February 2018 Columns

Savvy Senior – February Columns

1.    Three Ways to Cut Hearing Aid Costs
2.    Baby Boomers Finding Companionship Online 
3.    Income Tax Filing Requirements for Retirees
4.    Strength Training Tips For Seniors

 

Three Ways to Cut Hearing Aid Costs

Dear Savvy Senior,
I’ve heard that hearing aids will soon be available over-the-counter and will be much cheaper than they currently are. What can you tell me about this? My husband desperately needs hearing aids but we simply can’t afford them.
Searching Spouse

Dear Searching,
Unfortunately, for many years the high cost of hearing aids has kept millions of Americans with hearing loss from getting hearing aids because they can’t afford them.

Hearing aids – typically sold through audiologists’ offices – are expensive, usually ranging between $1,000 and $4,000 per ear, and are not typically covered by private insurance or traditional Medicare.

But there’s good news on the horizon. Last summer President Trump signed the Over-the-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 into law. This will allow people with mild to moderate hearing loss to buy hearing aids without consulting an audiologist, and the devices could sell for between $250 and $300 at drugstores and other retailers.

The only problem is that it will be a couple more years before these OTC hearing aids are available to consumers. So in the meantime, here are some tips that can help you find some affordable options.

Check Your Insurance
While most private health insurance companies do not cover hearing aids, there are some that do. For example, Aetna members can purchase aids at a discount through certain suppliers, and United Healthcare offers hearing aids to their beneficiaries through HealthInnovations for $799 to $999 each.

You should also know that some federal workers, as well as residents of Arkansas, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island can get their hearing aids covered by health insurance, as can eligible veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Or, if your husband is a Medicare recipient, about half of all Medicare Advantage plans offer at least partial coverage or discounts on hearing exams and devices. So, be sure you check your husband’s insurance coverage to see if it offers any type of hearing aid benefit.

Shop Around
To help you save money, consider shopping at Costco, which offers no-cost screenings at certain locations, as well as very competitive prices. Hearing aids there range between $500 and $1,500 each. You can also shop online at websites like EmbraceHearing.com and Audicus.com, which can save you up to $2,000 per pair. Then visit a local specialist to make any necessary adjustments.

Another option worth a look is over-the-counter personal sound amplification products (or PSAPs). Unlike hearing aids, the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate PSAPs. And PSAP manufacturers are not allowed to call these products hearing aids or claim that they help hearing. But these devices are very effective for people with mild to moderate hearing impairment, and typically cost between $350 and $450 each. To find a wide variety of PSAPs see assistive listening sites like Harris Communications (HarrisComm.comor call 866-476-9579).

Look For Assistance
If your income is low, there is a number of national, state and independent groups that can help you pay for hearing aids or offer discounts. To find them, visit the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association website at ASHA.org/public/coverage/audfundingresources. Or, call the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders at 800-241-1044, and ask them to mail you their list of financial resources for hearing aids.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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Baby Boomers Finding Companionship Online 

Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about online dating for baby boomers? I’m 57 and recently divorced, and would like to find a new friend to spend time with.
Lonely Linda 

Dear Linda,
Whether you’re interested in dating again or just looking for a friend to spend time with, online dating sites have become a very popular and effective way for baby boomers to meet new single people.

Making new friends can be challenging as we get older, which is why online dating sites are an excellent option for baby boomers. They provide an easy and convenient way to meet dozens of new people, without ever having to leave home. And, to make things even easier, many sites today use matchmaking algorithms that factor in your interests and preferences so they can steer you to matches that are best suited for you. Here are some other tips to help you get started.

Choose a site or two: There are literally hundreds of different matchmaking websites and apps available, so choosing can be a bit confusing. Costs typically range between $15 and $20 per month, however some dating sites are completely free to use. Depending on your preferences here are some popular options to look into.

If you don’t want to spend any money, free sites like OKCupid.com and PlentyofFish.com are good places to start, but these sites have a lot of advertising. There are also free apps like Tinder (GoTinder.com) and Bumble.com, but these tend to be geared toward younger adults looking for casual romance.

