorce, death of spouse, or needs of other family members
  • Policy Risk – mostly related to changes in Social Security

The research results suggest that people are NOT very good at recognizing which risks pose the greatest threat to their retirement wellbeing. Objectively speaking, the greatest risks are (in order): 1) longevity; 2) health; and 3) market. But when people are surveyed, they focus their primary attention on market risk – the risks of ups and downs in the economy during their retirement, with longevity risk second.

The moral of the story?  Don’t laugh at me when I ask “What if I live to be 100?”

Seriously: the report makes clear that the average person does not pay enough attention to longevity risk. To build a financially secure retirement, we need to be prepared for the possibility that we might live a long time. For those of us whose entire retirement income, apart from Social Security, is held in 401ks, IRAs, and other similar accounts: we need to be prepared to stretch that money for 30 or more years. Even for those of us who have IPERS or some other guaranteed lifelong pension: we need to consider the impact inflation will have on that income over 30 years or longer.

Longevity Illustrator. Several years ago I discovered this tool created by the Society of Actuaries. It shows us the statistical probability of living to different ages. As a female in my early 60s, it tells me I have a 45% chance of living to age 90, a 23% chance of living to age 95, and an 8% chance of living to 100. Yes, the odds of living to 100 are fairly small but there is almost a 50-50 chance I’ll live to 90. That means I need to be prepared to live at least to 90 or 95. And if I want to play it safe, maybe 100!

I’d encourage you to check out the longevity illustrator for yourself, and consider the information as you review your retirement plans!

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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From Thanksgiving to just Giving

I have been excited about Giving Tuesday ever since it was created several years ago. Why? Not because I’ve adopted it as the day when I do all my giving, and not because I have an organization that receives extra giving. I’m excited because Giving Tuesday draws attention to one of the three core uses of our money — the one that gets the least attention.

The core ways in which we use our money are: Spend, Save, and Share. Financial educators (like me) don’t talk about “Sharing” nearly as much as we talk about the other two, and yet we should – it’s important. There is debate whether we humans are inherently altruistic, or whether it is something we learn. None-the-less, people who choose to give typically report that they gain some type of psychological benefit or reward when they give, regardless of whether they can give a lot or a little. It “feels good” to give.

It feels even better to give when we know that our gift is appreciated and/or that it makes a difference. When we give gifts to loved ones, we (hopefully) can see that the gift is appreciated. When we give to organizations or causes, it’s not always so easy to tell. When giving to a local organization whose work you know well, you may see evidence of their good work in your community; you may even know some of their board members personally. With large national organizations, you might want to check them out before giving: tools like CharityNavigator.org or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance (Give.org) can help.

You can also do your own research by checking out the organization’s website to find annual reports of their projects and their impact; you may even be able to check financial statements to see what portion of their funds goes for administration rather than direct service. Another useful step might be a web search for the organization along with a word such as “review” or “complaints” or “scams.”

I am one who finds that it “feels good” to give. I can say that it feels even better to give when I know the organization I’m giving to is using my money wisely. For more information, check out this news item from the Iowa Attorney General.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Being Thankful

Thanksgiving – this season when we pause to be grateful – can become so much more than a day in which we gather with loved ones to enjoy each other’s company and share a wonderful feast. If we take it further, thanksgiving, or gratitude, can become an underlying attitude that helps us see our options and opportunities all year ‘round. That can have a big impact on our finances.

Feeling gratitude causes us to focus on what we have, rather than what we don’t have. As we deal with our finances and try to make choices about the best uses of our money, being mindful of and grateful for what we already have makes it easier to:

  • Say “no” to impulse or unnecessary purchases
  • Set money aside for future needs (including college, retirement, or other long-term goals)
  • Build an emergency fund
  • Give to worthwhile charities

Pausing and reflecting with gratitude on our possessions, and on the people and experiences in our lives, makes it easier to be satisfied.  Being satisfied makes it easier to put our money toward important uses rather than being distracted by spending opportunities with only short-lived value.

Gratitude helps us see ways in which we have more than a “bare minimum” existence – having freedom to choose how to use our money is definitely something to be grateful for. That includes small freedoms, like being able to add ice cream to our grocery cart, and bigger freedoms, like the ability to travel to see loved ones, or to provide music lessons for our child.

