Preparing for a Flood Before Disaster Strikes
October 15, 2022
Flooding is the most common and most damaging natural disaster in the country. In Florida, where Hurricane Ian’s floodwaters turned towns into rivers, flood risk is higher due to the state’s frequency of storms and proximity to water. Despite this, most insurance policies do not automatically cover flooding. No matter where you live, you should check your auto and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies as an initial step in preparing for a flood to keep you and your loved ones safe when a flood interrupts your lives.
Determining Your Risk Level
To find out the risk level of your property location, visit FloodSmart.gov/Flood-Map-Zone.
Because research has found that FEMA’s flood maps underestimate the danger in some areas as climate change advances, homeowners and renters unaware of their level of risk should act on the following points:
- Are you in a flash-flood-prone area? Contact the local county geologist or county planning department to find out if your home is in a flash-flood-prone area or a landslide-prone area.
- Make a communication plan and a disaster plan for your family.
- Plan and practice a flood evacuation route with your family. Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to be the “family contact” in case your family is separated during a flood. Make sure everyone in your family knows the name, address, and phone number of your contact person.
- Stay informed. Learn about your community’s emergency plans, warning signals, evacuation routes, and locations of emergency shelters.
- Inform local authorities about any special needs, such as elderly or bedridden people, or anyone with a disability.
Preparing Your Home for a Flood
- Make sure you secure or protect any hazards in your home before the flood strikes.
- Be prepared to turn off electrical power when there is standing water, fallen power lines, or before you evacuate. Turn off gas and water supplies before you evacuate. Secure structurally unstable building materials.
- Buy a fire extinguisher if you don’t already have one. Make sure your family knows where it is and how to use it.
- Buy and install sump pumps with backup power.
- Have a licensed electrician raise electric components (switches, sockets, circuit breakers, and wiring) at least 12″ above your home’s projected flood elevation.
- For drains, toilets, and other sewer connections, install backflow valves or plugs to prevent floodwaters from entering.
- Anchor fuel tanks can contaminate your basement if torn free. An unanchored tank outside can be swept downstream and damage other houses.
Creating an Emergency Supply Kit
Stock your home with supplies you may need during the flood by creating an emergency supply kit. Visit the CDC’s Personal Health Preparedness page for a list of supplies you’ll want to include in your kit.
Preparing Food and Water Supplies
Make sure you and your family have enough safe food and water (for drinking, cooking, and bathing) available in the event of a flood. For more information, visit Food and Water Needs: Preparing for a Disaster or Emergency.
Reentering Your Flooded Home
When returning to a home that’s been flooded after natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods, be aware that your house may be contaminated with mold or sewage, which can cause health risks for your family. See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for reentering your flooded home.
Reviewing Flood Insurance Options
Although you can purchase flood insurance at any time, waiting until a hurricane or major storm is threatening your home may be too late. Many policies take at least 30 days after purchase to take effect.
The National Flood Insurance Program is a pre-disaster flood mitigation and insurance protection program designed to reduce the escalating cost of disasters. This program makes federally backed flood insurance available to residents and business owners. Standard flood insurance by the National Flood Insurance Program generally covers physical damages directly caused by flooding within the limits of the coverage purchased. Private providers may have higher limits or broader coverage compared to National Flood Insurance Program policies.
Regardless of which policy you select for your business or family, any coverage is better than none. If your property experiences flooding impacts from a disaster, it is not guaranteed you will be able to receive federal assistance. If your area has not received a Presidential Disaster Declaration that makes federal assistance available under FEMA, you will not receive federal assistance.
When there is an official Presidential Disaster Declaration, National Flood Insurance Program policyholders are encouraged to apply for FEMA disaster assistance in addition to their flood insurance claim. For more information, visit National Flood Insurance Program or call1-800-621-FEMA.
Filing a Flood Insurance Claim
Flood insurance claims can be filed anytime you experience flooding on your property and can cover both a property and its contents.
If you need to file a flood insurance claim, be informed and prepared so that recovery can move quickly and smoothly. Before a disaster strikes, have updated photos of your home or business so that insurance providers can clearly examine your property and belongings. If your property has experienced flood impacts, take extensive photos of the damages before cleaning up. This will allow insurance providers to compare before and after photos to determine the extent of damages and arrange the best claim payment possible. As you’re cleaning, make a detailed list of lost or damaged items. If you have original receipts for items, hold onto those for documentation in your claim. After gathering all the necessary information, contact your insurance company to begin filing your claim.
At InsureYouKnow.org, file your auto, and homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policies, photos before and showing flood damage, an inventory of your home and possessions, and your checklists of supplies needed for emergency events. If you are impacted by a flood, also keep track on this portal of your insurance claims and interactions with your insurance company and FEMA.
Retirees Face the Rising Cost of Living
August 14, 2021
Have you noticed this year that your grocery bill has been rising and the price of gas is higher each time you fill up at the pump? You also may have been shocked by sticker prices on new and used cars and trucks resulting from inflation in recent months.
Consumer Price Index
On July 11, 2021, the Labor Department reported its consumer price index (CPI) rose 5.4 percent in July from a year earlier, in line with June’s figure and matching the largest jump since August 2008. White House officials are cautiously optimistic that the current increase in prices will be transitory, citing a continued drop in forward prices for lumber and other goods that experienced sharp increases because of supply chain bottlenecks. Steel capacity also had risen substantially over the past few months, they said.
The Federal Reserve has been keeping a close eye on inflation reports since it’s the central bank’s job to maximize employment and keep prices stable. Chairman Jerome Powell and other officials acknowledge the recent acceleration in prices but believe that the inflation is “transitory” and that prices won’t continue to increase at their current pace for too long.
As one of the most-cited inflation gauges, the CPI measures changes in how much American consumers pay for everyday goods and services including groceries, gasoline, clothes, restaurant meals, haircuts, concerts, and automobiles.
The CPI and other price measures have been on the rise in 2021 in large part because of a comeback in consumer spending and U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) as COVID restrictions eased.
