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Posts from the ‘Consumer Information’ Category

23
Oct

November 1 Begins Open Enrollment for Health Insurance Marketplaces

Beginning on November 1, 2019, individuals (including families) may apply for new health insurance, switch to a different health-care plan, or re-enroll in their current plan through a Health Insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The open enrollment period for 2020 health coverage ends on December 15, 2019.

Individuals can use Health Insurance Marketplaces to compare health plans for benefits and prices and to select a plan that fits their needs. December 15 is the deadline to enroll in or change plans for new coverage to start January 1, 2020. For those who fail to meet the December 15 deadline, the only way to enroll in a Marketplace health plan is during a special enrollment period. To qualify for special enrollment,  an individual must have a qualifying life event such as a change in  family status (for example, marriage, divorce, birth, or adoption  of a child), change in residence, or loss of other health coverage (e.g., loss of employer-based coverage, loss of eligibility for Medicare or Medicaid).   Also, only plans sold through a Health Insurance Marketplace qualify for cost assistance.

Additional information about Obamacare

While the ACA (commonly referred to as Obamacare) has not been repealed or replaced, there have been changes to the law.   The biggest change is the repeal of the tax penalty for failure to have qualifying health insurance. Though the individual mandate requiring that most people have minimum essential health insurance coverage still exists (unless an exception applies), the tax penalty for failure to have insurance has been reduced to $0, effectively repealing that penalty.

In addition, states have additional flexibility in how they select their essential health benefits. In effect, states may elect to sell short-term health insurance policies with coverage terms of up to one year. These plans may offer fewer benefits compared with the 10 Essential Health Benefits covered under the ACA. Also, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington, DC have extended open enrollment dates beyond December 15. Check with the state’s department of insurance for specific open enrollment dates.

The federal government no longer runs the marketplace for the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP). As an alternative, small business employers may be able to contact insurance companies directly or work with a broker who is certified to sell SHOP policies.

The fate of Obamacare

Currently, the fate of the ACA is somewhat uncertain. At the end of 2018, a Texas federal judge ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. However, the judge ordered a stay pending appeals, so the ACA remains in place for the time being.

30
May

Retirement Confidence Increases for Workers and Retirees

The 29th annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS), conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) in 2019, found that two-thirds of U.S. workers (67%) are confident in their ability to live comfortably throughout their retirement years (up from 64% in 2018). Worker confidence now matches levels reported in 2007 — before the 2008 financial crisis.

Confidence among retirees continues to be greater than that of workers. Eighty-two percent of retirees are either very or somewhat confident about having enough money to live comfortably throughout their retirement years (up from 75% in 2018).

Retirement plan participation

Retirement confidence seems to be strongly related to retirement plan participation.  “Workers reporting they or their spouse have money in a defined contribution plan or IRA, or have benefits in a defined benefit plan,  are nearly twice as likely to be at least somewhat confident about retirement (74% with a plan vs. 39% without),” said Craig Copeland, EBRI senior research associate and co-author of the report.

Basic retirement expenses and medical care

Retirees are more confident than workers when it comes to basic expenses and medical care. Eighty-five percent of retirees report feeling very or somewhat confident about being able to afford basic expenses in retirement, compared with 72% of workers. Confidence in having enough money to pay medical expenses in retirement was also higher among retirees than workers: 80% versus 60%. However, 41% of retirees and 49% of workers are not confident about covering potential long-term care needs.

Debt levels

The survey consistently shows a relationship between debt levels and retirement confidence. “In 2019, 41% of workers with a major debt problem say that they are very or somewhat confident about having enough money to live comfortably in retirement, compared with 85% of workers who indicate debt is not a problem. Thirty-two percent of workers with a major debt problem are not at all confident about their prospects for a financially secure retirement, compared with 5% of workers without a debt problem,” said Copeland.

26
Sep

Medicare Open Enrollment Begins October 15

What is the Medicare open enrollment period?

The Medicare open enrollment period is the time during which people with Medicare can make new choices and pick plans that work best for them. Each year, Medicare plans typically change what the plans cost and cover. In addition, your health-care needs may have changed over the past year. The open enrollment period is your opportunity to switch Medicare health and prescription drug plans to better suit your needs.

When does the open enrollment period start?

The Medicare open enrollment period begins on October 15 and runs through December 7. Any changes made during open enrollment are effective as of January 1, 2018.