If you’re interested in taking your gratitude to a next level by sharing your abundance with causes important to you, stay tuned for next week’s post related to “Giving Tuesday.”

Note: freedom of choice is an essential element of financial well-being – learn more about financial wellbeing here or take the financial wellbeing quiz.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Tips for Health Insurance Enrollment Season

It’s health insurance enrollment season for most Americans! Health insurance choices are some of the most important choices we make: they determine what doctors and other providers we can see affordably, what premiums we pay, and how much we’ll pay out of pocket each time we receive care. These choices have a huge impact on our finances – and also on our health! After all, if it’s not affordable to seek care, we will often put off the care we need; the delay can lead to poorer health outcomes.

So take control of your health care options by making informed choices! Two key principles to keep in mind:

  1. Think beyond monthly premiums. Consider how much health care you use in a typical year. Depending how often you need care, and what kind of care you need, you may be better off financially by choosing a higher-premium plan that has a lower deductible and lower co-pays.
  2. Pay attention to the provider network available as you look at your choices. Make sure the insurance plan you choose allows you to see the providers that you prefer, and that are convenient for you to see.

Tips for those not covered through their employer:

Looking for insurance on your own, with no employer plan? Deadline: December 15.
The Health Insurance Marketplace (www.healthcare.gov or 800-318-2596) is the only place to find comprehensive insurance plans that cover all ten essential benefits. These plans may look expensive if you look only at the retail price. However, many Americans, including middle-class Americans, are eligible for assistance in paying the premiums on these plans through a Premium Tax Credit based on your family size and income. That assistance was expanded during the COVID emergency, and that expansion continues through 2025, so it is worth checking out. Find a health care navigator to assist you; if there is a local non-profit community health care center near you, contact them for help. Alternatively, this site can help you find individuals who have agreed to help consumers select health insurance; to avoid commercial bias, look for one labeled as an “assister” rather than one who is an “agent or broker.”

Wondering how much your premiums might be? The Kaiser Family Foundation has a subsidy calculator that can give you a solid estimate.

Any plan you find outside of the Marketplace is technically not even qualified to be called “insurance,” because it excludes certain types of care; it will have some other label, such as a “health plan.” You may have reasons for considering one of those plans, but read carefully to learn what is not covered; anytime something is offered at a lower price than its competition, you know that some tradeoff is involved.

Signing up for Medicare coverage?  Deadline: December 7.
An increasing number of older Americans are selecting the highly-advertised Medicare Advantage plans; unfortunately, research is showing that some advertising for Medicare Advantage plans is extremely misleading or even fraudulent. This does not mean that all Medicare Advantage plans should be avoided, but rather that you should choose very carefully. Likewise if you choose Traditional Medicare, be sure you have good information about any supplement plans or Part D prescription drug plans you consider. The best source for information and guidance in selecting Medicare plans is SHIIP – the Senior Health Insurance Information Program. Find an Iowa SHIIP office near you OR use this link to seek out SHIIP in other states.

Free Coverage may be available to you! Enrollment is open anytime for eligible households.
In Iowa and the majority of states, Medicaid coverage has been expanded beyond the old limits (which limited coverage to families with children and disabled individuals). Now anyone with income below the threshold is eligible, regardless of family composition. What’s more, the income thresholds have been increased. This year for a family of two, the income limit is $24,352; for a family of four, the limit is  $36,908.  NOTE: those limits are approximate; there are some nuances in calculating income so that in some situations people are eligible even if their income is slightly higher than the standard limit.  In Iowa, this state hotline can help you enroll: 855-889-7985.

Children under 19 may be covered for free even if family income is 2-3 times the normal limit, through the Child Health Insurance Program, known in Iowa as HAWK-I.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Medical Debt on your Credit Report?

Negative information on your credit report can hurt you, by making it hard to rent an apartment or a job, OR by making you pay more for a loan or for insurance. When medical debt gets sent to a collection agency, that becomes a negative item on your credit report. One in five American consumers are affected by medical debt on their credit report.

Recent changes by the three major national credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) will improve this situation for some, but not all, consumers.