Economic activity as measured by GDP rose at an annualized rate of 6.5 percent in the second quarter as Americans frequented restaurants, took summer vacations, and resumed other activities that COVID-19 had hindered.
Consumer spending, bolstered by the nationwide rollout of vaccines, jumped 11.8 percent during the three months ending June 30, the second-fastest rate since 1952.
At the same time, the pent-up demand for travel, retail, and restaurants has left many businesses scrambling to keep up and led to several setbacks on the supply side of the U.S. economy.
Employers who have struggled to find workers have hiked pay or offered signing bonuses to help fill the record 10.1 million job openings across the economy at the end of June. The leisure and hospitality sector, which includes restaurants, bars, and hotels, has one of the highest levels of job openings at more than 1.6 million.
But instead of absorbing higher labor and material costs, some businesses have begun to pass on the impact of higher wages to their consumers.
Inflation and Retirees
Higher prices take a significant toll on retirees. Social Security benefits rise only once a year. “Those with modest Social Security benefits are the ones who really have trouble,” reports Mary Johnson, Social Security and Medicare policy analyst at The Senior Citizens League, a non-partisan advocacy group. “Other retirees have had to tap more of their savings than they had planned because the Social Security benefit didn’t keep up with 2021’s hot inflation,” she says.
Inflation could prompt largest Social Security cost-of-living adjustment in decades. Retirees could see a 6.1 percent bump to their Social Security benefits in 2022. That would be the biggest increase since 1983, according to The Senior Citizens League, which calculated the figure.
The Social Security Administration typically announces the amount of the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA), if any, in October. The increase in benefits typically goes into effect in January.
You might not see all the increase in your benefit payment. If your Medicare Part B premiums are deducted from your Social Security (as is the case with 70 percent of Part B enrollees), a Medicare rate increase could offset all or part of the COLA.
The Social Security COLA for 2021 was 1.3 percent. For many retirees, that meant just $20 more per month. Over the years, the increases have led to a loss of buying power for seniors, according to research from The Senior Citizens League.
The amount your Social Security check will increase will be based on a combination of your underlying benefit and the Social Security COLA. Assuming the Social Security COLA is at the 6.1 percent level for 2022, and you are receiving the maximum Social Security benefit of $3,895, you would get an additional $237.60 per month. This would mean an increase of $2,851.14 per year.
The jump in benefits will be a bit more modest for those receiving the average Social Security benefit in 2021. Social Security benefits averaged just $1,543 per month in 2021. Again, assuming a 6.1 percent Social Security COLA, you could see your retirement benefits increase by $94.12 per month. When living on a fixed income, an additional $1,129.48 can go a long way.
If you are still working, make sure you have other retirement income to help maintain your standard of living. Even at the maximum Social Security benefit, you will have a tough time keeping your standard of living on Social Security alone. Work with a trusted financial planner to help determine the optimal time to claim your Social Security benefits and to set up a monthly payment schedule.
Currently, 69 million Americans are collecting Social Security benefits. So, a significant increase in the COLA to Social Security will be significant for the budgets of many retirees. Before the announcement is made in October, the Today show offers hints to help you save money at the grocery store, including keeping track of your grocery spending, taking inventory of what you already have and using it, and meal planning to reduce food waste and save on your food bill.
Smart shoppers will also watch for sales, comparison shop, and consider buying useful, non-perishable items in bulk and even making use of an extra freezer whenever possible. When it comes to saving money, cheap and healthy can go hand in hand.
If you currently collect Social Security benefits or plan to in 2022, you can track at insureyouknow.org your monthly spending patterns, file copies of your Social Security and Medicare statements, as well as savings accounts you may have set up for vacations, rainy days, or emergency contingency plans.
Save with a Health Savings Account
April 27, 2021
A Health Savings Account (HSA) is a type of savings account that lets you set aside money on a pre-tax basis to pay for qualified medical expenses. By using untaxed dollars in an HSA to pay for deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, and some other expenses, you may be able to lower your overall health care costs.
An HSA may receive contributions from an eligible individual or any other person, including an employer or a family member, on behalf of an eligible individual. Contributions, other than employer contributions, are deductible on the eligible individual’s tax return whether or not the individual itemizes deductions. Employer contributions aren’t included in taxable income and distributions from an HSA that are used to pay qualified medical expenses aren’t taxed.
High Deductible Health Plan
One way to manage your health care expenses is by enrolling in a High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) in combination with opening an HSA. While you can use the funds in an HSA at any time to pay for qualified medical expenses, you may contribute to an HSA only if you have an HDHP—generally a health plan that only covers preventive services before the deductible. For plan year 2021, the minimum deductible is $1,400 for an individual and $2,800 for a family. (The term “minimum deductible” refers to the amount you pay for health care items and services before your plan starts to pay.) Maximum out-of-pocket costs (the most you’d have to pay if you need more health care items and services) are $7,000 for an individual and $14,000 for a family.
Contribution Limits in 2021
For calendar year 2021, the annual limitation on deductions for an individual with self-only coverage under an HDHP is $3,600. The annual limitation on deductions for an individual with family coverage under an HDHP is $7,200. The IRS announces annually the HSA contribution limit that applies each calendar year. You can review IRS Publication 969 each year to determine the current limit.
HSA funds roll over year to year if you don’t spend them. An HSA may earn interest or other earnings, which are not taxable.
Some health insurance companies offer HSAs for their HDHPs. Check with your company to see if you are eligible. You also can open an HSA through some banks and other financial institutions. If you are interested in enrolling for healthcare coverage through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Insurance Marketplace®, you can check to see if specific plans are “HSA-eligible.”
It’s also important to note that there is an aggregate limit that applies to both your own contributions as well as any money your employer puts into your account. This is different from 401(k) rules, where an employer’s matching funds do not affect your ability to contribute to your account. If your employer puts $2,000 into your HSA and you have self-only coverage, you would be allowed to contribute only $1,600 before reaching the 2021 contribution limit.
