October 2018 Columns

Savvy Senior – October Columns

  1. Free Resources That Can Help with Your Medicare Decisions
  2. How to Recognize and Prevent Elder Financial Abuse
  3. How to Manage Restless Leg Syndrome
  4. The Tax Credit That Lets You Double-Dip on Retirement Savings
  5. Top Dental Care Products for Seniors

Free Resources That Can Help with Your Medicare Decisions

Dear Savvy Senior,
I’m considering making changes in my Medicare coverage during the open-enrollment period. Can you recommend any free resources that can help with my choices?
Swapping Senior

Dear Swapping,
There are a number of good resources you can turn to that can help you choose Medicare coverage that better suites your needs, that’s completely free to use.

As you may already know, each year during Medicare’s open enrollment – Oct. 15 through Dec. 7 – all Medicare beneficiaries can change their coverage without penalty. Doing so, given that insurers are constantly tweaking their plans and offerings, could help lower your premiums and/or give you access to better care. Any changes you make to your coverage will take effect January 1, 2019.

Important Tools
To get help with your Medicare decisions, a good starting point is to get re-familiar with the primary parts – traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage, supplemental (Medigap) policies and prescription-drug coverage – Medicare publishes an excellent guide called “Medicare & You” that you can access at Medicare.gov/medicare-and-you.

If you are already enrolled in Medicare Advantage or a Medicare Part D prescription-drug plan, it’s very important that you read and understand your “Annual Notice of Changes” and “Evidence of Coverage,” which should have arrived in the mail in September. These documents explain how your existing coverage will change in 2019 and how much you’ll pay for that coverage.

Your next step is to go Medicare’s online “Plan Finder” tool at Medicare.gov/find-a-planHere you can enter some basic information – your Medicare number and prescription drugs (name and dosage) – and it will produce a list of possible health-care plans in your area, the costs involved, drug coverage and customer-satisfaction ratings. Or, if you don’t have Internet access, or don’t feel confident in working through the information on your own, you can also call Medicare at 800-633-4227 and a customer service representative will do the work for you over the phone.

Free Advice
If you want personalized help with a Medicare specialist, contact the Medicare Rights Center or your State Health Insurance Assistance Program.

The Medicare Rights Center is a nonprofit group (MedicareInteractive.org) that offers a national helpline (800-333-4114) where staff members answer questions about Medicare, and can help you choose coverage, at no charge.

And your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), which may go by a different name in your state, provides free one-on-one counseling in person or over the phone to beneficiaries, as well as family members and/or caregivers. SHIPs are federally funded programs that are not connected to any insurance company or health plan. To find a SHIP counselor in your area, see ShiptaCenter.org or call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116.

Another good resource, if you’re interested in choosing a new Medicare Advantage plan, is the HealthMetrix Research Cost Share Report at MedicareNewsWatch.com. This free website lists the best Advantage plans by area based on your health status.

Agent Assistance
Another way to get free assistance with your Medicare Advantage, prescription drug or Medigap plans is to use an agent or broker who specializes in Medicare-related insurance in your state. These people get paid a commission to sell you a policy from the insurance providers they represent.

There are federal rules and state laws governing agents or brokers who sell Medicare plans, which include things like barring them from showing up uninvited at your house to pitch a plan or trying to lure you with a cash offer. They also cannot legally charge you a fee to process your enrollment.

It’s also important to understand that commission-based agents and brokers will present only the Medicare plans they represent, rather than all the plans in your market. So, you may miss out on some plans that could benefit you.

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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How to Recognize and Prevent Elder Financial Abuse

Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you provide some tips on how to protect seniors from financial scams? My 76-year-old aunt was recently swindled out of $25,000 and I want to make sure my own mother is protected.
Concerned Daughter

Dear Concerned,
Financial scams that target the elderly continue to be a huge problem in the U.S. In fact, it’s estimated that one in five Americans over age 65 are scammed out of roughly $36 billion every year. Here are some tips that can help you spot a scam, and what you can do to protect your mom.