Two changes were implemented July 1, 2022:

  1. Medical debts that were in collections for a time, but were then paid in full will be removed from your credit report completely.
    This means that medical debts will be treated differently than other debts. If I get behind on my car payment for a couple of months, but then get caught up, the fact that I was behind for a while will CONTINUE to show up on my credit report.
  2. Medical debts in collections will not appear on a credit report until one full year after the original date of delinquency. Previously, the wait was six months.
    This change helps consumers in situations where the problem lies in a billing error or incorrect insurance processing, rather than in consumer non-payment. A year provides enough time that the dispute will likely be resolved before a debt appears on a credit report.

Beginning in 2023, the third change will kick in:

  • Medical collections under $500 will never appear on a credit report.

These three changes will help many consumers reach a higher credit score, opening up opportunities and reducing costs of borrowing and insurance. Unfortunately, a large number of Americans with unpaid medical debts larger than $500 will not be helped by this change.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued an analysis of the change last summer. It is hoped that the changes will reduce the number of situations in which consumers feel they MUST pay a medical bill, even if they believe it is incorrect, in order to “avoid ruining their credit.”

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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“Forgive My Student Loan? But I just paid it off!”

Graphic from https:studentaid.gov

The announcement by President Biden last month about the new plan to forgive up to $10,000 (or $20,000, in some cases) of student loan debt has been great news for many Americans, but there may be people who are groaning instead of celebrating. If you are one of those people, I may have good news for you!

Here’s the kind of scenario that may have people groaning:
Jane Doe owed $5,500 on her student loans as of March 1, 2020. Even when the COVID-related “student loan pause” kicked in March 13, 2020, she kept making payments of $215/month, because her income stayed steady and she just wanted to be done with the loan. She made her final payment a month ago and celebrated being out of debt!

But then – on August 24 came the announcement that she would be eligible to have up to $10,000 in student loans cancelled! GROAN…. “Oh if only I hadn’t made those payments – I would have been out of debt anyway, and I could’ve saved that $215/month!”

Here’s the good news: Jane Doe can apply to her loan servicer for a refund of the payments she made voluntarily during the student loan pause! And THEN she can apply for up to $10,000 of loan cancellation. In some cases the refund may occur automatically. Note: she will only be eligible for $5,500 loan cancellation because that’s what her balance was when the pandemic hit. The debt cancellation is “up to” $10,000, but if your loan balance is less than $10,000, the cancellation is limited by the amount of your debt.

Did you continue to make payments on your student loans during the student loan pause (administrative forbearance) that began March 13, 2020?  You can apply to get those payments refunded to you, and if you’re eligible for student loan cancellation, you may WISH to request a refund if those payments brought your loan balance below $10,000. Contact your loan servicer to start that process.

THEN, stay tuned for information on how to apply for the debt cancellation. The government expects the application to open in early October. To verify that you are eligible for the loan cancellation AND to minimize administrative glitches, check step one and follow step two provided by Federal Student Aid.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Just Testing

Today’s tip is directly reprinted from Consumer Action’s Scam Gram.

A major Maryland healthcare system recently warned patients about phone calls asking recipients to schedule tests “ordered by your provider.” The calls are a ruse to gather personal information, as the callers ask for you to “provide or confirm” details such as your name, cell phone number, doctor’s name, Social Security number, insurance information and home address. While this warning came from the University of Maryland Medical System, similar pretexts are occurring elsewhere, like this fraudulent email that made the rounds at the University of California at Berkeley. The warning notes that callers can be very creative in gaining as much information they can, quickly. They even spoof company names to appear as if they’re calling from a lab or with a lab order from your doctor’s office. Hang up. Do not provide or confirm any information the callers ask for.

Consumer Action is a respected consumer education and advocacy non-profit based in California. You can subscribe here to receive their monthly Scam Gram by email.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Savings Strategies

Note: this post builds on yesterday’s post about having a meaningful reason to save.

Once you have a reason why you want to save, or save more, the next step is to “find” money to save. That generally means either increasing income or reducing expenses, which means something will need to change. Change can be hard, but most of us can succeed if we have a good enough reason.