HSA account holders who are 55 and older are entitled to make an additional catch-up contribution valued at $1,000 on top of contribution caps. Because of the HSA catch-up contribution rules, in 2021 the self-only coverage limit is $4,600 and the family coverage limit is $8,200
Catch-up contributions are intended to help older Americans who may incur outsized medical expenses, or who may not have saved enough for a secure retirement and want to boost their contributions to tax-advantaged accounts as they near the end of their careers.
Older Americans may want to make catch-up contributions because healthcare costs tend to rise with age and because an HSA can be a valuable type of retirement savings account. HSAs work as a retirement savings plan because money can be withdrawn penalty-free for any purpose, not just medical expenses, after age 65. Once an HSA account holder turns 65, distributions not used for medical costs are taxed at their ordinary income tax rate, the same as distributions from a 401(k) or traditional IRA.
HSA Funds and Taxes
Because HSA contributions can be made with pre-tax funds, you can deduct the amount you’ve contributed from your taxable income in the year you make the contribution.
The fact that HSA contributions are tax deductible means any money you contribute reduces the income you’re taxed on, which saves you money on the taxes you pay to the IRS. It also means your take-home pay declines by a smaller amount than what you actually contributed.
For example, if you have $50,000 in taxable income and make a $3,600 deductible contribution to an HSA, you will be taxed on only $46,400 in income due to your contribution.
The specific amount you save due to your HSA contribution will depend both on how large your contribution is and on your tax rate. Those who are taxed at a higher rate and those who make larger contributions will realize more savings.
Contributions are tax-deductible up to HSA annual limits, and money can be withdrawn tax-free to cover qualifying medical expenses.
Money in an HSA can be invested and can be withdrawn for any purpose after age 65 without penalty, although you’ll be taxed at your ordinary income tax rate for distributions not used for covered medical costs.
The IRS provides a comprehensive list of medical and dental expenses that qualify in Publication 502 and include the following categories:
- Prescription medications
- Nursing services
- Long-term care services
- Dental care
- Eye care, including eye exams, glasses, and contact lenses
- Psychiatric care
- Surgical expenses
- Fertility treatments
- Chiropractic care
- Medical equipment
- Hearing aids
Under the CARES Act, which passed in March 2020, you can now use your HSA funds to pay for a variety of over-the-counter (OTC) items without a prescription. The rules are retroactive to Jan. 1, 2020, so if you purchased these items with non-HSA funds, you can still submit your receipts for reimbursement.
Telemedicine or remote healthcare can be covered by HSA plans at no charge, even if you haven’t met your deductible, through the end of 2021.
The following items also have been made HSA-eligible by the 2020 CARES Act:
- Acid reducers
- Acne treatment
- Allergy and sinus medications
- Anti-allergy medications
- Breathing strips
- Cough, cold, and flu medications
- Eye drops
- Feminine hygiene products
- Heartburn medications
- Insect repellant and anti-itch creams
- Lip treatments for cold and canker sores
- Medicated shampoos and soaps
- Nasal sprays
- Pain relievers
- Skin creams and ointments
- Sleep aids
- Sunscreen and OTC remedies to treat the effects of sun exposure
The Bottom Line on HSAs
HSAs give you the opportunity to set aside money so you can pay for medical care with pre-tax dollars. But because you can invest and grow these funds as well as hold them in cash, HSAs offer much more than just a way to save on medical care. If used as a long-term investment vehicle, your HSA account could help you save on healthcare costs in retirement while reducing your tax bill in the meantime.
During each calendar year, you can keep track of all your HSA contributions, expenses, and tax-accounting details at insureyouknow.org.
The Long and Short of Disability Insurance
March 1, 2021
You may have never felt you needed to consider a disability insurance policy because you are young(ish), healthy, and don’t work in a business that exposes you to risky situations. Disability insurance is designed to cover a portion of your income if something happens to you like an injury or illness and you can’t work. Beginning in 2020, adverse effects of COVID-19 have been added to physical injuries, heart attacks, and cancer as major reasons to file claims for disability insurance.
COVID-19 symptoms can linger for months while the virus damages the lungs, heart, and brain, which increases the risk of long-term health problems. People who continue to experience symptoms after their initial recovery are described as “long haulers” and the condition has been called “post-COVID-19 syndrome” or “long COVID-19.”
Older people and people with many serious medical conditions are the most likely to experience lingering COVID-19 symptoms, but even young, otherwise healthy people can feel unwell for weeks to months after infection.
COVID-19 can make blood cells more likely to clump and form clots. Large clots can cause heart attacks and strokes, much of the heart damage caused by COVID-19 is believed to stem from very small clots that block tiny blood vessels in the heart muscle. Other parts of the body affected by blood clots include the lungs, legs, liver, and kidneys. COVID-19 also can weaken blood vessels and cause them to leak, which contributes to potentially long-lasting problems with the liver and kidneys.
People who have severe symptoms of COVID-19 often have to be treated in a hospital’s intensive care unit, with mechanical assistance such as ventilators to breathe. Simply surviving this experience can make a person more likely to later develop post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression, and anxiety.
Much is still unknown about how COVID-19 will affect people over time. Researchers recommend that doctors closely monitor people who have had COVID-19 to see how their organs are functioning after initial recovery.
Many large medical centers are opening specialized clinics to provide care for people who have persistent symptoms or related illnesses after they recover from COVID-19. Most people who have COVID-19 recover quickly. But the potentially long-lasting problems from COVID-19 make it even more important to reduce the spread of the disease by getting vaccinated, wearing masks, avoiding crowds, and frequently washing your hands.
Types of Disability Insurance
If you anticipate a need for disability insurance coverage or want to provide protection just in case an unforeseen injury or illness occurs, consider the two types of disability insurance: short term and long term. Both of them are designed to replace part of your regular income if you are unable to work. Even though they basically provide the same benefits, the following are differences and similarities for you to review.
Short-Term Disability Insurance (STDI)
- How much does it cover? About 60 to 70 percent of your salary.
- How long does it last? Usually 3 to 6 months, depending on the policy’s fine print.
