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. 

Catch-up Contributions

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.

HSA Distributions

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
  • Laxatives
  • 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.

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During each calendar year, you can keep track of all your HSA contributions, expenses, and tax-accounting details at insureyouknow.org.

 

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Planning to Retire? Find Answers to Social Security Questions

January 27, 2021

Social Security provides benefits to about one-fifth of the American population and serves as a vital protection for working men and women, children, people with disabilities, and the elderly. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will pay approximately one trillion dollars in Social Security benefits to roughly 70 million people in 2021. Almost eight million people will receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), on average, each month during 2021. Beyond those who receive Social Security benefits, about 178 million people will pay Social Security taxes in 2021 and will benefit from the program in the future. That means nearly every American has an interest in Social Security, and SSA is committed to protecting their investment in these vital programs.

Social Security payments are adjusted each year to keep pace with inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers. The 1.3 percent Social Security cost-of-living adjustment for 2021 is down from 1.6 percent in 2020. The average monthly Social Security benefit in January 2021 was $1,543. The maximum possible monthly Social Security benefit in 2021 for someone who retires at full retirement age is $3,148.

The most convenient way to get information and use online services from SSA is to visit www.ssa.gov or to call SSA at 800-772-1213 or at 800-325-0778 (TTY) if you’re deaf or hard of hearing. SSA staff answers phone calls from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., weekdays. You can use SSA’s automated services via telephone, 24 hours a day.

What is the best age to start your benefits?

There is no one “best age” for everyone. Ultimately, it’s your choice. You should make an informed decision about when to apply for benefits based on your personal situation.

Your monthly benefit amount can differ greatly based on the age when you start receiving benefits.

  • If you start receiving your benefits as early as age 62, before your full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced based on the number of months you receive benefits before you reach your full retirement age.
  • At your full retirement age or later, you will receive a larger monthly benefit for a shorter period. If you wait until age 70 to start your benefits, your benefit amount will be higher because you will receive delayed retirement credits for each month you delay filing for benefits. There is no additional benefit increase after you reach age 70, even if you continue to delay starting benefits.
  • The amount you receive when you first get benefits sets the base for the amount you will receive for the rest of your life.

What should you consider before you start drawing benefits?

  • Are you still working? If you plan to continue working while receiving benefits, there are limits on how much you can earn each year between age 62 and full retirement age and still get all of your benefits. Once you reach full retirement age, your earnings do not affect your benefits.
  • What is your life expectancy? If you come from a long-lived family, you may need the extra money more in later years, particularly if you may outlive pensions or annuities with limits on how long they are paid. If you are not in good health, you may decide to start your benefits earlier.
  • Will you still have health insurance? If you stop working, not only will you lose your paycheck, but you also may lose employer-provided health insurance. Although there are exceptions, most people will not be covered by Medicare until they reach age 65. Your employer should be able to tell you if you will have health insurance benefits after you retire or if you are eligible for temporary continuation of health coverage. If you have a spouse who is employed, you may be able to switch to their health insurance.
  • Should you apply for Medicare? If you decide to delay starting your benefits past age 65, be sure to go online and file for Medicare. You will need to apply for Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) three months before you turn age 65. If you don’t sign up for Medicare Part B when you’re first eligible at age 65, you may have to pay a late enrollment penalty for as long as you have Medicare coverage. Even if you have health insurance through a current or former employer or as part of your severance package, you should find out if you need to sign up for Medicare. Some health insurance plans change automatically at age 65.

How can you get a personalized retirement benefit estimate?

Choosing when to retire is an important and personal decision. The best way to start planning for your future is by creating a my Social Security account. With your personal my Social Security account, you can verify your earnings and use SSA’s Retirement Calculator to get an estimate of your retirement benefits.

What happens to Social Security payments when a recipient dies?

