Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Healthier and Wiser: You and Your Family

Healthier and Wiser

Many people who have health insurance obtain it through an employer. However, there may be times in your life when you are without coverage, facing coverage choices or grappling with retirement health issues. The "Healthier and Wiser" series will address some of the main health care coverage issues women encounter at different stages of their lives. It will point you in the direction of where to go to find more information. It is not intended as legal advice. You can check out the "Healthier and Wiser" series on Wednesdays.

This Week: You and Your Family


1. What are your rights to health care coverage through your husband’s job if you and your husband separate or divorce? If your husband dies? What are your children’s or step-children’s rights in these cases?
  • In general, a divorce or the death of the spouse with the plan qualifies you under COBRA to remain covered under the plan for up to 36 months, but your own circumstances could lengthen or shorten this period. Children covered under the plan may be able to retain coverage even longer in the event of a divorce. If you are getting a divorce or need to enforce child support, you should also ask your attorney about filing a qualified medical support order (QMSO). A QMSO can be used to require employer-sponsored group health plans to extend health care coverage to the children of a parent/employee who is divorced, separated, or never married when ordered to do so by state authorities.
2. Can you or your family qualify for health care coverage through the military if one of you served and was honorably discharged even though s/he did not serve a full 20-year career?
  • Depending on your family’s income, you and your family may be eligible for health care coverage through the military, even if the one who served did not serve a full career. You should contact your local Veteran’s Affairs office if you think you might qualify; their phone number and address is in your telephone directory in the federal government section, or go to US Department of Veterans Affairs website to find the office nearest you.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

In Memoriam: Stephanie Tubbs Jones


WISER mourns the recent passing of our dear friend and colleague, Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones. Jones' was the first African American woman to represent Ohio in Congress. She made a name for herself as an outspoken, passionate politician who frequently advocated for lower and middle income women during her five terms in Congress. This past February, Jones' joined forces with WISER during the release of WISER's publication "The Female Factor 2008: Why Women Are at Greater Financial Risk in Retirement and How Annuities Can Help." Stephanie Tubbs Jones joined fellow congressmen and women as well as WISER president Cindy Hounsell, both pictured left, in calling for public action to mitigate the real risk of poverty that American women face in retirement. She is remembered not only for her political accomplishments, but for her incredible warmth and sense of humor. She will be greatly missed.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Perfumes, Pedicures, Pricey Dinners: Are They in Your Budget?

“If women put the average amount of money they spent on monthly manicure-pedicures ($50) into an interest-bearing retirement account every year for 10 years, they would have almost $10,000 saved.”

Flipping through any women’s magazine, you are sure to find countless advertisements for make-up, hair products, and expensive perfume that will make him fall for you before you say hello. A glance at the tabloids, a night in front of the television, even an innocent trip to the grocery store can encourage you to indulge in all those little luxuries that make you feel beautiful, whether it’s a manicure, an eyelash curler, new make-up, or that $30 bottle of lotion that promises to make your skin look young forever. The truth is that those advertisements and commercials fail to highlight one very important thing about these products: they cost money, and when you are buying these products that are supposed to make you feel better, look younger, and snag the guy of your dreams, you are spending your hard-earned money that could be used for better purposes, such as….you guessed it, saving for retirement.

According to a YWCA report mentioned in a Los Angeles Times article, Americans spend around $7 billion a year at cosmetics, beauty supply, and perfume stores. Moreover, one of the factoids in the report noted that women on average spend $50 a month on manicures and pedicures. If they put this money into an interest-bearing retirement account every year for 10 years, they would be able to accumulate approximately $10,000. To put this number in perspective, that would almost pay for one year of college at a state university, or one semester at a private university.

This is not to say that you should never get a pedicure again, or that you should stop buying make-up, perfume, soap (if nothing else, please leave soap on your shopping list!). However, budget your money, and keep track of where it goes. Is it typical for you to spend your entire monthly paycheck? Can you save money by eating out less, or forgoing a new pair of shoes? Can you cut expenses by dealing with the mediocre office coffee instead of picking up an extra-large non-fat French vanilla latte? To learn more about budgeting your money and how to save, visit the Saving and Investing portion of WISER’s website. Also, remember two things: you need your money in retirement more than your favorite make-up company needs it now. And the guy of your dreams? He probably can’t tell the difference between an $80 bottle of perfume and a $10 bottle of body spray.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Financial News You Can Use

"Longer lifespans give new importance to annuities"via IFAwebnews.com: A new report by TIAA-CREF, a financial service firm, says that "annuities can be used to ensure that people have enough money for 30 or more years of retirement." Americans are currently experiencing longer life expectancies, which may make annuities more desirable for some when creating a retirement savings plans. For more information, on Annuities, check out "Making Your Money Last For A Lifetime: Why You Need to Know About Annuities."