- How much does it cost? About 1 to 3 percent of your annual income.
- How soon until you would receive your first payout? Around two weeks after your healthcare provider confirms your disability.
- Why would you get it? If your employer offers it at no cost to you.
Long-Term Disability Insurance (LTDI)
- How much does it cover? About 40 to 70 percent of your salary.
- How long does it last? Five years or longer if your disability continues.
- How much does it cost? About 1 to 3 percent of your annual income.
- How soon until you would receive your first payout? Usually around 3 to 6 months after your healthcare provider confirms your disability.
- Why would you get it? If you and dependents rely on your income and you don’t have sufficient savings to replace your regular salary long term.
You may be fortunate to have an employer who offers disability income protection insurance. If not, you can elect it during open enrollment or you may want to choose additional disability insurance to supplement what your employer provides. Ideally, you would have a three-month cash reserve to cover you before your payments go into effect. If not, the short-term disability protection, which typically starts after 14 days, would pay until the long-term disability is in place. It is important to understand how your policy defines disability which may not match your definition or need. Usually, workplace policies have a narrower definition of disability than private policies do. Depending upon your occupation, through a private policy you may be able to elect more favorable terms. Your financial advisor or life insurance agent can help you to find a policy that’s right for you.
In the United States, individuals can obtain disability insurance from the government through the Social Security Administration (SSA). To qualify for government-sponsored disability insurance, an applicant must prove that his disability is so severe that it prevents him from engaging in any type of meaningful work at all. SSA also requires applicants to demonstrate that their disability is expected to last for at least 12 months, or that it is expected to result in death.
You may find it helpful to consult an attorney when applying for a claim, regardless of your diagnosis. Qualifying for Social Security disability benefits is determined by your medical eligibility and how severely your condition affects your ability to work—an attorney can help explain the process and represent you if your case goes to court.
By contrast, some private plans only require the applicant to demonstrate that he can no longer continue in the same line of work in which he was previously engaged. If you take out your own policy, it will stay with you whenever you change jobs. But it’s cheaper if you can buy it through your employer that may offer it when you come on board, or you can talk to your HR staff about setting it up later.
STDI replaces a portion of your paycheck for a short period of time—three to six months. Most people get STDI through their employer. You can get an individual policy through some private insurers, but these plans are usually expensive. An alternative to an STDI policy is to save 3 to 6 months of expenses in an emergency fund that you can draw upon if you get sick or injured and have to take time off work for a few months.
Long-term disability insurance (LTDI) provides coverage if you’re out of work for a longer period of time—years or even decades. It, too, is sometimes offered by employers, but even if the benefit is provided, it might not be adequate. Employees often take out individual or a supplemental LTDI policy if the benefit isn’t provided by employers.
When applying for either an STDI or an LTDI policy, make sure you find out answers to the following questions from your insurer:
- What is covered under my policy?
- Does my disability qualify me for coverage?
- When and how do I make a claim?
- What do I do if a claim is denied?
Limits of Disability Insurance
Disability insurance is only designed to replace a portion of your income—it doesn’t cover extra expenses like your medical bills and long-term care costs.
According to Mason Finance, “Most disability policies come with several built-in exclusions in order to protect the insurer from claims submitted as a result of disabilities sustained from what it considers to be ‘high-risk’ activities, such as skydiving, mountain climbing, flying in experimental aircraft, or other such activities. Your insurer may also exclude any preexisting conditions that you have when you apply for coverage.”
While pregnancy isn’t usually covered by long-term policies, complications that extend beyond pregnancy, for example, if your doctor orders you to refrain from working to recuperate from a C-section, you might qualify for benefits—but only if you had a long-term policy in place before you got pregnant.
Short-term policies do cover birth as a disability, but you might be waiting a long six-to-eight weeks for your first payout.
If you decide to apply for disability insurance, you can track your policy, payments, and any claims you submit at InsureYouKnow.org.
CARES Acts in Action
January 14, 2021
In response to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill, was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Trump on March 27, 2020. The CARES Act made it easier for millions of U.S. workers to withdraw or borrow money from their retirement plans through December 30, 2020. People under the age of 59.5 affected by the coronavirus were allowed to take a distribution of up to $100,000 from an IRA, 401(k), or similar account without penalty. It also permitted loans of up to $100,000.
Usually, withdrawing funds from a tax-deferred account before age 59.5 would result in a 10 percent penalty on top of any income taxes incurred. But under the temporary rules part of the CARES Act, people with pandemic-related financial troubles could withdraw without penalty up to $100,000 from any combination of their tax-deferred plans, including 401(k), 403(b), 457(b) and traditional individual retirement accounts. The rules applied to plans only if the employee’s employer opted in.
Some plans already permitted hardship withdrawals under certain conditions, and the rules for those were loosened in 2019. But the CARES Act rules were even more lenient by allowing virus-related hardship withdrawals to be treated as taxable income, but the liability was automatically split over three years unless the account holder chose otherwise. The tax can be avoided if the money is put back into a tax-deferred account within three years.
Almost 60 percent of Americans withdrew or borrowed money from their IRA or 401(k) during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey from Kiplinger and digital wealth management company Personal Capital. Most U.S. retirement accounts were already underfunded and the pandemic caused a significant number of Americans to withdraw money, potentially setting them back even further. They will now have to work longer or delay retirement in order to rebuild their savings.
“The past year rocked the confidence of most Americans saving for retirement,” Mark Solheim, editor of Kiplinger Personal Finance, said in a release. “With many people dipping into their retirement savings or planning to work longer, 2020 will have a lasting impact for years to come.”
When it comes to drawing down savings, younger workers have been more willing to withdraw from retirement accounts during the pandemic. A Transamerica survey found that 43 percent of millennials have either taken out a loan or withdrawal from a retirement account or plan to do so in the near future, compared to 27 percent of Generation Xers and 11 percent of baby boomers.
