Affordable Health Insurance: ARPA Expansions

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) has put into place several temporary expansions to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provisions that can help Americans access health coverage at affordable prices. In general, these benefits apply to people who purchase health insurance in the Marketplace (created by the ACA) because they do not have an affordable option available through employment. The expansion has two dimensions: 1) more people are eligible for help paying the health insurance premiums for plans purchased in the Marketplace, AND 2) those who are eligible for help are now eligible for MORE help, so that their share of the monthly premium can be reduced.  People who are unemployed will especially benefit.

The Health Insurance Marketplace is now open for enrollment through August 15, so if this information makes you want to enroll in a plan OR change the plan you chose, you should be able to do so in the next few weeks. NOTE: The law took effect March 11. The agency in charge of the Health Insurance Marketplace expects to be ready to implement many of the changes on April 1. Suggestion: if you call or log in to the Marketplace in early April, ASK if the new rules are yet in place. It might be worth waiting a week or two in order to be sure the changes have been built into the system.

More Help. The ACA created a maximum cost people would have to pay for health insurance premiums, stated as a % of your income. The ARPA dramatically reduced that percentage of income for 2021 and 2022.  For example, suppose you are a 2-person household with income of $43,000/year (which is just under 250% of the poverty level); under the ACA your share of the premium for a benchmark silver plan would have been 8% of your income; under the new ARPA guidelines, your share of the premium cost for that same silver plan is just 4% of your income. Implications:

  • Some people who previously decided health insurance was too expensive will NOW decide it is affordable under the new rules.
  • People who chose a less-expensive bronze plan despite its higher deductible and copays may NOW decide a silver plan is worthwhile.
    This is of special value to those who are at or below 250% of the federal poverty mark, because these folks are eligible for plans that sell for a “silver” price but have smaller deductibles and copays so that they are more like a gold or platinum plan. In other words, folks under the 250% level can get a premiere plan for a budget price.
    It’s sort of like getting a brand-new luxury SUV for the price of a 2014 compact sedan!
  • If you are already enrolled in a Marketplace plan, there is a good chance that your share of the monthly premium is reduced under the new rules. Consider contacting the Marketplace (800-318-2596) sometime later in April.

More People Eligible.  Under the original ACA rules, if your income was over 4 times the poverty level, you were not eligible for help paying for health insurance. Under the ARPA expansion, people of any income level are eligible if the cost of the Marketplace plan would exceed 8.5% of their income. This will be especially valuable for those in their 50’s and 60’s, since health insurance premiums rise with age. This provision is also in effect for 2021 and 2022. 
Implication: some people with incomes above the 400% threshold may have compromised to save money by purchasing health coverage that was poorer quality (that is, it does not meet the ACA standards related to broad coverage and value). With the new cap of 8.5% of income regardless of income level, these folks might now be able to purchase a high-quality plan for an affordable price.

Huge Benefit for Those Unemployed at ANY time during 2021.  Note: this benefit is ONLY in effect in 2021.  If you receive(d) Unemployment Income at ANY time during the 2021 calendar year, special rules apply for your eligibility. With regard to eligibility for help paying for health insurance in the Marketplace, any income above 133% of the poverty level will be disregarded. That means these households will be eligible for the “platinum-like” silver plans for FREE – the premiums will be entirely covered by the subsidy.  Note: all other qualifications must also be met. For example, if you have workplace coverage available that is considered affordable, then you will not be eligible for the free silver plan.  However, if you are unemployed now, take advantage of the free silver plan. If you get a new job in a couple months that provides insurance, you can then drop the silver plan.
For those whose incomes are below 100-133% of poverty, they will be eligible for Medicaid coverage (also free), even in states where Medicaid was not expanded.

COBRA Subsidy. For people who lost health coverage due to being laid off or having their work hours reduced, the government will cover the cost of their COBRA premiums for up to six months, from April 1 – September 30, 2021. Check with your employer about how this might help you. Even if you lost your job months ago and did not sign up for COBRA at that time, you should now be able to sign up for COBRA.
Note: if you are in this group, you might also benefit from Marketplace insurance or Medicaid, so be sure to evaluate all your options.

Primary Source: Kaiser Health News Details for the % of income (paragraph 3) from Kitces.com
For more information see: https://www.healthcare.gov/more-savings/

Barb Wollan

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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Spring! Money?

This clump of allium is always a happy surprise later in spring.

The other day, a friend of mine posted a picture of crocuses blooming in her yard. That’s on top of a string of beautiful weather that we Iowans have been delighting in. It’s a good reminder for all of us that many of the best things in life are completely independent of money.

Most people have days (or weeks or months) when money is tight, or money decisions are overwhelming, or it’s clear that you will need to choose to do without something that you normally spend money on, When those days occur, let’s all remind ourselves of the crocuses, or the greening grass, or the beautiful sunset, or the smiles and hugs of our children.

Money does matter. But it is never the most important thing. It is encouraging to remember that.