To reduce expenses, you can make several small changes; for example, eat out one less time per week, drink one less can of pop each day, or stop buying magazines and read them at the library instead. OR, you could make one big change that saves money; for example, you could find a roommate to share housing expenses or move to a smaller (less expensive) apartment. To increase income, you could ask for more hours at work, get an extra part-time job, collect cans and bottles for the 5-cent deposit, or have a garage sale.

Once you have “found” some money by reducing expenses, increasing income, or both, the next key is to MOVE that money to a savings account or to some location where you are unlikely to touch it.

This seems like an obvious step, but it can be overlooked.

Imagine a scenario where you exercised self-discipline by skipping your morning coffee shop stop, bringing your lunch to work, and stuck to a limit at the grocery store! You’re proud of yourself! But if you don’t actually MOVE the money to your savings account, it will just end up getting spent on something else.

To make sure the money gets moved to savings, one helpful strategy is to treat savings like a bill you pay each month. If you’ve decided you can save $50/month by making some changes in spending, then “pay” that saving bill just like you pay your utility bill and your car payment. That approach increases your chance to be successful with saving. Even if you are saving small amounts, building the habit of saving each month is a way to reach your goals, whatever they may be.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Trying to Save? Ask Why?

As we approach the end of summer, it is time, for many families, to shift back to regular schedules and regular habits. We may think of summer as a break, and when summer is over we go “back to reality.”

If the end of summer has you thinking about launching positive habits, consider regular saving as a useful habit to establish (or re-establish). Saving money may feel difficult or impossible to many people, but for most Iowans it is possible.

One key to saving is to have a meaningful reason you want to save. Hint: if you’re trying to save just because I suggested it, it probably won’t work.

Ask yourself WHY you want to save money? How will your life be better when you save? There are no right or wrong answers – only answers that mean something to you. Some people save for a specific purchase (new tires, new furniture, a vacation, …). Some may save to reduce stress – having a financial cushion helps them sleep better at night and worry less. Some save for retirement, after seeing friends and family members struggle to get by on Social Security alone.

If you truly WANT to save, you will be more motivated, and less likely to give up when obstacles arise. So start by thinking about WHY you will save, and make sure it’s a reason that is important to you.

Tune in tomorrow for additional ideas on how to succeed with saving money!

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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Surprise Lawsuit? Get help!

Financial stress is high these days, thanks to inflation. Imagine adding to that a notice of a lawsuit seeking you to pay a bill of $10,000 or more that is owed by your relative to a nursing home! That would be enough to tip stress levels over the edge!

Unfortunately that scenario has been increasingly common for siblings, nieces or nephews, children or grandchildren or other relatives and friends of individuals living in long term care facilities, according to a recent article in Kaiser Health News, a reputable source of information on health policy issues.

If this should happen to you, don’t panic! There are steps you can take, and help is available. Seek information. Ask for documentation of the debt, AND ask for documentation of why the facility sees you as liable for the debt. And get help – you do not need to deal with this kind of nightmare on your own.

This is a good time to offer a couple of key reminders:

  1. Never pay debts belonging to someone else without exploring whether you are actually liable to pay the debt. As I wrote earlier this summer, you may not even be responsible to pay debts owed by your spouse after he/she dies.
  2. Be careful what you sign. In some cases, nursing homes have produced a document signed by the child (or sibling, niece or other person) in which they actually did accept responsibility for payment. 
    How could this happen? When a person is admitted to a long-term care facility, there is a mountain of paperwork. Amidst all that paper there could be a form by which the signer agrees to pay any unpaid bills. Be sure to read documents before signing them.
    Note: federal regulations prohibit facilities from requiring such forms before admitting a patient.
    Even if you did unknowingly sign such a document, it may be possible to fight back on the grounds that you did not knowingly accept that responsibility.

According to Kaiser Health News, in many cases lawsuits demanding payment are based on fraudulent grounds. Respondents should be sure to consult an attorney. In Iowa, the Legal Hotline for Older Iowans is a resource available to everyone over age 60, regardless of income; contact them at 800-992-8161.

Barb Wollan

Barb Wollan's goal as a Family Finance program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is to help people use their money according to THEIR priorities. She provides information and tools, and then encourages folks to focus on what they control: their own decisions about what to do with the money they have.

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