Life After a Stroke: What You Should Know

May 21, 2024

A stroke affects the brain’s arteries and occurs when a blood vessel that brings blood to the brain gets blocked or ruptures. The area of the brain that is supplied with blood by the blocked or ruptured blood vessel doesn’t get the oxygen and nutrients it needs, and without oxygen, nerve cells are unable to function. Since the brain controls one’s ability to move, feel, and think, a stroke can cause injury to the brain that could affect any or all of these functions.

Everyone should know the signs of a stroke and seek immediate medical attention if you think you or someone around you is having a stroke. If you or someone you love has recently had a stroke, then it’s important to understand what happens next.

Know the Symptoms of a Stroke and act FAST

The longer the brain is left untreated during a stroke, the more likely it is that someone will have irreversible brain damage. The acronym FAST can help everyone recognize the four main signs that someone may be having a stroke and remember to act fast in seeking medical treatment. That means calling 9-1-1 immediately, as emergency response workers can treat someone on arrival if they think that person is having a stroke.

FAST stands for Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties, and most importantly, Time. If one side of a person’s face is drooping, if the person cannot lift both arms or one arm is drifting downward, and if the person’s speech is slurred or they cannot repeat a simple sentence, then they may be having a stroke. Not all of these signs need to be present to signal a stroke. Just one or two of these symptoms is enough to call 9-1-1, because time is of the essence in the event of a stroke.

Stroke Treatment Begins With Emergency Response Workers

Calling for an ambulance means that the emergency response workers can start life-saving treatment on the way to the hospital. Stroke patients who are taken to the hospital in an ambulance may get diagnosed and treated more quickly than people who wait to drive themselves. The emergency workers may also know best where to take someone, such as to a specialized stroke center to ensure that they receive the quickest possible treatment. The emergency workers can also collect valuable information for the hospital medical staff before the patient even gets to the emergency room, alerting staff of your arrival and allowing time to prepare. All of what the ambulance team can provide saves time in the treatment of stroke, and in the event of a stroke, time is of the essence.

Ischemic Stroke or Hemorrhagic Stroke?

There are two different kinds of stroke, ischemic or hemorrhagic. A medical team will need to determine which kind of stroke the patient is having in order to direct treatment. An ischemic stroke accounts for 87% of all strokes and happens when a blood clot blocks a vessel supplying blood to the brain. Hemorrhagic stroke happens when a blood vessel ruptures and bleeds within or around the brain.

Fifty percent of strokes present with a clot in a large vessel in the brain, and these don’t respond very well to the old treatment, the IV clot busting medicine,” says M.D. and director of the Sparrow Comprehensive Stroke Center Anmar Razak. “And so nowadays, we do surgery, and what we do is we rush them into the hospital, into the cath lab. We quickly get access through the blood vessels and get up to where the clot is and pull it out.”

With ischemic stroke, the treatment goal is to dissolve or remove the clot. A medication called alteplase or tPA is often administered and works to dissolve the clot and enable blood flow. Alteplase saves lives and reduces the long-term effects of a stroke but must be given to the patient within three hours of the start of a stroke. Then, a procedure called mechanical thrombectomy removes the clot and must happen within six to 24 hours of stroke symptom onset.

For hemorrhagic stroke, the treatment goal is to stop the bleeding. There is a less-invasive endovascular procedure involving a catheter being threaded through a major artery in an arm or leg toward the area of the bleeding in the brain where a mechanism is inserted to prevent further rupture. In some cases, surgery is required to secure the blood vessel that has ruptured at the base of the bleeding.

Rehabilitation After a Stroke

Perhaps the most important part of stroke treatment is determining why it happened or the underlying causes of the stroke. Stroke risk factors include high blood pressure, which weakens arteries over time, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, being overweight, heart disease including atrial fibrillation or aFib, excessive alcohol intake or illegal drug use, and sleep apnea. By making the right lifestyle choices and having a good medical management plan moving forward, the risk of another stroke can be greatly reduced.

That’s because if you have had a stroke, you are at high risk for having another one. One in four stroke survivors have another within five years, while the risk of stroke within 90 days of transient ischemic attack or TIA is as high as 17% with the greatest risk during the first week. This is why it becomes so important to determine the underlying causes of the initial stroke. Your doctor may give you medications to manage a condition, such as high blood pressure, and then recommend lifestyle changes, including a different diet and regular exercise.

Rehabilitation after a stroke begins in the hospital, often within only a day or 2 after the stroke. “There are so many things that patients need to fall into place to be functional and independent again after a stroke,” said Razak. “And they always come down to speed and time.” Rehabilitation can help with the transition from the hospital to home and can help prevent another stroke. Recovery time after a stroke is different for everyone and can take weeks, months, or even years. Some people may recover fully, while others may have long-term or lifelong disabilities. Stroke rehabilitation should be thought of as a balance between full recovery and learning how to live most effectively with some deficits that may not be recovered.

What to Expect After a Stroke

Difficulties from a stroke range from paralysis or weakness on one or both sides of the body, fatigue, trouble with cognitive functioning such as thinking and memory, seizures, and mental health issues like depression or anxiety from the fear of having another stroke. Everyone’s rehabilitation will look different based on their difficulties after a stroke but may include speech, physical, and occupational therapy. Speech therapy helps when someone is having problems producing or understanding speech, physical therapy uses exercises that help someone relearn movement and coordination skills, and occupational therapy focuses on improving daily activities, such as eating, dressing, and bathing. Joining a patient support group may help people adjust to life after a stroke, while support from family and friends can also help relieve the depression and anxiety following a stroke. It’s important for stroke patients to let their medical team and loved ones know how they’re feeling throughout their recovery and what they may need help with.

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Stroke rehabilitation can be hard work, but just as in the initial treatment of a stroke, time matters in the possibility of a full recovery. Many survivors will tell you that rehabilitation is worth it and recommend using motivators to achieve recovery goals, such as wanting to see a child’s graduation or returning to working in the garden. With Insureyouknow.org, caretakers may keep track of medical treatments and rehabilitation plans in one easy-to-review place so that they may focus on caring for their loved one during the period of recovery from stroke.