Barb Wollan

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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Every Little Bit Counts

I raise bees, then extract and sell their honey. I set my finances up so I can keep that money separate and use it to buy or replace equipment, hoping my hobby would support itself. If I run my apiary as a business, I would need an EIN (Employer Identification Number), and would need to keep good records of all my Income and Expenses. If I run my apiary as a hobby, I will still need to keep good records because I will need to report my income. Personally, I would keep track of my expenses even though they will not help me when filing my tax return. As much as I love bees and their honey, I want to track my expenses to make sure I am not losing too much money with this hobby.

An activity qualifies as a business if your primary purpose for engaging in the activity is for income or profit and you are involved in the activity with continuity and regularity. As a business, you will use a Schedule C to report your business activities (income and expenses) and determine what tax should be paid.  You will also be expected to pay self-employment tax quarterly.

As for me and my hobby, I will report my honey sales on a Schedule 1, line 8 of the Form 1040. The income won’t be subject to self-employment tax. On the downside, I may not be able to deduct expenses associated with my apiary.

So, you might be wondering now, “why report the income if I will have to pay taxes on it?” The first reason is that the law requires it. But in addition, there are at least two ways you can benefit from reporting the income.

  • If you have a lower income and are trying to make ends meet by working on the side, any earned income will be used to calculate the Earned Income Credit. Hobby income is not considered “earned income,” but if you report it on Schedule C as business income, then it is considered “earned income.” The earned income credit (EIC) is a tax credit that helps certain U.S. taxpayers with low earned incomes reduce the amount of tax owed on a dollar-for-dollar basis and may result in a refund to the taxpayer if the amount of the credit is greater than the amount of tax owed.  
  • Another benefit of reporting that income as earned income relates to Social Security. Remember that the monthly social security check you will receive in the future is based on current and past work and earnings history. Social Security retirement benefits are based on your average indexed monthly earnings (AIME) over your 35 highest-earning years.  You must have 40 quarters of at least $1410 (2020 rule) of earned income to qualify for Social Security.  Though the income from any job-on-the side is not enough to live on, it may be worth counting toward your 40 quarters and the calculations used to determine your future social security check.
Brenda Schmitt

Brenda Schmitt

A Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Family Finance Field Specialist helping North Central Iowans make the most of their money.

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Reduced Income in 2020? Check on the EITC

Today is EITC Awareness Day — a great day to remind people about the benefits of the Earned Income Tax Credit. This credit is an “add-on” to your tax refund if you qualify — it is designed to provide a financial boost to working people with low and moderate incomes. This one-minute video gives a great overview!

Even if you’ve never been eligible for the EITC in the past, there’s a chance you might be eligible for it in 2020 if your income was lower, and within the income guidelines. Two figures affect the amount you receive: your total income (Adjusted Gross Income) AND your earned income — income that was payment for work. The maximum income guidelines depend on family size; the highest limit ($56,844) applies to married-filing-jointly households with three or more children. Other eligibility rules apply as well; check out the details and/or use the IRS screening tool.

P.S. Maybe you never guessed the IRS had a YouTube channel! Their videos do a great job explaining lots of tax topics!

Barb Wollan

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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Excited for your Tax Refund?

Tax refund season is an exciting time for many families, because the tax refund is often the biggest financial event of the year. If your family is expecting a sizable refund this year, now is a good time to plan for how you will use that money.

Before making specific plans, I encourage you to think about this: the tax refund is a once-a-year event. That means it’s smart to think about the whole year’s worth of possible uses for that money. It’s a good idea because that reminds you to consider whether you’ll want to set aside some of it for things like…

  • Back to school costs
  • Winter coats for next winter
  • 2021 birthdays and holiday expenses
  • Summer day care costs when children are out of school
  • Car repair needs that might arise (or new tires)

If you think through possible expenses for the year ahead, you will be glad you did. It will help you reduce your overall stress load, since you’ll know you have a head start on meeting some of those needs. Of course I understand that if you have past-due bills right now, you’ll probably need to use your tax refund to catch up on those. I also understand that providing something special for yourself and your family right now may be important – whether that be a new piece of furniture or a trip to a restaurant. Only you can sort through all your options and decide on your highest priorities, but your plans will be stronger when you consider the whole year.

Keeping the whole year in mind as you think about your tax refund makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s just like when you get paid weekly or monthly, and you think about the whole week or the whole month before spending. Your tax refund may not be enough to cover all your special needs for the year ahead, but it sure can help.

Important Note: The IRS announced last week that it will not start processing tax returns until February 12. Why? Because the new law passed in the last week of December made several changes, and they need to make sure their computers have those changes programmed in. Result? Chances are your tax refund will be a little slower this year. No refunds will be issued at all until about a week after February 12. Build that delay into your plans.

Barb Wollan

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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Side-Hustle or Remotely Employed?

