Sunday, July 30, 2017

Beware Those 'Helping' You

I've never belonged to AARP. My husband joined, just for the discounts (probably MOST peoples' motivation).

I've heard about the immense profit AARP makes selling companies access to seniors (you do know that they are a large driver of all that junk mail you receive, don't you?). This gives more evidence for the charge that they are not so much a lobbying group, as a predator.
...most of AARP’s revenues do not come from the “members” it purports to represent. The group’s primary source of income is from royalties it receives from its AARP branded health insurance plans, which enjoy exemptions from some of Obamacare’s more onerous taxes and fees.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Untangling the Mess That is Roadside Service

We're heading out next week to a Physics conference, and, as we are traveling via car, my husband asked me to check out Roadside Assistance.

Specifically, did we still have it, or could we get it, on our cell phone plan?

The short answer is no. It was discontinued in 2012.

The long answer:

  • Sprint - they don't have it
  • AARP - I keep getting information about the WONDERFUL, heavily DISCOUNTED perks you can get for membership in AARP.
    • I never really did join, but they keep sending their magazine each month, along with a card that says I'm a member. Most places accept it for discounts without actually checking to see if I AM a member.
    • I checked their website. They do have a Roadside Assistance plan listed. I click on the link, which pops up a box warning me that YOU ARE LEAVING AARP FOR ANOTHER SITE! I click OK and end up on the site - Allstate. Yes, I think it is somehow affiliated with the insurance company.
    • I check out the rates. Not that cheap, unless you are a single person only desiring to be towed 5 miles or less. Since I travel in remote parts of the country, this won't do. I discover that the discount is only for the current year, which means that if I select it, I'll be charged automatically for renewal - at over $90/year. Fortunately, they don't like my AARP # (perhaps because I never paid for it?), and I'm bounced out.
    • I do some searching, and find some consumers of those plans complaining about the service - only 4 tows a year, or you are canceled (well, that does seem reasonable). However, the same person complains that he had no notice of the cancellation.
    • Another person complains that using the tow service jacks up your insurance rates, as the company is allied to the auto insurance giant.
    • I try enrolling directly - the rates are even cheaper! - so much for the AARP advantage. Before I click acceptance, my own insurance company calls me back, and I find out that I can have the same essential service for about $20/year for both of us. I agree to add it to the policy.
What is the moral of the story?

Don't blindly trust discounts - they can be higher than the non-discounted rate.

Check out options - prepare to spend a lot of time on the phone/Internet.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Part B - Here At Last!

It was a long time coming. I had to make a second trip to Social Security offices to make sure that I received it.

I really don't know how it happened that the application slipped through the cracks. I do credit the time and attention that the employee of that office dedicated to un-earthing the problem, and correcting it.

The Moral of the Story?

Follow-up on EVERYTHING. Don't assume that the paperwork will go through.

It also took considerable time for my SC retirement purchase of time to get moving forward. Full Disclosure: a good portion of that was MY fault. The process is so time-consuming, and filled with paper going back and forth, that I threw up my hands several times, and resolved to deal with it at a later time.

That delay cost me money. I'm going to be MUCH more diligent in the future on follow-up.

Part of my time this summer, and into the fall, will be to automate paperwork, organize our stuff and get rid of clutter, and take care of business that had become an ignored mess.

It will take time - about 2-4 hours a day, I estimate. I'm trying to schedule the work, and space it out, lest I become burned out, and give up.

At the same time, I'm pushing ahead with my writing. One big barrier to my novel's revision is just what I'm doing now - working on blogging, instead.

In this blog, there is a purpose - I'm working to monetize it, so I can generate some ongoing income from it.

The other blog is strictly for my own personal gratification. Well, and to keep myself from driving everyone else crazy with my rants.

Other time-wasters?

  • Spider Solitaire - surprisingly addictive
  • Reading - mostly murder mysteries and suspense
  • Getting caught up in Internet reading - nothing with a purpose, generally, just following interesting links
  • Watching re-runs
  • Day-dreaming
What's YOUR favorite time-killer?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Have You Prepared Well Enough?