"Report Urges Raising Social Security Age" from today's Wall Street Journal:
They call it age inflation, a new term for the longer life expectancy of Americans. A National Bureau of Economic Research paper argues that the age for Social Security eligibility should be raised to compensate for the age inflation the nation has experienced since the creation of Social Security. There are some good reasons why you personally may want to delay your Social Security benefits. To find out more, check out "Shine a Light on Retirement", which explains why choosing to delay your retirement and social security benefits may help improve your retirement outlook.

"Gender Gap Exists in Adequate Life Insurance Coverage Despite Greater Financial Concerns among Women, According to MetLife Study" via TradingMarkets.com: According to a new study by MetLife, women with life insurance tend to own twice their household income in coverage, while men have coverage that covers three times their household income. The article notes that 64% of working women vs. 52% of working men say they are "very concerned about their families' financial futures in the event of their own premature death." For more information on life insurance for women, as well as health insurance in general, you may want to read "The WISER Woman's Guide to Insurance," a special report on insurance types, insurance needs and where to locate the coverage you want.

What are you reading?
Leave us a comment and let us know what financial news you're reading today!

Healthier and Wiser: On the Job

Healthier and Wiser

Many people who have health insurance obtain it through an employer. However, there may be times in your life when you are without coverage, facing coverage choices or grappling with retirement health issues. The "Healthier and Wiser" series will address some of the main health care coverage issues women encounter at different stages of their lives. It will point you in the direction of where to go to find more information. It is not intended as legal advice. You can check out the "Healthier and Wiser" series on Wednesdays.

This Week: On the Job

If both you and your husband are offered health care coverage through your employers, should you each enroll in your own plan, both enroll in one plan, or both enroll in both plans?

  • What you should do depends on what each of your plans says. Ask for the Summary Plan Descriptions for each plan (the documents should have this title) and read about family coverage and coordination of benefits.
  • Your plans may require that each of you be enrolled in your own employer’s plan as your primary plan. In that case, you could still enroll in your spouse’s plan, but your spouse’s plan would only cover expenses your own plan does not. You may also have a choice of choosing one plan and enrolling in family coverage. Many times, it is more cost effective for an entire family to be enrolled in one plan, and face only one deductible and set of premiums.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Financial Priority #3: Saving for Your Retirement

Of course, retirement seems a long way off for someone just starting out in their career, but creating a long-term retirement savings strategy and then actually starting it is one of the smartest decisions you can make as a young person. After making sure you've got health insurance coverage and setting up a strategy to pay off high-interest debt, planning for your retirement is an essential step towards a secure retirement.

Compound interest on money you save in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or other kind of retirement savings vehicle will similar grow over time at an impressive pace. Take advantage of that compound growth by investing in your 20s rather than waiting until you’re closer to retirement and have less time for your money to grow!

So, what can you do now to be secure later?

  • If your employer sponsors a retirement plan, and especially if your employer will match any contribution you make to the fund, that is absolutely your best option. Not signing up for a plan that includes employer contributions is like leaving money on the table!
  • If the employer-sponsored option is not available to you, you can start a Roth IRA for yourself with a relatively small amount of savings. For example, it’s possible to open an account with a leading investment firm if you have $1000, but you will be charged a $10 annual fee. When your account balance reaches $5000 the annual fee disappears so it may make sense for you to save your money in a bank account (with no annual fee) until you reach the $5000 threshold. Or, if you would be too tempted to make withdrawals from a personal savings account, go ahead and start a Roth IRA with less than $5000 and the $10 annual fee will be an an incentive to contribute as much as you can afford.
  • As was discussed is an earlier post, Roth IRAs are the best fit if you are currently in a low tax bracket but expect, or hope, to be in a higher-earning tax bracket by the time you are ready to retire. This is because Roth IRAs, as opposed to traditional IRAs, are set up such that you contribute after-tax income to the account (meaning, the amount of money you chose to contribute to a Roth IRA is not tax-exempt) but then don’t pay any taxes on the money you withdraw when you reach age 59½. Since taxes are generally expected to rise over time, this scheme essentially allows to you spend more of the retirement money you save on yourself rather than to pay taxes.
  • Roth IRAs are also a valuable resource for young people because they allow you to start saving for your old age, but you don’t necessarily have to wait until your old age to use some of that money. For example, starting five years after you opened the account, you’re allowed to withdraw contributions from your Roth IRA (note: you can’t take out interest earned, only the money you originally deposited) to pay for expenses like certain necessary medical costs, to buy your first home, and to pay for higher education.
Follow this three part guide to economic security and get your financial priorities straight: first, your health; next, pay off debt so you can start to save; and finally, start saving for retirement in your 20s so you can reap the benefits of investing early! Look for more helpful financial advice for women of all ages from WISER in the future!

