Thinking About Retiring Early? Things to Consider…Part 2

Welcome back for the second part of “Thinking About Retiring Early? Things to Consider”. Last month’s post focused on what happens to your income when retiring prior to the more common retirement ages of 55, 59 ½, 62, etc. This month will focus on how expenses are impacted when you decide to retire before you reach one of the ages mentioned above.

Historically speaking, “average” retirees may need approximately 80% of their pre-retirement income to maintain their current standard of living. The rationale behind this theory is that you will no longer have to pay for things like commuting, work attire, payroll taxes, certain employer-sponsored benefits, etc. While this may seem like a plus, things get a little tricky when you are looking to retire decades earlier than normal. Many retirees already have a difficult time stretching their funds over the course of a 20-year retirement (depending on your anticipated life expectancy) and tacking on another 20 years will only add to the complexity. This is primarily due to the additional estimation required in the retirement planning process, but also because of healthcare.

Managing the cost of healthcare

According to recent statistics from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, National Health Expenditures grew nearly 10%, or approximately $12,500 per person, in 2020 (partially due to the Covid-19 pandemic), and are projected to grow at an average annual rate of 5.4%, which outpaces inflation in most years. The problem for early retirees is that some of those costs are currently subsidized through their employer and/or the federal government; they will likely lose that subsidy with an early retirement. One option is the Healthcare Marketplace; however, eligibility for subsidies is impacted by income. The Health Insurance Marketplace Subsidy Calculator from the Kaiser Family Foundation can help to estimate your premium costs.

Whether you want to retire early or not, please remember that the decision is very personal, specific to your individual needs, and should not be based upon general guidance or the decisions of others. To learn more about the basics, visit our website at https://www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/money.

Ryan Stuart

Ryan is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Wellbeing and an Accredited Financial Counselor®. He focuses on educating and empowering all Iowans to independently make positive financial decisions throughout their life course.

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Health Insurance Special Enrollment Period

Even though open enrollment ended months ago, health insurance for 2022 through the federal marketplace is still available to people with very low incomes! A few weeks ago, the government opened a special enrollment period for those whose incomes are below 150% of the poverty line: that’s $19,320 for a single individual: $26,130 for a household of two; and $39,750 for a household of four. I know those income limits exclude a lot of folks, but for those who are included, this can be important news. No ending date has been announced for the special enrollment period; it appears to be continuing throughout 2022.

This new special enrollment period is especially important for those whose income is near the top of the income range for their family size. Why? Because Iowa families with incomes below ~135% of poverty are eligible for free health coverage through the expanded Medicaid program. It is those who are above the Medicaid level who may especially need this opportunity. Here’s why:

During the COVID emergency, some households have been allowed to remain on the free Medicaid coverage even if their incomes grew beyond the authorized levels. When the COVID emergency designation ends, those families will likely lose that coverage. These are folks who will benefit from the new special opportunity for families with lower incomes.

Keep in mind that anyone can have a Special Enrollment Period in the health insurance Marketplace if they have a qualifying life event. The special enrollment period extends up to 60 days after the life event occurs. Examples of qualifying life events include:

  • Loss of health coverage (e.g. due to job loss, divorce, or other reason)
  • Change in household composition (e.g. birth or adoption, divorce or marriage, death of household member)
  • Change in residence
  • Other events (e.g. change in income, release from incarceration, and more)

Do you need health insurance? Find out today if you are eligible for a Special Enrollment Period! You can also inquire and apply by phone through the official Marketplace help line: 800-318-2596.

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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Are Annuities Good For Everyone?

After reading through previous blogs to help brainstorm for this week’s post, I found myself reflecting upon personal experiences that led me down the path to becoming a Financial Counselor. One such instance – that admittedly, I did not fully understand for several years after entering this profession – occurred when my father retired ten years ago.

He only had a small sum of money in his company’s 401(k). This was completely fine considering he also had a pension, Social Security, and little to no debt. In this situation, he received more than enough money from his “guaranteed” sources of income – the pension and Social Security – to cover his necessary living expenses and could use his 401(k) as a flexible source of income, if needed. This is ultimately what my mom did last year when she retired, but unfortunately, this is not what happened with him…

Like many families, my parents worked with an advisor at a local, for-profit financial institution. They ultimately decided to roll his 401(k) into a Traditional IRA that also included the following:

  • A deferred-annuity contract that allowed him to annuitize (turn the money into a lifetime stream of income) or pay a surrender fee if he later changed his mind – he did.
  • It offered a guaranteed 5.5% rate of return on the base amount of the rollover and a guaranteed death benefit; however, each of these “riders” cost 1.25%, which was deducted annually from his IRA balance.
  • The IRA balance was invested in four different mutual funds, all of which had an expense ratio over 1.0%.