This is a hot-button issue. All of the literature regarding saving for retirement suggests that there soon may be a glut of aging bums on the streets.

But, is that a realistic outcome?

Statistics suggest "Yes".

First, I have to point out that retirees are divided into two major groups:

  • Those with pension plans that will provide a specific amount of money each month (called Defined Benefit plans). Those with these plans include:
    • Police, Firemen, and other government workers
    • Teachers and full-time workers in schools
    • Military - it may not be a BIG benefit, but it is a stable one
    • SOME workers in larger corporations
  • Those with pension plans that do not guarantee a certain benefit (called Defined Contribution plans). Most people have these.
    • These include 401(k)s and other tax-free contribution plans
    • Many employers will match or even double the contributions made by their workers. Too many people don't even make minimal contributions in their early years, if at all.
    • If people leave their job, too often, they cash out the plans (well, to be fair, many of them desperately need the money to pay their bills)
The stories that talk about the HUGE amounts of money you will need to retire are primarily talking about the second type of plan. Even with that pile of money, you can be at risk of losing everything if a health crisis hits.
The Defined Benefit plan is less vulnerable to being lost in a financial crunch. It's not, generally, a large income, but it is steady. And, it cannot be touched by bankruptcy, nursing homes (if you are a spouse), or other things that threaten Defined Contribution plans. If you are divorced by someone with a Defined Benefit plan, you can't even lose your spousal share against your will (you CAN negotiate it away, but you can't be forced to give it up).

Sunday, July 16, 2017

What's YOUR Reason?

Your reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Other than having to go to the bathroom, I mean.

The Z-Man brings up the question of how society will handle all of the unemployed people in the future. He sees this situation as potentially disorienting for the society, as well as disturbing and depressing for the individuals.

I haven't thought of myself as unemployed. I've thought of myself as commencing the next chapter of my life. For me, the idea of having the time to write was exciting. It didn't concern me with thoughts of - However will I fill that time?

Others have different perspectives on retirement. My husband has made, and postponed, retirement plans for several years. Recently, he acknowledged that he thinks of working at an outside as something he will always do, at least on a part-time basis.

Recently, he has been urging me to think about moving closer to family back in OH or PA. I'm not totally against the idea, but would hate to leave a more agreeable climate for snow and ice. In general, I really have no major objections to the idea, but want to establish a home base - NOT a motor home - once I do commit (if I do).

My plans for my future require a steady source of internet access. I'd also like to be able to take my working tools - computers, books, printer, etc. - so I can continue my working life. I really don't want to waste long hours traveling from place to place, nor do I want to fritter away hours in shopping and meandering around town.

What we end up doing is going to require a lot of conversation. We will need to negotiate to come up with a plan that meets BOTH our needs.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Roundup of Old Posts

I was browsing around the backend of this blog, and I noticed that some of my earlier posts had not received the traffic that I anticipated. Part of this is that I have become better at promoting my work, and part of this is that the topics have built interest over time.

In no particular order, here are a few that I think worthy of posting again:

Digital Natives?

50 Years Since High School

My First Experience with Medicare

Dipping My Toes into Uncharted Waters

Retirement Prep

Handling Chronic Pain (NOT at the level of end-stage cancer pain)

A SERIOUS Hot-Button for Women


Sunday, July 9, 2017

WEP, Explained (Sort of)

The idea behind WEP - the Windfall Elimination Provision - is that a FEW people were taking advantage of the ability to get a government pension, then take a non-government job, and get Social Security benefits, as well. According to Wikipedia:
"The Windfall Elimination Provision (abbreviated WEP[1]) is a statutory provision in United States law[2] which affects benefits paid by the Social Security Administration under Title II of the Social Security Act. It reduces the Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) of a person's Retirement Insurance Benefits(RIB) or Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) when that person is eligible or entitled to a pension based on a job which did not contribute to the Social Security Trust Fund. While in effect, it also affects the benefits of others claiming on the same social security record."
How it affects me: both my husband and myself worked primarily in teaching jobs over the last 25+ years. My husband is less affected, as he had more of a history with SS-connected jobs previously. He was 'dinged' by the fact that many of those jobs were in the food industry, which had wages not part of the tax system.