Boomers were much more likely to completely rule out withdrawing from their retirement accounts, with nearly 3 in 4 (73 percent) saying such a move was out of the question. In contrast, 36 percent of millennials and 56 percent of Gen Xers say they won’t take money from their retirement accounts to deal with financial shortfalls attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Retirement Savings Sacrifices
Many workers are sacrificing their retirement savings in order to keep afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. Now that the original CARES Act has expired, taking an early withdrawal from a retirement account can have far-reaching implications. You may not only have to pay a 10 percent penalty, but you’ll also lose out on having your money earn interest for a longer period of time.
As a result, you may likely have to work longer in order to have enough money for retirement if you withdraw funds from your account now. Nearly a third of Americans say the pandemic has already led to a change in their expected retirement age. Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the economy has risen to the top of survey respondents’ list of obstacles with 49 percent saying it is the top barrier to achieving a financially secure retirement. The economy was followed by 33 percent claiming a lack of savings and 32 percent blaming health care costs as reasons to delay retirement.
Emergency Savings Accounts
Effects of the pandemic on emergency savings accounts have brought to light how few households have set aside money inside a retirement plan or for education expenses and it has prompted more employers to start their own programs. For now, about 10 percent of large employers offer some type of support to encourage emergency savings accounts.
But the scope of the damage caused by the pandemic means that even the traditional emergency savings advice of putting aside roughly three to six months of basic living expenses hasn’t been enough to provide a secure provision for an emergency. During the coronavirus pandemic, millions of Americans have lost incomes and work. An employee who lost a job early in the pandemic could have easily used up all his savings while being unemployed.
But withdrawing funds from a 401(k) has consequences, such as increased tax bills and possibly sacrificing future retirement income. According to survey data of 1,902 U.S. workers by Edelman Financial Engines, one in five Americans is considering taking an early withdrawal. But the survey also found that many Americans who have done so regret it.
For most borrowers, doing so was for an essential reason—35 percent spent their funds on housing, and 7 percent took a loan due to a loss of income. Some did so for less pressing reasons, for example, about 20 percent borrowed to pay off credit card debt and 8 percent funded a car purchase.
Borrowers admit they didn’t understand the consequences or alternatives or not doing enough research on other options available. Many people say they regret their decision for this reason—about 41 percent of people who took hardship withdrawals and 42 percent who took a loan regret it because of a lack of understanding.
Others say they wish they’d understood the other options available. During the pandemic, many lenders have helped to ease the burden on Americans facing financial hardship. As part of the CARES Act, all federally-backed mortgages had the option of forbearance. Banks across the country offered help programs for loans ranging from mortgages to personal loans.
According to Edelman, some wish they’d turned to those programs before making a long-term commitment in reducing their retirement savings. Of people who took hardship withdrawals, 52 percent said they wish they’d explored other options first, while 44 percent of those who took a loan said the same.
Overall, most wish they’d consulted a professional before taking funds from their 401(k). Four out of five borrowers who regret the withdrawal or loan say that consulting a financial advisor would have helped their decision making.
CARES Act II
On December 27, 2020, President Trump signed H.R. 133, another stimulus bill that Congress passed on December 21. This legislation extends unemployment assistance not only for employees but also for independent contractors and other self-employed individuals for 11 weeks. The bill includes the “Continued Assistance for Unemployed Workers Act of 2020,” which provides for an extension from December 31, 2020 until March 14, 2021 of the CARES Act’s unemployment provisions, including a new form of benefits for all self-employed individuals: pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA).
The original CARES Act provided PUA benefits for up to $600 a week for as many as 39 weeks, retroactive to January 27, 2020. The new stimulus bill, CARES Act II, halves that amount and limits PUA to $300/week. Those eligible for PUA also will receive an additional $300/week through the end of the extension period, whereas CARES Act I had added $600/week in federal stimulus payments. Finally, the new stimulus bill provides independent contractors with paid sick and paid family leave benefits through March 14, 2021.
CARES Act II contains a new provision: unemployed or underemployed independent contractors who have an income mix from self-employment and wages paid by an employer are still eligible for PUA. Under CARES Act I, any such worker was typically eligible only for a state-issued benefit based on their wages. Under CARES Act II, the individual now is eligible for an additional weekly benefit of $100 if he earned at least $5,000 a year in self-employment income. The $100 weekly payment which would be added to the $300 weekly benefit, also will expire on March 14.
If the original CARES Act or CARES Act II applies to your personal financial situation, you may want to consult a financial advisor about decisions you made in 2020 or plan to make in 2021. Then, keep a record of all your financial decisions at InsureYouKnow.org so you’ll be prepared for additional financial challenges or government stimulus opportunities in the new year.
Racing to Retirement?
September 14, 2020
If you had been carefully planning your retirement and thought that you had a few more years to accumulate a nest egg before you officially called it quits, you may be prompted during the COVID-19 pandemic, to shift gears and reevaluate your options.
Employees worldwide are enduring furloughs pending a rebound in the economy, permanent layoffs because of drastic downturns at their workplaces, or have decided not to return to a work environment that may expose them to COVID-19. If one of these, or another reason, has spurred you to consider or plan to retire sooner than you had anticipated, make sure your retirement income strategy is right for your current and future financial situation. You may want to consult a financial planner who can help you project and protect your retirement benefits while you decide when to retire.
Retirees with limited financial resources face numerous risks, including out-living their money, investment losses, unexpected health expenses, the unforeseen needs of family members, and even reductions in retirement benefits. Some workers, including teachers, restaurateurs, and healthcare providers, whose professions require close contact with others, have started withdrawing from the workforce earlier than they had planned because of challenges and concerns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has hit older workers hard. The unemployment rate among Americans age 55 and up reached a staggering 13.6 percent in April, up from just 2.6 percent in January, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As of August, the percentage had gone down to 7.7 percent but other data show that one in five Americans in their 60s has lost his job or has been furloughed due to COVID-19, according to the July 2020 Retirement Confidence Index by the financial technology company SimplyWise. Overall, 15 percent of Americans are now considering claiming Social Security benefits earlier than they had anticipated. One in five respondents who was laid off during the coronavirus pandemic is now planning to retire early.