May is American Stroke Month which aims to raise awareness of the second leading cause of death.

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Gardening for Mental Well-Being

May 15, 2024

Interest in gardening has increased since the pandemic, as more and more people are searching for ways to disconnect from stressful times and reconnect to nature. It turns out that immersing ourselves in green spaces and caring for plants is a form of caring for ourselves. Time spent in nature has been found to improve mental health so much so that gardening has been prescribed by the National Health Service in Great Britain since 2019. But while scientists are just beginning to pay attention to nature’s overall effect on our health, humans have known about the power of gardening for a very long time. 

Historic Gardens and Horticultural Therapy

Ancient and modern gardens all over the world, including Persian pleasure gardens, Islamic paradise gardens, Chinese courtyard gardens and Japanese rock gardens, nurture a sense of separation from the chaotic world and provide a place for inward reflection. In addition to sources of food, the Roman Empire treated gardens as a place to cultivate mindfulness. As extensions of the home, Roman gardens were the first outdoor rooms. They served as spaces to rest and marvel at nature’s wonder. By the Middle Ages, hospital gardens modeled after these Roman gardens were seen as integral parts of the hospital, not just to feed patients and grow medicines but to offer patients time outside. But as efficiency and technology took over medical treatment, these spaces went extinct.

Still, the benefits of gardens were not forgotten. In the 1800s, early American psychiatrists began noting links between horticulture and mental health. Born in 1933, the famous neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks believed that gardens and nature were more powerful than any medication. As the scientific evidence of spending time in green spaces leading to better health grew, many hospitals began incorporating gardens into their facilities again and horticultural therapy was developed as a therapeutic practice in the 1970s.

Horticultural therapy involves taking care of plants with specific goals for the patient in mind. For instance, tending to a garden and watching it thrive can help people build self-esteem and feel a sense of accomplishment. Gardening can also lead to life lessons, such as when a plant dies, the person can ask themselves, “What could I have done differently?” Connecting the garden to themself can lead them to think that maybe they can do a little more to take care of themself, too. “It’s really the plants that are the therapists,” says Laura Rumpf, a horticultural therapist who treats patients with dementia through gardening. “Even if somebody can’t necessarily name what it is they’re smelling, the body somehow remembers.” For those with dementia for instance, plants can help them to reminisce which leads to telling stories and sharing memories, an important part of connecting to others and validating their identity.

The Scientific Proof of Nature’s Benefits

Gardening involves exercise, which we know is beneficial to our health, and since people tend to breathe more deeply when they’re outside, outdoor activities can clear the lungs, aid digestion, and improve immune responses. Sunlight also lowers blood pressure and increases vitamin D levels, but the benefits of outdoor gardening extend beyond these physical benefits.

A recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Florida found that gardening lowered stress, anxiety and depression in healthy women who attended a gardening class twice a week. “Past studies have shown that gardening can help improve the mental health of people who have existing medical conditions or challenges,” said the principal investigator of the study Charles Guy. “Our study shows that healthy people can also experience a boost in mental well-being through gardening.” In addition to improved mental well-being, interacting with nature has proven cognitive benefits. A 2019 study by University of Chicago psychologist Marc Berman showed that green spaces near schools promote cognitive development in children, while adults assigned to public housing in green neighborhoods exhibited better attentional functioning than those assigned to units with less access to green spaces.

Scientists have a few ideas as to why nature is so good for our mental health. One hypothesis is that since our ancestors evolved in the wild and relied on their environment for survival, we have an innate drive to connect with nature. As a species, we may be attracted to plants because we depend on them for food and shelter. Another hypothesis is that spending time in nature triggers a physiological response that lowers stress levels. Throughout human history, trees and water have been an oasis and signaled relaxation. There is an implicit trust in nature that calms our parasympathetic nervous system. Yet a third hypothesis is that nature replenishes cognitive functioning, which restores the ability to concentrate and pay attention. The truth probably lies in a combination of all of these theories.

Gardening Against Loneliness

Perhaps one of the most overlooked yet obvious benefits of gardening is that it can make people feel less alone in the world. While gardening can bring people together through community gardens, one doesn’t even need to be around other people while spending time in nature in order to feel more connected to others. “Nature can be a way to induce awe,” said psychology professor John Zelenski. “One of the things that may come from awe is the feeling that the individual is part of a much bigger whole.”

Gardening can bring people together through a sense of community, as people who garden are rich with expertise that they are willing to share with other gardeners. Master gardeners and local volunteers dedicate their time to empowering other people in the community who are interested in growing their own plants. Simply sharing a gardening blunder is just one way to connect with a fellow gardener. Social connections are important for our mental well-being because they help lower stress, improve resilience, and provide support, while a strong sense of belonging has been shown to lower one’s risk of depression and anxiety.    

Community gardens are a great place to connect with others as they offer room for talking during uncomplicated and repetitive tasks. Since gardening can bring together all kinds of people, time in the garden with others can also remind us that we are more alike than not. “Gardens are a great point of connection,” said the director of a London community garden Sarah Alun-Jones. “We often find ourselves talking about where we grew up, our childhood gardens, food we like to grow and cook… and we learn lots along the way.”

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If you’re thinking of incorporating gardening into your routine, it doesn’t need to be intimidating. Simply starting by potting indoor plants or taking walks in green spaces during your lunch break are just two simple ways to connect with nature now. At Insureyouknow.org, you may store all of your gardening plans and records, so that you can become the researcher of your own gardening benefits.

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Six Things to Know about SIMPLE IRA

April 30, 2024

Offering a SIMPLE IRA (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees) to employees is an effective way for small businesses to offer their employees a retirement plan. At a glance, this plan allows both the employer and employee to make contributions, and there are less reporting requirements and paperwork involved for the small business owner. Besides the ease in which these plans can be established for employees, the main perks are tax incentives for both the employer and the employee. “They are fairly inexpensive to set up and maintain when compared to a conventional retirement plan,” says client advisor at First American Bank Karina Valido. “For employers, contributions are tax-deductible. For participants, contributions and earnings are not taxed until withdrawn.”