KIDS: if you do work as a waitress/bus boy/bartender, DON'T work 'under the table' - you will regret it when you are old, and living on minimal SS.

One provision that might help is for widowers/widows.
"the WEP does not apply once the primary beneficiary has died, and survivor benefits are unaffected. Whereas Widow's and Widower's Benefits take into account the amount of benefits the primary beneficiary may have received while they were living, a fictitious amount is created as if WEP did not apply for this purpose."
 So - it is POSSIBLE that when/if my husband dies, I might get the larger amount (what he gets now + the 40% that is taken by SS for WEP).

This was intended to stop those high-earners in government from 'getting' more than they would by working in a single type of job. It was enacted under Reagan's term of office, and appears to have been one of those "Get those Rich Men!" type of deals - many coming into government at that point were relatively high earners, and would have qualified for that 2nd pension. Who it did affect most were:

  • Police
  • Firemen
  • Military
  • Railroad workers
  • Teachers (my group)
Understand, my biggest complaint is that you can have an income of 1 million dollars a year, but still qualify for SS. You can't have $100 a month coming in from a public pension without losing money from SS benefits.

There is a - kind of - way around this. IF you work 30 covered SS years (has to be above a certain income - so, PT work MIGHT qualify, if you make enough), you don't fall under this provision. I worked about 1/2 and 1/2, so get nailed.

I'd need another 13 years of working - unlikely that I would work until almost 80 years old. So, I'm going to see if any money I bring in quarterly will up this enough to qualify. Each quarter I add in will reduce the offset.

You better bet that I will declare any money I receive, even if I have to pay the extra for self-employed people.

A fuller explanation of WEP is here.

A calculator - you will need a printout of your SS history for this - is here.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Budgeting for Retirement

My Father's decision to retire early

My father had received a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer from his doctor, when he was 60. He was naturally quite flummoxed, and wondered what to do.
He returned to work after the news, and made a list of his expenses, his current income, and his income as it would be if he retired. He also noted which expenses would drop if he did retire early, such as commuting expenses, lunches out, and clothing purchases/dry cleaning.
He found that he would LOSE money if he continued working.
He turned in his forms that day.
Was it a good choice? Well, he lived another 16 years, and was able to pursue his hobbies, spend time with his family, and enjoy the freedom of not having to answer to others.
I'm not that lucky. I've generally earned more in the last 10 years, and will stand to lose some income as a result of my decision to retire. That's even after factoring in reduced expenses.
For me, it's worth it, for the freedom it gives me to pursue a lifelong dream - writing.

Do I have enough money?

That's something you'll have to discuss with your financial advisors and family. Keep in mind that those terrifying articles that warn you of the need for more than a million dollars in investments to keep out of the poorhouse, never take into account things that will affect your comfort, such as:

  • Will you keep your home or sell and down-size? For some people, their home's equity represents a large chunk of their wealth. You can make a choice to cash out, use that money for investments/savings/paying down debt. All of those choices might make more sense than an over-sized house that is a financial drain.
  • What will your Social Security check come to at different ages? I worked out the numbers, and, even if I took my check now, I would collect $40K+ in the years before 70, when I would max out. I decided to play it conservatively, and just take my spousal portion (it's not that much, I lose due to WEP - total each month is - don't laugh - $8.00). I MAY decide to switch to my own check on my next birthday - it's still in discussion. But, the fact that we have other income allows me that choice.
  • How's your health? If you, like my dad, are facing an uncertain future, you might decide that it's more important to enjoy life now. Or, you might need the health care in your job.
  • Do/Will you get a pension? I do, and my husband does. It does make the choice easier.

Differences in the pre-retirement and post-retirement budgets

You might save a little, but, for most people, the post-retirement budget looks a lot like the pre-retirement budget. There are some savings, and you will have more time to scout out those coupons, deals, and senior discounts. But, for most of us, the difference isn't that huge, unless your commute is long.

