Social Security COLA for 2018 is a “Good News, Bad News” Mix

First, let’s consider the good news about a Social Security cost of living adjustment (COLA) for 2018: it looks like there’s going to be one, and it could be the most generous in years. But the bad news is it may not amount to much in actual purchasing power for the typical senior.

That’s the conclusion we drew from this article we read a few weeks ago on the website of Investment News. Actually, there have been a slew of similar articles since the Social Security Board of Trustees announced their projection (still not set in stone) that benefits would go up 2.1 percent next year, the largest cost of living hike in 6 years.   That’s a significant boost from the paltry 0.3 percent last year, and a big jump from the “zero COLA” offered in 2016. If the projection holds true, and Medicare Part B premiums remain unchanged as projected, the average Social Security recipient could see an extra $28 in his or her pocket – not a lot but better than nothing. Remember, though, that at this point these are strictly projections. We’ll have to wait until October to learn the actual COLA for 2018.

But things aren’t exactly rosy for most retirees for whom Social Security represents all or most of their income. The article in Investment News quotes a study by The Senior Citizen League (TSCL) estimating that Social Security recipients “have lost nearly a third of their buying power since 2000 as the costs of items typically purchased by the elderly have significantly outstripped the annual inflation increased in their retirement benefits.” Since 2012 the annual COLA for Social Security has only averaged 1 percent, largely because benefit adjustments are based on what’s called the CPI-W – the Consumer Price Index for Urban workers. “Senior advocacy groups, including The Senior Citizens League, argue that when it comes to measuring inflation experienced by retired and disabled individuals, the government is using the wrong index,” says Investment News. “The CPI-W gives less weight to medical care and housing costs — two categories that have experienced rapid inflation and represent a larger portion of the budgets of older households than younger workers.”

The Senior Citizens League did some calculations to measure the erosion in buying power for the average beneficiary. Since 2000, benefits have increased a total of 43 percent, but the actual expenses incurred by most seniors have gone up by twice that rate – 86 percent. In real numbers, the average beneficiary back in 2000 was receiving $816 per month, an amount which by 2016 had grown to about $1,170. By using a more accurate estimate of rising costs affecting seniors, TSCL calculated that it would take almost $1,520 today to match the buying power of the average benefit in 2000, leaving the typical Social Security beneficiary about $350 short in buying power every month. No wonder things are getting tougher for many low and moderate income seniors.

According to the Social Security Administration, more than 62 million Americans are receiving Social Security benefits in 2017. About one-sixth of those are disabled workers and their dependents, so the great majority of beneficiaries are retirees whose average benefit is $1,360 per month.  For more than 40 percent of single retirees, Social Security accounts for 90 percent or more of their monthly income. Benefits in 2017 are estimated to total $955 billion.

In researching the story about Social Security COLA for 2018, we also found this timely article on the popular financial website Motley Fool. It quotes much of the same information as the Investment News article but adds this warning. “COLAs aside, Social Security is still facing a pretty dire shortfall within two decades’ time. The latest projections confirm what we were already told last year – that without intervention from Congress, the program’s trust funds are set to run dry come 2034.” Financial analysts estimate that if that happens, Social Security will manage to pay out only about 77 percent of scheduled benefits. “For today’s younger retirees who don’t have independent savings,” says the Motley Fool article, “that could spell major trouble down the line.”

So what’s the answer? At AgingOptions our answer is a familiar one: you must have a comprehensive retirement plan in place. And we don’t simply mean a financial plan, as important as that is: financial planning by itself cannot protect you against the unexpected twists and turns of your retirement journey. Time and time again we have seen situations where a nicely done financial plan unravels when someone faces a medical crisis, an unanticipated housing change or a legal challenge. Is there a way to plan for all these elements and also to make certain your family will support your wishes as you age? Fortunately the answer is yes. The answer is an AgingOptions LifePlan.

Our approach to planning for retirement is different from everyone else’s. A LifePlan weaves together the financial, legal, housing, medical and family elements so that each piece supports the other. With a LifePlan in place you’ll be able to protect your assets as you age, avoid become a burden to your loved ones, and escape the trap of being forced into an institution against your will. You’ll also be protected against the uncertainties of Social Security and other government programs whose future health seems very much in jeopardy. Why not invest just a few hours and attend a free LifePlanning Seminar? Bring your questions and become better informed about what a solid retirement plan can look like. You’ll be very glad you did!

For details and online registration, click here, or contact us during the week. It will be our privilege to serve you!

(originally reported at www.investmentnews.com and www.fool.com)

What Worries You? Survey Shows Common Age-Related Concerns

Here at AgingOptions we’re always advising people to remember as they plan for retirement that feelings matter. In other words, it’s all well and good to make careful plans for your retirement future, but you need to take your emotions into account as well, because how you feel about retirement and what you worry about as you age will have a lot to do with how happy you’ll be.

We found this very recent article on a website called California Newswire. While the piece itself wasn’t particularly easy to digest, it contained some valuable information that confirms the importance of thinking ahead about the emotional side of retirement. The article refers to a comprehensive survey done last year by the federal Department of Health and Human Services in which more than 15,000 Americans between the ages of 40 and 70 were asked about their personal concerns regarding their own long-term care. Along with a list of what worries them, this same group was asked what actions they might personally be willing to take in order to alleviate those concerns.

Before we share the lists of “concerns” and “actions” with you, we can’t help noticing that the issues identified in this article relate directly to the message that AgingOptions has been promoting for the past decade. A big part of planning adequately for retirement involves asking the right questions, the kind that too many retirees and so-called retirement planners overlook. Our professional AgingOptions team has developed a comprehensive approach to addressing these critical retirement issues, which is why coming to a free LifePlanning Seminar is so important. More on that in a moment.

Here’s the list of seven main long-term care concerns from the California Newswire article – which of these worry you the most?

  • Losing independence
  • Being a burden on your family
  • Losing control and choice over long-term care you might need
  • Being unable to afford high-quality care
  • Using up savings or income to pay for nursing home care and related services
  • Becoming poor and having to rely on Medicaid
  • Being unable to depend on family and friends for care.