Did he lose money because of this? Technically, no – last decade’s market return was quite impressive; however, those annual fees were costly for a financial product he never used. Am I judging my family, or their advisor’s decision? NO!! I was not a part of the conversation and do not know what factors played into it. My only goal here is to provide education on a very complex, and specific, financial product and how it should fit in to a retirement plan. You can also read this AARP article for a much more detailed summary on annuities.

Ryan Stuart

Ryan is a Human Sciences Specialist in Family Wellbeing and an Accredited Financial Counselor®. He focuses on educating and empowering all Iowans to independently make positive financial decisions throughout their life course.

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Your Rights: “Surprise” Medical Bills

I have been hearing over the past several months about a new law that reduces the likelihood that we consumers would get medical bills saying we owed more than our normal co-payment or deductible because a health provider was not part of our insurance plan’s network. The law is called the “No Surprises Act.” It went into effect January 1, but I haven’t had a chance to study it like I would wish.

This morning’s issue of Kaiser Health News (which is a highly-reputable source of information on health policy and the health industry) linked to a podcast where the No Surprises Act was discussed. It’s an 18-minute listen — I scanned the transcript, and pulled out a few key points. Please note that I am not including everything — just some highlights. I’d encourage you to check it out yourself to get the full story.

The No Surprises Act is good news — it is designed to protect us from the extra costs we might incur when an out-of-network provider gets involved in our care, even though our initial contact for care was with an in-network provider. Examples? It could be that our doctor sends our blood samples to an out-of-network lab for testing, or the anesthesiologist our hospital brings in to assist is an out-of-network provider — situations like that.

Of course, nothing is perfect, including this law. There are still things we need to know in order to protect ourselves.

  1. The No Surprises Bill applies mostly* to hospital care. If you are getting care at a clinic or doctor’s office, you are likely not protected from surprise out-of-network bills. That means you still need to ASK.
    *Why did I say mostly? Because there are some urgent care clinics that might be covered, but it is hard to find out. So it’s safer to assume a clinic is not covered.
  2. The law does NOT cover ground ambulance trips, so we may still get big bills for those. (Happily, it does cover air ambulance rides).
  3. When asking if a provider is in network, the correct question is: “Are you in-network for my insurance plan?” And be sure they know the detailed name of your plan.
    Note: the WRONG question to ask is “do you take my insurance?” They might accept your insurance, but still be out of network.
  4. Be cautious if a hospital asks you to sign a “Surprise Billing Protection Form.” The name makes it sound helpful, but you need to read the details. This form is used if the hospital is bringing in a provider who is not in your network. By giving you the form, they are disclosing the out-of-network provider, giving you an estimate of the extra cost you’ll incur, AND telling you the names of in-network providers you could use instead. If you sign the form, you are agreeing to pay the extra charge for an out-of-network provider.

This is a starting point for understanding your rights under the new law. Since it is new, everyone (including providers and insurance companies) will need to be learning new processes and rules. The law creates a hotline for reporting or appealing violations: 800-985-3059. The staff on this line will also be learning, but it’s still wise to report and appeal. Just recognize it may not be a fast or easy process to resolve disputes.

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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Health Insurance Decision Time

Once again it is time to make health insurance decisions. If you are insured through your workplace, your deadlines will be determined by your employer. If you are insured through Medicare (including Medicare Advantage plans), you have between now and December 7 to make changes; your best resource for unbiased assistance in Iowa is the Senior Health Insurance Information Program. Similar resources are available in other states, as well.

If you are not yet eligible for Medicare, and do not have affordable insurance available through an employer, then the Health Care Marketplace is the place to turn for quality health insurance plans* that do not consider pre-existing conditions. The base premium for plans in the Marketplace is affected by your location, your age, and use of tobacco. That is because health care costs vary by location, and are higher for people who are older and who use tobacco. Two other factors also affect your cost:

  • Type of plan (bronze, silver, gold, platinum) you choose. All of these plans are quality* plans, but it is valuable to understand the difference. Bronze plans have the lowest premiums, because they have higher deductibles and co-payments. Premiums increase as you go up in metal value. Platinum plans have the highest premiums, but lower deductibles and co-pays. This post from 2014, when the Health Care Marketplace was new, provides more detail.
  • Your income. That’s right. Two people might pay different premiums even if they are both 30-year-old non-smokers who live in the same county and both chose a silver plan. The Marketplace is designed to provide more help in paying for health insurance to people who need it more. So when you enroll in a Marketplace plan, you will estimate what your household’s income will be for 2022. Based on that estimate, the system determines what your share of the premium for a silver plan should be, and the remaining amount will be covered by an Advance Premium Tax Credit, which is an estimate of how much help you are eligible for. All this is based on a baseline silver plan; you will get the same amount of help toward your premiums regardless of what “metal color” plan you choose. At the end of they year, your tax return will show your actual total income for the year. The actual income will be used to determine your final Premium Tax Credit amount. If you received too much or too little in advance, the difference will be taken care of on your tax return, by either increasing or decreasing your tax refund or the amount of tax you owe when you file. The Kaiser Family Foundation offers a useful tool to give you an idea of how much help you may be able to receive.