Even though the SIMPLE IRA is a straightforward retirement option, here are six things to know about this plan, whether you’re an employer or an employee.

  1. Employee Contribution Limits in 2024

With a SIMPLE IRA, an employee can, but isn’t obligated to, make salary reduction contributions. In 2024, the maximum amount an employee under the age of 50 can contribute is $16,000. With a SIMPLE IRA, you may also contribute to another retirement plan as long as both contributions don’t exceed the yearly limit. The annual limit for combined SIMPLE IRA and 401(k) contributions in 2024 cannot be more than $23,000 or $30,500 for people who are 50 or older. Since an employer cannot offer both plans, this would only apply to those employees who held a previous account elsewhere.

  1. Employer Contribution Requirements

Employers must do one of two things: match employee contributions or make nonelective contributions. If an employer chooses to match each employee’s salary reduction contribution, they must do so by up to 3% of their employee’s compensation. While an employer may choose to match less than 3%, they must at least match 1% for no more than two out of five years. If an employer chooses to make nonelective contributions of 2% of the employee’s compensation, they must do so for every employee, regardless of having some employees who are making their own contributions. So if an employer chooses to make nonelective contributions, then they must also match the contributions of those employees who choose to contribute to their own plans.

  1. SIMPLE IRA Tax Advantages

For employees, salary reduction contributions to their SIMPLE IRA reduces their taxable income and their investments will grow tax-deferred over time. Because it’s a tax-deferred account, you won’t need to pay capital gains taxes when you buy and sell investments within the account. Plus, unlike many other retirement plans, such as a 401(k), employer contributions to a SIMPLE IRA are immediately vested and belong to the employee.

Employers also benefit from tax incentives with the SIMPLE IRA. They can get a tax credit equal to 50% of the startup costs, or up to a maximum of $500 per year, for three years. This credit is in addition to the other tax benefits they will receive from contributing to employee retirement plans.

  1. All About Withdrawals

During retirement, withdrawals will be taxed as regular income. Before the age of 59 ½, there’s a 10% penalty on withdrawals in addition to the income taxes you would owe. With the SIMPLE IRA, the withdrawal penalty rises to 25% if the money is taken out within two years of the plan being contributed to. Under qualified exemptions, like higher education costs or first home purchases, then you may avoid an early withdrawal fee, but you would still have to pay the taxes.

  1. Eligibility for SIMPLE IRAs

The Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 created the SIMPLE IRA. It was designed with small businesses and self-employed individuals in mind and meant to be simple, accessible, and inexpensive. “A SIMPLE IRA is a small-business-sponsored retirement plan that, as the name indicates, is simple to establish and maintain,” explains financial advisor at Marsh McLennan Agency Craig Reid. “Available to U.S. companies with 100 or fewer employees, SIMPLE IRAs are a cost-effective alternative to the mainstream 401(k) plan.”

In order to be eligible for a SIMPLE IRA, an employer must have fewer than 100 employees and have no other retirement plan in place. They must also make contributions each year. For an employee to be eligible, they must receive at least $5,000 in compensation during any two prior years and expect to receive the same during the current year.

  1. The Difference Between SIMPLE IRA and SEP-IRA

Both a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP-IRA) and a SIMPLE IRA are employer-sponsored retirement plans that offer employees a tax-advantaged way to save for their retirement. Contributions in each grow tax-deferred until they are withdrawn during retirement. They are each designed to be easily established in small businesses, especially when compared to a 401(k).

One key difference between the two plans is that while a SIMPLE IRA allows both the employer and employee to make contributions, the SEP-IRA only allows the employer to contribute. The SEP-IRA, though, does allow higher contributions, which will be limited to $69,000 in 2024, compared to $16,000 in 2024 for the SIMPLE IRA. The other main difference between the two plans is that any employer can offer a SEP-IRA, while only businesses with less than 100 employees qualify for offering the SIMPLE IRA.

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If you’re a self-employed individual, a small business owner, or you have recently begun working for a small business that offers you a SIMPLE IRA, it will benefit you to know the upsides of having one and understand the rules around the plan. With Insureyouknow.org, you can store all of your financial information and records in one place so that you may stay organized and allow yourself the best decision-making process in your retirement planning.

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Navigating the Impact of Recent Real Estate Legislation

April 15, 2024

During March of this year, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reached a settlement agreement to resolve a series of lawsuits that had to do with the practice of tying. Tying involves the home seller’s agent setting a commission rate for that homebuyer’s agent if they help facilitate a sale. According to the NAR, 90 percent of the homes on the market in the United States are sold this way as they are listed on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

Each year, Americans pay $100 billion in real estate agent commissions. If the settlement is accepted, the new terms may lower the amount agents can collect in home transactions. Since the proposed rules may change how U.S. homes are bought and sold, the new terms are important for realtors and potential homebuyers to understand.

The Problem With Tying

MLSs aren’t new, as the first MLS began in the late 1800s as a way for real estate agents to share information about the properties they were trying to sell. In exchange for the sharing of information, the agents agreed to compensate other brokers who helped them sell their properties. Today, more than 800 MLSs exist where agents list their properties. Sellers benefit from this arrangement because of increased exposure of their properties, while buyers benefit because they receive a database of nearly every home on the market.

The practice of tying, when the buyers’ agent is offered a commission for facilitating the sale of another agent’s property listing, has been shown to reduce competition and drive-up closing fees. Under tying, the commission the buyer’s agent will receive is determined before that agent can actually provide any services to the buyer. This can make it difficult for the home’s buyer to negotiate closing fees as well as require the home’s seller to offer higher commissions in order to sell their home.

Because real estate agents earn their income through these commissions, they are widely known to practice steering, which involves directing their clients toward homes that offer the best possible commissions for themselves. Since only one in 600 MLSs allow their agents to publish the commission they offer to buyers’ agents, buyers are generally unaware of these agreements between agents. The lack of transparent commission agreements makes it difficult for a buyer to know if their agent is steering them away from certain properties.