During the open enrollment period, you can:

  • Join a Medicare Prescription Drug (Part D) Plan
  • Switch from one Part D plan to another Part D plan
  • Drop your Part D coverage altogether
  • Switch from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan
  • Switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan to Original Medicare
  • Change from one Medicare Advantage Plan to a different Medicare Advantage Plan
  • Change from a Medicare Advantage Plan that offers prescription drug coverage to a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn’t offer prescription drug coverage
  • Switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn’t offer prescription drug coverage to a Medicare Advantage Plan that does offer prescription drug coverage

What should you do?

Now is a good time to review your current Medicare plan. As part of the evaluation, you may want to consider several factors. For instance, are you satisfied with the coverage and level of care you’re receiving with your current plan? Are your premium costs or out-of-pocket expenses too high? Has your health changed, or do you anticipate needing medical care or treatment?

Open enrollment period is the time to determine whether your current plan will cover your treatment and what your potential out-of-pocket costs may be. If your current plan doesn’t meet your health-care needs or fit within your budget, you can switch to a plan that may work better for you.

What’s new in 2018?

The initial deductible for Part D prescription drug plans increases by $5 to $405 in 2018. Also, most Part D plans have a temporary limit on what a particular plan will cover for prescription drugs. In 2018, this gap in coverage (also called the “donut hole”) begins after you and your drug plan have spent $3,750 on covered drugs — a $50 increase over the 2017 initial coverage limit. It ends after you have spent $5,000 out-of-pocket, after which catastrophic coverage begins. However, part of the Affordable Care Act gradually closes this gap by reducing your out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions purchased in the coverage gap. In 2018, you’ll pay 35% of the cost for brand-name drugs in the coverage gap (65% discount) and 44% (56% discount) of the cost for generic drugs in the coverage gap. Each succeeding year, out-of-pocket prescription drug costs in the coverage gap continue to decrease until 2020, when you’ll pay 25% for covered brand-name and generic drugs in the gap.

Medicare beneficiaries who file individual tax returns with income that is greater than $85,000, and beneficiaries who file joint tax returns with income that is greater than $170,000, pay an additional monthly premium or Income-Related Monthly Adjustment Amount (IRMAA) for their Medicare Part D prescription drug plan coverage. In 2018, some of these beneficiaries will see their IRMAA increase by as much as 58%, while other beneficiaries may actually see their IRMAA drop. For more information, visit the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services website, https://www.cms.gov/.

Where can you get more information?

Determining what coverage you have now and comparing it to other Medicare plans can be confusing and complicated. Pay attention to notices you receive from Medicare and from your plan, and take advantage of help available by calling 1-800-MEDICARE or by visiting the Medicare website, https://www.medicare.gov/.

13
Sep

The Equifax Data Breach

On September 7, 2017, Equifax, one of the three main credit reporting agencies, announced a massive data security breach that exposed vital personal identification data— including names, addresses, birth-dates, and Social Security numbers on as many as 143 million consumers, roughly 55% of Americans age 18 and older.1

This data breach was especially egregious because the company reportedly first learned of the breach on July 29 and waited roughly six weeks before making it public (hackers first gained access between mid-May and July) and three senior Equifax executives reportedly sold shares of the company worth nearly $2 million before the breach was announced. Moreover, consumers don’t choose to do business or share their data with Equifax; rather, Equifax — along with TransUnion and Experian, the other two major credit reporting agencies  — unilaterally monitors the financial health of consumers and supplies that data to potential lenders without a consumer’s approval or consent.2

Equifax has faced widespread criticism following its disclosure of the hack, both for the breach itself and for its response, particularly the website it established for consumers to check if they may have been affected. Both the FBI and Congress are investigating the breach.3 In the meantime, here are answers to questions you might have.

1. What’s the deal with the website Equifax has set up for consumers?

Equifax has set up a website, www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/, where consumers can check if they’ve been affected by the breach. Once on the site, click on the button “Potential Impact” at the bottom of the main page. You then need to click on “Check Potential Impact,” where you will be asked to provide your last name and the last six digits of your Social Security number — a request that was widely mocked on social media as being too intrusive when the standard request is for only the last four digits.

Equifax has stated that regardless of whether your information may have been affected, everyone has the option to sign up on the website for one free year of credit monitoring and identify theft protection. You can do so by clicking the “Enroll” button at the bottom of the screen. Note: Just clicking this button does not mean you’re actually enrolled, however. You must follow the instructions to go through an actual enrollment process with TrustedID Premier to officially enroll.

