Care Costs in Retirement – Controlling Your Health

It’s no secret that health care becomes a bigger concern for most of us as we grow older. More ailments are likely to develop, which means more money spent to visit health professionals and buy medication. Even if you remain healthy through your later years, the costs of preventative care and preparing for potential unexpected health situations are rising.

Health-related expenses will likely be one of the biggest components of your retirement budget. You need to be prepared to pay for comprehensive insurance coverage and potential out-of-pocket costs for care. Here are three strategies to help you manage this critical expense in retirement.

Understand how Medicare works

The good news for Americans age 65 and older is that you qualify for Medicare. That makes increased dependence on health care services more affordable. At age 65, most people automatically qualify for Medicare Part A at no cost, which primarily provides coverage for hospital stays and skilled nursing care. Medicare Part B must be purchased (approximately $109 per month in 2017 for most retirees). Part B covers the costs of visiting a physician, but with some deductibles. Many people purchase additional coverage to use for out-of-pocket expenses, such as a Part D prescription drug plan or a Medicare Supplement policy.

With Medicare, timing is important. Signing up when you first qualify for coverage will keep costs at the lowest level. If you maintain insurance through your employer after turning 65, you can delay Medicare enrollment without risking late penalties.

If you retire prior to age 65, you will need to purchase insurance on the open market to cover health-related expenses until you become eligible for Medicare. Individual coverage tends to get more expensive as you grow older, so work the cost into your retirement budget. Some employers offer retiree health insurance as a benefit. Check with your human resources department to see if this option is available to you.

Allocate sufficient funds for health care costs

As you develop your retirement income strategy, make sure you have money set aside for health expenses that will be your responsibility. By one estimate, the average 66-year-old couple will need to tap more than half of their lifetime pre-tax Social Security benefits to pay for health care expenses throughout retirement. Most people will likely have to rely, in part, on their own savings to help offset some medical expenses.

Along with other retirement savings, you may want to establish a health savings account (HSA) during your working years. HSAs are designed to help build tax-advantaged savings to pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses you incur during your working years. However, any leftover funds can be applied to health expenses later in life, including premiums for Medicare and long-term care insurance. Keep in mind that you must be enrolled in a high deductible health plan to open an HSA.

Focus on your own health

One way to potentially keep health care costs under control in retirement is to create or maintain a healthy lifestyle. Small changes you make today, such as eating right or prioritizing sleep, could reduce the likelihood that medical issues will impact you later in life. Being physically active may also benefit your finances in retirement – according to the American Heart Association, it could potentially help you save $500 a year today on health-related expenses.

Having a plan doesn’t guarantee that you will avoid heath issues, but you may find comfort in knowing how you can tackle health care costs in retirement.

Protect Yourself Against, and Mitigate Damages From, Identity Theft

We’ve all heard of it. But we all think that we’re invincible to it. Identity Theft!

What is it? It refers to the preparatory stage of acquiring and collecting someone else’s personal information for criminal purposes.

Identity theft techniques can range from unsophisticated, such as dumpster diving and mail theft, to more elaborate schemes.

If your identity is stolen, do you have a plan in place to mitigate the damages? If not, you should at least bookmark this, just in case you need it in the future.

Identity thieves are looking for the following information:
• full name
• date of birth
• Social Insurance Numbers
• full address
• mother’s maiden name
• username and password for online services
• driver’s license number
• personal identification numbers (PIN)
• credit card information (numbers, expiry dates and the last three digits printed on the signature panel)
• bank account numbers
• signature
• passport number

There are things that you can do to protect yourself from identity theft, and there are steps that you can take to minimize the damage and help bring the thief to justice.

Here are 5 things that you can do right now to protect yourself:
1. Do not sign the back of your credit cards. Instead, put ‘PHOTO ID REQUIRED.’
2. When you are writing checks to pay on your credit card accounts, DO NOT put the complete account number on the ‘For’ line. Instead, just put the last four numbers. The credit card company knows the rest of the number, and anyone who might be handling your cheque as it passes through all the cheque processing channels won’t have access to it.
3. Put your work phone # on your checks instead of your home phone. If you have a PO Box, use that instead of your home address. If you do not have a PO Box, use your work address. Never have your SIN printed on your checks. (DUH!) You can add it if it is necessary. But if you have It printed, anyone can get it.
4. Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine. Do both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel. Keep the photocopy in a safe place.
5. When you travel abroad, carry a photocopy of your passport. We’ve all heard horror stories about fraud that’s committed on us in stealing a Name, address, Social Insurance number, credit cards, etc…

If your identity does get stolen, what kind of things can you expect to have happen?