Recognizing a Scam
Spotting a scam or a con artist is not always easy to do. They range from shady financial advisers to slick-talking telemarketers to professional caregivers and relatives who steal from the very people they’re supposed to be looking after.

The most common scams targeting seniors today come in the form of tricky and deceitful telemarketing calls, email and Internet scams, free-lunch seminars selling dubious financial products and endless junk mail peddling free vacation packages, sweepstakes, phony charity fundraisers and more. And, of course, there’s the ongoing problem of identity theft, Medicare and Social Security fraud, door-to-door scams and credit card theft.

The best way to spot a scam is to help your mom manage her finances, or at least monitor her accounts. Reviewing her financial statements each month can alert you to questionable checks, credit card charges or large withdrawals. Or, consider a service like EverSafe.com, which will automatically monitor your mom’s accounts, track suspicious activity and alert you when it detects a problem.

However, if your mom doesn’t want you looking at her financial records, there are other clues. For example: Is she getting a lot of junk mail for contests, free trips, and sweepstakes? Is she receiving calls from strangers offering awards or moneymaking deals? Also, notice if her spending habits have changed, if she has complained about being short of money lately or has suddenly become secretive or defensive about her finances. All these may be signs of trouble.

Protect Your Mom
The most effective way to help protect your mom is to alert her to the different kind of scams going on today. To help you with this, the National Council on Aging has a list of “top 10 financial scams targeting seniors” at NCOA.org. Also see AARP’s Fraud Watch Network at AARP.org/money/scams-fraud and sign up to receive free scam alert emails from the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov/scams.

Some other tips to protect her include reminding your mom to never give out her personal information, Social Security number or financial information unless she initiated the contact and knows the institution.

Also, see if your mom would be willing to let you sort her mail before she opens it, so you can weed out the junk. To reduce the junk mail and/or email she gets, use the Direct Marketing Association consumer opt-out service at DMAchoice.org. And to stop credit card and insurance offers, use the Consumer Credit Reporting Industry opt-out service at OptOutPrescreen.com or call 888-567-8688 – they will ask for your mom’s Social Security number and date of birth.

You should also register your mom’s home and cell phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry (DoNotCall.gov, 888-382-1222) to reduce telemarketers. To stop robocall scams on her landline phone use Nomorobo (Nomorobo.com), and if she uses a smartphone, use the free app Hiya (Hiya.com). You should also get a free copy of her credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com to make sure she isn’t a victim of identity theft.

Report It
If you suspect your mom has gotten scammed, report it to her local police, her bank (if money has been taken from her account) and her state’s Adult Protective Services agency that investigates reports of elderly financial abuse. Call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to get the agency contact number in her area.

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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How to Manage Restless Leg Syndrome

Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about restless leg syndrome? I’m 58 years old, and frequently have jerky, uncontrollable urges to move my legs, accompanied by a tingling sensation, and it keeps me awake at night.
Jumpy John

Dear John,
If an irresistible urge to move your legs has you kicking in your sleep, then chances are pretty good you have restless leg syndrome (RLS), a condition that affects 7 to 10 percent of Americans. Here’s what you should know.

RLS, also known as Willis-Ekbom Disease, is a nervous system problem that causes uncomfortable sensations (often described as a creepy-crawly feeling, tingling, itching, throbbing, pulling or aching) and an irresistible urge to move one or both legs while you’re sitting or lying down, and the symptoms usually get worse with age. It typically happens in the evenings or nights while resting. Moving eases the unpleasant feeling temporarily.

While RLS is not a life-threatening condition, the main problem, other than it being uncomfortable and annoying, is that it disrupts sleep, leading to daytime drowsiness, difficulty concentrating and even depression.

What exactly causes RLS is not known, but researchers suspect it could be linked to several things including iron deficiency, an imbalance of the brain chemical dopamine, and genetics – about 60 percent of people with RLS have a family member with the condition.