Monday, August 18, 2008

For Love, Money, or Health Benefits?

“They marry for better or worse, for richer or poorer, for co-pays and deductibles.”

Most of us have heard the age-old warning “Don’t marry for money” at least once in our lives, but how many of us are familiar with the phrase “Don’t marry for health benefits?” An article in the New York Times called Health Benefits Inspire Rush to Marry, or Divorce suggests that as the cost of health care rises and many individuals find themselves without adequate insurance, couples are making marital decisions based on their health care situations. One couple married shortly after meeting so that one partner could have health coverage; another couple seriously contemplated ending their marriage in order to qualify as low-income and receive health care subsidies from the state. One woman admitted to staying in an unhappy marriage because she was unable to afford health insurance, and by staying married to her husband could ensure she was adequately covered.

When we think of marriage, we tend to think of love, security, children, and let’s be honest, fifty years of telling him to pick up his dirty socks and hand over the remote. So when did marriage become linked with health benefits, and will co-pays and deductibles one day be slipped into our marriage vows? Before you take that walk down the aisle, know that there are other options out there for women without health coverage. As a starting point, check out Healthier and Wiser: Women Without Coverage Part I and Healthier and Wiser: Women Without Coverage Part II, the first two posts of a WISER blog series that addresses some of the main health care issues women encounter.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Social Security Turns 73: How Are You Celebrating?

August 15th marked the 73rd anniversary of Social Security. Though certainly not a recognized national holiday, it is a cause for celebration. Social Security is by far the nation's most successful social program, helping millions avoid poverty in old age and providing necessary benefits for a range of others in the workforce, including disabled workers and their surviving spouses and children. It provides an essential economic safety net for women---without Social Security, more than half of elderly women would be in poverty. And it is a critical program for minority older persons, with 1 in 3 older African Americans and 2 in 5 older Hispanics currently relying on Social Security as their only source of income.

One way to celebrate 73 years of social security is by learning more about your current Social Security status. The following questions can help you stay informed on how much Social Security you may collect, when you can collect and how certain factors may impact your overall Social Security benefit. For more information on Social Security, visit the Social Security section of WISER's website.

1. Have you earned a worker benefit?
Yes, if you’ve worked 10 years (unless you are disabled).


2.
Do you know how much your benefit will be?

The Social Security Administration will be mailing a statement to everyone (age 25 and older) three months before your birth month. If you haven’t gotten yours, send for a free estimate by calling 800-772-1213.

You can calculate it on your own by using the Social Security Administration’s Retirement Planner on their Web site at www.socialsecurity.gov/planners.

3. Do you know the earliest age you can collect a retirement benefit?
Age 62 (unless you are widowed).


4. Do you know what happens to your benefit if you retire early?

If you start your benefits early, your benefits are reduced permanently. Your benefit is reduced about one-half of one percent for each month you start your Social Security before your full retirement age. For example, if your full retirement age is 65 and 10 months and you sign up for Social Security when you are 62, you would only get 75.8 percent of your full benefit. (Source: Social Security Administration, www.ssa.gov.)

NOTE: The reduction will be greater in future years as the full retirement age increases.

5. Do you know when widows can start to collect a survivor’s benefit?
Age 60 (unless you are disabled or have children under the age of 16).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

WISER on CNBC!