What the NAR Agreement Would Entail

If the proposed NAR settlement is approved, there will be two significant changes to prevent tying. First, MLSs will not be permitted to display commission rates. Commissions however can still be negotiated through real estate professionals off-MLS. Second, real estate agents will have to explicitly agree to the exact services they’ll provide their clients through written agreements, which will be known as a Buyer Representation Agreement and will include the agreed upon compensation for the realtor. If the changes are accepted, they will go into effect mid-July. Because of this, many realtors are suggesting those who are currently looking to buy to close by the end of June in order to avoid these proposed changes to the homebuying process.

Nearly every realtor who is a NAR member is covered in the agreement, and every member would have to abide by the proposed changes if the settlement is approved. Any members of HomeServices of America would not be covered due to ongoing court cases, as well as any brokerage firms with residential transaction volume above $2 billion in 2022. Any realtor who is unsure if they are involved in the changes or have questions moving forward are urged to get their information from the NAR’s facts.realtor.

What to Know About Traditional Commission Rates

The typical U.S. sales commission rate for real estate agents is five-to-six percent, which are among the highest in the world. But agents have been advertising low-to-zero percent commission rates to appeal to buyers for years. This isn’t because they’re foregoing their profit, but because they’re rewording their commission rate as “buyer credits.” Buyer credits can already be seen offered on many listings and are determined as the buyer sees fit at closing. In other words, commission rates and agent profits have already been negotiated outside of the MLSs for some time now. That’s why many futurists predict that these new guidelines will affect the future of real estate very little.

Because agent compensation will become a negotiation, many predict increased competition among agents, which the practice of tying had reduced for some time. “Fees have been a bit rigid,” said San Diego Real Estate Professor Dr. Norm Miller. “So it is about time we see more price competition on the fee side.” At the average U.S. home price $420,000, a six percent agent commission would be $25,200. If that six percent rate is reduced by half to three percent due to agent competition, then the price to sell or buy a home could be reduced to $12,600. Clearly, that could make buying a home more affordable for many.

The Future of Real Estate

If the settlement is approved, the practices of tying and steering will likely end. Hopefully, homebuyers will be able to better negotiate the amount of commission their agent will receive or choose alternative forms of payment, such as paying by the hour or a flat fee. Homebuyer’s should also be less pressured to list their home through MLSs or use an agent at all. All of this could result in lower costs of housing transactions, but the full extent isn’t clear.

The overall effect on the economy is difficult to predict. The NAR settlement agreement would benefit middle-class families who have a large share of their wealth invested in housing. Because consumers typically share a small amount of their gains in wealth, the benefit to middle-class homeowners who sell their property is unlikely to make an influence on consumer demand. Other economists predict that the process of buying a home could involve more upfront costs if real estate agents begin foregoing commission rates, which could potentially make it less feasible for lower-income and first-time buyers to acquire property.

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If you’re in the market for buying a home, the expected changes due to the impending NAR settlement may end up affecting you very little. Besides being able to negotiate your agent’s fees and services upfront, very little is expected to change as a result of the new guidelines. At the end of the day, if you decide to use an agent when buying or selling a home, you’ll want to choose a professional you trust, regardless of these changes. Insureyouknow.org will prove to be a valuable tool in the homebuying process, as you can store all of your financial information and agreements in one easy to access place.  

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2024 Changes that Would Impact Your Retirement Finances

April 1, 2024

Changes to retirement regulations are making 2024 out to be the perfect time to reexamine your retirement planning and make sure you’re getting the most out of your savings.

The rules are constantly changing,” says director of Personal Retirement Product Management at Bank of America Debra Greenberg. “It’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with what’s new to see whether it makes sense to take advantage of it.”

Here’s what you should know about several changes to retirement regulations in 2024.

It Pays to Plan for Retirement

While the changes to retirement regulations may seem small, Americans need all the help they can get right now. According to the National Council on Aging, up to 80% of older adults are at risk of dealing with economic insecurity as they age, while half of all Americans report being behind on their retirement savings goals.

“The IRS adjusts many things each year to reflect cost of living and inflation,” says Jackson Hewitt’s chief tax information officer Mark Steber. “It happens each year and taxpayers shouldn’t be alarmed — they might even have a bigger benefit.” Since retirement contributions are pre-tax, saving for retirement actually lowers your taxable income, which may even place you into a lower tax bracket. Plus, you may even be eligible for a tax credit of up to 50% of what you put into your retirement accounts.

Contribution Limits Will Increase

The contribution limits for a traditional or Roth IRA are increasing in 2024. The limit on annual contributions to an IRA will go up to $7,000, up from $6,500 last year.

Individuals will be able to contribute more to their 401(k) and employer-based plans as well. For those who have a 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, or the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan, the contribution limit is increasing to $23,000 in 2024, which is $500 more than last year. Those who are 50 and older, can contribute up to $30,500 into the same accounts.

Starter 401k Plans are Possible

In 2024, employers who don’t sponsor a retirement plan may offer a Starter 401(k) deferral-only arrangement. A starter 401(k) is a simplified employer-sponsored retirement plan with lower saving limits than a standard 401(k). Employers are not allowed to make contributions, and employee auto-enrollment is required. In 2024, the annual contribution limit to this plan will be $6,000. Beginning this year, employees with certain qualifiable emergencies may also make penalty-free withdrawals from their 401(k) of up to $1,000, though they would still have to pay the income tax on those withdrawals.

529 Plans Can Now be Converted Into Roths

For parents who will no longer need their 529 funds for their children, the Secure 2.0 Act will allow for a portion of the 529 to be rolled into a Roth IRA. Beginning January 1st, the funds can either be used for educational expenses or put toward retirement, as a Roth IRA rollover. You may rollover up to $35,000, free of income tax or any tax penalties. The only limitations are that the 529 must have been in place for at least 15 years, and certain states may not allow the rollover.

Changes to Social Security and RMDs

In January, Social Security checks will increase by 3.2% due to the latest COLA, or cost-of-living adjustment. On average, Social Security monthly benefits will increase by $59 a month, from $1,848 to $1,907. Those who receive survivors or spousal benefits will receive even more.

