Your Finances, Retirement & Insurance Made Easy
FREE STUFF & GOOD DEALS
by Linda Bowman
Finances and financial security, how to live within our means, and finding safe ways to invest our money are all major concerns for mature adults. In our "earning years," making money is our primary concern. As we approach retirement, keeping it becomes our main focus.
Retirement plans abound. There are seemingly endless numbers of investment firms, brokers, and counselors who would like to help you invest your money for retirement (which, of course, generates fees and commissions for them). Although there are many different types of plans available, I am going to show you how to get the best free and low-cost retirement savings investment advice, as well as how to find special savings available only to mature adults. I will also examine both how to obtain free health care (when available) and how to find the most cost effective health care benefits and programs. As complex as these issues seem, there are sources of information to help us better understand them.
Free Stuff from the Bank
With banks and savings and loans in fierce competition for your funds, there has emerged a whole new arena of privileges, perks, and special programs for seniors. It is estimated that some 63 million Americans age 50 and older hold approximately two thirds of all bank savings deposits, and approximately 80 percent of savings and loan deposits. It's not difficult to understand why banks and S&Ls are literally fighting for these funds. In most cases the rate of investment return is virtually the same among competing institutions, so they have come up with all kinds of ways to entice us into saving with their particular organization. This translates into free benefits for seniors including:
· Free online banking
· No or low-fee ATM-only or express checking account
· Free checking accounts
· Free safe deposit boxes
· Free photocopying
· Added percentage points on invested funds
· Free checks
· Free notary service
· Free telephone and wire service transfers
· Free traveler's checks, cashier's checks and money orders
· Waiver of service charges on bankcard membership
· Overdraft protection on checking accounts
· Seminars on tax-free investing, health, and fitness
· Free subscriptions to senior publications
· Travel discounts
· Membership in dining clubs
· Discounts on merchandise, entertainment, dental care, vitamins, eyewear, automobiles
These are some of the "extras" banks offer seniors and preferred customers to gain their business and lasting loyalty. Once you open an account or buy a CD, these banks are hoping you'll become interested in their trust services, home-equity loans, automobile loans, reverse mortgages, etc.
As in other industries, senior discounts and services are not always advertised or disclosed at first glance. You need to inquire as to what benefits you can receive. Make a list of the kinds of "extra" services you feel are important and present them to the bank officer responsible for new accounts. They may just offer you what you want. When deciding where to entrust your funds, compare requirements for maintaining minimum balances, service charges, and interest rates.
If you feel that your bank is not handling you or your business correctly you can turn to your State Banking Commissioner with your complaint. If you cannot resolve your problems with your bank (they are charging you too many fees, not approving loans, not offering basic services), then contact the Banking Commissioner's office and they will make an investigation. You can find the office in the government pages of your local phone directory.
If you are concerned about whether your deposited funds are insured (Treasury Bonds and certain notes are not), contact your nearest regional Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation office or the Division of Compliance and Consumer Affairs, FDIC, 550 17th St., NW, Washington, DC 20429. 877-ASKFDIC (877-275-3342). You can also look up your local institution online at the web site: www.fdic.gov. They answer questions and take complaints regarding FDIC regulated institutions and your FDIC insured deposit. They also publish information on financial reports and the compliance of different institutions, free brochures and a quarterly newsletter.
If you need information or help with your taxes, the IRS offers free publications on a large number of tax topics. In fact, there is an IRS publication that covers just about every item that appears on a Form 1040. Although these publications go into great detail, they are written simply and accurately. There is even a publication that contains a list of all the other free publications entitled: Guide to Free Tax Services. You can receive these publications by:
1. Calling the IRS's toll-free number 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676);
2. Going to your local IRS office, post office, bank, or library and seeing whether their supply of bulletins includes what you are looking for; or
3. Writing the Forms Distribution Center for your state (the address is listed in the Form 1040 booklet).
The IRS also has a toll-free volunteer telephone tax assistance number for specific questions on filling out your forms. This service, called Volunteers In Tax Assistance (VITA), works best for those with simple returns. The number is: 800-829-1040. For more complex tax returns, a professional tax preparer, tax service, or accountant is recommended.
Copies of all IRS forms and help on how to fill them out is available online at www.irs.gov .
Special Note: To read documents by the IRS, you will need a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader on your computer. You can get a free copy of this software at www.adobe.com.