Interestingly, more than three-fourths of respondents to the DHHS survey listed at least five of these seven as areas of concern. It didn’t seem to matter how old respondents were or how much money they had. The two most frequently cited concerns were loss of independence and fear that family and friends would not be there to help provide long-term care in the future.

So if these are the chief concerns, then what actions are people willing to take to help remedy the problem and better provide for their care needs in the future, when they become more frail and less independent? Here’s the “Top Ten” list – which of these would you be willing to do?

  • Have family or friend move in
  • Move in with children, other family members or a friend
  • Rely on your spouse, other family member or a friend for care
  • Attend an adult day care facility
  • Hire an in-home aide or agency for care
  • Hire a live-in caregiver
  • Move into an assisted living facility
  • Move into a nursing home
  • Make modifications to your home
  • Use the value in your home (your equity) to pay for care.

The two actions more people seemed willing to take were modifying their homes to age in place (no surprise there) and having a family member or friend move in. But the opposite choice – moving in with someone else – was the preference of less than half the survey group. And with all the attention being paid these days to reverse mortgages, we were surprised that a similarly small percentage (fewer than half) expressed willingness to use some of their home equity to help pay for care. Here the respondent’s income did seem to make a difference, with wealthier respondents more willing to spend money on their care through choices like buying long-term care insurance or paying for care out of home equity.

The reason we share this with you, besides the fact that these concerns and choices are interesting, is that we hope articles like this along with the information you hear on our AgingOptions radio program and in our seminars will cause you to think of retirement planning in a brand new, more comprehensive way. You and your loved ones need to be asking yourselves some critical age-related questions – not hiding your head in the sand until choices become impossible! We have two specific recommendations for you.

First, contact us at AgingOptions and let us plan and conduct a family conference for you. Getting your loved ones together in a neutral setting and having a conversation guided by an expert professionally trained in the issues of aging is one of the most important steps you’ll ever take. A few hours invested today will pay dividends for generations to come.

Second, plan now to attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars where we get many of these issues and fears out on the table. You’ll quickly discover that you are far from alone in the matters that preoccupy you concerning retirement. You’ll also discover a unique and comprehensive strategy called a LifePlan that will guide you into retirement with your finances, legal matters, housing choices, medical coverage and family dynamics all working together in  well-planned synergy.

For dates, times, locations and online registration, simply click here, or contact us during the week so we can assist you by phone.

(originally reported at https://californianewswire.com)

NY Times: Future of Medicaid and of LTC Insurance Closely Linked

Watching the battle over health care legislation in Washington, D.C. is like watching a high-stakes ping pong match. First one side and then the other has the edge in votes, with the future of every American’s health care hanging in the balance. As of this writing it seems that the most recent Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) has ended up in a legislative dead end, and now our political leaders have to go back to the drawing board. The future of American health care policy is as murky as ever.

But no matter which of many arguments eventually prevails, there’s a growing consensus among many that some major changes to the Medicaid program are probably inevitable – and those changes may have a significant impact on your decision about whether to purchase long-term care (LTC) insurance. That’s the conclusion from this article which appeared in the New York Times just a few days ago. We highly recommend you read this timely piece because it will help shed some light on one of the more important retirement-related decisions you’ll face: how will I cover the costs to care for myself when I can no longer live independently?

New York Times money columnist Ron Lieber writes that the outcome of the proposal to drastically cut Medicaid benefits is “important to nearly everyone, even people who are reasonably affluent.” He calls Medicaid the “backstop for retirees who run out of money but still need home-based care or must move into a nursing home.” As we’ve warned repeatedly on the AgingOptions radio program and in our LifePlanning Seminars, these long-term care costs (which are almost never covered by Medicare) can quickly add up to several hundreds of thousands of dollars, draining away the retirement savings of many middle class seniors who thought they had enough set aside.  The important thing to realize, Lieber suggests, is that even if the Republican health care plan with its built-in Medicaid cuts fails to move forward, something is going to have to give. In the words of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, “States will not be able to sustain spending for long-term services and supports” as the baby boomers start needing care. Boomers with their meager retirement savings could bust the Medicaid budget.

The Times article suggests that all this talk of Medicaid cuts has revived interest in various forms of long-term care insurance. Originally LTC policies only covered nursing home residents, but in recent years home-care and assisted living have also come under the coverage umbrella for most policies. According to a 2015 study cited by Ron Lieber, just over half of those turning 65 will need some form of long-term care before they die. (This is lower than other studies which have pegged the total of those who will one day need long-term care at closer to 70 percent.) One-fourth or more, says the Times, will need less than two years’ worth of coverage while about 14 percent will require five years of coverage or more. The majority are somewhere in between.

But the irony is that even with a growing population of seniors needing coverage, the number of insurance companies offering that coverage is dropping rapidly, mostly because companies guessed wrong in the early years of writing LTC policies. They charged premiums that were too low and paid out benefits that cost more and lasted longer than they had anticipated. The result was a severe market shake-out, such that today only a handful of surviving firms remain, having learned a painful actuarial lesson the hard way. These days LTC premiums are significantly higher than they used to be, and underwriting standards are stricter. The New York Times says that many who apply won’t qualify: industry data reveals that 25 percent of applicants in their 60s were turned down for long-term care coverage, as were 44 percent of people in their 70s.

So with those daunting odds combined with high costs plus the uncertain odds you’ll ever need coverage someday, what’s the best decision? You could opt for a traditional long-term care policy. You could also investigate the growing number of life insurance policies being offered today that include a long-term care benefit: in return for a much higher initial premium, you have the peace of mind of knowing that your heirs will inherit the policy’s proceeds if you never need long-term care. Or you could trust your investment savvy, Lieber suggests, and hope you can save enough to cover the costs of your care should the need arise – costs which for a significant number of seniors will exceed $250,000.