  • If a person who was receiving Social Security benefits dies, a payment is not due for the month of his death.
  • In most cases, funeral homes notify SSA that a person has died by using a form available to report the death.
  • The person serving as executor of the decedent’s estate or the surviving spouse also can report the death to SSA.
  • Upon the death of a Social Security recipient, survivors are generally given a lump sum payment of $255.
  • Survivor benefits may be available, depending on several factors, including the following:
  • If the widow or widower has reached full retirement age, they can get the deceased spouse’s full benefit. The survivor can apply for reduced benefits as early as age 60, in contrast to the standard earliest claiming age of 62.
  • If the survivor qualifies for Social Security on their own record, they can switch to their own benefit anytime between ages 62 and 70 if their own payment would be more.
  • An ex-spouse of the decedent also might be able to claim benefits, as long as they meet some specific qualifications.
  • For minor children of a person who died, benefits also may be available, as well as to surviving spouse who is caring for the children.

How can you start receiving Social Security benefits?

  • To start your application, go to SSA’s Apply for Benefits page and submit your application online.
  • After SSA makes a decision about your application, you’ll receive a confirmation letter in the mail. If you included information about other family members when you applied, SSA will let you know if they may be able to receive benefits from your application.
  • You can check the status of your application online using your personal my Social Security account. If you are unable to check your status online, you can call SSA at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778) from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., weekdays.
  • You can do most of your business with SSA online. If you cannot use these online services, your local Social Security office can help you apply. Although SSA offices are closed to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, employees from those offices are assisting people by telephone. You can find the phone numbers for your local office by using the Field Office Locator and looking under Social Security Office Information.

What if you want to withdraw your application?

After you have submitted your application, you have up to 12 months to withdraw it. You will be required to repay any benefits you’ve already received. Learn more about Withdrawing Your Social Security Retirement Application.

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At insureyouknow.org, you can keep track of applications you submit to SSA and responses you receive for Social Security benefits. You also can file statements and notices you get from SSA throughout the years ahead during your retirement.

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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.

Virus-Related Withdrawals

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. 

Borrowing Consequences

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.        

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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.

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2021 Benefits for a Happy, Healthy, and Productive Workforce

December 30, 2020

According to a study by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, 42 percent of the U.S. workforce worked from home in 2020. New challenges for a stay-at-home workforce include balancing work while caring for children or the elderly, dealing with mental health and other medical issues, and having opportunities for options in their work schedules. In response to these issues, some proactive businesses plan to provide child-care enhancements, telehealth benefits, and other flexible opportunities in 2021 to keep employees happy, healthy, and productive.

Child Care Benefits

For working parents, COVID-19 has been a balancing act of work and home responsibilities. At the beginning of the pandemic, 60 percent of parents had no child care support and they currently spend, on average, 52 hours per week on child care, homeschooling, and other household tasks according to a Boston Consulting Group survey.

One of the most innovative trends of 2021 will be to offer expanded support for child care. Some employers will boost child care benefits to include tutoring services, emergency child care support, virtual support groups for parents, onsite day care in the workplace, in-home child care for work-at-home employees, and virtual activities to keep kids occupied. These supportive measures will help alleviate stress at home so parents can be more focused and productive at work.

Mental Health Support

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees struggling with mental health challenges seek support from employers to cope with stress, anxiety, and burnout. Employers can offer telehealth resources and other virtual health tools like meditation apps, access to professional therapy, sleep tools, resilience training, and one-on-one behavioral coaching.

In a recent survey of employers by the Business Group on Health, two-thirds of businesses said they offer online mental health support and that is expected to grow to 88 percent in 2021. The stress of the pandemic combined with increased access to telemedicine will result in expansion of mental health benefits. Patients who are uncomfortable seeking help for stress and anxiety in person may experience less apprehension in a telemedicine environment.

Most employers also are providing increased access to other online mental health support resources such as apps, videos, and additional on-demand information. Still others are implementing manager training to help supervisory staff recognize mental and behavioral health issues and direct employees to appropriate services.

Telehealth Benefits

Since the pandemic began, an unprecedented number of people have scheduled virtual medical appointments, fearing potential exposure to the coronavirus. As telehealth availability increased in 2020, more patients began opting for this type of care. Even those not worried about contact with COVID-19 have appreciated the convenience of not missing a day of work to spend hours going to a doctor’s office in person.