CAVEAT: Health insurance is one of the biggest budget-busters in many seniors' money management. So many people, who get their health insurance at work, fail to realize the tremendous subsidy that their employer picks up. When they retire, they exclaim, "Why is this insurance so expensive?"

It always was expensive - you just didn't pay most of it directly. My insurance costs doubled; and, I have a reasonably high deductible. Others, wanting the generous health plan they enjoyed before retirement, find that the full cost - which they must pay without a subsidy - is out of their reach.

Shop around. Decide what you absolutely need, can do without, and are willing to compromise on.

For example, many had previously had eyeglass coverage. With the rise in discount eyeglasses, some on the web, others in-store, this might be one to dump. I use America's Best glasses, and am quite satisfied with both the exams, and the glasses. For someone like me, whose prescription has changed nearly every year in the last 5, cheap is better.

For my husband, who can still use over-the-counter reading glasses, and whose distance vision has been stable, quality and durability might be more important.

Bringing in income

Some suggestions:

  • For those with degrees in anything, subbing in schools (assuming you like kids). It is sporadic, but not too taxing for those who can't handle heavy work.
  • Use your expertise: bookkeeping, cleaning, yard work, babysitting, clerical - all of these can be done on a temp basis. For those with Master's degrees and above, colleges are looking for those who only want to teach one or two classes.
  • H & R Block and other tax services: there are classes you can take to prepare to help individuals during the January-April rush. My sister-in-law does this, and makes big bucks in a short time. She's been doing this for more than 5 years, so she makes the top rate. I don't see them going to a flat tax anytime soon.

Reducing the outflow

This is a good place to get your budget in order:

  • Look for 'leaky' parts of the expense. Subscriptions you don't use, food that can be bought cheaper/made at home, convenience foods/services you no longer use, etc.
  • Check out the unclaimed funds for your state - amazing how many times you find something you forgot about (old savings account, utility refund, etc.). A Google search will turn up those sites.
  • This is hard: consider what your car costs. I love my Tiburon, but - in another couple of years, when Den is not working (if that ever happens), we may not need 2 cars. Particularly with the popularity of Uber and Lyft, a 2nd car might be a luxury. And, without it, you will not only get money for selling it, but also for reducing the insurance for a 2nd car.
  • This is even harder: Internet. With so many businesses having access points, does it really pay for you to have a home network? For me - YES! But, it is a large expense, and one that some people will chose to relinquish.
  • Use the various sell-it-yourself apps to get rid of stuff. For a few things, you may realize a significant cash reward. For others, it de-clutters the house, and that is its own reward.
  • Regardless of other savings, take advantage of every savings you can. Plan your purchases around senior discounts (groceries), double couponing, and ads. Ask: do I really need this, or can I substitute/borrow/rent/do without?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Is This Blog Hard to Read?

I made another change - what can I say? I get bored with the same look.

I do need feedback - is the white on a dark background a bad idea? Answer in the comments.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Moving Forward with the Paperwork

It's a slow process - a VERY slow process.
  • The NC check came yesterday - MONTHS after I sent in the paperwork. However, it did come, and is currently in the hands of the SC Retirement people. I made a physical trip down there this morning, to make sure that the money would be in their hands today.
  • It looks I've started getting the SC retirement money - my bank is showing the first check (e-deposit) is pending. Don't know how the NC money will affect that. It may mean I have to refund the June money, and take the first month as of July. We'll see.
  • I'm getting the piddling SS money ($8/month). However, I won't be taking my SS as a worker until at least January of 2018. Maybe longer, it depends on how long Den is working, and if I can scrounge extra money up - either teaching a college class, or writing for magazines, or something.
  • I'm still waiting on the new Medicare card. The old one only shows Part A. However, on the web, it does show that Part B is there, as well as all of the rest of the alphabet that I have to have.
  • Have not been able to look over the taxes yet, since I left school. I've put it on my list, but other situations took precedence (including a bad back). Hopefully, over the next 2 weeks, I'll manage to get that taken care of.

Making, and Keeping, a Household Schedule

I'm not an organized or particularly neat person. As a kid, I cleaned up my room immediately after my mother pitched a massive fit about...