It’s definitely a challenging decision. “There is no calculator that can size things up precisely,” writes Lieber. He recommends something we’ve often suggested here at AgingOptions: before investing in any form of LTC insurance, “hire an independent adviser on an hourly basis…to examine the policy side by side with traditional long-term care insurance and the possibility of paying for care out of pocket.”  Don’t rely on the advice from someone with a product to sell! If you’ll contact us at AgingOptions we can recommend some objective professional planners in your area whom you can approach with confidence.

One of the critical things to remember in all this, warns Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions, is that planning around Medicaid must start years before you ever need it. “Even if present laws remain unchanged,” says Rajiv, “we believe that Medicaid benefits are going to be harder to access in the future, not easier.” What’s more, Medicaid by itself is completely inadequate to ensure any real quality of life as you age. “It promises only life – not quality,” in Rajiv’s words.   The best strategy – one that the professionals at AgingOptions can help you implement – is to learn how to safely set aside funds today so you can augment the care you receive from Medicaid in the future. A LifePlanning Seminar is a great next step for you.

Lieber’s article ends with the suggestion that maybe, considering the extent of the looming long-term care crisis in the U.S., our political leaders will come to see that a comprehensive solution involving expanded Medicare benefits for the care needs of aging seniors is necessary. Sadly, while this may be a worthy dream, the present dismal state of bi-partisan political discourse in America leaves us pessimistic. Instead of waiting around for the government to come up with a solution, we recommend you find a terrific solution for yourself in the form of a LifePlan from AgingOptions. Your LifePlan contains all the planning elements you’ll require for a secure retirement future: a financial plan, a legal strategy, a comprehensive medical safety net, and a well-planned strategy for your housing needs – all combined with a plan to involve your family at every stage of retirement. We invite you to come find out more about all aspects of retirement planning by attending a free LifePlanning Seminar near you.

Simply click here for details and online registration, or call us during the week. Let AgingOptions help guide you into the retirement you’ve always hoped for!

(originally reported at www.nytimes.com)

Concierge Medicine: the Wave of the Future, or Back to the Past?

It always amazes us here at AgingOptions to run across people who spend countless hours (and hefty fees) to create carefully-crafted financial plans, yet overlook caring for the most important asset of all: themselves.  For that reason we were drawn to this very recent article on the website Investopedia.  Written by financial planner Robert Dalie, this article shines some helpful light on an approach to medical care that in some ways is a throwback to the past, yet is garnering increasing attention these days: Concierge Medicine.

We agree with this assessment from Dalie’s article. “In the world of investing and finance,” he writes, “most people simply focus on wealth creation and preservation. Yet, what is often overlooked and neglected is our most valuable asset. This is an asset so critical that without it, we are unable to enjoy the fruits of all of our other asset classes combined. The asset is you and your health.”  He goes on to explain that merely having health insurance by no means ensures that you’ll get the best care. “We believe that insurance is the instrument that provides us cover in the event of medical problems,” says Dalie. “The reality is that healthcare insurance is a financial hedge against unforeseen medical (financial) loss. Health insurers don’t really care about you, they care about quarterly revenue and profit margins. Insurance is for hospitals, not doctors.”

For some the answer to better, more personalized medical care may lie in the increasingly popular model known as Concierge Medicine. We found this simple definition on an industry website called Concierge Medicine Today.  “Concierge Medicine is a form of membership in which doctors provide medical care to patients generally providing 24/7 access, a cell phone number to connect directly with their physician, same-day appointments, [and] visits that last as long as it takes to address their needs and varying other amenities.” The cost for this highly personalized service is a monthly fee paid to the Concierge Doctor which, says the web site, averages between $135 and $150 per month.

The article on the Investopedia website says this model has been gaining momentum for the past two decades and is likely slated to boom with all the uncertainty in the American health care landscape. Concierge Medicine practices, says Dalie, reflect the reality of modern healthcare. Patients who can afford the fee love the fact that they have ready access to their own physician, and that their doctor is taking a far more proactive approach to better care for patients, with services such as an individualized “annual medical report” and highly personalized screening strategies.  In Dalie’s words, “Healthcare and the medical profession are on the cusp of a major redesign.”

Advocates point out that what we call Concierge Medicine today was the norm only a generation or two ago. Patients used to know their doctors personally. Doctors made house calls and typically knew everyone in the household by name. Medicine was far less encumbered by vast bureaucracies and layer upon layer of stifling regulations. In our societal quest for better care and safer procedures, we may have lost the personal touch along the way, and – for those who can afford it – Concierge Medicine (and its less costly, less personalized cousin, the Direct Primary Care practice, described here) seems like one possible way to get it back.

Certainly there are many who would argue that Concierge Medicine is only for the wealthy, but its advocates nevertheless embrace its benefits enthusiastically. “If Concierge Medicine is about super servant-hood, then it has nothing to apologize for,” writes Michael Tetreault of Concierge Medicine Today. “People deserve to have access to a physician who spends the time necessary to gather appropriate insight about patients. People deserve transparency. They deserve answers to difficult questions. People deserve accurate information, especially when it concerns their health.” Instead of following the common practice of resorting to fruitless web searches that lead to inaccurate self-diagnosis, clients who use Concierge Medicine get information that’s personalized and professionally sound. Concierge Medicine, writes Tetreault, “has redefined healthcare delivery.”

At AgingOptions we have long advocated that our senior clients adopt an approach that’s similar in some ways to Concierge Medicine by hiring a geriatric care manager, or geriatrician. These medical professionals are trained in the particular health care needs of seniors, and in the same manner as a “medical concierge” they’ll act as your personalized advocate and adviser as you navigate the health care maze. If you’ll contact us at AgingOptions, we can suggest the names of some geriatricians in your area. Having one of these experts as your health care “quarterback” is one of the most important decisions you can make.

Another closely-related decision you need to make is to get a handle on your retirement planning, something that goes far beyond maintaining your health. Planning for your medical needs is an essential component of a strong retirement plan, but it’s certainly not the only thing you need to plan for. A comprehensive retirement plan, the kind we at AgingOptions call a LifePlan, weaves five key elements of your future together: your medical protection, your legal preparation, your financial plan, your housing options, and even a communication plan for your family. When all these five fit together into a seamless whole, your future is secure. You can protect your assets in retirement, avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones, and escape the trap of unplanned institutional care.