Treatment Options
While there’s no cure for RLS, there are things you can do to alleviate the symptoms. Depending on the severity of your case, some people turn to RLS medications like gabapentin enacarbil (Horizant), an anticonvulsant, and dopamine agonists ropinirole (Requip), rotigotine (Neupro) and pramipexole (Mirapex). But be aware that these drugs have side effects including nausea, lightheadedness, fatigue and insomnia. And, while these medications can provide short-term relief, they can also make symptoms worse in many people who use them long term.

So before turning to medication, you should consider some of the following natural RLS treatments first, which are very effective for most people.

Check your iron levels. Iron deficiency is believed to be one of the major contributors to RLS, so make an appointment with your doctor and get a blood test to check for this. If you test positive for iron deficiency, your doctor may recommend iron supplements.

Exercise: Getting moderate, regular exercise like walking, cycling, water aerobics and yoga can relieve symptoms, but overdoing it or exercising late in the day may intensify them. Daily leg stretches – include calf, hamstring, quadriceps and hip flexor stretches – are also helpful.

Check your medications: Certain drugs including antinausea drugs, antipsychotic drugs, some antidepressants, and cold and allergy medications containing sedating antihistamines can make RLS worse. If you take any of these, ask your doctor if something else can be prescribed.

Avoid triggers: Alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and refined sugar can all make RLS symptoms worse.

Try these remedies: Soaking in a hot bathtub and massaging your legs can relieve symptoms, as can applying a hot pad and/or ice pack to your legs. Pressure can also help, so consider wearing compression socks or stockings. There’s also a new non-drug FDA approved vibrating pad on the market called Relaxis that interrupts RLS episodes and can provide relief to those who use it.

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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The Tax Credit That Lets You Double-Dip on Retirement Savings

Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about the retirement saver’s tax credit? At age 60, I’m looking for ways to boost my retirement savings beyond my 401(k) plan and have heard this may be a smart way to do it. Is this something I’m eligible for?
Need to Save

Dear Need to Save,
If your income is low to moderate and you participate in your employer-sponsored retirement plan or an IRA, the “Saver’s Credit” (also known as the Retirement Savings Contribution Credit) is a frequently overlooked tool that can help boost your retirement savings even more. Here’s how it works.

If you contribute to a retirement-savings account like a traditional or Roth IRA, myRA, 401(k), 403(b), 457, federal employees’ Thrift Savings Plan, Simplified Employee Pension or SIMPLE plan, the Saver’s Credit will allow you to claim 10, 20 or 50 percent of your contribution of up to $2,000 per year for singles or $4,000 for couples.

This valuable tax credit can be claimed in addition to the tax deduction you get for saving in your traditional retirement accounts.

To qualify, you must also be at least 18 years old and not a full-time student and were not claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return. And your adjusted gross income (AGI) in 2018 must have been $63,000 or less as a married couple filing jointly, $47,250 or less if filing as head of household, or $31,500 or less if you’re a single filer. These income limits are adjusted annually to keep pace with inflation.

To get the 50 percent credit, you’ll need to have an income below $19,000 if you’re single, $28,500 if you’re filing as head of household, and $38,000 for couples in 2018.

The 20 percent credit rate applies to individuals earning between $19,001 and $20,500; for head of household filers it’s $28,501 to $30,750; and for couples it’s $38,001 to $41,000.

And the 10 percent rate is for individuals with an adjusted gross income between $20,501 and $31,500; for head of household filers $30,751 to $47,250; and couples it’s between $41,001 and $63,000.

Here’s an example of how this works. Let’s say that you file your taxes as head of household and your AGI for 2018 is $30,000. Over the course of the year, you contribute $2,000 to your employer’s 401(k) plan. Since your AGI puts you in the 20 percent credit bracket, and you’ve contributed the $2,000 maximum that can be considered for the credit, you are entitled to a $400 Saver’s Credit on your 2018 tax return.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Saver’s Credit is in addition to any other tax benefits you get for your retirement contributions. So in the previous example, not only would you be entitled to a $400 credit, but you would also be able to exclude the $2,000 401(k) contribution from your taxable income. So, if you’re in the 15 percent tax bracket, this translates to an additional $300 in savings, for a total of $700.