"Protecting Older Americans Against Over-payment of Income Taxes," is a free publication published by the Senate Special Committee on Aging. The purpose of this publication is to ensure that older Americans understand and claim all the legal deductions they are entitled to. Write for it at: Special Committee on Aging, U.S. Senate, SDG 30, Washington DC 40410. 202-224-5364. Or you can look them up at www.aging.senate.gov.
In addition, the AARP www.aarp.org/taxaide has over 8,000 Tax-Aide service sites manned by volunteer tax counselors who help low- and moderate-income taxpayers over 60 with filing their income tax returns. For information call your local AARP chapter or check their web site.
H&R Block www.hrblock.com has downloadable software that you can check to make sure everything is in the right place on your tax return.
CCH Internet Tax Research Network www.cch.com provides helpful hints about preparing for tax season and filing your individual return.
The search engine YAHOO! has a Tax Center www.yahoo.com/government/taxes that will help you find other tax help on the Internet. Their directory of links is comprehensive and should lead you to answers to your questions.
There are several sources of free and low cost information and advice on how to prepare for retirement. The National Council for Aging Care www.aging.com publishes numerous booklets covering retirement topics including:
"Every Tenth American," describing the programs of the Administration on Aging;
"Are You Planning on Living the Rest of Your Life?" a do-it-yourself planner for people without pre-retirement counseling services provided by their jobs;
"You, the Law and Retirement," which explains when and why to see a lawyer;
"Consumer Guide for Older People," a wallet-size folder that outlines ways older folks can protect themselves against rip-offs, frauds, and swindlers.
Retirement Planning Associates www.retirement-planning.com. 818-781-7721. At what age can you afford to retire? RPA will help you decide.
Metlife offers a large variety of free brochures in a series that covers insurance, business, money, health and family issues. Call them at 800-638-5433 or check on their web site for the latest information: www.metlife.com The series is called "Life Advice." You can also write MetLife at One Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
Financial Engines on the Web www.financial engines.com. Sign up and receive a free prospectus/outlook.
The Mature Market Institute. Information geared for those 50 and older. Contact the Mature Market Institute at: 57 Greens Farms Road, Westport, CT 06880. 203-221-6580.
American Express Financial Corporation (formerly IDS Financial Services) www.americanexpress.com. American Express offers a free Retirement Kit. It contains two guides with valuable facts and information, and an easy-to-use savings calculator to help you understand:
· How much you will likely need to save each month for retirement;
· Options to consider for retirement plan distribution;
· Ways to invest your money now (it depends on your assets, and your tolerance for risk);
· How to help make sure your family is financially protected.
You can order the planner online.
Another source of information is Commerce Clearing House (CCH) www.cch.com. CCH publishes a variety of retirement planning booklets and reports. You can order them online at the website, by calling the 800 number or writing them. Search for "retirement" at the web site to find the information you need. Commerce Clearing House, Inc. 4025 W. Peterson Ave., Chicago, IL 60646 or call them toll-free at 800-248-3248.
The Washington, D.C.-based National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association is a national nonprofit trade association for financial services companies that originate, service, and invest in reverse mortgages. A reverse mortgage is a loan available to homeowners 60 and older. It allows them to address their retirement needs by converting part of the equity in their home into tax-free income, without having to sell their home, give up title or take on a new monthly mortgage payment. The association's web site www.reversemortgage.org has information about the specific reverse mortgage products available and the process of getting a reverse mortgage. It also includes a list of reverse mortgage lenders in each state, contact information and products they offer.
AARP explains the subject of reverse mortgages in detail in a free booklet, "Home Made Money: A Consumer's Guide to Reverse Mortgages." It's available by calling 800-424-3410 or online at www.aarp.org/revmort.
John Hancock Financial Services www.jhancock.com. John Hancock Mutual Funds, 200 Clarendon Street, Boxton, MA 02117. 800-695-7389. You can learn all about Mutual Funds and how to invest in them at the John Hancock web site. There are also IRA calculators at the site, so you can calculate what you'll need to invest to retire comfortably.
The Arthritis Foundation Planned Giving Committee www.arthritis.org organizes volunteer attorneys and financial planners who speak on such topics as estate, financial, and tax planning. These seminars and workshops are offered free to the general public. Contact your local chapter of the Arthritis Foundation for a copy of the calendar of programs in your area. They also offer financial planning information online at: www.arthritis.org/resources/Financial_Planning/Introduction/financial_intro.asp.
Mass Mutual (formerly New England Mutual Life Insurance Company) www.massmutual.com. MassMutual offers full retirement information on their site, including a "Retirement Contribution Protection Calculator," and current performance of the leading mutual funds. 1295 State Street, Springfield, MA 011111-0001. 800-228-2479.