Telehealth options have been expanding for years with both healthcare providers and health insurance carriers offering consumers the option to seek non-emergency care for minor illnesses from the comfort of their own homes or offices.

Additional telehealth alternatives will likely be added to many employee health plans as a way to address concerns over direct contact during the COVID-19 pandemic and because of the overall convenience of virtual visits.

Improved In-office Benefits

During the pandemic, patients who have gone into a doctor’s office have been met with thermometers, sanitizers, fewer fellow patients in waiting rooms, and shorter waiting times. Consumers will continue to demand in 2021 a streamlined in-office experience without a loss of efficiency in the administration of healthcare.

Flexible PTO and Sick Leave

The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined the workplace and employers’ leave policies to expand paid time off (PTO) and to provide more flexibility around work hours.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed in March 2020, ensured all employees receive two weeks of paid sick leave to care for themselves or loved ones.

Taking time off includes not only going on a vacation but also allows for leave for family and caregiver roles to achieve a good work-life balance that helps employees be productive at work and more present in their personal lives. With many employees having no place to go for an extended vacation, employers are also changing PTO policies out of concern employees won’t use allotted paid time off during the pandemic.

Some employers are allowing employees to carry over a portion of unused PTO into 2021, while others are experimenting with PTO sharing programs, so employees can donate their vacation time to a charity, a general company fund, or a specific colleague.

A combination of adjusting time off policies, offering more flexible work schedules, or adopting new policies in general are some of the ways employers will address these concerns in 2021.

Financial Wellness

As the pandemic sent shockwaves through the U.S. labor market with layoffs, pay cuts and furloughs, employers made sure to support employees through financial challenges with benefits like early wage access, automated savings programs, and education resources.

Many employers provide optional benefits like additional life or disability insurance as well as offering employees resources and education to reduce stress and enhance financial well-being. Some programs include educational sessions on common topics like reducing debt, while others include complimentary meetings with financial advisors. A few companies have opted to solve their PTO dilemma and financial stress by allowing employees to directly apply a PTO payout to student loan debt.

Health and Fitness Options

The transition to remote work means employees may be more sedentary than in an office building. To help employees alleviate stress and stay physically active, new virtual fitness offerings have become a must-have employee benefit during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Countless employers are taking their wellness programs online, offering virtual yoga, kickboxing, Tae Kwon Do, and other types of fitness classes. Wellness contests such as virtual fun runs, walks, and biking competitions also have been popular.

Some employers have hosted virtual lunch and learning programs, as well as online happy hours, and collaborative movie viewing. Many have introduced online gaming sessions, which have included trivia contests, Zoom bingo, and competitions for best virtual backgrounds. Still others are relying on old-fashioned but Zoom-friendly games such as Scattergories, Pictionary, Charades, and Heads-up.

Expansion of Other Benefits

Many employers will continue to make their benefits plans more attractive by increasing the availability of additional voluntary benefits such as life and disability insurance, home, auto, and pet insurance, financial counseling, and legal services. These options can often differentiate one business from another helping to attract and retain qualified employees.

Employers are also finding creative ways to reward remote staff with food delivery service gift cards and subsidies to pay for home office equipment such dual monitors and comfortable, ergonomic office chairs, as well as Internet or cellular services that they use for work.

In 2021, out-of-pocket costs are predicted to increase from 5 to 10 percent for healthcare premiums. Insurance claims for preventive and elective care that were put on hold during the pandemic also may increase maximum costs and deductibles.

If your employer institutes any new benefits or offers you upgraded options designed to contribute to your happiness, health, and productivity, keep track of your employment benefit changes at InsureYouKnow.org.

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Home for the Holidays

December 17, 2020

As 2020 comes to a close, memories of past holiday gatherings with family and friends may increase the stressful and isolating feelings you have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Holiday celebrations will be different this year to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Texas Medical Association has compiled a Know Your Risk This Holiday Season chart to provide a list of high-risk activities to avoid and fun alternatives to adapt that pose lower risk of spreading COVID-19. The chart ranks 34 holiday activities from least to most risky so holiday revelers can make informed choices during the busiest travel and social-gathering season of the year. Among the least risky items on the chart are shopping for gifts online, watching holiday movies at home, or viewing holiday lights with your family in your car. The riskiest activities include attending a large indoor celebration with singing, attending a college house party, and celebrating New Year’s Eve at a bar or nightclub.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the best way to stay safe and protect others this holiday season is to stay home and celebrate with people with whom you live. Getting together with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu. 