If you’re ready to learn more, we have an invitation for you. Plan now to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar, where in just a few hours you’ll gain powerful insight into planning for the retirement you’ve always dreamed of. For dates, times and online registration, click here. You can also call us during the week and we’ll gladly sign you up for the seminar of your choice. It will be a pleasure to talk with you soon at an upcoming AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar.

(originally reported at www.investopedia.com)

Reverse Mortgages Could Help Reduce Rate of Senior Bankruptcy

Financial experts who track such things report that there’s good news on the bankruptcy front: the rate of bankruptcy filings in the U.S. is on the decline. However, there are a still close to one million people filing each year, and a significant number of them are over age 65. Could it be that a reverse mortgage, or Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM), might be the antidote to bankruptcy for many seniors?

We recently ran across this interesting article on the industry website Reverse Mortgage Daily. It quoted retirement expert Dirk Cotton whose analysis suggests that there are five major causes of elder bankruptcy: health expenses, credit card debt, loss of income (often from job loss or forced retirement), housing costs (property taxes, rising mortgage costs and foreclosure threats), and what Cotton calls “interconnected loss risk.”  That refers to the idea which we discuss frequently here at AgingOptions that one retirement issue can compound another. “It is less likely that a household’s ruin will result from a single risk on this list than to multiple risks,” Cotton writes. “These losses might occur simultaneously and be unrelated, but it is more likely that one will cause another, which may cause even more.”

So what does that have to do with a reverse mortgage? Properly utilized, experts suggest an HECM can be the answer to each one of these problems faced by financially strapped seniors. And yet a huge majority still does not fully understand or appreciate how a reverse mortgage works.

First let’s consider the scope of the bankruptcy problem among seniors. According to the American Bankruptcy Institute, the total number of personal bankruptcies in the U.S. (including people of all ages) reached its peak in 2010 at 1.5 million. Since then, changes in bankruptcy laws have made it more difficult to have debts forgiven, which in turn contributes to a decline in total filings to about 935,000 by 2014.  The Institute for Financial Literacy says that seniors (those over 65) represented almost 100,000 filings, or about 1 bankruptcy in 12 in 2009. That percentage has apparently continued to rise since then.

As we said above, there are five chief reasons for financial crisis among seniors, says Dirk Cotton who writes the financial blog The Retirement Café. In our experience every one – medical expenses, credit  card debt, income loss, housing expenses and the blend of factors Cotton called interconnected loss – can potentially be alleviated through a combination of careful planning and the infusion of financial aid that can flow from a reverse mortgage.

We’ve seen a growing chorus of articles (such as this very recent report on Fox Business News) praising the HECM as an important financial tool to help seniors live more secure lives and avoid the catastrophe of bankruptcy. The Fox report is called “What seniors should know about reverse mortgages,” and while the information is fairly basic it still represents another affirmation of the power of an HECM. “Forget downsizing or migrating to warmer weather,” Fox Business News reports.” An overwhelming number (83 percent) of pre retirees and retirees today say they want to remain in their homes for as long as possible. That’s according to a new survey from The American College of Financial Services, and it confirms what other articles have said. “For seniors on a fixed income, a reverse mortgage can be a new source of retirement income and allow you to remain in your home for as long as you live,” says Fox. But here’s the real kicker: the number of seniors who still do not understand reverse mortgages is right up there at around 70 percent.

In the Fox Business News report, reverse mortgage consultant Meghan Keller answers the basic questions about the HECM. She explains, for example, that a reverse mortgage is a financial product through which a homeowner converts their home equity into an asset. The amount a homeowner can borrow depends on the age of the borrower, with a provision that allows older borrowers to tap into more of their home’s equity (HECM clients must be 62 or older).  Keller adds that, “while there’s no perfect formula for determining how much you can get with a reverse mortgage, the rule of thumb is you’re eligible to convert 50 percent of your available equity as a reverse mortgage.” (You’ll definitely need to consult with a reverse mortgage expert to get more precise figures that reflect your specific situation.)

Thanks to federal rule changes in recent years, homeowners (or their heirs) will never owe more on a reverse mortgage than the value of the mortgaged property.  If a home is worth less than the amount owed when the homeowner moves or dies, says Keller on Fox News, “the remaining obligation is paid by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA)” since all reverse mortgages are FHA-backed. Closing costs vary, Keller says: “Borrowers should expect to pay between $2,500 and $3,000, all of which can be rolled into the loan.”

Putting these two ideas together – the growing threat of senior bankruptcy and the general level of ignorance about reverse mortgage details and benefits – tells us that many seniors may be unaware of the financial relief that could be at their fingertips. We’re not suggesting that an HECM should take the place of proper planning and budgeting, and we recognize that reverse mortgages are not for everyone, but we strongly suggest that any senior eligible for one of these powerful financial tools should sit down with an objective expert such as Laura Kiel and get all your questions answered. You may be amazed at the financial freedom waiting for you.

Speaking of planning, at AgingOptions we hear all the time from seniors who have failed to make prudent decisions early on about their retirement. As a result they’re now finding it extremely difficult if not impossible to protect their assets and to avoid becoming a burden to those they love. Don’t let that happen to you! The common pitfalls of aging can be avoided with the right kind of preparation , and that means an AgingOptions LifePlan – a unique strategy that combines financial, medical, housing, legal and family elements into one seamless blueprint. If this kind of comprehensive approach piques your interest, we encourage you to invest a few hours of your time and attend one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, offered at locations throughout the area. Come get your retirement questions answered – we assure you you’ll enjoy the experience! For dates, times and locations, simply click here – then register online or call us during the week. Remember, AgingOptions is on your side!