Your financial planner, accountant, insurance agent, or securities broker should be able to advise you on your choices of investment vehicles for safeguarding your money and insuring income for your and your family's future. Mutual funds, stock funds, bond funds, CDs, money market funds, tax-free income funds, taxable-income funds, growth-income funds, fixed-income funds, IRAs, Keoghs, annuities, reverse mortgages, living trusts, 401 (k) plans, etc., are just some of the investment alternatives and opportunities available in today's complex financial marketplace.
If you want to make sure your financial advisor/ planner, money manager, stockbroker or sales representative has not had any legal problems or disciplinary actions brought against them, you can call the toll-free hotline run by the National Association of Securities Dealers, Regulation department. They have information on civil judgments, criminal judgments, indictments, arbitrations, disciplinary actions and other actions taken by securities regulators. Call them at 800-289-9999 or look them up online at www.nasdr.com.
You can also run a background check on investment brokers by calling the hotline of the North American Securities Administrators Association www.nasaa.org. 800-84-NASAA or call 202-737-0900. They will tell you who to call in your state.
The Securities and Exchange Commission www.sec.gov will also do a full background check on any company that offers public stock or on any brokerage firm. In addition, they also publish several free publications on investing wisely and safely. Write them at the Securities and Exchange Commission, Office of Consumer Affairs, 450 Fifth St., NW, Washington, DC 20549. Tel: 202-942-7040, 800-SEC-0330 (publications line).
If you are looking for a financial advisor or planner contact the Financial Planning Association (FPA) (formerly The International Association for Financial Planning) www.fpanet.org. 1615 L Street, NW, Suite 650, Washington, DC 20036. 800-322-4237.To receive the free booklet "Planning for the Stages of Retirement," send a self-addressed stamped, business-sized envelope to: FPA, Ste. B-300, 5775 Glenridge Dr., NE, Atlanta, GA 30328.
You can also contact the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (fee-only planners) www.napfa.org. 888-FEE-ONLY, 800-366-2632. They will send you a list of their members and questions you should ask any financial planner in an interview before becoming a client. A professional money manager must be registered with the SEC. The Freedom of Information Branch of the SEC, 202-272-7440, or your state securities commission can check their records for you.
Financial Tip: Always get an independent second opinion, or investigate yourself before investing.
For preparing taxes and other financial services, a professional accountant should be a certified public accountant (C.P.A.), licensed by the state. The state board of accountancy (the number is among the state government listings in the phone book) will let you know if any disciplinary or licensing actions have been brought forth.
A professional insurance agent should be a C.L.U., meaning chartered life underwriter or C.P.C.U., chartered property/casualty underwriter. Your state insurance commission (the number is in the state government listing section of your phone book) can give you records of disbarment.
For advice on buying, selling, or investing in real estate, work with a real estate broker or sales agent who is licensed by the state. They should also be a member of the National Association of Realtors or the local board of Realtors. Your state real estate commission (again, the number is in the state government listings in the phone book) can alert you to any past problems. Unless you know your agent well, investigate and get independent advice before buying.
Older Americans can get help coping with high heating bills and weatherizing their homes through state and federal programs. Call the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program at 866-674-6327 or go online at www.ncat.org/liheap. For state Weatherization Assistance Programs, visit www.eren.doe.gov/buildings/weatherization_assistance or call 800-363-3732.
An interesting and free source of information on investing for retirement can be found in the columns and features of senior magazines and newspapers. Most publications have a regular section on personal finance and/or money matters. A variety of questions pertaining to seniors are addressed in these pages. Their in-depth articles can help clarify and explain a lot of the confusion regarding money and investments. Local libraries and senior citizen centers subscribe to most of these publications. They are also distributed free in markets and some restaurants.
Where to Go for Answers on Medicare and Insurance
You will probably qualify for Medicare at age 65, but the program currently only covers little more than a third of actual medical costs. Chances are you will need either a medical supplement policy or an all-inclusive HMO or health insurance program to add to or replace Medicare. Medicare was never intended to be an all-inclusive health insurance program, and these supplemental policies offer coverage and benefits not covered by Medicare.
Trying to make sense of the several health coverage options that are available can be difficult and confusing; however, there are sources of information and education to help you understand these options.