For 2024, the maximum benefit for a worker who claims Social Security at FRA (Full Retirement Age)is $3,822 a month, which is up from $3,627 in 2023. For 2024, the FRA is 66 years and 6 months for those born in 1957 and 66 years and 8 months for those born in 1958. That means that anyone born between July 2, 1957 through May 1, 1958 will reach FRA in 2024.

The IRS uses a calculation based on the amount in your retirement account and your life expectancy to determine the minimum amount you are required to take out each year, known as RMDs (required minimum distributions). Secure 2.0 increased the age for starting RMDs from 72 to 73, effective in 2023. If you are subject to RMDs, then you must make your withdrawal by the end of this year or by April 1st next year if it’s your first year being eligible. So if you turn 73 in 2024, you’ll have until April 1, 2025 to make your first RMD.

Rising Medicare Costs

Anyone receiving more Social Security but paying Medicare premiums may not feel much of a difference in their increased Social Security benefits since standard Medicare Part B premiums are rising by 6%. As many participants have their Medicare premium deducted right from their Social Security payment, the $9.80 increase will take a portion of the average $59 benefit increase. The annual deductible will also increase this year from $226 to $240.

Insureyouknow.org It will always be important to review your retirement savings every year, but this is  becoming even more important to do in the face of rising costs and changing regulations. With Insureyouknow.org, storing all of your financial information in one easy-to-review place can help you ensure that you are still on track to meet your retirement goals at the start of each annual review.

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How 2024 Inflation Adjustment Will Affect Your Paycheck

March 15, 2024

This year may come with slightly larger paydays for some Americans. This is because of the new changes to taxable income and deductions that the IRS has put in place in order to help taxpayers with inflation. With the cost of living increasing without wages and salaries doing the same, the new tax adjustments are meant to help consumers deal with higher prices.

As federal income tax brackets are adjusted by 5.4% this year, the change could result in a small paycheck bump, depending on what your withholding is. Since the consumer price index only declined by .1% in November 2023, many Americans are struggling financially.

Here’s everything you need to know about the 2024 tax changes that might affect your bottom line.

Decoding Tax Bracket Creep

The new IRS tax brackets and increased standard deductions have been in effect since January 1st. These adjustments will apply to your next tax return in 2025. It’s standard for the IRS to make changes every year to account for inflation. This is done to help people with the rising costs of living and prevent “bracket creep,” which happens when inflation forces people into a higher income tax bracket without their real income having increased.

So even if you make more money this year, these changes may keep you from falling into a higher tax bracket. You may even find that you have fallen into a lower tax bracket and see an increase in your take-home pay. This becomes even more likely if your pay has stayed the same as in the previous year. For example, if you made $45,000 last year, you would have been in the 22% tax bracket. In 2024, the same $45,000 income places you in the 12% bracket, which means you’ll owe less federal taxes and have less money withdrawn from your checks.

Choose Your Deduction and Know Your Taxable Income

The federal income tax bracket that you fall into determines how much you’ll pay in taxes for the year. Your tax bracket excludes the standard deductions or any itemized tax deductions. Most people with simple taxes claim the standard deduction, which reduces their taxable income. If you receive wages from only one job and receive a W-2, then the standard deduction is usually the best way to maximize your tax refund. But if you are self-employed or have specific deductions you want to claim, then you may elect to itemize your deductions instead.

Once you calculate your taxable income by subtracting either the standard or itemized deductions from your adjusted gross income, then you’ll know which bracket you fall into and how much income tax you should owe. “You always want to keep a running total in your mind of how your income is changing,” says certified financial planner Roger Stinnett. “Because it’s complex.”

2024 Tax Brackets and Standard Deductions

For the 2024 tax year, both the federal income tax brackets and the standard deduction were raised. These amounts will apply to your 2024 taxes, which you won’t file until 2025.

For those married filing jointly with a combined income between $23, 201 and $94,300, the estimated taxes owed would be $2,320. For a single taxpayer with an income between $11,601 and $47,150, they would owe $1,160, plus ten percent of any amount over $11,600.

The standard tax deduction for 2024 for those who file single will be $14,600, which is a $750 increase from 2023. For those married and filing together, the standard deduction will be $29,200, which is a $1,500 increase from last year.

Watch Your Withholdings

The federal and state withholdings on your paycheck will determine whether or not you’ll owe taxes at the end of the year or receive a refund from overpaying throughout the year. Regardless of your changes to your income, you may be placed in a lower or higher tax bracket because of the new adjustments.

It will be important to keep track of any life changes that may affect your filing situation, such as marriage, divorce, the birth or adoption of a child, retirement, buying a home, having to file for bankruptcy, and more. If you know your situation has changed since the previous year, it will be important to adjust your withholding by filing a new W-4 with your employer. If you had a large refund or owed a large amount last year, then this is a sign to check your withholding.

Other 2024 Tax Changes to Know

The IRS also announced higher contribution limits for tax-deferred retirement plans for the 2024 tax year. Americans may now contribute up to $23,000 into their 401(k), 403(b) and most 457 plans, which is $500 more than in 2023. The limit on annual IRA contributions also increases to $7,000, up from $6,500 the previous year. For those that save for added healthcare costs, the FSA contribution limit has also increased to $3,200, which is up from $3,050 for 2023. And if you collect Social Security, then you’ll receive a 3.2% cost-of-living adjustment in 2024.

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The purpose of these tax changes is to help taxpayers feel the pain of inflation less. If you’ve noticed a higher paycheck, then different withholdings may be why. Figuring out whether or not you’ll be falling into a different tax bracket this year will help you determine if you’ll be benefiting from the new changes. Insureyouknow.org can help you store all of your financial information and tax preparation documents so that when it comes time to file, the process will be as painless as paying less taxes in 2025.