Travel Plans up in the Air

Travel is highly discouraged because it may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Consider postponing travel and staying home to protect yourself and others this year.

If you are considering traveling, the CDC recommends asking yourself the following questions before you make your travel plans.

  • Are you, someone in your household, or someone you will be visiting at increased risk for getting very sick from COVID-19?
  • Are cases high or increasing in your community or your destination? Check CDC’s COVID Data Tracker for the latest number of cases.
  • Are hospitals in your community or your destination overwhelmed with patients who have COVID-19? To find out, check state and local public health department websites.
  • Does your home or destination have requirements or restrictions for travelers? Check state and local requirements before you travel.
  • During the 14 days before your travel, have you or those you are visiting had close contact with people they don’t live with?
  • Do your plans include traveling by bus, train, or air which might make staying 6 feet apart difficult?
  • Are you traveling with people who don’t live with you?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you should consider making other plans, such as hosting a virtual gathering or delaying your travel.

The safest thing to do is to stay home, but if you do decide to travel, testing can make travel safer but it does not eliminate all risk.

Safety Measures from Home and Back

If you decide to travel, get a flu vaccine prior to traveling and follow these safety measures during your trip to protect yourself and others from COVID-19:

  • Wear a mask in public settings—on public and mass transportation, at events and gatherings, and anywhere you will be around people outside of your household.
  • Avoid close contact by staying at least 6 feet apart from anyone who is not from your household.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Avoid contact with anyone who is sick.
  • Avoid touching your face mask, eyes, nose, and mouth.

According to the CDC, for those who decide to travel, COVID-19 tests should be considered one to three days before the trip and again three to five days afterward. The agency also recommends travelers reduce non-essential activities for a full week after they return or for 10 days if not tested afterward. 

Based on extensive modeling, the CDC has revised quarantine guidance and now recommends that people who have been in contact with someone infected with the virus can resume normal activity after 10 days, or seven days if they receive a negative test result. That’s down from the 14-day period recommended since the pandemic began.

At InsureYouKnow.org, you can keep track of travel insurance, medical records, including any COVID-19 testing and results as well as vaccines for the flu and COVID-19, when it becomes available. Social gatherings next winter are predicted to be more enjoyable and fraught with less fear of contracting and spreading a coronavirus. You’ll also have more opportunities to travel and to reconnect with family and friends after a COVID-19 vaccine has been disseminated worldwide.

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Winterize Your Home

November 29, 2020

According to the Insurance Information Institute, “Winter storms caused $2.1 billion in insured losses in 2019.” By heeding the following suggestions now to winterize your home, you may avoid costly and time-consuming remedies later, enjoy a safe and warm winter, and conserve energy consumption while saving on your electric bill.

Protect Your Pipes

  • Drain your outside hose spigots if you live where pipes can freeze. Insulate pipes that could be susceptible to freezing. When freezing temperatures are forecasted, keep a stream of water running in a few faucets to prevent freezing and bursting.
  • Drain garden hoses and store them inside. Also shut off outdoor water valves and insulate faucets in cold weather. Any water left in exterior pipes and faucets can freeze and expand, breaking the pipes.
  • Consider installing an emergency pressure release valve in your plumbing system. This measure will protect against increased pressure caused by freezing pipes and can prevent them from bursting. Act now to learn how to shut off the water and know where your pipes are located before an emergency.
  • By insulating your hot-water pipes, you’ll reduce heat loss and save energy and money. Insulation will help keep water hot inside pipes, so your water heater won’t have to work so hard. Also, you won’t have to waste as much time or water waiting for hot water to flow out of the faucet or showerhead.
  • If you vacate your house for an extended period this winter, turn the water off completely and consider draining the plumbing system to keep pipes from freezing. Also, have a friend or neighbor check on your home regularly to look for any issues and let you know if a problem is detected.