The toll free Medicare Hotline, 800-638-6833, assists seniors in their questions and will refer them to local offices. They also publish and distribute free information booklets including: "Guide to Health Insurance for People with Medicare," "Medicare Coverage of Kidney Dialysis and Kidney Transplant Services," "Manual De Medicare (Spanish Edition)," "Medicare: Hospice Benefits," and "Medicare and Other Health Benefits." You can also write them at: Medicare Hotline, Health Care Financing Administration, 6325 Security Blvd., Baltimore, MD 21207 or check the information on their web site: www.medicare.gov.
"Medicare and Home Health Care," and "Staying Healthy at 50+," are available through the Consumer Information Catalog www.pueblo.gsa.gov, Federal Consumer Information Center, Dept. WWW, Pueblo, CO 81009. 888-878-3256.
The Health Insurance Association of America www.hiaa.org, 1201 F Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington DC 20004-1204, 202-824-1600, has two excellent free pamphlets entitled: "Guide to Medicare Supplement Insurance" and "Guide to Health Insurance." These documents are also downloadable from the web site.
The Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) www.aging.state.ca.us/html/programs/hicap.htm. of the California Dept. of Aging and the Legal Services Trust Fund organizes free educational programs and seminars on Medicare and HMOs through its Medicare Advocacy Project (MAP). MAP is an independent, nonprofit organization not affiliated with Medicare or any insurance company or Health Maintenance Organization. Senior citizen clubs, community centers, hospitals, medical centers and related organizations can schedule one of their specialists for a presentation. Some of the topics covered include: "Nuts and Bolts of Medicare," "Who Pays for Skilled Nursing and Long-Term Care?," "Filling the Medicare Gaps," "What Supplemental Insurance Can Do," and "What You Should Know Before Joining an HMO." For information on their programs call 800-434-0222.
The Arthritis Foundation will send you a free booklet on choosing a health plan to cover all your needs. Write them at PO Box 7669, Atlanta, GA 30357.
The Social Security Administration provides a free booklet on survivors' benefits. It's available online at www.ssa.gov/pub/10084.html. Or you can order it by calling 800-772-1213 and asking for publication 05-10084.
The Life & Health Insurance Foundation for Education, a non-profit group, offers a variety of information online to help you through the maze of terms, plans, and how much you should pay. This includes a glossary of common terms, information on the types and sources of insurance, and the costs you should pay. Call them toll-free at 888-543-3777 or visit their web site: www.life-line.org.
The General Accounting Office (GAO) www.gao.gov wants to make sure you understand all the ramifications of long-term care insurance and the problems that can result from not paying premiums through your later years. Their series of free reports can be requested by writing: U.S. General Accounting office, 441 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20548.
Aetna U.S. Healthcare Golden Medicare Plan www.aetna.com/goldenmedicare. 800-832-2640. Provides you with more benefits than you probably get with Original Medicare alone or with a supplement.
Most hospitals and medical centers also sponsor their own free seminars on investment management needs, health care, and life insurance. These are usually coordinated through their senior or geriatric health departments and are advertised in local newspapers, senior publications, and mailings. Check with the hospitals in your area for a schedule of upcoming seminars.
In addition, some of the large federally qualified health plan organizations sponsor lectures and presentations throughout the year at various locations. Their schedules are usually advertised in local senior publications and magazines. One example is Secure Horizons www.securehorizons.com.
Senior newspapers and magazines, along with their recommendations on investment and money matters, offer a wealth of interesting and informative advice in all areas of health care and insurance. Nearly every publication has a regular feature or column answering readers' questions on these subjects. These "health" columnists and editors are specialists in their field and offer consumers sound advice and referrals for additional information. These publications also feature monthly calendar listings of dozens of free lectures, screenings, health fairs and expos, flu shot clinics, etc. By taking advantage of these free community services, you can save yourself a lot of money on what is generally routine, preventive health care that costs a lot more with a private practitioner.
Some insurance companies offer discounts on automobile insurance rates for seniors, who incidentally have better driving records than other age groups. Most independent agents represent at least one company offering special senior rates. Examples of insurance companies that give "senior rates" for good drivers include: State Farm Insurance Company, Nationwide Insurance, Liberty Mutual Insurance Group, and Allstate Insurance Company. The AARP also has an automobile insurance program, and several of the national senior organizations offer insurance discounts with membership. Your automobile club may also offer special discounts to their senior members who drive. Check with the individual organizations for their benefits.
Excerpted from Free Stuff & Good Deals for Folks Over 50, 2nd Edition by Linda Bowman. Copyright © 2003 by Linda Bowman and David Caplan.. Excerpted by arrangement with Santa Monica Press. $12.95. Available in local bookstores or call at 800-784-9553 or click here.