Open enrollment for 2022 health plans in the Marketplace continues through January 15, but if you want your coverage to begin as early as possible (January 1) then you need to enroll by December 15. Enrolling between December 16 and January 15 will get you coverage that begins February 1. Enroll online at www.healthcare.gov OR call 800-318-2596. A link is also available to find local help. You have the option to choose (filter) whether you wish to find an agent/broker OR would rather get help only from an assister.

*What do I mean by “quality” plans? The biggest factor is that a quality plan covers all ten essential types of health care. By contrast there are plans (sometimes referred to as “junk plans”) that purport to provide health coverage, but exclude certain categories. I’ve heard of situations where people are excited to get health insurance, but then when need arises they discover it doesn’t cover hospitalization, or it only pays $100/day toward hospital care, or has some other substantial limitation. In addition marketplace do not have annual or lifetime limits on what they will pay for an individual’s care. Another key “quality” factor is that the plans have been actuarially evaluated as providing appropriate coverage for an appropriate cost. In other words, they are not set up to make big profits for the company.

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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Medicare Open Enrollment – So What?

Medicare’s annual open enrollment period for 2022 coverage began last Friday and continues through December 7. But why does it matter? Most people enroll in Medicare when they turn 65 — doesn’t that take care of it? The answer is: probably not.

NOTE: Even if you are too young for Medicare, this blog post may be worth your attention if there are people you care about who are enrolled in Medicare. I’d encourage you to touch base with them to make sure they understand their options, and the mailings they are receiving, and help them get help if they need it.

During open enrollment each year, consumers have options to make changes. They also may receive a small deluge of marketing mail, email, and perhaps even phone calls. It’s important that they understand what their options are, and that they pay attention to mailings — especially those from Medicare itself (CMS – The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) AND from their current insurance company(ies). There are generally three types of choices consumers make during Open Enrollment:

  • Prescription Drug (Part D) Plan. This may be the most common decision people make during open enrollment. Most Medicare participants also enroll in a separate insurance plan to help cover prescription costs. These plans are offered by CMS in partnership with private insurance companies, and you may literally have dozens of plans to choose from. Some people make the mistake of assuming that if they like their current plan, they should just stay with it. The reason that’s a mistake is that plans can change substantially from one year to the next. Maybe this year, your plan covered your medications nicely, with low co-pays; but next year, they could choose to drop one of your medications or attach a much higher co-pay. So even if your own medications haven’t changed, it is smart to use the Medicare on-line tool to see which plans offered in your area will cover your medications at the lowest cost to you. (SHIIP can help with this — see below)
  • Medicare Advantage Plan. Some consumers choose Medicare Part C (Advantage) plans instead of traditional Medicate Part A and B. These are managed care plans operated by private insurance companies in partnership with CMS; they generally have a defined network of participating hospitals, doctors and other medical providers. They often cover services not covered by traditional Medicare (including vision or dental care), but may also have more restrictive coverage on some services as compared to traditional Medicare. Many Advantage plans also have prescription drug coverage built in. These plans can change from year to year as well, and open enrollment is the time to make a change if you wish to.
  • Medicare Supplement Plans. Many consumers who use traditional Medicare Part A and B also enroll in a supplemental insurance plan, sometimes referred to as Medigap insurance (because it covers gaps – including deductibles and co-pays – that Medicare does not cover). These plans are offered by private insurance companies. Open enrollment is also a time to evaluate your supplement coverage.

Health insurance is complicated for people of any age. Fortunately, excellent help and information is available through the Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP). SHIIP is an office within the Iowa Insurance Division, so it is completely non-commercial and not sales-oriented. Note: similar agencies are available in other states too. The SHIIP website offers a wealth of information. In addition, they have a helpline during business hours at 800-351-4664 (TTY 800-735-2942). Most valuable of all, however, is the corps of highly-trained volunteers located in counties across the state. Find SHIIP volunteers near you! These SHIIP volunteers kick into high gear during fall open enrollment, typically offering appointments to help consumers understand their options for Part D (Prescription coverage) and other coverage.