Weatherproof Your Home

  • Weatherstripping or installing storm doors and windows will prevent cold air from entering your home or heat from escaping it, which will reduce your power bills.
  • Check your fireplace for animal nests or creosote buildup that can be hazardous. Have an annual inspection before building your first fire of the season. Also, soot and other debris build up in the chimney. Call a chimney sweep to thoroughly clean the chimney before your first winter use. You should also vacuum or sweep out any accumulated ash from the firebox.
  • Caulk around windows and use foam outlet protectors to prevent cold air from entering your home. However, the majority of heat loss typically occurs via openings in the attic. Check to make sure that you have sufficient insulation.
  • Adjust your thermostat. The U.S. Department of Energy reports you can save as much as 1 percent on your energy bill for every degree you lower your home’s temperature during the winter. Set your thermostat for at least 65 degrees and make sure your home is well-insulated.
  •  Install a programmable thermostat and save money by keeping the temperature adjusted when you’re not at home.
  • Place draft guards by doors in drafty rooms to prevent heat loss.
  • To help keep chilly air from leaking in through window cracks, use thermal lined curtains. They’ll help keep your home warm and lower your heating bill. For windows that don’t get direct sunlight, keep curtains closed to keep out cold air and to keep in warm air.
  • Install window insulation film that can keep up to 70 percent of heat from leaking out of the windows.
  • For maximum heat retention, pack fiberglass insulation around basement doors, windows in unused rooms, attic floors, and window air conditioning units.
  • Fill with caulk any remaining gaps in siding, windows, or doors. For extra drafty windows and doors, caulk the inside too, pulling off moldings to fill all gaps in the insulation. 

Protect Your Plants and Outdoor Equipment

  • Bring plants and flowering trees inside before the first cold snap. Typically, you should bring your plants in before temperatures dip below 45 degrees.
  • Cold temperatures, snow, and ice can damage outdoor furniture and grills. If possible, store them in the garage or basement. If you have a gas grill with a propane tank, close the tank valve and disconnect the tank first. It must be stored outside. If you don’t have storage space for your items, purchase covers to protect them from the elements. You also need to maintain your grill and cover it before putting it away for the season.
  • Clean and maintain outdoor power tools such as mowers and string trimmers prior to storing. If you have a snow blower, inspect it before the first snowfall.
  • Examine your pool cover for damage and replace it if needed.
  • Weather-strip your garage door. Make sure the seal between your garage door and the ground is tight to prevent drafts and keep out small animals.
  • Inspect your driveway for cracks. Clean out and repair any damage with driveway filler, then coat with a commercial sealer.
  • Keep driveways and sidewalks clear of ice and snow and repair any faulty steps and handrails.

Save on Your Energy Bills

  • Call your local power company to see if energy saving assessments are offered. It’s often a free service where a representative will identify specific changes to make your home more energy efficient and save you money. LED light bulbs and water heater blankets can also make a difference.

Service Your HVAC System

  • Your HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system will function more efficiently with a clean filter. A dirty filter with trapped lint, pollen and dust obstructs airflow and makes your HVAC system run longer to heat your home. You may need to replace filters at least every three months.
  • Adjust your ceiling fans to move in a clockwise direction so they push hot air along the ceiling towards the floor. 

Check Your Roof and Gutters

  • Inspect your roof. Look for broken, frayed, curled or missing shingles; clogged valleys; damaged flashing; or deterioration.
  • Clear leaves, pine needles, dirt, and other accumulated debris from the roof.
  • Cut back overhanging branches to prevent damage to shingles and gutters.
  • To prevent clogging, inspect and clean the gutters of leaves and other debris. Having clean gutters will also allow melting snow to drain properly.
  • Install snow guards.
  • Check the attic and ceilings for staining from water leakage. While you’re up there, make sure the attic is properly ventilated to prevent mold and mildew.
  • If you live in an area that is prone to snow, keep a snow roof rake handy.
  • Make sure that water can flow freely through your gutters now to help prevent icicles and ice dams from forming later. 