(originally reported at www.reversemortgagedaily and www.foxbusiness.com)

The Fraud Never Ends – Here’s 2017’s Top 10 List of Worst Scams

There are some “Top Ten” lists nobody wants to make, and here’s a good example, from the website of the Mic Network (www.mic.com). It’s the Top Ten list of the worst scams of 2017, and it reflects the creative skill of thieves out there who are always looking for new and better ways to separate you from your money. We at AgingOptions share this information with you because scammers don’t care if you’re old, young or in-between – they’re after your bank account numbers, credit card numbers, and social security numbers. But sadly it’s seniors who seem to be disproportionately affected by fraud, sometimes with catastrophic results.

The article from the Mic Network (click here to read it) is called “Worst Scams of 2017: 10 tricks fraudsters are using to dupe you out of your money.” Some of these sounded familiar to us while others were newer, but there’s a common thread: crooks will do whatever it takes to trick the unsuspecting into revealing the information thieves are looking for. If necessary they’ll resort to everything from flattery to intimidation. Most of these come-ons will strike via your telephone, especially your cell phone. In just about every instance the advice is the same: hang up immediately.

“Financial fraud is alive and well,” writes the article, “and mobile phone scams in particular are a major way fraudsters are tricking people in 2017.” A new report from a telecommunications privacy firm called First Orion reveals that scam calls on mobile phones have quadrupled since 2015.  More than half of the survey participants in the First Orion study said they received a scam call within the past month and the number of respondents who have received one of these annoying calls since the first of the year is now close to 80 percent. “Not sure what to do — beyond ignoring your phone when it rings?” asks the mic.com article. “A little bit of warning can go a long way.”

There’s not space to cover all ten scams here – for that we encourage you to read the article. But here’s an overview of a few that we’d never heard of before.

  • You get a phone call from someone claiming to be from Apple Tech Support. They claim they’ve had an iCloud breach and that some of your data has been compromised. All you have to do is provide them with important personal data (passwords, sometimes even credit card numbers) and they can fix the breach. But the truth is that Apple will never contact customers with this type of request, so the best advice is to hang up and then report the call to Apple immediately.
  • You’ve lost something in a taxi, and in an effort to retrieve it you find a company online that promises to recover your lost item for a flat fee of $47. The firm has a legitimate-sounding name like “yellowcabnyc.com.” But it’s a fraud: you’ll never see your lost item or your fee again, and now the scammers have your credit card number. Instead of falling for this scam, if you forget something in a cab, start with a phone call to the taxi company and they’ll advise you how to proceed.
  • Some scams simply don’t pass the common sense test. For example, a scammer might call and promise that you’ve won some form of government grant because you paid your taxes on time. All they need is your checking account information so the bogus grant can be electronically deposited. Or you might find a “too good to be true” deal on Craig’s List for an airline ticket: you pay by credit card and receive what seems like an authentic confirmation number, only to discover (sometimes at the airport!) that the ticket doesn’t exist. The only safe solution is to use a site that’s trusted, like Expedia.
  • Other growing sources of scam complaints involve bogus vacation rentals. Thieves will pose as agents and rip off your pre-payment for properties that don’t even exist, or they’ll “hijack” an actual ad for a real property and defraud potential renters. The Federal Trade Commission advises that you should be extremely cautious if someone asks you to wire money in advance for a vacation rental.

There are many more inventive rip-offs out there waiting to victimize the unsuspecting. Has the IRS called threatening you with a fine and arrest? Have you received calls accusing you of failing to show up for jury duty and offering to settle your “fine” via credit card over the phone?  Have you received alarming phone calls that a loved one has been kidnapped or is in jail?  Do you occasionally get calls from businesses seeking to “verify” personal information over the phone?  Odds are practically 100 percent that these are all scam phone calls. (And by now we suspect most people know this, but here’s very important rule of thumb: don’t trust caller i.d.)

At AgingOptions, we seek to help people protect their assets in retirement and not become a burden to those they love. When it comes to holding onto your money, the first rule of thumb is not to allow someone to steal it from you! We urge you to share this information and other similar articles with those you love, and especially with your aging parents and friends. Because seniors tend to be more trusting and less technically savvy, they are known to be more susceptible to telephone-based scams and frauds. You owe it to them to make certain they know how to cope with the scoundrels out there who may be lurking on the other end of that innocent-sounding phone call.

When it comes to protecting yourself in retirement, we can definitely help. At AgingOptions we’ve developed a unique and comprehensive retirement planning strategy called LifePlanning, blending together the five most important parts of any retirement plan: financial, legal, housing, medical and family. In your personalized LifePlan all five of these facets act interdependently, giving you greater peace of mind than you may have thought possible. Why not find out more? It’s easy – and completely without cost or obligation. Simply invest a few hours and attend a LifePlanning Seminar at a location that’s convenient for you. You’ll be very glad you did – and you’ll never look at retirement in quite the same way again.

For dates, times and locations, and to register online, simply click on this link, or call us for assistance during the week. It will be our pleasure to meet you and to answer your retirement questions at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar.

(originally reported at www.mic.com)

NYTimes: Most Arthroscopic Knee Surgery “Complete Waste of Money”

If you’re like most adults, knee pain is a common occurrence. Almost everyone has knee pain occasionally, and one article from a few years ago suggested that about one-quarter of adults experience knee discomfort much of the time (a figure that doubles for those with arthritis). Even though the incidence of knee replacement surgery has risen dramatically in recent years, most people will do whatever they can to put off that invasive procedure as long as they can.

Now in this recent article from the pages of the New York Times, written by popular health columnist Jane Brody, we read this discomfiting news. “Many of the procedures people undergo to counter chronic knee pain in the hopes of avoiding a knee replacement have limited or no evidence to support them,” Brody writes. “Some enrich the pockets of medical practitioners while rarely benefiting patients for more than a few months.”