More wrath was directed at Equifax when some eagle-eyed observers noted that enrolling in the free year of credit protection with TrustedID Premier meant that consumers gave up the right to join any class-action lawsuit against the company and agreed to be bound by arbitration. But an Equifax spokesperson has since stated that the binding arbitration clause related only to the one year of free credit monitoring and not the breach itself; Equifax has since removed that language from its site.4

2. What is TrustedID Premier?

Equifax’s  response to the data breach is to offer consumers one free year of credit file monitoring services through TrustedID Premier. This includes monitoring reports generated by Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion; the ability to lock and unlock Equifax credit reports with a credit freeze; identity theft insurance; and Social Security number monitoring.

Consumers who choose to enroll in this service will need to provide a valid email address and additional information to verify their identity. A few days after enrolling, consumers will receive an email with a link to activate TrustedID Premier. The enrollment period ends November 21.  After the one free year is up, consumers will not be automatically charged or enrolled in further monitoring; they will need to sign up again if they so choose (some initial reports stated that consumers would be automatically re-enrolled after the first year).5

3. What other steps can I take?

It is always a good idea to monitor your own personal information and be on the lookout for identity theft. Here are specific additional steps you can take:

  • Fraud alerts: Your first step should be to establish fraud alerts with the three major credit reporting agencies. This will alert you if someone tries to apply for credit in your name. You can also set up fraud alerts for your credit and debit cards.
  • Credit freezes: A credit freeze will lock your credit files so that only companies you already do business with will have access to them. This means that if a thief shows up at a faraway bank and tries to apply for credit in your name using your address and Social Security number, the bank won’t be able to access your credit report. (However, a credit freeze won’t prevent a thief from making changes to your existing accounts.) Initially, consumers who tried to set up credit freezes with Equifax discovered they had to pay for it, but after a public thrashing Equifax announced that it would waive all fees for the next 30 days (starting September 12) for consumers who want to freeze their Equifax credit files.6 Before freezing your credit reports, though, it’s wise to check them first. Also keep in mind that if you want to apply for credit with a new financial institution in the future, or you are opening a new bank account, applying for a job, renting an apartment, or buying insurance, you will need to unlock or “thaw” the credit freeze.
  • Credit reports: You can obtain a free copy of your credit report from each of the major credit agencies once every 12 months by requesting the reports at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling toll-free 877-322-8228. Because the Equifax breach could have long-term consequences, it’s a good idea to start checking your report as part of your regular financial routine for the next few years.
  • Bank and credit card statements: Review your financial statements regularly and look for any transaction that seems amiss. Take advantage of any alert features so that you are notified when suspicious activity is detected. Your vigilance is an essential tool in fighting identity theft.

4. How can I get more information from Equifax?

Consumers with additional questions for Equifax can call the company’s dedicated call center at 866-447-7559. The call center is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Eastern time. Equifax said it is experiencing high call volumes but is working diligently to respond to all consumers.7

1, 3-5,7) The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2017, September 10, 2017

2) CNNMoney, September 8, 2017

6) The New York Times, September 12, 2017

16
Dec

What I learned from my grand daughter

Being with the family is generally very enjoyable. This year I received an extra benefit from my 5-year-old granddaughter.  She was telling us what she was going to be doing. It sounded like she was too young to be able accomplish the task. We asked her how she would complete the tasks. She explained that she would visualize what she was going to do.  Her teacher had taught the class to visualize what they want to do.

I realized that is also the approach to planning. If you know what you want to accomplish, you need to see where you are, where you want to be and the steps required to get there. This sets your focus. You need to be aware of your progress. You may need to adjust your course if there are changes in your priorities, what you have or your goals.

If you have postponed your planning, try visualizing.

Wishing you and yours the best for the Holiday’s and the entire New Year!

5
Oct

October Is National Disability Employment Awareness Month

Observed each year in October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) is led by the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP). The purpose of NDEAM is to build awareness about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of workers with disabilities.  This year’s theme is “InclusionWorks.”

Employers, associations, and unions in all industries are encouraged to participate. To help organizations build awareness of this  important initiative, the DOL has developed a number of resources, which can be accessed at dol.gov/odep/topics/ndeam/.

What is NDEAM?
National Disability Employment Awareness Month dates back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“By fostering a culture that embraces individual differences, including disabilities, businesses profit by having a wider variety of tools to confront challenges,” said Jennifer Sheehy, deputy assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy. “Our nation’s most successful companies proudly make inclusion a core value. They know that inclusion works. It works for workers, it works for employers, it works for opportunity, and it works for innovation.”