CNBC recently featured WISER’s research in a discussion with Stacy Francis, president of Francis Financial!
video

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jumping off that High Beam and into Retirement

It felt like a long road to retirement for Kerri. Work appeared to consume her life from the moment her career began. Her professional world was flooded with competitors, her work-life balance seemed like a joke. Her job took her from state to state, country to country, mentor to mentor. The working world left her battered and bruised, each professional success paired with a string of injuries. But she worked her way up that ladder of success until she towered above the competition, smiling down at her awe-struck co-workers and peers. Then Keri did something few of us could imagine: she retired. Chose the date, chose the way, chose a whole new life for herself. Goodbye working world. Hello...adolescence?

That's right, the heroine of our tale is none other than Kerri Strug, who retired from her successful career as an Olympic gymnast to do what many 18 year old retirees would do: go to college and pledge a sorority. The average woman in the workforce will not have the luxury of choosing when she retires based on her personal and physical needs, and it's not because she can't complete a vault. Creating a financial plan for retirement can help you gain some control over when and how you will retire. Though it may be too late to pledge that sorority, having enough retirement savings may help you fulfill your own post-employment dreams. Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to see if you're ready for retirement. For more information, visit WISER's website and check out our "Retirement Income Checklist."

1. Have you considered what annual income you will need in retirement?

Is it 75 percent of what you earn now? It could be more or less than that, depending on your basic needs. Remember that Social Security usually only covers about 40 percent of an average earner’s pre-retirement income.

2. Have you considered how long you might live in retirement?

Many people do not realize that retirement can last 20 to 30 years. It is important when planning to assume that you will have a long life in retirement. And the longer you live, the more likely inflation will erode the value of your savings.

3. Have you considered the cost of Medicare premiums?

They are automatically deducted from your Social Security check. For 2008, the Medicare premium is $96.40 a month. Also, consider the cost of health insurance outside of Medicare. You may think about purchasing a "Medigap" policy in order to cover healthcare costs that are not included in Medicare coverage.

4. Have you thought about how you will handle your savings once you retire?

Remember, if you have saved through a 401(k) type plan, you will be responsible for managing your own money, or hiring someone to help you do it.

5. Do you know how taxes will affect your retirement income?

If you receive money from a tax-deferred savings plan such as a 401(k), you will need to pay taxes on the amounts you receive. You also may have to pay taxes on your Social Security benefits.

Healthier and Wiser: Women Without Coverage Part II

Healthier and Wiser

Many people who have health insurance obtain it through an employer. However, there may be times in your life when you are without coverage, facing coverage choices or grappling with retirement health issues. The "Healthier and Wiser" series will address some of the main health care coverage issues women encounter at different stages of their lives. It will point you in the direction of where to go to find more information. It is not intended as legal advice. You can check out the "Healthier and Wiser" series on Wednesdays.

This Week: Women Without Coverage Part II

  1. If you work part-time, can you qualify for health care coverage from your employer if you increase your hours?
  • Employers don’t have to offer health care plans, and they are not required to cover everybody they employ. Most companies that offer health benefits require that you work a certain number of hours per year to qualify for health benefits, so it is worth finding out if changing your work schedule would make you eligible for benefits. It is often a smart financial move to increase your hours at your current job, or even change jobs if that is an option, in order to obtain health care coverage for your family.
  1. If you are not working, or have a low annual income, what are your options?
  • If you have lost your insurance due to loss of a job or a spouse, look into COBRA coverage. COBRA is a law that gives you the right to buy coverage in a workplace plan if you are no longer eligible to be covered under the plan as an employee or a dependent of one. You have 60 days to sign up for it through your previous employer or your spouse’s previous employer. Once you sign up for COBRA coverage, you will be allowed to stay in the plan for a specified time period, although you will be required to pay the full premium for coverage. Ask the former employer for more details about the options and benefits.
  • Medicaid provides health coverage for low-income individuals and families. Low and moderate-income children can often be covered through the State Children’s Health Insurance program (SCHIP) and some state programs are now covering parents and childless adults as well. Call your state Medicaid office for more information.
  1. If you don’t have health care coverage, can you negotiate fees with providers or do you have to pay whatever the doctor or hospital charges?
  • If you don’t have coverage, always try to negotiate a price and/or a payment schedule, although providers have no obligation to accept your offer. You might offer to pay the provider whatever an insurance plan would have paid for your treatment, which would generally be lower than the provider’s “sticker price”.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Spare Change: Simple Health Strategies for the 50+ Set

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) recently released checklists for men and women on how to stay healthy after 50. AHRQ fuses sound medical advice with a reader-friendly format that features a "Screening Test Record" form and a run-down of daily steps to good health and preventive medications. A few unisex tips that were featured on both lists were eating a healthy diet, receiving annual immunizations, and asking your doctor for high cholesterol and blood pressure screenings. These tips will help those of you over 50, and probably the under-50s as well, improve and maintain your current health. For more information, visit AHRQ's website for the Stay Healthy at 50+---Checklists for Your Health.