That’s quite an indictment of the medical industry, but in Brody’s case it comes not only from research but also from personal experience. (In fact the article is titled “What I Wish I’d Known About My Knees.”) It seems that Brody had developed severe knee pain when in her 50s after an active life of jogging, tennis and skiing. Her orthopedic physician recommended arthroscopic surgery, a common procedure often used (as in Brody’s case) to repair a torn meniscus. While the surgery helped alleviate pain for a while, it wasn’t long before it returned even worse than before. After yet another unsuccessful procedure (this time involving injections) designed to forestall surgery, Brody finally gave up and had both knees replaced and afterward was able to resume her active life.

“Serious questions are now being raised about the benefits of the arthroscopic procedures that millions of people endure in hopes of delaying, if not avoiding, total knee replacements,” writes Brody.  In one recently published review of a dozen trials and 13 observational studies, a panel of clinicians reported that “arthroscopic surgery for degenerative knee arthritis and meniscal tears resulted in no lasting pain relief or improved function.” This review showed that fewer than 1 patient in 7 experienced “a small or very small improvement in pain and function” and, what’s worse, that those beneficial effects disappeared completely within a year.

Besides being virtually ineffective, arthroscopic surgery, like all invasive procedures, carries risks, especially the risk of post-operative infection. But those patients who avoid surgery altogether not only escape the attendant risks but seem to enjoy the best outcome. “Most patients will experience an important improvement in pain and function without arthroscopy,” the study quoted in the New York Times concludes.

In the words of one physician quoted by Jane Brody, arthroscopic surgery has its uses – for example, when used to treat younger patients with sports injuries – but is now believed to be unsuitable to treat knee pain caused by arthritis or meniscal tears. Brody writes, “The panel noted that about one-quarter of people older than 50 experience knee pain from degenerative knee disease, a percentage that rises with age. Arthroscopic procedures for this condition ‘cost more than $3 billion per year in the United States alone,’ the report stated, suggesting that it was a near-complete waste of money.”

What about steroid injections, another treatment commonly used to deal with knee pain? These can reduce inflammation, but at the same time continual use of steroids can speed up the onset of arthritis, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. JAMA said not only do steroids accelerate knee deterioration, but in a blind study compared against those receiving a placebo injection, the ones getting the steroids experienced “no significant difference in knee pain.”

Brody acknowledges what anyone with degenerative knee arthritis knows: finding the right treatment regimen can be frustrating for both doctors and patients. That’s because “there is no clear answer as to what will help which patients.” But here are some simple and generally accepted approaches that might help avoid or delay surgery, says the New York Times:

  • “If you are overweight, lose weight.” Any extra weight puts more pressure on your knees.
  • Avoid activities that aggravate knee pain if you can – things like squatting, sitting too long in one place, or climbing a ladder.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain reliever if the discomfort is bad enough, but be careful to follow proper dosage instructions and your doctor’s recommendations.
  • If the pain is really getting to you, physical therapy administered by a licensed therapist has been shown to have very positive effects. “Be sure to do the recommended exercises at home,” says Brody, “and continue to do them indefinitely lest their benefits dissipate.” You may even want to consult an occupational therapist who can teach you how to modify your activities to minimize knee discomfort.

We at AgingOptions would strongly recommend one more step: put your medical care into the hands of a geriatric physician, also called a geriatrician. These experts understand the aging body and can assist you with exercise, weight loss, and better nutrition to keep you (and your aging knees) healthier longer. Contact us here at our office and we’ll gladly recommend a geriatrician to you.

For all your retirement planning needs we invite you to put yourselves into the professional hands of the experts at AgingOptions, with a personalized retirement blueprint called a LifePlan. Financial planning alone is never enough when it comes to enjoying a secure retirement free from fear of the unexpected. Finances have to work in tandem with medical planning, legal preparation, and housing choices in order to ensure that you’re truly prepared – and your family needs to be brought into the picture to make certain they will support your wishes in the future. All these elements become part of your individualized LifePlan.

Find out more by joining us for a free LifePlanning Seminar. There are several presently scheduled and more coming up – simply click here for details and registration, or contact our office. It will be a pleasure to meet you soon!

(originally reported at www.nytimes.com)

Experts Predict Big Changes in Aging and Retirement in Coming Years

At AgingOptions, we focus a great deal of attention every day on the multi-faceted field of retirement. It’s a fascinating topic with an infinite number of variables, always changing and evolving. That’s why this article from a website called New Retirement was of particular interest to us – and we think, especially if you’re a baby boomer facing retirement, you’ll find it interesting, too.

This fascinating and challenging article is called simply, “How Aging and Retirement will Change in 2017 and Beyond.” The editors of New Retirement looked at some of the recent opinion essays written by experts in the field of aging, published on the popular aging website Next Avenue. (Next Avenue calls these experts their “List of Influencers on Aging,” and if you’re curious who these experts are you can read more by clicking here.) For the New Retirement article, the editorial staff selected seven areas where the experts in the field predict big changes are ahead. Let’s take a look at a few and see if you agree.

For starters, some experts suggest that it might be time to get rid of the generational labels that tend to divide us. As one of the Influencers put it, “Maybe we aren’t really Baby Boomers, Gen X’ers, Millenials and the Greatest Generation.” Instead, she suggests, maybe we’re all “Perennials.”  That term suggests that, regardless of age, we are “ever-blooming, relevant people” who understand how to live in the moment. As perennials we stay current with world events and we understand how to use technology appropriately. One important facet of living like a perennial is to have friends of all ages, not just people of our own generation. Intergenerational living tends to keep us feeling and acting younger and more alive, some experts on aging would suggest.

Speaking of intergenerational living, others among the Influencers are recommending that it’s a good and healthy trend to mix generations and stop segregating ourselves in the area of our housing choices. Part of this idea of living multigenerationally arises out of necessity: many older people need help from their families with activities of daily living, while some younger people, caught in the vice grip of a tight economy and rising housing prices, are moving back home. Why not make a virtue of necessity, these analysts suggest? “We all need help sometimes and if our adult children can help care for us as we age, we may be able to solve some of the problems around the tremendous expense of long term care,” says the New Retirement article.