How can organizations participate?
The DOL’s suggestions range from simple promotional activities, such as putting up a poster, to comprehensive programs, such as implementing a disability education program for all employees or organization members. Resources available on the website include press releases, posters, a sample proclamation for organizational and government leaders, articles for internal publications, sample social media content, and tips for improving social media accessibility.

What is the ODEP?
The Office of Disability Employment Policy  is the only nonregulatory federal agency that promotes policies and coordinates with employers and all levels of government to increase workplace success for people with disabilities. Recognizing the need for a national policy to ensure that people with disabilities are fully integrated into the 21st century workforce, the Secretary of Labor delegated authority and assigned responsibility to the Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy. ODEP is a subcabinet-level policy agency in the Department of Labor.

For more information on ODEP, visit dol.gov/odep/.

22
Sep

IRS warning about fake emails(CP2000) relating to the Affordable Care Act

Confronting the latest scheme to target taxpayers, the IRS and its Security Summit partners warned Thursday that scammers have sent fake emails purportedly containing CP2000 notices, which are used in the IRS’s Automated Underreporter Program. The IRS emphasized that it never sends these notices by email, and instead uses the U.S. Postal Service (IR-2016-123).

The notices contain an IRS tax bill supposedly related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and 2014 health care coverage. They use an Austin, Texas, post office box and request payments to the “I.R.S.” at the “Austin Processing Center.” The email also contains a payment link. The fraudulent email lists the letter number as “105C.”

The IRS explains that its procedures for taxpayers who owe additional tax require taxpayers to write checks payable to the “United States Treasury,” not the “I.R.S.,” as in the fake notice. It also advises taxpayers that they can check a notice’s validity on the IRS’s website by doing a search, and they can see sample notices at Understanding Your IRS Notice or Letter.

IRS impersonation scams take many forms: threatening telephone calls, phishing emails and demanding letters. Learn more at Reporting Phishing and Online Scams.

Taxpayers  who receive this scam email should forward it to phishing@irs.gov  and then delete it from their email account.

Taxpayers  should always beware of any unsolicited email purported to be from the IRS or any unknown source. They should never open an attachment or click on a link within an email sent by sources they do not know.

20
Sep

New Real Estate Sector Puts Equity REITs in the Spotlight

Publicly traded REITs and other listed real estate companies are being moved to a distinct Real Estate sector by S&P Dow Jones Indices and MSCI.

S&P Dow Jones Indices and MSCI recently moved publicly traded equity real estate investment trusts (REITs) and other listed real estate companies from the Financials sector into a new, separate Real Estate sector effective September 1, 2016. (Mortgage REITs remain in the Financials sector, along with banks and insurance companies.)  There are now 11 headline sectors instead of 10. It’s the first time a new sector has been added to the Global Industry Classification  Standard (GICS®) since it was created in 1999. (1)

The move has implications for investors, because S&P and MSCI   indexes are common benchmarks for investment performance, and the GICS is often used as a framework for portfolio construction. By some estimates, fund managers could shift as much as $100 billion to the Real Estate sector in a collective effort to follow the market weightings of various indexes. (2)

The change could also affect the asset allocation decisions of some individual investors by drawing more attention to equity REITs as income-generating assets with the potential for capital appreciation.

Fixed-income appeal

An equity REIT is a company that combines capital from investors to buy and manage income properties such as apartments, shopping centers, hotels, medical facilities, offices, self-storage units, and industrial buildings. Publicly traded REIT shares can generally be bought or sold on an exchange at a moment’s notice, making them more liquid than physical real estate investments, which involve transactions that can take months to complete.

Many REITs generate a reliable income stream regardless of share price performance, primarily because they are required by law to pay out 90% of their taxable incomes as dividends to stakeholders. In the second quarter of 2016, the S&P REIT index had a dividend yield of 3.73%. (3) The performance of an unmanaged index is not indicative of the performance of any specific security. Individuals cannot invest directly in an index.

REIT share prices can be sensitive to interest rates. As rates rise, steady dividends may appear less attractive to investors relative to the safety of bonds offering similar yields. On the other hand, current fundamentals, including modest economic growth, lower unemployment, and rising rents, are generally seen as positive conditions for REITs and other real estate businesses.

Diversification tool

Breaking real estate out of the Financials sector acknowledges that the industry’s business models and ties to underlying property markets produce a distinctive risk-return profile, including a relatively low correlation to the rest of the stock market. (4) Because the share prices of equity REITs don’t rise and fall in lockstep with the broader stock market, including them in your portfolio could help reduce the overall level of risk.

The return and principal value of all stocks, including REITs, fluctuate with changes in market conditions. Shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost. Diversification and asset allocation do not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss; they are methods used to help manage investment risk.