Priority #2: Dealing with Debt

In this, the second installment of When to spend, when to save..., WISER tackles the topic of debt. As a recent post pointed out, debt (especially the credit card variety) is a huge problem that most people would rather not discuss. But there are ways to deal with debt! Deciding on a strategy to pay off your different kinds of debt and get you out of the red as soon as possible should be one of your top priorities. Pay off credit card and student loan debt ASAP so that you can earn interest, not pay it!

Growth of credit card and student loan debt among young people has ballooned in recent years as tuition prices have gone up at the same time that credit cards were aggressively marketed to students and young adults. Two thirds of college students now graduate with loan debt – the average amount owed upon graduation is nearly $20,000.

What can you do? If you’ve already accrued substantial credit card and/or student loan debt in your early 20s, don’t freak out – but do get down to business figuring out a financial plan to pay off those debts.

  • After you have a budget, devote as much of your monthly earnings as you can to paying off high interest credit card balances and private student loans first. Federal student loans generally have lower interest rates so you can afford to pay the minimum on them each month while you concentrate on eliminating high-interest sources of debt all together.
  • When deciding how much money to devote to paying off debt each month, remember that compound interest means the sooner you pay it off, the less you’ll have to pay overall. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is only paying the minimum monthly charge on a credit card balance -- this will end up drawing out the debt for years and costing you many times the original charges in interest! For more information on managing credit card debt successfully see WISER’s Fact Sheets on Credit Card Debit for College Students and Credit Card Basics.
In this post, I emphasized spending wisely to pay off debt. In the final installment, we'll talk about how saving for retirement should figure into your financial priorities. As always, long-term financial security is the goal and WISER is here to help you decide when to spend and when to save...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Want to Work for WISER?

WISER is hiring an intern for the Fall 2008 Semester. We're looking for an excellent writer with research skills and an interest in retirement and financial planning. This is a paid internship that will give you the opportunity to participate in conferences, meetings on the Hill, DC events as well as write for WISER's newsletter, collection of Fact Sheets and this blog! To apply, send your resume, cover letter and writing sample to info@wiserwomen.org

Mama Mia: Mothers, Daughters and Money

Like many movie-goers this summer, I recently watched Meryl Streep sashay across my local cinema screen in an outfit that resembled the spawn of a disco ball and a feather boa. Ms. Streep is one of the stars of this summer's requisite wacky musical, Mama Mia. The film is an explosion of Abba-flavored kitsch, complete with tone-deaf serenades by former 007 Pierce Brosnan and abundant sequined strutting by Ms. Streep and her trio of fabulous friends.

But what stands out in Mama Mia more than the glitter and infectious pop is the mother-daughter relationship. Meryl Streep is a business owner who has single handedly run her dream inn on limited means. Though she appears happy with the financial decisions she has made, she wants a better future for her daughter. She encourages her daughter to travel, pursue a career and delay wedded bliss so as to procure some financial and personal independence.

Mothers have a wealth of financial planning information that they can offer their daughters as well as the other young women in their lives. Helping a young woman develop a strong financial plan is a lifetime gift. So, today, we're taking a cue from those strong mother-daughter ties in Mama Mia and offering you WISER's top five list of Things Mothers can Tell Their Daughters about Retirement:

1) Start Saving: Women tend to live longer and earn less than men. Wage discrimination makes it harder for women to set aside funds for retirement, but their longer lifespan makes it important to set aside more money than men. Make a financial plan that includes regular contributions to a retirement account early in your career, and stick to your plan.

2) Saving Early Pays Off...literally:
Compound interest makes it easier to accrue assets, but you need to start saving early to get the full benefits of compound interest. Consider this: a young woman saving $1,000 a year for ten years, from age 20 until age 30, and then saving nothing from age 30 to 58, will have $112,289 at age 58. A woman who starts saving at age 40, and saves $1,000 a year for ten years will have only $29,018 at age 58.