Flush Your Water Heater

  • Particles and sediment can collect over time in the bottom of your water heater, hindering the unit’s efficiency. Flush the water through the drain valve to clear out the material and keep your heater functioning at its best. 

Test Your Detectors

  • Residential fires are more common in winter, so it is important that all of your smoke detectors work. Check them monthly and replace batteries as needed. You should also consider installing a carbon monoxide detector to avoid inadvertently trapping this toxic gas in your home.

Most homeowners insurance policies cover damages due to extreme winter weather, but make sure you speak with your independent agent to answer any questions you have about your specific homeowners, condo, or renters insurance policy. Keep a record of all your winterizing activities and your insurance policies at InsureYouKnow.org. You’ll then be prepared to take on weather-related challenges that come blowing your way this winter.

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Ensure Your Health Care Coverage

November 15, 2020

Changing your calendar to the month of November signals the need to review your health insurance coverage for the coming year. If you don’t have health insurance coverage through an employer, you’ll need to buy it yourself if you want coverage in 2021.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) (also known as Obamacare), enacted in March 2010, called for the creation of a health insurance exchange in each state, with three primary goals:

  • Make affordable health insurance available to more people. The law provides consumers with subsidies (“premium tax credits”) that lower costs for households with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • Expand the Medicaid program to cover all adults with income below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • Support innovative medical care delivery methods designed to lower the costs of health care in general.

In the article, “Insurance Coverage after Job Loss—The Importance of the ACA during the Covid-Associated Recession,” published on October 22 in The New England Journal of Medicine, the authors state, “The ACA, having created several new options for health insurance unrelated to employment, will protect many recently unemployed people and their families from losing coverage.” The article also emphasizes, “The very virus that has brought about record unemployment levels is the same agent that makes health insurance—and the new options created under the ACA—more important than ever.

Open Enrollment for 2021

In every state, open enrollment for ACA-compliant 2021 health coverage for individuals and families started on November 1 and, in most states, will end on December 15, 2020. This deadline applies to the 36 states that use HealthCare.gov and it also may apply in some of the states that run their own exchanges.

You can enroll for a health insurance plan online, over the phone, or in-person. When you enroll in a plan through the exchange, you need to have the following information on hand for each enrollee:

  • Name, address, email address, Social Security number, birthdate, and citizenship status.
  • Household size and income if you’re planning to apply for premium subsidies or cost-sharing reductions. A wide range of documentation can be used to prove your income, including pay stubs, W2s, or your most recent tax return.
  • Coverage details and premium for any employer-sponsored plan that’s available to your household (regardless of whether you’re enrolled in that plan or have declined it).
  • Payment information that the insurer will be able to use to charge your premiums.
  • Your doctors’ names and zip codes, so that you can check to make sure they’re in-network with the health plans you’re considering.
  • A list of medications taken by anyone who will be covered under the policy. Each insurance plan has its own formulary so you’ll want to check to see which one will best cover the medications you need.
  • If you want to enroll in a catastrophic plan and you’re 30 years old or older, you’ll need a hardship exemption (note that premium subsidies cannot be used with catastrophic plans, so these are generally only a good idea if you don’t qualify for a premium subsidy, but can meet the requirements for a hardship exemption).

Coverage Effective January 1

In almost all cases, your coverage will take effect on January 1, 2021 if you sign up during the open enrollment window in the fall of 2020. If you’re already enrolled in an individual-market plan and you’re picking a different plan during open enrollment, your current plan will end on December 31 and your new plan will take effect seamlessly on January 1 if you continue to pay your premiums.

December Deadline Limitations

If you don’t enroll in an ACA-compliant health insurance plan by the end of open enrollment on December 15 in most states, your buying options may be limited for the coming year. Open enrollment won’t come around again until November 2021, with coverage effective January 1, 2022. Exceptions include:

  • Medicaid and CHIP enrollment are available year-round for those who qualify. If your income drops to a Medicaid-eligible level later in the year, you’ll be able to enroll at that point. Similarly, if you’re on Medicaid and your income increases to a level that makes you ineligible for Medicaid, you’ll have an opportunity to switch to a private plan at that point, with the loss of your Medicaid plan serving as the qualifying event that triggers a special enrollment period.
  • Native Americans can enroll year-round in in plans through special provisions in the ACA that apply to Native Americans.
  • If you have a qualifying event during the year, you’ll have access to a special enrollment period. Qualifying events include marriage (if at least one spouse already had coverage prior to the marriage), the birth or adoption of a child, loss of other minimum essential coverage, or a permanent move to a new geographical area where the available health plans are different from what was available in your prior location (if you already had coverage prior to your move).     