REIT distributions are taxable to the extent they include any ordinary income and capital gains. Some REITs may not qualify as a REIT as defined in the tax code, which could affect operations and negatively impact the ability to make distributions.

There are inherent risks associated with real estate investments that could have an adverse effect on financial performance. Such risks may include a deterioration in the economy or local real estate conditions; tenant defaults; property mismanagement; and changes in operating expenses (including insurance costs, energy prices, real estate taxes, and the cost of compliance with laws, regulations, and government policies).

Breaking real estate out of the Financials sector acknowledges that the industry’s business models and ties to underlying property markets produce a distinctive risk-return profile, including a relatively low correlation to the rest of the stock market.

(1) , (3) S&P Dow Jones Indices, 2015-2016
(2) Investor’s Business Daily, March 18, 2016
(4) FinancialAdvisor.com, March 1, 2016

The foregoing is provided for information purposes only.  It is not intended or designed to provide legal, accounting, tax, investment or other professional advice.  Such advice requires consideration of individual circumstances.  Before any action is taken based upon this information, it is essential that competent, individual, professional advice be obtained.  JAS Financial Services, LLC is not responsible for any modifications made to this material, or for the accuracy of information provided by other sources.

 

 

 

 

16
Aug

Identity Theft

It seems there are an increasing number of reports of identity theft ID).  I recently saw an article by Sid Kirchheimer that was published by AARP about the use of identities of people that have died.  “Postmortem identity theft may be shocking but it’s hardly rare, especially because the victims.”

One of the best known sources of information for ID is the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File.  The list is maintained to allow employers, financial institutions and government agencies to identify fraud.  That file’s use is intended to be restricted to  those entities.

“But federal law requires a version known as the Social Security Death Index be made available to the public.”  Social security numbers are not on the list.  Information on the list is often enough information for ID theft.  The details maybe available free on genealogy and other websites.

Kirchheimer’s article includes the following to block ID theft of the deceased:

  • “Immediately send death certificate copies by certified mail to the three main credit reporting bureaus.  Request that a ‘deceased alert’ be placed in the credit report.
  • Mail copies as soon as possible to banks, insurers and other financial firms requesting account closures or change of joint ownership.
  • Report the death to the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 and the IRS at 800-829-104.  Also notify the DMV.
  • In obituaries, don’t include the deceased’s birth date, place of birth , last address or job.
  • Starting a month after the death, check the departed’s credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com for suspicious activity.

IRS Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft:

Office of the Inspector General Social Security Social Security Administration – Report Fraud:

6
Mar

The lessons learned from “the old Enron story” still apply.

The following is from Edward Mendlowitz’s Feb. 24, 2015 Blog.
“in his book Money: Master the Game, Tony Robbins dredges up the old Enron story, which I agree with, and want to call to your attention now.  Here is a brief listing copied from Tony’s book of the lauds, Enron received right up until their bankruptcy filing.

Mar 21, 2001 Merrill Lynch recommends
Mar 29, 2001 Goldman Sacks recommends
June 8, 2001 J.P. Morgan recommends
Aug 15, 2001 Bank of America recommends
Oct 4, 2001 A G Edwards recommends
Oct 24, 2001 Lehman Brothers recommends
Nov 12, 2001 Prudential recommends
Nov 21, 2001 Goldman Sacks recommends (again)
Nov 29, 2011 Credit Suisse First Boston recommends
Dec 2, 2001 Enron files Bankruptcy

Millions of Investors trusted these venerable firms and followed their recommendations.  A question I had at the time was, “How much work did they do before they made their recommendations?”  I could not have been too much since every recommendation was wrong.  Another observation is that many of the largest mutual funds has significant positions in Enron.

Now, lets fast forward to today.  Has anything changed?  Were lessons learned?  Are more intensive analysis being done now?  I suggest that nothing has changed.  Examples are in the many recommendations to buy oil stocks a few months ago before a subsequent additional 35% drop.  …Next, as Robbins points out, most actively managed mutual funds do not outperform the index they are trying to beat….

The principles in the book are easy to understand, digest and act on…. I have condensed them [his seven steps] and … restate as follows:

1. Commit to regular savings program
2. Know and understand why you are investing in
3. Develop a plan and, while at it, reduce spending, keep investment costs low and shed debt
4. Allocate your assets carefully and rebalance periodically
5. Create a lifetime income plan
6. Invest like the .001%, i.e. don’t be stupid and re-look at step 2
7. Be happy by growing and giving

All good advice you can start following today.