If you can identify with these staggering statistics, take a deep breath and review the following suggestions to guide you to the finish line for a financially successful retirement.
Examine Expenses and Downsize
For many employees, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how fragile their financial security is. A recent survey from the National Endowment for Financial Education found that nearly 9 in 10 (88 percent) Americans said that the COVID-19 crisis is causing stress on their personal finances. Americans who are not yet retired but whose finances have been impacted by the pandemic can use this time to review their expenses and reduce unnecessary spending. You’ll need to take inventory of your entire financial situation and determine how much cash will see you through retirement.
Take Stock of Resources and Make Adjustments
Evaluate what resources you have available. Make any necessary adjustments to savings and portfolio asset allocations, including your 401(k) or 403(b) accounts, pension plans from former or current employers, IRA accounts, and annuities as well as Social Security benefits based on your employment and age. For those who are eligible but not yet drawing Social Security payments, this is a good time to consider how to maximize your benefits.
Decide how much money you want to keep in stocks vs. bonds, based on your risk tolerance and financial goals. Keep in mind, most people need to maintain a stake in stocks, even in retirement, to get the long-term growth they need. But for those who prefer a more cautious strategy—and for older investors who have already amassed enough savings to afford a comfortable retirement—it may make sense to reduce the percentage you invest in stocks and increase your fixed-income holdings.
Rethink Withdrawal Rate
People in or nearing retirement need to review their withdrawal rate, and the pandemic has given new urgency to designing a safe withdrawal strategy. The 4 percent rule is the traditional rule of thumb for retirement withdrawals. You take out 4 percent of your portfolio in the first year, then increase that amount by the inflation rate in subsequent years. Studies show that this strategy can minimize your risk of running out of money over a 30-year retirement.
The article, “Don’t Let the Coronavirus Derail Your Retirement: How to Get Back on Track If Your 401(k) Has Taken a Hit,” published in the May 2020 issue of Consumer Reports advises retirees to consider skipping their required minimum distributions from their 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts that is permitted this year under the coronavirus relief package. If you can forgo those withdrawals, your portfolio will have more time to recover from losses.
Consider Taking Social Security Early
The longer you wait to claim Social Security benefits, the larger the payout you’re likely to receive. If you are at the full retirement age between 65 and 67 years old, you can claim benefits about 30 percent higher than if you take them early starting at age 62. By waiting until you’re 70 years old, the benefit amount would be another 32 percent higher than the amount you’d get at full retirement age.
But waiting isn’t always the best option and individuals need to be aware of how claiming benefits at different ages will impact their overall retirement strategies.
Evaluate Employment Opportunities
If you figure out that you don’t have enough currently saved for a comfortable retirement, consider remaining at or returning to work–even in a part-time position. Earning additional income and accumulating money in your retirement savings account will be beneficial if you can delay retirement and avoid unemployment. One of the most effective measures for protecting your finances is to amass an emergency fund that can cover three to six months of expenses—perhaps as much as a year if your job isn’t secure. That money should be kept in a safe, easily accessible account, which will spare you from having to dip into retirement funds or rely solely on credit cards for unexpected bills.
Once you have come to terms with a retirement date and a vision of a secure financial future, store copies of your decisions for portfolio changes, Social Security formulas, records of all of your 401 (k) or 403(b) accounts, pension plans, IRA accounts, annuities, and other investments at InsureYouKnow.org.
Labor Day 2020: Tips for Americans Looking for Work
August 27, 2020
In 2020, Labor Day is celebrated on Monday, September 7. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, this holiday is a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of the United States. The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated in 1882 in New York City. Three years later, the holiday had spread to other industrial centers of the country and began to represent the end of summer and the start of the back-to-school season. Although Labor Day is typically celebrated in cities and towns across the nation with parades, picnics, barbecues, fireworks displays, and other public gatherings, the manner and extent of America’s annual celebration to honor the American worker will be different this year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A three-day holiday weekend this September may not signal a time to publicly celebrate for many Americans affected by high unemployment, shifting industry hiring patterns, and fundamental changes to the way they work and play amid the COVID-19 crisis. If you are unemployed, underemployed, or just ready for a change in your work circumstances, the following tips may increase your chances of finding a job under the current challenging labor market.
Review your resume and online professional presence. If it’s been a while since you’ve applied for a job, evaluate your resume to make sure it’s error-free, fully updated, and customized for each job for which you submit an application. Post your resume on your own website if you have one, and on online job boards or sites specific to your target industry. Consider adding work samples, links to any published work, or a video introduction to your resume. Use keywords that will yield results in search engine queries conducted by prospective employers. Keep your references informed about job leads and scheduled interviews so they will be ready to respond to requests for recommendations about your job performance and history.
Look in the right places for opportunities. Current hiring trends may include positions for freelancers and remote workers for which you may be eligible. You also should be willing to consider new industries where job opportunities have been stronger, such as technology and health care. Contact people in your network who are employed in favorable hiring industries and explain your interest and availability.
As companies move to remote work to fight the coronavirus pandemic and an increasing number of workers are being laid off or furloughed, you might be wondering if you should continue to send out resumes or just assume that no one is hiring for the foreseeable future. It’s true that economists are predicting a recession, but career experts advise to keep networking and applying, provided you change your approach to acknowledge these are uncertain times.
Join professional groups on Facebook and LinkedIn that offer a wide range of options with groups for a variety of professions. Make yourself visible to online groups by introducing topics or adding to conversations that allow you to demonstrate your expertise.
Figure out your strengths. Know your skills, your worth, and your passions – these are the things that help differentiate you, and allow you to thrive in the areas in which you’re most competitive. To address remote working conditions, emphasize your comfort and expertise with technology, including remote collaboration and communication programs you’ve used and endorse. A good job search is targeted in many ways, including knowing where you’ll be appreciated and in demand. Analyze job descriptions by listing each required skill and experience. Then consider whether you have that exact skill, if you have the skill but haven’t used it in a few years, or if you’re lacking the skill entirely. Apply that information to determine what you need to improve on to make yourself a better candidate when the job market picks up again.