You can access a guide to all of the qualifying events that trigger special enrollment periods in the individual market including details about the specific rules that apply to each of them.

No Federal Penalty but Some States Levy Tax Penalties

There is no federal government penalty for being uninsured in 2021 but four states (Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, and Rhode Island) and Washington, DC, impose tax penalties for not having health insurance.

For More Information About ACA-Healthcare Coverage

Follow these steps:

  • Get a quotation at healthinsurance.org. 
  • ‘Window shop’ anonymously on your state exchange (if you’re in Washington, DC, or one of the 14 states that run their own exchanges) or HealthCare.gov’s plan browsing page if you’re in one of the other 36 states.
  • Consult with a trained advisor by setting up an appointment with a navigator or broker in your area who will be able to help you sort through the available options and figure out which one will best meet your needs.
  • Talk with your health care providers if you’re considering a policy change during open enrollment. You’ll want to know which provider networks include your doctors, and whether any network changes are planned for the coming year.

Auto-Renewal for Existing ACA-Compliant Health Plan

If you’re already enrolled in an ACA-compliant health plan through your state’s marketplace, you can probably let your plan automatically renew for 2021. Auto-renewal is an option for nearly all exchange enrollees, although Pennsylvania and New Jersey have transitioned away from HealthCare.gov and are using their own new enrollment platforms instead. Residents in those states need to pay close attention to notifications they receive from the marketplace with instructions on how to renew coverage or select a new plan for 2021.

But, relying on auto-renewal for ACA-compliant insurance coverage may not be in your best interest. No matter how much you like your current plan, it pays to shop around during open enrollment and see if a plan change is worth your while because:

  • In most states, you won’t be able to pick a new plan after your coverage is auto-renewed. 
  • Your subsidy amount will generally change from one year to the next. If your subsidy gets smaller, auto-renewal could result in higher premiums next year. 
  • If you receive a subsidy, auto-renewal could be risky even if the subsidy amount isn’t declining. This FAQ explains details that you may encounter if you let your individual health insurance plan automatically renew.
  • If your plan is being discontinued, auto-renewal will result in the exchange or your insurer picking a new plan for you. 
  • Auto-renewal might result in a missed opportunity for a better value. 

You might still decide that renewing your current plan is the best option for 2021. But, it’s definitely better to actively make that decision rather than letting your plan auto-renew without considering other available options.

After you have squared away your health care coverage for 2021, you can record all the decisions you make, enrollment forms you submit, and confirmations you receive at InsureYouKnow.org. By doing that, you’ll be able to review your health insurance coverage commitments in November 2021 in preparation for 2022.

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Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

October 30, 2020

On Sunday, November 15, acknowledge America Recycles Day 2020 by recognizing the importance and impact of recycling, which has contributed to American prosperity and the protection of our environment since 1997 when it was created by the National Recycling Coalition. In 2009, this holiday became an integral part of the Keep America Beautiful Campaign. Today, there are thousands of events across the United States to raise awareness about recycling and to encourage people to recycle.

The recycling rate has increased from less than 7 percent in 1960 to the current rate of more than 35 percent. A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that every 10,000 tons of materials recycled supports nearly 16 jobs and $760,000 in wages.

The recycling efforts of communities and business throughout the United States have helped with this success and growth. To build on recycling progress, EPA as well as local recycling providers encourage every American to contribute by recycling right that includes checking with your local collection agency to be certain that items you put in your recycling bin are acceptable. Items like cardboard, metal cans, and paper are commonly accepted by local curbside programs, but items like plastic bags, electronics, and batteries are not. Visit the EPA website at How Do I Recycle?: Common Recyclables to see how and where to recycle specific categories of items you are ready to reduce in your environment.