This intergenerational mindset goes far beyond housing. When asked what one thing she would change about aging, AARP executive Susan Reinhard responded, “If I could only change one thing, I would ensure that all families are better prepared and supported to care for one another as we age. We must make family caregiving a national priority.” Asked the same question, former Disney CEO Michael Eisner answered, “If I could change anything about aging, I would create more intergenerational programs in our country. We need to find ways to utilize our aging Americans as resources, not as burdens.” Eisner noted how much seniors have to contribute to society, and how doing so benefits everyone, the seniors included. “Most seniors want to remain productive,” said Eisner, “and we should celebrate that.” We agree wholeheartedly.

Here’s one more trend cited in the New Retirement piece: our present focus on what we commonly call “Health Care” will shift to a much more well-rounded approach, emphasizing “Wellness.” We like this idea very much, especially as it pertains to seniors. Too much of our present healthcare system is about medicine – treating the body like a machine and always reacting to problems instead of solving them ahead of time. “However,” states the article, “modern doctors have begun to embrace good nutrition, stress reduction and exercise as powerful ways to foster health. Experts predict that this trend will continue.” This, we should point out, is something most geriatricians already know – one of the key reasons we urge our clients to make a geriatric physician the key member of their health team.

The bottom line when it comes to aging is about expectations. There is no reason why aging, in the words of one Influencer, has to represent a time of “disease-related decline.” Instead we have the knowledge now to “transform this precious stage of life into one of thriving….by reducing toxic stress, improving nutrition and activity and investing in social connectivity and life purpose.”  We would add one critical factor: you will need a solid plan for your retirement years, because none of this happens by accident. We help our clients develop what we refer to as a LifePlan, which is a plan that takes all the essential aspects of retirement into account. We help you protect your assets with a carefully crafted financial plan. We also make certain your estate, and your dreams, are fully protected through careful legal preparation. We help you evaluate and plan for your housing needs and your medical insurance coverage, since housing and health represent essential pillars of retirement. Finally, we help you involve your family, since aging is (as we often say) a family affair. All this becomes part of your LifePlan – your key to a secure and fruitful retirement.

It’s easy to learn more about LifePlanning, simply by attending a LifePlanning Seminar in your area. Invest just a few hours and you’ll come away with a fresh new approach to living the rest of your life with enthusiasm and purpose. These seminars are free. Click here for the Upcoming Events page where you’ll find all the information, plus online registration – or call us during the week. Then prepare to live a longer and more purposeful life than you ever thought possible! We’ll be ready to be your guide.

(originally reported at https://www.newretirement.com)

Survey Shows Most Americans “Clueless” About Retirement Finances

If you were to ask most Americans how important it is to have a solid understanding of financial issues affecting retirement, the majority would agree that it’s extremely important, even essential. Saving money and spending it wisely is one of the keys to enjoying retirement with enough money to live the way we want to live. But if that’s so, then why are so many Americans so ignorant concerning the basic elements of retirement finance?

That’s the sobering conclusion from this very recent article that appeared on the popular (and somewhat irreverent) financial website Motley Fool. The title of the piece says it all: “Most Americans Don’t Know Jack About Retirement. Do You?”

Earlier this year the financial firm Fidelity conducted their first-ever Retirement IQ Survey (here’s a link if you want to check it out) designed to gauge how well-informed the public is about saving for, investing for and spending in retirement. Fidelity says their survey uncovered “significant knowledge gaps” and that at least three-quarters of respondents seriously underestimated how much they will need to save. And as Motley Fool put it, “If you don’t understand these fundamental aspects of pre- and post-retirement finance, how can you possibly come up with a retirement plan that works?”

Before we describe a bit more about Fidelity’s survey, this seems like a good time to remind you that, as vital as a good financial plan is in retirement, it’s not enough. A truly comprehensive plan that will preserve your assets and allow you to live the way you want as you age, without burdening those you love, demands much more. Merely planning on how to save and spend your money will not get you where you want to go, any more than a stool with one leg can ever be called “stable”! Here at AgingOptions, we have the solution, called a LifePlan, which we’ll talk about in a moment.

The Fidelity Retirement IQ Survey included more than 2,000 respondents. Half were in the age group between 55 and 65 and not yet retired. The others were broadly representative of the 18-plus population. Fidelity asked respondents eight different questions, which the Motley Fool article summarized in four general categories of financial savvy. Understanding these, the article suggests, should allow you to enjoy “a financially stress-free retirement.” While that seems like an overstatement to us, here are the “critical topics” about which so many American adults seem to be in the dark:

  • The historical returns of the stock market: After the recession of 2007-2009 and the resulting investment losses suffered by many, a large number of people withdrew all their assets from stocks in favor of safer investments. Many still shy away from stocks for fear of repeating those losses. But in fact the stock market has enjoyed positive returns in 30 of the past 35 years, and the average return has hovered around 7 percent. Only one survey respondent in twelve correctly and accurately assessed the power of the stock market to build an asset base for retirement.
  • The average length of retirement: Respondents in the Fidelity study were asked how long they would need to have their retirement savings last if retirement began at 65. A large number of those surveyed said retirement would last 12-17 years. But the fact is, those turning 65 today will live an average of 22 more years and some will go on far longer. Says Motley Fool, “If you underestimate how long your retirement is likely to last, as many survey respondents did, you’re setting yourself up for financial disaster.”
  • The amount you can safely withdraw from retirement accounts: While there’s no hard and fast rule, many financial advisers suggest that a retiree in his or her 60’s can safely withdraw about 3 ½ percent annually from their 401(k) accounts and IRAs, with that percentage rising as the retiree gets older.  But many in the Fidelity survey guessed far higher, estimating that they could safely withdraw 10 percent of the money or even more starting early in retirement. Taking out more than a cautionary minimum early on, warns the Motley Fool article, could deplete your savings too rapidly and leave you without assets later.
  • The cost of healthcare: According to Fidelity, the average couple retiring last year at age 65 would need to plan on spending about $260,000 for the remainder of their lives on healthcare. But the majority, almost three-quarters, underestimated that figure by a large margin – some by a whopping $200,000! That shows a dismaying ignorance of the facts and is an ominous sign that millions are careening toward retirement with a dangerous lack of fundamental knowledge about what lies ahead.