3) Develop Good Habits:
Get in the habit of having a household budget, developing long and short-term financial goals, saving money regularly and planning for a secure retirement.

4) Protect Your Credit Rating: Pay all of your bills on time, do not charge more than you can afford to pay comfortably and avoid costly predatory loans.
Women with poor credit ratings pay much higher interest rates on everything from mortgages to credit cards to personal loans. These costly loans and credit card accounts drain you financially and will keep you from acquiring assets you’ll need for a secure future, including a secure retirement.

5) Make Sure You Participate in a Retirement Plan: If you are covered by a retirement plan at work, sign up for it and contribute as much as you can. If your employer will match some of your savings, don’t pass it up. If you don’t have access to a retirement plan at work, consider finding a job with better benefits. You can also open an IRA and contribute the maximum amount each year. Many women find that having regular contributions deducted from their checking accounts is an easier way to stick to a savings plan. Save first in tax-favored accounts—the tax savings will boost your overall savings.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Spare Change: Quick Info from WISER

Today's Spare Change:
  • Definition of the Day: Roth IRA
  • A Money Myth Worth Disproving
  • What is a Roth IRA?
  • The Roth IRA is different from the traditional IRA in two ways: It provides tax benefits when you take the money out at retirement rather than when you invest it and it has higher income limits.With Roth IRAs, you cannot deduct the amount of your contribution on your tax return. However, you will not pay taxes when you withdraw your funds. There are no income limits if you are not covered by a pension plan at work. You can withdraw contributions and earnings at age 59½ with no federal tax or penalty, provided you opened your account at least 5 years prior. If you are less than 59½, you can make tax-free and penalty-free withdrawals 5 years after opening your account for certain medical expenses, higher education expenses or to buy your first home

  • Money Myth: The majority of women are now part of the paid labor force so they will be better off in retirement than current women retirees.
  • Fact:Elderly women are twice as likely to live in poverty as men and experts do not predict much change in the future because:women earn less money than men and have less to save; caregiving responsibilities make women more likely to leave jobs or work part-time and forfeit pension benefits as a result, and women are more likely to work in occupational sectors, such as the service industry, where pension benefits are less common.

To overcome these challenges, women need to: make a retirement savings plan early in life and stick to it; stay at jobs long enough to earn retirement benefits; and seek out jobs with better benefits when possible.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

When to spend, when to save.. A young woman's guide

Managing your money is important at every age and the earlier you start, the better off you’ll be in the long run. This three-part series is intended to give young women starting out in the work force a simple guide for prioritizing spending. Consistent with WISER’s values and mission, but geared towards younger women, here are three major financial priorities that will put you on a steady track to a secure retirement: investing in your health, paying off debt, and saving for retirement.


Priority #1: Your Health

Invest in your health with a catastrophic coverage plan

If you’re young and “invincible” you’re not alone: people age 23 to 30 are the group most likely to lack health insurance. Twenty-somethings are likely to go a few years uninsured because of a combination of factors:

  • they have aged out of their parents’ coverage,
  • they no longer qualify for a school-sponsored health care plan when they graduate from or leave college,
  • they have not yet settled into a “real world job” that offers employee benefits like health insurance
Combine these four factors with relatively low-income employment, a desire to pay off student loan debt, and a youthful and generally healthy body and you have a recipe for being uninsured and, therefore, being vulnerable to health emergencies that could cripple your economic future before you’ve even gotten started!

What can you do? To avoid this potential disaster, make the decision to trade some of your purchasing power now for long-term peace of mind with a high deductible health plan (HDHP), also called a catastrophic or emergency health insurance plan. HDHPs are health insurance plans that require you to pay a much higher deductible (around $5000 a year) before the insurance company begins paying towards your medical expenses, but also charges a significantly lower monthly premium (for non-smoking females, around $50 a month) than traditional “complete coverage” plans with lower deductibles. The HDHP option is best suited to women that are generally healthy, have no chronic conditions, and are mainly seeking a “safety net” in case of an expensive accident or unforeseen medical emergency.

You can compare these and other kinds of health insurance policies for free online by clicking here to visit ehealthinsurance.com.