Here are just some of what they can do:
1. Access your bank accounts
2. Open new bank accounts
3. Transfer bank balances
4. Apply for loans, credit cards
5. Make purchases
6. Buy cell phone packages
7. Credit line approved by retail stores
8. Access your driving record, and change your information online

If you are a victim, here’s some critical information to act on immediately:
1. Cancel your credit cards immediately. But the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them. This is why we photocopy them (see above). Call your local bank/financial institution as well.
2. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your credit cards, etc., were stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and this is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).
But here’s what is perhaps most important of all:
3. Call the nationwide credit reporting companies immediately. Ask them to put a fraud alert on your name and credit report. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen, and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit.

Here are the numbers for two national credit bureaus:
1.) Equifax: 1-800-465-7166
2.) TransUnion Canada: 1-877-525-3823
3. Order free copies of your credit report from each of the nationwide credit reporting companies.

Have you even been a victim of identify theft? Tell us your story and maybe others can learn from what you did, or didn’t do.

Fermented Foods – Choose Beneficial

Many vegetables are grown in a fertile valley far away. Almost as soon as they are harvested, they are flash-frozen and transported on refrigerated trucks to a supermarket near you. You have a freezer at home, and the delivery of healthy nutritious vegetables from farm to consumer is completed easily. Refrigerated trucks keep fresh-picked vegetables viable long enough that your green grocer’s shelves remain well-stocked throughout the year.

Go back just a few decades, and you will find that this was not the case. Winter produced very sparsely populated shelves in the green grocery section of the market. Go back just a few more decades and you will discover that people had to find creative ways to sustain themselves through harsh winters and on long journeys. For thousands of years, people have fermented foods to preserve them for when supplies of fresh foods were not available.

The Romans preserved cabbages with salt, and Genghis Khan fed his armies fermented cabbage to sustain them on their campaigns through Europe. This use of preserved, fermented foods was a common practice for travelers as a source of nutrients. As late as World War I, allied forces relied on fermented cabbage, or sauerkraut as we now know it, to supply nutrients to soldiers on the battlefields of Europe.

The process of fermentation helps to preserve the food for use many months later. Fermentation also generates many health benefits for the consumer. The essential nutrients and vitamins are preserved. Sugars are broken down so they are more easily absorbed with far less insulin or allergy reaction, in the case of lactose intolerance to dairy products. The process also generates enzymes that are essential to supporting the digestion of foods that we eat. Finally, they are natural probiotics, jam-packed with beneficial microorganisms.

A healthy gut, supported by a strong population of beneficial bacteria, serves as a powerful booster for your immune system. The digestive tract is where nutrients are extracted from food and absorbed by the body. Enzyme and microbial activity accelerates digestion and generates enzymes, vitamins and antioxidants that are essential to health. They also protect us from pathogens and flush out toxins from our bodies.

You can find a variety of ready-to-use fermented products at your local supermarket. They include yoghurt, which is fermented milk (usually cow’s milk). The fermentation process breaks down the milk lactose to make it easier to digest and the yoghurt supplies billions of helpful bacteria. Be careful of brands with large amounts of sugar added, as that will create other problems. Another healthy fermented product from milk is kefir, a drink often found in the supermarket refrigerator.

Kombucha tea is another good source of enzymes and beneficial microbes. Kombucha is made from fermenting black tea. Other products you may find in the supermarket include kimchi, a Korean version of fermented cabbage and a mixture of other vegetables. Raw apple cider vinegar is also loaded with beneficial bacteria and has many different uses apart from supporting a healthy digestive system. You may find Japanese products like miso, and natto, both loaded with microbes and used in cooking soups, marinades and sauces.

If you feel adventurous, the processes for making your own fermented yoghurt, kefir, pickles and kimchi are relatively easy and they require no special equipment. Select healthy organic ingredients and you will be able to rely on the process for creating your own healthy, nutritious probiotic foods.