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Looking after Elderly Parents Remotely

March 1, 2024

Taking care of loved ones without being close by is a challenge. Whether you live a long drive away from aging parents or in another state, long-distance caregiving can become emotionally exhausting. If that sounds like you, know that you are not alone. Nearly 15 percent of caregivers live an average of 450 miles away. If you have recently found yourself looking after your parents from a distance, then here are some simple strategies to help you along the way.

Evaluate Your Strengths and Outsource the Rest
Be honest with yourself about your strengths. Maybe you’re comfortable handling finances but not as comfortable determining medical needs. Pinpointing the areas of need that you’ll be most suitable for is the first step in delegating the rest. You may have siblings who live closer to your parents and are willing to accompany them to their doctor’s visits. Other helpful skills include organization and communication, which could be utilized to organize schedules and communicate with medical professionals and caregivers. Once you determine what you’ll be best at handling, then you can begin to make plans to fill in the gaps.

Create a Team for Support
Speak with the rest of your family and close friends about who can help with your parents’ care. Coordinating with everyone to determine what each person is willing to do will help everyone be on the same page and turn creating a care plan into a team effort. Even if you don’t have any other siblings or family members who are able to help, then you should still meet with your parents and include them in their own care planning. For instance, ask them what you can do that will be most helpful. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to handle everything alone and to try and outsource anything you need help with as much as possible.

Establish Access to Information
Once you determine who the primary caregivers will be and who needs to be in charge of what, then it’s time to make sure those people have access to the appropriate information. Make sure that the person designated to handle bill-paying and account management on behalf of your parents has the ability to do so. Establishing the rights to have medical information released to caregivers as well as decision-making rights is another imperative. This can also be a legal issue down the road, so making sure that you or another trusted party is the power of attorney, who is appointed to make financial and medical decisions, will need to be determined. 

Revisit Living Arrangements
Sometimes a loved one’s health requires them to be closer to you. If it’s possible to relocate to where they live or have them move in with you, then that may be something worth exploring. If it’s not possible to live together, then senior living communities have the upside of being able to provide 24/7 care. Many older people don’t require full-time care though, so if relocation isn’t feasible, then hiring a home care aide or personal care assistant is another option.

Schedule Regular In-Person Visits
If you cannot live close to your parents, then making plans to see them will accomplish several things. First, you’ll instantly alleviate some of the caregiver guilt you may be experiencing just by knowing when you’ll be able to visit them next. Second, you’ll be able to check on them in-person, as you may not have an accurate assessment of their condition and needs from a distance. “It’s hard keeping a handle on their health, how they’re doing, physically, mentally, psychologically and emotionally, when you’re not there,” says Amy Goyer, AARP’s family and caregiving expert. “Isolation is a big thing and they can tell you, oh, I’m doing fine and everything on the phone, but is that really what’s happening?”

Lastly, but most importantly, you’ll be able to spend some much-needed quality time with your parents when visiting. If you are not the primary caregiver, then coordinate with them on when the best time to visit is and offer them a break. Plan in advance what you can do when you’re there to help out. Then speak with your parents about what they would like to do with you during your visit. Since visits can go by quickly, especially when there is so much to do, set priorities ahead of time about what’s most important once you’re there.

Remain Connected When You’re Apart
Schedule regular phone calls with your parents and ask for updates from their caregivers. With their permission, you may even choose to attend their telehealth visits and doctor’s appointments virtually. “The frequency of contact is dependent on the type and level of care needed,” says Iris Waichler, author of Role Reversal, How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents. “It should be a collaborative decision, if possible, rather than a unilateral mandate from the caregiver.”

Regular communication can keep your bond with your parents strong, as long as it remains an enjoyable experience for all of you.

Take Care of Yourself as Well
Caregiving can come with a heavy emotional load. It will become just as important to check in with yourself in your new role as caregiver. “Caregivers may often feel like they can do more and this can cause ruminating thoughts,” says Brittany Ferri, geriatric care occupational therapist. “In this instance, they may benefit from practicing positive self-care and self-talk along with their loved one to keep the lines of communication open while relieving stress.”

It’s hard to be a good caregiver, when you’re running on empty, so taking care of yourself as well is just as important as taking care of those depending on you. Show yourself compassion, make sure you’re recharging, and be kind to yourself.

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While it can be a challenge to care for your parents from a distance, that doesn’t mean it’s not manageable. By planning ahead and creating a care team, you can make sure your parents are cared for even when you can’t be close at all times. Insureyouknow.org can help you compile care plans, schedules, financial information, and medical records all in one place. Then you can rest easy that you have a plan set in motion, ensuring that your parents will be well-taken care of.

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How to Cut Down on the Cost of Owning a Car

February 15, 2024

In 2023, the average cost of owning a new car was $12,182 a year or $121 a month according to AAA. In addition to car payments, insurance, and maintenance costs, the price of gas is $5 a gallon,, which means that most U.S. households will spend $2,750 on gas per year. “If you are living paycheck to paycheck, it could put you over the edge,” says Ivan Drury, senior manager for Edmunds.com, a car shopping site. “But even if you are not, it’s very emotional. It’s in your face twice a week.”

The good news is that by cutting your expenses in other areas, such as with car insurance, you can save money and make up for the added charges at the pump. Besides simply driving less, which isn’t an option for many people, here are a few ways to make car ownership more affordable.

1. Shop Around For Car Insurance

According to J.D. Power, only 1 in 7 drivers changed auto insurers last year, but shopping around for lower premiums could save you a lot of money. In addition to your location and the type of car you own, other factors affect your rates, including your age and credit score. If you’ve improved your score within the last year, this one factor may lower your car insurance bill.

You can collect quotes through an insurance agent or use an online search engine, such as Experian, who claims to have saved drivers an average of $961 a year or $80 a month in 2021. Calling around or doing a quick search takes only fifteen minutes and could shave a lot of money off of your premium.

2. Check For Discounts and Adjust Your Existing Policy

Your existing carrier may offer discounts you don’t even know about, such as for paying your bill online and in advance. According to Zebra, paying your bill early online saves the average customer $170 a year. Bundling insurance policies, such as combining your homeowners and auto insurance, is another way insurance companies incentivize their policies through discounted rates.