Refresh your skills. Look into taking free or low-cost courses online or obtain certifications in a new skill that can complement your existing job path or lead to a new career. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many online learning options provide free or lower-priced educational programs and courses on professional development, leadership, and communication skills that allow you to continue working in another capacity while you complete your studies.
Check out free online course including MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), EdX classes with courses from MIT and Harvard, and free Microsoft training and tutorials. In addition to providing job announcements and company descriptions, TheMuse.com links to online courses “that’ll boost your skills and get you ahead.” Learn to use remote communication and collaboration programs like Slack, Zoom, Skype, the G-Suite, and Dropbox that can be learned and applied quickly.
Rely on others to help in your job search. In addition to a source for new jobs, your network also can be the best place to advertise your job skills and career ambitions, seek help securing loans or financing to start a new business, assistance in applying or being admitted to a new career training or degree program, or to obtain introductions to others who might be able to help in a job search. Check out your high school or university’s alumni network to learn where your connections are working. When you reach out, ask for a short informational interview to learn more about their workplace, and during the conversation, ask whether there’s anyone else you could speak with at the company. Repeat this process until you’ve spoken to someone in the department you think is the best fit.
During an economic slowdown, it’s important to focus on what you can control—by improving your skills and reaching out to your network, you can lay the groundwork now so that when the crisis is over you have opened doors and rekindled relationships.
Project yourself on Labor Day 2021. Pending the development and implementation of a coronavirus vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic may be over within the next year. Analyze your need to overhaul your career or to take gig jobs or other freelance work if you’ve been laid off and are facing overwhelming debt and unemployment for an unforeseeable time. If possible, don’t make dramatic job changes or career decisions that can impact you for years to come. If you can determine where you want to be when COVID-19 is over, you can successfully direct your job search. Although companies might not be hiring in 2020, they will keep you in mind if you continue to build relationships and share your ideas with them until they do start hiring.
At InsureYouKnow.org, you can store your current and previous resumes, legal and contractual agreements pertaining to your employment, and work-related health insurance policies, especially if conditions and coverages have changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the Lookout for Free Money? Focus Your Search on Grant Opportunities
June 11, 2020
Individuals, communities, nonprofit organizations, and businesses continue to feel the ever-increasing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. To help keep them afloat while dealing with diminished incomes and benefits, isolation away from friends, family, and colleagues, or facing an unknown future of returning to their previous careers or businesses, they can seek emergency financial assistance.
As the following selected links demonstrate, a variety of grantors are currently offering grants to assist in meeting financial challenges resulting in the continuing threat of COVID-19.
Grantspace by Candid provides a continually updated list of emergency financial resources including the following grant opportunities.
- The United Way, accessible at www.211.org or by dialing 211, provides a comprehensive list of available resourcesto locate food banks, to help pay housing bills, and to access free childcare and other essential services available on local, national, and statewide bases.
- Coronavirus Tax Relief: Economic Impact Payments is an IRS web page that lets non-filers enter payment information and others to check on the status of their stimulus payments.
- Economic Impact Payments: What you need to know is a FAQ page created by the IRS to answer questions about stimulus payments.
- Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation COVID-19 Relief Fund provides emergency funding for those employed by or own restaurants or bars facing unforeseen expenses not covered by insurance.
- Americans for the Arts Coronavirus Resource and Response Center includes a list of funding/grants resources.
- COVID-19 Freelance Artists Resources is an aggregated list of free resources, opportunities, and financial relief options available to artists of all disciplines.
- Creative Capital Arts Resources During the COVID-19 Outbreak is another list of financial resources for artists working in all disciplines.
- Freelancers Relief Fund grants financial assistance of up to $1,000 per freelance household to cover lost income and essential expenses not covered by government relief programs.
- Student Relief Fund lists resources for college students in need of support due to campus shutdowns caused by COVID-19.
- Artist Relief lists grants for artists facing dire financial emergencies due to COVID-19 in the U.S.
- Artist Relief Project publicizes grants for any artist in any discipline whose income has been impacted by COVID-19-related cancellations and closures.
- American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) Relief Fund provides support and temporary financial assistance to members in need.
- Equal Sound Corona Relief Fund for Musicians who have lost income due to a cancelled performance as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
- New Music Solidarity Fund offers emergency funds to support freelance artists in the new/creative/improvised music community.
- Dramatists Guild Foundation Emergency Grants provides emergency financial assistance to individual playwrights, composers, lyricists, and book writers in dire need of funds due to severe hardship or unexpected illness.
- GrantWatch promotes an Opportunity for USA Organizations to Raise Funds to Benefit Communities Impacted by the Coronavirus (COVID-19).
- Community Foundations Nationwide Launch Coronavirus Relief Efforts is a full listing of more than 500 U.S. community foundations in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, that support those affected by COVID-19—directing critical relief to local nonprofits and partnering with local governments and health organizations to help contain its spread.
For Small Businesses
- Small Business Administration Disaster Assistance Loans provide economic relief to businesses that are currently experiencing a temporary loss of revenue.
- SBA Paycheck Protection Program – An SBA loan that helps businesses keep their workforce employed during the COVID-19 crisis.
- GoFundMe Small Business Relief Fund helps small businesses that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and empower their communities to rally behind them. GoFundMe has partnered with Yelp, Intuit QuickBooks, GoDaddy, and Bill.com to provide small business owners with the financial support and resources needed to continue running their businesses during and after the coronavirus crisis.
- Facebook Small Business Grants Program – Facebook is offering $100M in cash grants and ad credits for up to 30,000 eligible small businesses in over 30 countries where it operates.
- Financial Assistance for Small Business is a list of programs providing financial assistance to small businesses compiled by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
- Opportunity Fund Small Business Relief Fund supports eligible small businesses, especially those run by women, people of color, and immigrants, impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.
- Funding for Coronavirus (COVID-19) shares information about philanthropy’s response to the pandemic
- CARES Act: How to Apply for Nonprofit Relief Funds is a guide created by Independent Sector.