Many Americans have looked at new ways to make a living due to the pandemic undermining some traditional employment options. In a post-pandemic world, many job seekers will look towards the gig economy for answers.

The gig economy has been around for a while. You will have noticed these individuals in your community as self-employed individuals who mow lawns, deliver papers, provide childcare or work temporarily on your farm during harvest.  More recently, though, technology has removed a lot of barriers to high-paying, full-time and part-time remote employment.  Some of these jobs will require a degree while others require only the many skills and knowledge you already possess.

If you are looking into or already committed to earning a living in the gig economy, you will most likely find yourself in the following statistics.

  • 57.3 million people freelance in the U.S. It’s estimated that by 2027 there will be 86.5 million freelancers. (Upwork)
  • 36% of U.S. workers participate in the gig economy through either their primary or secondary jobs. (Gallup)
  • For 44% of gig workers, their work in the gig economy is their primary source of income. (Edison Research)
  • For 53% of gig workers aged 18-34, their work in the gig economy is their primary source of income. (Edison Research)
  • Gig employees are more likely to be young, with 38% of 18-34-year-olds being part of the gig economy. (Edison Research)

If becoming part of the gig economy is in your future, there are a few things to remember:

  • Keep on top of your paperwork
  • Set aside money for taxes
  • Contribute to an IRA
  • Make use of tax deductions.
Brenda Schmitt

Brenda Schmitt

A Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Family Finance Field Specialist helping North Central Iowans make the most of their money.

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There’s Still Time to Ask for Mortgage Help

COVID-19 has reduced the incomes of SO many Iowans, making basic survival harder. If you are worried about protecting your home if you are unable to make your mortgage payments, you may have options – but you won’t know unless you ask! Watch this video from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for the facts you need to know about mortgage forbearance.

Woman standing in lobby with text "COVID-19 Mortgage Relief: 4 Things to Know"

The CARES Act requires that consumers be offered at least 180 days “forbearance” if their mortgage is backed by a federal agency (FHA, VA, USDA, Fannie Mae, or Freddie Mac). Many lenders are also making forbearance available for privately-backed loans. You will eventually need to make up for the missed payments, but you will have some time to catch up. Beware of any housing relief offers that require you to pay a fee up front – those are likely scams.

For more information about housing relief options, visit cfpb.gov/housing. For help sorting through your options on a wide range of financial issues, request an individual consultation with one of our ISU Extension family finance specialists.

Barb Wollan

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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Thinking Out Loud

If being careful with your money is important to you, and if you have children, then you are probably looking for ways to teach your children good money management skills. You probably also hope they will form values and priorities that are similar to yours.

Depending on the age of your children, you may have already learned that “preaching” (that is, telling them what to believe and do) is rarely the answer — if your children are still quite young, you may not have learned that yet, but you probably will! One strategy I learned when my children were young was that it paid to “think out loud”… to let them hear my thought process as I was making decisions.

The simplest examples would take place at the grocery store – decisions about which box of cereal to buy or which can of tomato sauce. If I spoke my thoughts aloud, they would be exposed to the ideas like: unit pricing (comparing price per ounce of different size packages); generic vs brand-name decisions (when it might be worth paying more, and when it might not be); and trade-offs (if I buy pork chops instead of beef steak, I can use the extra money for ice cream). Those are all assessments I make in my head when I shop alone, but when children are present it becomes a teaching opportunity if I say my thoughts aloud.

Similar “thinking out loud” situations could occur when buying clothing – they would be exposed to my thoughts on quality vs price, ease of cleaning (i.e. dry clean or hand wash vs machine wash) and other factors. I remember the purchase of a recliner where they saw me weighing options and they learned that we’re often unable to find the perfect product, so we have to decide what factors are most important to us.

Setting a good example is a powerful teaching strategy in everything from good manners to personal hygiene. With financial decisions, though, children won’t even be aware of what we’re doing unless we let them in on our thought processes. That’s where “thinking out loud” comes in – it makes them aware of why we make the decisions we make.

Money as You Grow: Resources for Parents and Caregivers is a wonderful resource from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for those seeking to help their children learn financial management skills.

Barb Wollan

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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EIP Day November 10

If you did not receive your $1200 Economic Impact Payment, it’s still not too late – they delayed the deadline! Next Tuesday, November 10 is designated as EIP Registration Day. Take advantage of this awareness campaign and claim your credit now! NOTE: If you’ve already received your payment, please help us spread the word. If you have ways of reaching people who are homeless, that may be especially important!

The big push at this point is to reach those who do not normally need to file a tax return. The IRS has a special on-line portal just for you folks, where you can enter all the needed information. This video explains how. NOTE: you will need to enter personal information, so be sure you are using a secure internet connection. This will usually take 10-15 minutes.

Iowans who need help with this process are encouraged to contact their local Extension family finance specialist for help. For more information go to the IRS information page on the EIP; to help spread the word via social media, check out the IRS Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or YouTube sites.

Barb Wollan

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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