The New Taboo: Credit Card Debt

Hand-written thank you notes. Hostess gifts. Elbows that have never rested on a table mid-meal. If none of these Emily Post approved etiquette staples apply to you, you're not alone. Modern etiquette is constantly changing. But a few rules seemed permanent: Say please. Say thank you. And above all, religion and politics are the ultimate taboo topics of discussion when meeting someone for the first time.

Well, not anymore.

According to a new poll by Creditcards.com, Americans would rather discuss their political and religious views during a first meeting than admit that they have credit card debt. In fact, the average person surveyed would choose to disclose their weight, age and health problems before they would disclose the amount of credit card debt they have amassed.

As we've pointed out already this week, ignorance isn't always bliss. If you feel unwilling discuss your debt with others, this may hold you back from seeking help to overcome your debt. Likewise, if you're sharing your finances with a partner, make sure that you're both being honest with each other about how much you each owe. Here are a few suggestions that may help make your credit card debt more manageable:
  • Pay off the credit card with the highest interest rate first.
  • Pay your credit card bill as soon as you receive it, especially if you are carrying over a balance, to reduce your interest charges.
  • If you cannot pay the full amount, pay as much as you can each month.
  • If you can’t afford to buy something, don’t buy it. While credit cards can be very useful, they are not magic. If you are careful with your budget, then you can avoid falling into the credit card debt trap.
  • For one-on-one credit counseling, contact the National Foundation for Consumer Credit at 800-388-2227 or http://nfcc.org/.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Healthier and Wiser: Week 1

Healthier and Wiser

Many people who have health insurance obtain it through an employer. However, there may be times in your life when you are without coverage, facing coverage choices or grappling with retirement health issues. The "Healthier and Wiser" series will address some of the main health care coverage issues women encounter at different stages of their lives. It will point you in the direction of where to go to find more information. It is not intended as legal advice. You can check out the "Healthier and Wiser" series on Wednesdays and Fridays.

This Week: Women Without Coverage

If you, your husband, or both, are working, but your employers do not offer health care coverage, are there affordable coverage options for you?
  • You may be able to get group coverage—and more favorable rates—if you are a member of an organization that offers group health care coverage. This could be a fraternal organization or a professional society, for example.
  • High-deductible plans often offer more affordable monthly premiums and take care of major medical expenses such as hospitalizations, but not routine care. However, you would have to cover expenses that arise before you meet the deductible out of your own pocket.
  • If you can’t enroll in a group plan and have a chronic condition that prevents you from buying an individual plan, you can check with your state’s insurance department to see if you might qualify for plans available for people in your circumstances.
  • If you have a high deductible health insurance plan, you might also consider opening a Health Savings Account (HSA). The HSA is a special tax-advantaged savings account that is used for health care needs. You can deposit before taxes money into HSA accounts and use the tax-free money to pay medical expenses and insurance premiums. This option may be right for you if you have the money to set aside in an HSA, if you can use additional tax deductions, and if you have trouble finding traditional health care coverage that you can afford. (A word of caution: for many people, the tax savings of an HSA will be lower than the out-of-pocket costs of a higher deductible health insurance plan. Talk to a bank or credit union that sponsors HSA plans for more details.)

The Cost of Couplehood

Women who are married or who are sharing their family finances with a partner are prone to different financial missteps than their single friends. If you're part of a couple and you are not currently involved in co-managing your family finances with your partner, you may be at risk for making a one or more of the following mistakes. But never fear: WISER is here with ways to fix and avoid the 5 money mistakes made by women in couples.

Mistake 1: Not Being Involved in Managing the Family Finances

No matter who is writing the checks, financial decisions should be made together. Make sure you know where your family’s money is, what investments each of you has and what the investments are worth.

Mistake 2: Using Your Money for Everyday Expenses...

...while your partner's money goes into his investments that continuously grow in financial worth. Women often watch their money disappear into living expenses for their home and family, such as groceries or back to school shopping. Try to share everyday expenses with your partner and put some money towards investments of your own.

Mistake 3: Trying to Pay for Half of Everything...

...when you can't really afford it. Though you and your partner may share expenses, your individual incomes should be taken into consideration when you decide how to share payments and bills. If your partner makes more money than you, it's okay to let him pay more than you. It is a good idea to create your own budget to determine how much you are able to pay for shared expenses, such as rent or food.