There are usually three types of coverage on any given insurance policy, including liability, collision, and comprehensive. While most states require drivers to carry some amount of liability coverage, eliminating collision and comprehensive coverage could save you up to $900 a year. You may also opt to lower your car insurance premium by raising your deductible from $500 to $1,000. This makes sense if you don’t have a new or expensive car and can afford to pay the deductible if anything were to happen.

3. Outside Financing And Refinancing

One of the smartest ways to avoid high interest rates on a car payment is by securing outside financing. Compared to what the dealership will offer you, this can save you a ton of money in interest alone. Your local bank or credit union can help you shop around for the best offer. If you already have a monthly car payment, the next best thing to do is to look into refinancing your loan. Drivers who benefit the most from refinancing are those who have improved their credit score since initially securing their loan.

Of course if you can purchase a car outright, avoiding any kind of financing is always the very best option. If it’s possible for you to stick to a budget and save up, you may even be able to negotiate a better deal on the purchase price of your desired vehicle. Forty percent of the cost of owning a car is actually depreciation, which can equal more than $3,000 annually. That means that buying a gently used car is a great deal, without the rapid decline in value.

4. Sell One of Your Cars or Trade it Out

If you have a luxury or oversized vehicle, then trading your vehicle or a more practical car is always an option. Once you have a simpler car, you’ll save money on gas, insurance, and even maintenance costs. “Less fancy cars are more reliable,” says editor of Autotrader Brian Moody. “They have fewer gadgets.”

If your family has more than one car, then you may be able to sell one of them and end up saving a lot of money every month. Many families find that they adjust to sharing a vehicle, and when you need your own car for some reason, using Uber or Lyft periodically may still cost less than owning a vehicle. 

5. Save on Gas

Nearly twenty percent of the cost of car ownership comes from fuelling up. Unless your vehicle requires premium fuel, save by filling up with regular gas. You may also choose to slow down as gas mileage increases at lower speeds. If you can, try driving less, such as by walking to close destinations or starting a carpool for work. If you are able to get your annual mileage below 7,500, then your insurance company might even give you a discount on your coverage for that too. 

6. Save up for Maintenance

The cost of vehicle maintenance is equal to fourteen percent of the total cost of owning a car. By keeping up on routine maintenance and using synthetic oil, you will avoid more expensive issues down the road. When a large repair does arise, always call around to get quotes and go with the best deal. Since emergencies happen, setting up a sinking fund for unplanned car expenses is always a good idea. By putting away only $83 a month, you’ll save up $1,000 a year, which could be used for an unforeseen mechanic bill. “You could set aside money every week,” suggests Lauren Fix of Car Smarts. “Then the money will be available rather than using a credit card at a high interest rate.”

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The less money you spend on your car, the more you’ll have for other expenses in your life, from groceries to vacations. With Insureyouknow.org, you can store all of your vehicle and financial records in one place. That way when it’s time to refinance, shop around for better insurance, or sell your car, everything you need will already be at your fingertips. There’s never a good reason to throw away your hard-earned money on unnecessary expenses.

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Which is Best: Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account?

February 1, 2024

While a health savings account (HSA) and a flexible savings account (FSA) both help you to set money aside for health care costs, they are not the same. Both accounts are often offered by employers, but it is possible to open an HSA independently as long as you have a HSA-eligible health plan in place. FSAs however are strictly employer-based and can only be contributed to if your employer offers them to you. Here are six key differences to know between HSAs and FSAs.

  1. An HSA Belongs to You, Not Your Employer

Whether or not you opened up a HSA through your employer-offered insurance, the funds within your HSA belong to you forever. You may even use your HSA to cover health insurance costs if you leave your current job. On the other hand, FSA funds belong to your company, and when you leave them, you forfeit your FSA.

This is not to say a FSA can’t be advantageous, as long as you intend to stay with your current employer. “The FSA basically works with any kind of health insurance plan,” says Roy Ramthun, president of HSA Consulting Services. “So from that perspective, the ‘flexible’ in the name is pretty good.”

  1. Both Accounts Have Contribution Limits

Each year, the IRS determines maximum annual amounts that can be contributed to both HSAs and FSAs. Employers may also apply their own limits to their employee FSAs. For 2024, the IRS individual contribution limits for HSAs will be $4,150, while the family limit will be twice that. In 2024, the maximum contribution for FSAs will be $3,200. While a HSA has a higher contribution limit, your employer may be contributing to your FSA for you, which may allow you to contribute more of your earnings into your own HSA.

  1. HSA Funds Carry Over

With an HSA, you may carry over unused funds from year-to-year indefinitely. This is helpful when you have more in your account than you can use before the year’s end. With the HSA, your funds won’t go wasted. This is why it is a great way to save up for unexpected health costs down the road.

Alternatively, FSA funds must be used before the year is over, or you’ll forgo the existing funds when the calendar year starts over. Some employers may allow you to carry over part of the funds or provide you with a grace period to use your funds, which is generally two and a half months. Since FSAs are offered through your employer, it will be important to inform yourself of their policies around the account.

  1. FSAs are More Accessible at the Beginning of Each Year

While your FSA funds don’t rollover, if you or your employer plan to contribute your entire limit at the beginning of the year, then that entire amount is available to you immediately. HSA funds accumulate over the year, which means that if you need access to more coverage midyear, you may not have enough money in your HSA to pay your medical bills. The upside to this is that you should be able to reimburse yourself for previous medical expenses from your HSA once those funds become available.

  1. The HSA Can be an Investment Strategy

Unlike an FSA, the HSA can gain interest over time. Couple this with the fact that your funds carry over year to year, and the HSA offers the potential for growing quite a sizable nest egg for potential health care coverage. According to the Fidelity Retiree Health Care Cost Estimate, an average retired couple age 65 in 2023 may need up to $315,000 saved just to cover health care expenses in retirement, while a single individual will need approximately $157,500.