If you, or someone you care about, need help during Medicare Open Enrollment, I urge you to connect with your local SHIIP resource today! For general information about Medicare, the annual “Medicare and You” handbook is the best starting point.

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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Weighing the Cost

Airplane and Tornado

Last week a tornado ran for a half-mile through one of our fields, flattening a 200-yard wide strip of corn. What are the chances of that happening? It is a first for us in the 45 years we have farmed. This week, aerial applicators are spraying for aphids and white mold that are threatening north central Iowa soybeans. What are the chances of that happening?  Almost every year that it is wet.

Nearly every day, my husband is inspecting crops or livestock or grain in a bin, to ensure his investment of time, labor and money is insured or protected against accidents, extreme temperatures, weather, disease, mold or pests. The decision to spray, plant, vaccinate, buy, sell or insure is not made once and forgotten about.  He is always weighing the cost of action or inaction against the return on his investment.

The same is true for me on the home front. We purchased a used camper three years ago with the expectation we would use it for five year. Our decision to NOT insure the camper was based on how much five years of insurance would cost compared to the amount we paid for the camper.  The amount we saved in NOT purchasing insurance could easily replace the camper should something happen to it.  Basically, we SELF-INSURED the camper.

The same thought process is used for our vehicles. The nice, fully insured, used car we purchase for me to drive for work will eventually becomes the “farm” vehicle which we carry minimal insurance on. There is a very little chance of my husband having an accident driving down gravel roads between fields, whereas the number of miles I drive on highways for work greatly increases the chances I may have an accident and need to replace my car.

The Money Talk workbook discusses financial basics, insurance, investing, retirement planning, and planning for life events. This practical, clearly written guidebook is available through Iowa State University Extension should you like to learn more about financial basics including Insurance.

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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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'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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Health Insurance Marketplace Reopens

Normally the health insurance marketplace is open just once a year in the fall (Nov 1 – Dec 15). This year, however, the government is opening the federally-run Marketplace today (February 15) for three months. Since Iowa uses the federal marketplace (www.healthcare.gov), this opportunity is available to Iowans. For readers in other states: many of the state-run health insurance marketplaces are also opening for the same three-month period.

Are you worried about choosing a health insurance policy? ISU Extension is offering a one-hour online workshop called “Smart Choice Basics” to help you understand key factors to consider when choosing a policy. The workshop is free, but pre-registration is required. Two options are available – choose the one that fits your schedule, and preregister today!

In the health insurance marketplace, Americans who do not have quality coverage available on the job can enroll in insurance plans that cover the ten essential benefits (including prescriptions, mental health care, rehabilitation, and more). In addition, you may qualify to get help paying the premiums, through the Premium Tax Credit. You may be eligible for a Premium Tax Credit if your income is below: $51,000 (single); $68,900 (couple); or $104,800 (family of four). Find out more at www.healthcare.gov. NOTE: if you are very near the income limit, you are eligible for only a small amount of help, but it does cap the percentage of your income you’ll need to pay for health insurance.

Keep in mind: You can always have a “special enrollment period” in the marketplace if you lose your insurance (e.g. leave your job, get divorced, or other reason). This new opportunity can be helpful for people who didn’t sign up when they could have, but have now decided that they need insurance after all.

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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Understanding Health Insurance

This time of year many Americans make health insurance decisions. If your health insurance comes through your employer, you may be making plan choices in the next month or so, and if you purchase insurance individually, open enrollment is November 1 through December 15. Are you equipped to make informed choices about your health insurance?

ISU Extension and Outreach offers two free on-line workshops on health insurance topics:

  • Smart Choice Basics focuses on the key things to know before you sign up for a specific health plan. It’s useful to people who get their insurance through their employer as well as to people who need to purchase insurance on their own. It also addresses questions about how to get help paying for health insurance via the HealthCare.gov Marketplace. It is being offered November 19 and December 1 (6 p.m. each day).
  • Smart Use: Smart Actions for Using your Health Insurance Wisely. This workshop focuses on seven key actions for consumers to take, including keeping track of the health care they receive, reviewing their bills carefully and disputing errors, understanding deductibles and co-pays, and more. It is being offered November 2 and December 8 (6 p.m. each day).

Understanding key health insurance principles can save you money year-round. It also gives you the confidence to ask useful questions about health costs and bills, and to make informed choices about when and where you receive the health care you need.

Pre-registration for the health insurance workshops is required.
Questions? Contact Barb Wollan or Brenda Schmitt. The flier is attached below if you’d like to share it with others.

These two workshops were developed by a team of experts from across the nation led by University of Maryland Extension. They are conducted locally by trained Iowa State University Extension and Outreach specialists.

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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