Mistake 4: Not Getting Professional Advice Soon Enough

This is particularly true for women going through divorce, or another major change in their lives, such as marriage or widowhood. You may be liable for any debts your husband acquires while you are married. If your husband is hiding income or depleting money from jointly held accounts, you should seek legal assistance as soon as possible. In addition, you need to divide a pension at the time of the divorce—not when your husband retires.

Mistake 5: Not Realizing that You May End Up on Your Own Some Day

Half of all marriages end in divorce. In addition, women often marry older men and have longer life expectancies. It is a good idea to be prepared to manage your own finances, even if it never happens. One way to protect yourself is to make sure your name appears on all of your family accounts and investments, either solely or as a joint owner. This establishes your legal right to at least part of these assets if your marriage ends or if your partner becomes ill or incapacitated.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Shine A Light on Retirement

Happy belated birthday Mick Jagger! Rock legend and boomer icon Mick Jagger turned 65 on July 26th. But how does the Stones front man measure up when compared to the average 65 year old?

Surprisingly, Sir Mick is following current retirement trends, though perhaps for somewhat different reasons. Jagger, as well as almost-65 year old fellow Glimmer Twin Keith Richards, have no plans to end their lucrative careers. These recent film stars have plans to continue recording new and old tracks with their longtime recording company, Universal Music Group.

Many potential retirees are choosing to remain in the workforce after they turn 65. Though these workers won't be selling out packed arenas, they may be greatly improving their retirement outlook. A recent analysis by a federal agency, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) points out that delaying retirement by even a few years can substantially improve the financial outlook for those who have a savings shortfall. According to the CBO, working a few years longer while also saving more income has several important effects:
  • It shortens the number of years of retirement and reduces the total funds you will need.
  • It allows funds already invested to continue to grow and gain in value.
By delaying Social Security benefits, there is an increase in the overall benefit amount, making a big difference for moderate earners.

The oldest boomers will be able to collect:
  • 75% of normal benefits at age 62.
  • 100% or the full benefit if they wait until age 66.
  • 132% or the full benefit plus an extra one-third if they wait until age 70.
According to a poll of independent advisers conducted by Curian Capital LLC, "Forty percent (of advisers) said the biggest threat to clients' retirement income plan was lack of sufficient time to build wealth." If you want that early retirement but need some extra savings, the Stones said it best: You can't always get what you want. But (pardon the impending pun) think about spending a few more years in the workforce, and you just might find, you'll get what you need .

Why Ignorance Isn't Always Bliss

Do you know how much debt you're in? If your answer is no, you're not alone. Many women are unaware of exactly how much they owe. If you're juggling credit card payments, loan payments and personal expenses, it's easy to lose sight of your overall debt. But this ignorance is anything but bliss: not knowing how much you owe puts you at risk of having too much debt.

Here are a few easy tips that may help you take control of your financial future:

1) Keep a Record: Record your current living expenses for a month. Look for ways to reduce expenses so you can pay back your debt. WISER's website has an excellent fact sheet with helpful tips on how to keep track of your spending.

2) Calculate Your Monthly Income: Add up your total income—all of the money you receive in salary, other payments and benefits and any earnings on investments each year. Divide your annual income by 12 to calculate your monthly income. Subtract all of your regular monthly bills and the other monthly expenses that you found by keeping track of your spending. This will tell you what money you have left for emergencies, like car repairs. By knowing your monthly income, you can find ways to curb your monthly spending and to reduce your overall debt.

3) Order a Free Credit Report: All US Citizens are eligible for one free credit report from each credit agency per year. Experts suggest looking at credit reports from all three agencies to get an overall picture, because your credit report may vary from one company to another. To receive a free credit report,visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228.

4) Reduce Your Credit Card Debt: Try to use lower interest credit cards or cards with no annual fee. You can get a list of credit cards, interest rates and fees by sending $5 to RAM Research’s CardTrak, P.O. Box 1916, Frederick, MD 21702, or for free on the Internet at www.cardweb.com. See also www.cardtrack.com. The Institute of Consumer Financial Education can also help you reduce your credit card debt. Visit www.icfe.info, write P.O. Box 34070, San Diego, CA 92163 or call 619-232-8811.

5) Pay Right Away: An easy way to stay aware of your spending and to minimize your debt is to pay your bills in a timely fashion. By paying on time, you're not accruing additional charges through late fees and you may able to reduce your interest charges. If you cannot pay the full amount, pay as much as you can each month.