- Loans Available for Nonprofits in the CARES Act is a chart from the National Council of Nonprofits providing details on loan options, eligibility criteria, terms, and application information.
- State Public Policy Resources on COVID-19 is the National Council of Nonprofits page for nonprofit-specific materials from state officials and useful resources on what states are doing in response to COVID-19.
- Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants & Refugees COVID-19 Resources is an aggregated list of resources for nonprofits working with immigrants & refugees.
In general, grant opportunities and corresponding applications adhere to strictly announced deadlines and requirements so potential grantees need to submit proposals on time and meet the specific provisions outlined in each grant’s description. At InsureYouKnow.org, you can save your documents and files relating to grant applications and set up reminders to alert you to keep track of timelines for submitting grant applications and to check on grants awarded.
In Case of Pandemic…
April 20, 2020
We all have or should have In-case-of-Emergency documentation, but did we ever think about in case of pandemic? The current situation can make a difference in the way that our emergency plans work. There are many lists and suggestions of “in case of emergency” documents that everyone should have together, but in our current COVID-19 pandemic situation, there may be areas that need to be reviewed or even created.
With the unknown of when the pandemic will end or if we are in the peak of the homebound regulations, the question of access has become a source of anxiety. Below are three areas of access to consider when we are in pandemic.
Access to Resources
Some of our resources are easier to access than others. Groceries are the ones that we are hearing about on the news – we can’t get the basics – milk, eggs, toilet paper, hand sanitizer. There are grocery delivery services, volunteers in the neighborhoods and local nonprofits that are currently marketing their services – facebook, nextdoor and even conversing with neighbors or friends can uncover options.
Our safe deposit box. The place that we have been keeping our trusty resources are in some ways inaccessible. Our financial institutions may still be open but are you able to get to them safely given the WHO recommendations. Many locations are having special hours for seniors and high-risk patrons.
Many people in the workforce have experienced changes in the work environment. From job insecurity, furloughing, limited hours – to work from home, working in a new location or role. Financial resources may be reduced, and not being able to use your computer, access your desk drawers, use the same extensions to reach people can be tough.
Action: Have you been able to reorient yourself to the new resource allocation? Is there something that is missing that you wish you could have to make your life just a little bit easier?
Access to Care
Our healthcare routine is currently disrupted. Getting to the doctor’s appointments, picking up prescriptions, and going to therapy or residential care facilities is not always possible.
Many providers have been communicating how you can access them if there is a need – often by telemedicine routes. Local or satellite offices are consolidating care in a central location and many doctors are not available every day.
Action: Is your doctor only conducting telehealth visits? If so – the telehealth visits often need technology set up on computers or phones, and walking through the steps now instead of during the appointment can be advantageous.
Access to Loved Ones
Technology is our friend. We may not live with our top-ten people, or even have another person in our home, but phone and video chat have given us the opportunity to access our loved-ones lives in their homes.
If you do need to go to the hospital, a loved one may not permitted to accompany you into the triage area. Your next of kin or preferred person may be high risk and it may not be safe for their health, to come with you. If you need to stay in the hospital, whether for a birth of a child, broken bone, or in the ICU – your loved ones will not be able to stay or visit. These are challenges that are new to all of us. Health care teams are working to help you connect to your loved ones through ipads and phone conversations.
Action – Have a list of people with their phone numbers and consider who would be able to come with you to the doctor office or hospital that is not high-risk.
As you start putting your new “pandemic” documents and plan together consider using InsureYouKnow.org – an online information-safe, as a place to store them. This product gives you the ability to access documents, and files remotely – or from the comforts of your own home. There are various levels of access to allow your family members, caregivers or business associates insight into your documents – as needed. There is even a trusty reminder feature to help you remember that it’s time to update.
Preparing and Preparation…
March 13, 2020
The media and the world is telling us to “be prepared.” From wildfires, to storms, from disease to market crashes – there is no better time to have emergency provisions put together. Even if the current crisis comes to pass before you utilize your supplies – the beauty of your organization is that it will be ready for the next time.
The Crisis group in 2019 – predicted 2020 would be the year to be aware of the conflicts in the Middle East and Northern Africa, and how they could affect our troops, morale and financial market. The United Nations pointed to climate change, inequality and poverty. Wherever we live, whatever we do, whatever our age – there are some preparations that are universal.
The rule of thumb is approximately three days or 72 hours of supplies per person. Think about not leaving the house for a long weekend – what foods and beverages would you have home. Extending this thought process to utilize your fridge and freezer space to have food for a week – many of us already do this as we have a weekly grocery run. The preparation piece comes in when we need to foresee meals and snacks that can be prepared and consumed without appliances that run on power – no microwave, oven, stove, freezer, coffee maker, electric can opener. In the case of beverages: No clean, running water would require filters or bottled water, no milk in the fridge – replace with powdered milk.
Action Item: True emergency preparation includes trying out the system to see if it works. Perhaps have a day of preparing and eating meals this week that doesn’t utilize appliances and running water. Is it possible? And what additional resources does your home need?
When the media informs us of an upcoming crisis, the rule of supply and demand is impacted by the need for general house supplies. Hygiene goods such as Soap, paper goods, and diapers. Health resources such as prescription medications, first aid kits and over-the-counter pain medication. General supplies such as trash bags and batteries. Many of these exist in our home, but may not always be in a systematic place.
The preparation piece comes in when we need to grab some of these items and go – perhaps loading up a vehicle or putting them in a bag and leaving on foot. Can these items be put in smaller packaging or containers to be accessible to anyone in the home.
Action Item: Do a quick sweep of your home environment and see where to store additional items and make purchases of items that are running low. There are downloadable resources on FEMA website which can serve every scenario. Setting up an account on InsureYouKnow.org will provide you a safe place to store copies of your identification and medical records. This type of information may not help you at the moment of the emergency – but are the elements you may need to refer to when putting things back together. The easy access provided by insureyouknow.org is one less provision that you need to trial.