If you’re interested in lots of choices consider Match.com, which has a huge membership in all demographics. Or checkout eHarmony.com, which is also very large but more targeted for people who want to take things slow.

Or, if you are looking to find a specific type of person, there are hundreds of niche sites like: OurTime.com, SeniorPeopleMeet.com and 50more.com for those 50 and older; EliteSingles.com for professionals; DateMyPet.com for animal lovers; VeggieDate.org for vegetarians; JDate.com for Jewish singles; BlackPeopleMeet.com for African Americans; and ChristianMingle.com for Christians.

Create a profile: When you join a matchmaking site you’ll need to create a personality profile that reflects who you are, including recent photos, hobbies, interests, favorite activities and more. If you need some help, sites like ProfileHelper.com can write one for you for a fee.

Use caution: When you register with a site you remain anonymous. No one gets access to your personal contact information until you decide to give it out, so be prudent whom you give it to. Before meeting, you should chat on the phone or video chat a few times, and when you do meet in person for the first time, meet in a public place or bring a friend along. And if someone asks for money, don’t send it. Online dating/sweetheart scams are out there so be aware. If you want to be extra cautious, you can even do a quick background check on your date at MyMatchChecker.com.

Don’t be naive: In an effort to get more responses, many people will exaggerate or flat out lie in their profiles, or post pictures that are 10 years old or 20 pounds lighter. So don’t believe everything you see or read.

Make an effort: A lot of times, people – especially women – sit back and let others come to them. Don’t be afraid to make the first move. When you find someone you like, send a short note that says, “I really enjoyed your profile. I think we have some things in common.” Keep it simple.

Don’t get discouraged: If you don’t get a response from someone, don’t let it bother you. Just move on. There are many others that will be interested in you and it only takes one person to make online dating worthwhile.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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Income Tax Filing Requirements for Retirees

Dear Savvy Senior,
What are the IRS income tax filing requirements for seniors this year? I didn’t file a tax return the past two years because my income was below the filing requirements, but I got a part-time job late last year, so I’m wondering if I’m required to file this year.
Part-Time Retiree 

 Dear Part-Time,
Whether or not you are required to file a federal income tax return this year will depend on how much you earned last year (in 2017), and the source of that income, as well as your age and filing status.

Here’s a rundown of this tax season’s (2017) IRS tax filing requirement thresholds. For most people, this is pretty straightforward. If your 2017 gross income – which includes all taxable income, not counting your Social Security benefits, unless you are married and filing separately – was below the threshold for your filing status and age, you probably won’t have to file. But if it’s over, you will.

  • Single:  $10,400 ($11,950 if you’re 65 or older by Jan. 1, 2018).
  • Married filing jointly:  $20,800 ($22,050 if you or your spouse is 65 or older; or $23,300 if you’re both over 65).
  • Married filing separately:  $4,050 at any age.
  • Head of household:  $13,400 ($14,950 if age 65 or older).
  • Qualifying widow(er) with dependent child:  $16,750 ($18,000 if age 65 or older).

To get a detailed breakdown on federal filing requirements, along with information on taxable and nontaxable income, call the IRS at 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a free copy of the “Tax Guide for Seniors” (publication 554), or see IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p554.pdf.

Check Here, Too
There are other financial situations that can require you to file a tax return, even if your gross income falls below the IRS filing requirement. For example, if you had earnings from self-employment in 2017 of $400 or more, or if you’re receiving Social Security benefits and half your benefits plus all other income, including tax-exempt interest, exceeds $25,000 (or $32,000 if you are married filing jointly), you’ll probably need to file.

To figure this out, the IRS offers an interactive tax assistant tool on their website that asks a series of questions that will help you determine if you’re required to file, or if you should file because you’re due a refund. It takes less than 15 minutes to complete.