  1. At 65, the HSA Can Act as a 401K or IRA

Before the age of 65, you will be subject to a 20% penalty if you use your HSA or FSA funds for anything other than medical expenses. But once you’re 65 or older, that fee is waived, which means that those HSA funds are only subject to income taxes no matter how you use them. While you avoid the 20% penalty over the age of 65 with a FSA as well, those funds can still only be used for health care coverage.

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Both HSAs and FSAs can prove to be valuable parts of a health coverage plan. Whether or not your employer offers a FSA to you in addition to health insurance coverage for you and your dependents will of course factor into your decision making about whether or not an added HSA will be necessary. Insureyouknow.org can help you store all of your financial and medical information in one place so that you can stay organized and make the best decisions when planning for your family’s health coverage.

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(AI)ding the Elderly with AI

January 24, 2024

Forget the golden age, artificial intelligence (AI) is bringing a new silver lining in healthcare. It is revolutionizing health services across the nation and improving patient care, specifically for the elderly population. According to the World Health Organization, AI technology is improving the fields of medicine and public health for older individuals by anticipating potential health risks, fueling drug development, and supporting the personalization of healthcare management.

“Though adoption of AI has been delayed in mental health research and clinical care relative to other fields, it could potentially enhance diagnostic, prognostic, and treatment approaches for the growing aging population,” said Dr. Helmet Karim, assistant professor of psychiatry and bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh. “With ubiquitous usage of wearable sensors, advancements in explainable AI, and growing acceptance of AI in medicine, these approaches could support increasing clinical demands.”

Here are a few ways AI is helping seniors enter the digital age.

Daily Care & Wellness Monitoring

Scientifically validated AI in-home care solutions like People Power Family are revolutionizing home care, nursing facilities, and assisted living centers by helping older adults in their everyday tasks. This technology can track and collect the health data of individuals to ensure their well-being by detecting falls and changes in behavior that may indicate that an individual has a specific health condition.

AI devices are also being used to monitor patient health from cameras to motion sensors to wearables. Organizations such as SafelyYou are utilizing AI-based fall detection technology to continuously track patient movements and alert staff, effectively decreasing ER visits. On the other hand, CarePredict designs wearable wrist devices that can track an elderly patient’s daily activities including walking, bathing, eating, visits to the bathroom, and periods of sleep.

Managing Medication Schedules

Many elderly individuals face difficulties when it comes to adhering to their medication schedules. AI-powered medical reminder apps such as mPulse Mobile are game changers in that area. They ensure that elderly patients follow their medication regimen, which decreases the likelihood of potential hospital admissions and helps improve patient health outcomes.

Such technologies not only help patients in the short-term, but they also foster the creation of long-term health plans. AI utilizes patient data to predict an individual’s overall response to different forms of treatment and creates a beneficial medication schedule. This method helps increase patient-centered care within the medical field, establishing the welfare of patients.

Guidance During Medical Challenges

AI technologies can help empower patients by providing them with information, support, and guidance for managing specific health conditions. For example, a chatbot called “Vik” was created to help breast cancer patients navigate their diagnosis. This device provides patients with a variety of information through personalized text messages, ranging from comprehensive medical statistics and treatments regarding breast cancer to lifestyle and diet to patients’ rights.

Additionally, AI-powered systems can also detect conditions that go untreated like dementia and late-life depression. Such systems can potentially identify patients with symptoms of certain mental health conditions and provide them with timely information on treatment plans as well as tips on managing their health.

Companionship and Personal Interaction

According to the PEW Research Center, 27% of adults ages 60 and older live alone in the U.S., which indicates that many elderly individuals are in need of social interaction or companionship. AI technologies like ChatGPT can actually be trained to provide emotional and social support to the aging population. For instance, loved ones can set up and customize ChatGPT, ensuring that conversations are targeted to a person’s needs such as news updates, story sharing, light-hearted banter, and more.

But that is not all. Researchers have bigger plans for AI when it comes to the seniors. Dr. Lillian Hung, a researcher at The University of British Columbia and founder of IDEA lab (Innovation in Dementia & Aging) recently introduced AI-powered social robots to West Vancouver’s Amica senior living facility as part of her study. She found that AI-powered social robots have the potential to engage with elderly patients, mitigating their feelings of social isolation and loneliness. This daily interaction can alleviate psychological distress, decrease feelings of anxiety and depression, lower agitation, promote positive facial expressions, and enhance an individual’s overall mood on an everyday basis.

“It [AI robot] sings with you, plays with you, dances with you, follows you – just makes sure you feel that you’re loved,” said Dr. Hung about the adorable robots that have helped some shy residents come out of their rooms. There have been talks of making such robots permanent residents of the facility.

Increased Independence

As more seniors age in place, smart home devices enhanced with AI-powered features are revolutionizing households into spaces that address the needs of every resident. These devices offer support in various ways, including turning lights on and off, adjusting temperature, detecting smoke, monitoring behavior and health, reminding about medications, detecting falls, and even initiating emergency calls.

AI and sensor data can derive patterns and alerts that inform care, for example, combining sensors with data about individuals that have a history of falls, AI tools can detect bed, chair, and room exits which require immediate response,” said Laurie M. Orlov, principal analyst, Aging and Health Technology Watch.

A few other AI apps listed below can also help seniors live healthier, safer lives:

  • Caspar.ai: identifies 10+ health conditions even before symptoms are noticed
  • CareDaily.ai: is a fully integrated home health
  • CareSmartz360: helps seniors with activities of daily living and communication
  • Inspiren: is a healthcare technology company specializing in AI-powered solutions to improve outcomes
  • VirtuSense.ai: is a proactive AI that makes healthcare simple, affordable, and accessible
  • KamiCare: is an easy-to-install fall management solution
  • Sagely: assists with engagement programs in senior living communities

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Artificial intelligence is playing an increasingly important role in the healthcare industry by giving older individuals the chance at a new life. This revolutionary technology helps monitor health, creates efficient medication schedules, bolsters social interaction and personal care, and allows elderly patients to be more independent. With insureyouknow.org, you can keep track of the data AI helps collect to improve your health outcomes. With the assistance of AI, seniors are experiencing a digital revival and upgrading to a new level of well-being.

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