But thanks to the professionals at AgingOptions, you don’t have to be one of those lost in a fog of retirement ignorance. With your AgingOptions LifePlan as your guide, you’ll be able to chart a course for the retirement you’ve dreamed of, confident that you’re prepared for just about everything aging can throw your way. A LifePlan from AgingOptions is like a building built with five interconnected pillars: your financial plan, your legal plan, a plan for your housing choices, a plan for your medical coverage, and even a plan to involve your family so they’ll fully support your plans and wishes. There’s nothing like an AgingOptions LifePlan.

It’s easy to find out more: plan now to invest a few hours and attend a free LifePlanning Seminar. We offer these highly popular events all throughout the region. For currently scheduled seminars, this link will give you all the details – then you can register online or contact us for assistance.

When it comes to retirement, ignorance is definitely not bliss – it’s disastrous. But with AgingOptions you can approach retirement informed and prepared. Age on!

(originally reported at www.fool.com)

Can Diet Reduce Odds of Dementia? Studies Give Optimistic Answers

We continually hear plenty of bad news about Alzheimer’s disease. It’s the illness people seem to fear the most as they grow older, presently afflicting at least 5.5 million Americans, almost all age 65 and above. The Alzheimer’s Association warns that, barring some medical breakthrough, the number of adults with Alzheimer’s will likely soar to 16 million by the year 2050. This debilitating killer, which takes the lives of more people every year than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined, is placing a terrible strain on families across the nation, not to mention the rising cost of caring for afflicted men and women. Alzheimer’s disease in just about every way represents a serious health care crisis.

So with all that as a gloomy backdrop, it’s great to be able to read and pass along some good news in the form of two very recent articles we discovered, each describing how several recent studies are demonstrating a link between the progression of dementia and the foods that we eat. It seems to be increasingly clear that by eating healthy foods today we can greatly improve the odds of maintaining and even improving our cognitive abilities tomorrow.

The first article is this one that was just published in the British website of the Telegraph. It begins with an encouraging preliminary report about a study in Europe involving a nutritional drink called “Souvenaid” that was developed specifically to help combat cognitive decline. It’s essentially “a cocktail of vitamins and nutrients which have been shown to boost brain function,” writes the Telegraph, and in this clinical trial it appears to do just that, helping manage the illness. (Souvenaid is not presently available in the US but further trials are ongoing, and we expect we’ll be hearing more about this topic in the months to come.) But to us the real news in the Telegraph piece isn’t about any “wonder drink” – it’s about the ordinary dietary choices we can make every day, at just about every meal, choices that can, researchers say, keep our minds healthier as we age. Again, some of these findings are preliminary, but signs are encouraging.

For example, one study from the University of Kansas Medical Center found that simply drinking three glasses of milk each day can help prevent damage to brain cells, potentially reducing the risk of dementia and also of Parkinson’s disease.  Clinicians found that higher milk consumption is apparently linked to increased levels of a naturally-occurring antioxidant called glutathione which appears to prevent cell damage in the brain. And while you’re drinking your milk, just like Mom always told you to do, here’s another area where she was right: eat your broccoli.  Broccoli is loaded with helpful brain-strengthening nutrients including choline, vitamin K, and folic acid.  The Telegraph reports that studies have shown “people who eat large amounts of broccoli perform better on memory tests.” Who knew?

A few more brain-saving dietary tips from the Telegraph: eat more blueberries (and other purple fruits), more fish, and more curry. Purple fruits (and also green tea) protect the body from harmful iron compounds that doctors believe are one of the root causes of damage to the body associated with diseases such as Alzheimer’s.  Most seafood has long been known to possess a wide range of health benefits generally linked to omega-3 fatty acids found in certain fish including salmon, mackerel, sardines and albacore. And finally, curry dishes that contain turmeric should be part of a mind-health diet, because turmeric contains a compound called curcumin which is believed to control the spread of plaque in the brain associated with dementia. In lab studies, the compounds in turmeric helped prevent brain plaques in younger mice and reduce plaque size in older animals – an encouraging reason to enjoy this tasty spice.

What about the second article we mentioned above? This one comes from the website Newsmax, and it brings a similar message:  “Anti-Alzheimer’s Diet Can Cut Your Risk In Half.”  “Eating the right foods can slash your risk of developing debilitating Alzheimer’s disease by half,” the article asserts, referring to scientists and researchers “who tout brain-healthy food plans as powerful weapons in your arsenal to battle dementia.” So what are these miracle foods? The great news is, eating for a healthier brain doesn’t have to be complicated, exotic or expensive, and it’s not only good for your mind but for your body as well.  For example, nutritionists in Chicago combined two proven heart-healthy diets into one plan called the MIND Diet (we’d tell you what “MIND” stands for but it’s pretty complicated sounding) that was shown in multiple studies to reduce Alzheimer’s effects by more than 50 percent. The MIND Diet combines the basics of Mediterranean eating with a diet designed to help control blood pressure. If you build a diet around green leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and an occasional glass of wine, the chances of your becoming an Alzheimer’s sufferer, this research suggests, appear to be significantly reduced.

So knowing how to eat can help you stay mentally and physically healthy for years, even decades longer. In similar way, knowing how to plan for retirement can keep you on a healthy and fruitful track toward a rich and rewarding retirement, so you can protect your assets as you age, avoid becoming a burden to those you love, and escape the sad fate of being institutionalized against your wishes. With the power of an AgingOptions LifePlan, you can age on your own terms, with your finances, legal affairs, housing choices, medical protection and family communication all working together seamlessly. To find out more about this breakthrough in retirement planning, join us soon at a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. Invest just a few hours and you’ll come away with a brand new perspective on your own future!

You can click here for dates, times, locations and online registration – or call our office during the week so we can answer your questions. A healthy and joy-filled retirement is within your grasp, with an AgingOptions LifePlan.

(originally reported at www.telegraph.co.uk and www.newsmax.com)