How to Claim
To claim the Saver’s Credit, you will need to fill out Form 8880 (see IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f8880.pdf) and attach it to your 1040, 1040A or 1040NR when you file your tax return. Don’t use the 1040EZ Form.

If you think that you would have qualified for the credit in previous years but didn’t claim it, you can file an amended return as far back as 2015 and still get the credits. A 2014 amended return is due by April 15, 2019. See IRS Form 1040X (IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/i1040x.pdf) for instructions on how to file an amended return.

And for more information on the Saver’s Credit, see IRS Publication 590-A “Contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements” (IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p590a.pdf).

You can also have these forms and publication mailed to you by calling 800-829-3676.

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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Top Dental Care Products for Seniors

Dear Savvy Senior,
I have arthritis in my hands that affects my grip strength and dexterity and makes brushing my teeth difficult. I’ve read that electric powered toothbrushes help make the job easier. Can you make any recommendations on what to get?
Still Smiling

Dear Still Smiling,
For seniors who suffer from arthritis or have other hand weaknesses, an electric toothbrush is a great solution to keep your teeth clean. At the push of a button, an electric toothbrush will do everything but shake, rattle and roll to do the cleaning for you, and most come with a wide handle and rubberized grip that make them easier and more comfortable to hold on to.

How to Choose
With dozens of different electric toothbrushes on the market today, here are several key points you’ll need to consider, to help you choose:

  • Cost: The cost of electric toothbrushes will range from $15 up to around $300. How much are you willing to spend?
  • Brushing action: Brush heads tend to be either “spinning” (they rotate very fast in one direction, then the other, and bristles may pulsate in and out) or “sonic” (they vibrate side to side). Both methods are effective and it is a matter of personal preference.
  • Electric versus battery: Choose a brush with a built-in rechargeable battery and an electric charging station. They’re much more convenient and cost effective than toothbrushes that use replaceable batteries.
  • Brushing timer: Since most dentists recommend brushing for two minutes (and most adults brush less than 60 seconds), get a power toothbrush with a built-in timer. Some brushes will even split the two minutes onto four 30-second intervals and will notify you when it’s time to switch to a different quadrant of your mouth.
  • Extra features: Most higher-priced electric brushes come with various settings such as sensitive (gentler cleaning) or massage (gum stimulation), a charge-level display and more. There are even “smart” toothbrushes on the market that connect to a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth to track brushing habits. What extra features do you want or need?

Top Electric Toothbrushes
While there are many makes and models of electric toothbrushes to choose from, two of the best-selling, top-rated products to consider are the Oral B Pro 1000 (spinning brush head) and the Philips Sonicare 2 Series (vibrating brush head). Both are simple, very effective at removing plaque, and reasonably priced – around $50. They also both offer two-minute timers, rechargeable batteries and a range of brush heads to meet your needs.

To learn more about these electric toothbrushes and a wide variety of other options, visit OralB.com and Sonicare.com. And for more information on choosing an electric toothbrush, visit Toothbrush.org/best-electric-toothbrush.

Easier Flossing Products
If flossing is difficult too, a good alternative to traditional string floss is floss picks. These are disposable plastic-handle tools that have floss threaded onto them, which makes them easier to hold and use. DenTek, Oral-B and others sell packages for a few dollars, or check out the Reach Access Flosser, which comes with a toothbrush-like handle for a better reach.

Some other flossing devices to consider that are easy on the hands include: The WaterPik power flosser ($7), which gently vibrates to dislodge embedded food particles between your teeth; Philips Sonicare AirFloss water flossers ($50 or $90) that uses burst of water or mouthwash to and clean in-between your teeth; and WaterPik Water Flossers ($50 to $130), which use high-pressured pulsating water to remove food particles and plaque and will stimulate your gums in the process.

All of these dental care products can also be found at your local pharmacy or retailer that sells personal care items or online.

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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