You can access this tool at IRS.gov/filing – click on the “Do I Need to File?” button. Or, you can get assistance over the phone by calling the IRS helpline at 800-829-1040. You can also get face-to-face help at a Taxpayer Assistance Center. See IRS.gov/localcontacts or call 800-829-1040 to locate a center near you.

Check Your State
Even if you’re not required to file a federal tax return this year, don’t assume that you’re also excused from filing state income taxes. The rules for your state might be very different. Check with your state tax agency before concluding that you’re entirely in the clear. For links to state tax agencies see Taxadmin.org/state-tax-agencies.

Tax Preparation Help
If you find that you do need to file a tax return this year, you can get help through the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (or TCE) program. Sponsored by the IRS, TEC provides free tax preparation and counseling to middle and low-income taxpayers, age 60 and older. Call 800-906-9887 or visit IRS.treasury.gov/freetaxprep to locate a service near you.

Also check with AARP, a participant in the TCE program that provides free tax preparation at around 5,000 sites nationwide. To locate an AARP Tax-Aide site call 888-227-7669 or visit AARP.org/findtaxhelp. You don’t have to be an AARP member to use this service.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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Strength Training Tips For Seniors

Dear Savvy Senior,
I’ve fallen several times over the past year and my doctor has recommended that I start a strength-training program to help prevent future falls. But at age 72, I’ve never lifted weights before and could use some help. What can you tell me?
Looking for Help

Dear Looking,
Weak leg muscles and poor balance are two of the biggest factors that cause seniors to fall. Most people, after age 40 lose about one percent of their muscle mass each year, which really adds up over time. But study after study has shown that it’s never too late to rebuild muscle through strength training.

Regular resistance or strength training can help you build muscle strength, increase your bone density and improve your balance, coordination and stamina, and will help prevent falls. It can also help reduce the signs and symptoms of many chronic conditions too like arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, back pain, depression and obesity. And some studies even show that it helps improve cognitive function too. Here are some simple ways to help you get stronger.

Getting Started
After you get your doctor’s okay, consider working with a professional trainer or physical therapist for a few sessions to help you develop a safe and effective routine you can continue on your own. Or go to GrowingStronger.Nutrition.Tufts.edu for a free program from Tufts University in Boston and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Also see Go4Life.NIA.NIH.gov, a resource created by the National Institute on Aging that offers a free exercise guide that provides illustrated examples of exercises you can do at home to strengthen your body. You can order your free copies online or by calling 800-222-2225.

To improve your strength you have to keep stressing your muscles, so you’ll need to exercise at least two or three days a week for 30 to 45 minutes, and increase resistance and the number of repetitions over time. But be sure you give your muscles a day off between workouts. It makes the muscle stronger and more able to resist future injury.

Equipment
If you work out at home you’ll probably need to invest in some equipment. While some strength training can be done using your own body weight (like push-ups, sit-ups and leg squats), hand weights, ankle weights, medicine balls, resistance bands or rubber tubing, are all great tools for strength training. You can find all these products at sporting goods stores, or online at Amazon.com for around $10 or less. Cans of soup, water bottles or plastic milk containers filled with water or sand can also be used (like small hand weights) for resistance.

Senior Classes
If you don’t like exercising alone consider joining a gym, or call your local senior center to see if they offer any strength training exercise classes.

You should also check out SilverSneakers (SilverSneakers.com, 888-423-4632) or Silver&Fit (SilverandFit.com, 877-427-4788), two fitness programs offered in thousands of fitness centers, gyms and YMCAs throughout the U.S. that offer special classes designed for older adults. These programs are available for free to seniors that have certain Medicare supplemental policies or Medicare Advantage plans.

Aerobic and Balance Exercises
Some other good fall-prevention exercises that can help you get stronger include aerobic activities like walking, cycling or water aerobics. And to improve your balance there’s Tai chi, along with a number of simple balance exercises that you can do anytime like standing on one foot for 30 seconds then switching to the other foot, and walking heel-to-toe across the room.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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