According to HolidaysCalendar.com, interesting recycling facts include:

  • 60 percent of trash could be recycled
  • Aluminum cans can be recycled endlessly
  • Aluminum cans can go from recycling back to store shelves in 2 months
  • Recycling one can saves enough energy to run a TV for almost 3 hours
  • 80 billion aluminum cans are used each year around the world
  • Americans throw away more than 25 trillion Styrofoam cups a year
  • 5 million plastic bottles are used in America every hour and most of them are tossed in the trash
  • Plastic bags in the oceans kill a million sea creatures a year
  • Every year, a billion trees worth of paper is thrown away
  • Wood and paper thrown away each year could heat 50 million homes for two decades
  • Recycling one ton of plastic can save almost 2,000 gallons of gasoline

Ways to Observe America Recycles Day

The simplest way to observe this holiday is by looking at what you throw away and making a commitment to recycle more. You also can encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same. On social media, you can use the hashtag #AmericaRecyclesDay.

Benefits of Recycling

  • Reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators
  • Conserves natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals
  • Increases economic security by tapping a domestic source of materials
  • Prevents pollution by reducing the need to collect new raw materials
  • Saves energy
  • Supports American manufacturing and conserves valuable resources
  • Helps create new well-paying jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries in the United States

Steps to Reduce Waste

Find out what you can do to help make a difference in your environment every day. Whether you’re at home, on the go, in the office, or at school, you are faced with many opportunities to go green by reducing, reusing, and recycling. Click on the following links to reach EPA’s recommendations by specific categories.

Ways to Recycle More, Recycle Right

Check out EPA’s Frequent Questions on Recycling page for more information on ways you can contribute and where.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, alternative instructions may apply to your recycling efforts and EPA offers the following tips.

  • Focus on waste prevention where possible, and when recycling, keep the materials as clean and dry as possible.
  • Follow the guidelines of your local recycling hauler and only put items in your recycling bin that they accept.
  • If your community is not processing recycling due to the materials recovery facility being closed or another reason, consider dropping materials off at a recycling center, while following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state, and local public health guidelines.
  • Keep plastic bags, masks, wipes, and latex gloves out of the recycling bin.
  • If someone in your home has COVID-19, treat your recyclables as trash. 
  • Don’t put your recyclables in plastic bags.
  • Clean and shake dry recyclables to ensure products get recycled.
  • Break down cardboard boxes and put them in the recycling bin whenever possible. 
  • Put recycling and trash in the appropriate bins, not next to them. Leaving materials next to bins increases risks to sanitation workers and can attract pests.
  • Do not put lithium, lithium-ion or spent lead-acid batteries (e.g., car batteries) in your trash or recycling bins. These batteries can contain hazardous materials and can contaminate groundwater or cause fires at recycling facilities. Batteries from electronics and cars can be recycled at specified retail and other locations. You can also check with your city or county to see if they have a household hazardous waste collection program.
  • If you are cleaning thoroughly, consider setting aside items (e.g., batteries, paints, weed killers, plastic bags, clothing, and other donations) to donate, recycle, or dispose of later when it’s safe to bring them to a drop off location or collection event. Follow local guidelines. Many localities are limiting service and are not picking up yard waste or bulk items at this time.
  • Return grass clippings back onto your lawn instead of bagging them.
  • Thank your recycling collectors, haulers, and sorters—they are providing a vital service during this time!

Resources for Educators

EPA encourages educators to use online and printed resources to show students how to reduce, reuse, and recycle for America Recycles Day.

Recycling not only saves space in landfills, reuses important resources, and saves energy but it also prevents the needless destruction of many aquatic animal species and helps in the fight against global warming. Spend time on November 15 to figure out how you can recycle more. When you review your home, school, and work spaces and recycle unneeded printed and computer files, consider transferring financial and personal information from cumbersome arrangements to InsureYouKnow.org. If you do, you’ll be able to easily access timely information without having to cull through loads of documents hidden in filing cabinets, boxes, or on your computer.

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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.

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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.

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