5 Mistakes You Don’t Want To Make During Employee Open Enrollment

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Fall is a time of leaves changing colors, children going back to school, families enjoying Thanksgiving dinners, and… open enrollment. Yes, it’s the opportunity for most employees to select which benefits they will choose for the following year. Here are some of the most common mistakes we see people make:

Not fully understanding the value of an HSA-eligible health insurance plan.

HSA-eligible high deductible health plans tend to come with lower premiums (what you pay per month or paycheck for your coverage) but higher deductibles (what you pay out-of-pocket before most of the insurance benefits kick in) than more standard health insurance plans. In addition, they make you eligible to contribute pre-tax dollars (for 2023, up to $3,850 for individual coverage or $7,750 for family coverage plus $1,000 if you’re turning 55+) to an HSA (health savings account) that can be used tax-free for qualified medical expenses at any time.

While it’s easy to compare the difference in premiums and deductibles, don’t forget to factor in the value of the HSA. First, many employers will actually make contributions to your HSA for you. That’s free money! If you contribute on top of that, you also get a break on your taxes (including FICA if you contribute from your paycheck).

For example, I spoke with an employee who would save almost $1,900 a year in premiums by choosing the high deductible health plan. In addition, he would receive $1,000 in his HSA from his employer and would save almost another $2,000 in taxes by contributing another $6,000 to the HSA. The $4,900 in total savings dwarfed the difference in deductibles.

Under or over funding an FSA.

FSAs (flexible spending accounts) let you put money away pre-tax that can be used tax-free for health (up to $3,050 per person next year) or dependent care (up to $5,000 per family next year) expenses. If you’re in the 24% tax bracket, that’s like getting a 24% discount on those eligible expenses! Not taking full advantage of these accounts could cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in lost tax breaks.

However, there is a catch. Unlike HSAs, FSAs are mostly “use it or lose it” so you don’t want to contribute more than what you’re pretty sure you can spend. (Having a general health care FSA also precludes you from contributing to the more valuable HSA in the same year.) If you do end up with extra money in the account at the end of the year, try to use it by stocking up on qualified supplies like contact lenses and prescription drugs. You can find FSA-eligible items here.

Not taking advantage of a prepaid legal plan.

Do you have updated estate planning documents like a will, durable power of attorney, advance health care directive, and living trust? If not, you can save a lot of money by using your employer’s prepaid legal service to have these documents drafted or updated. You pay a fee per paycheck, but the legal services are free or heavily discounted. You can then choose not to renew it the following year after you’ve gotten your documents in place.

Ignoring disability insurance.

Disability insurance is often overlooked even though about 25% of 20-yr olds are likely to be out of work for at least a year due to a disability before they reach normal retirement age. If your employer doesn’t provide it, you may want to purchase it. The good news is that employee-paid disability benefits are tax-free.

Not having enough life insurance.

Your employer may offer you life insurance coverage equal to one or more times your salary, but you may want to purchase supplemental life insurance if you have dependents. You can use this calculator to estimate how much you need. Then compare the cost of purchasing it through your employer with the cost of a term policy in the individual market. (See if your coverage at work can be converted to an individual policy once you leave the job.)

Your benefits can be a significant part of your total compensation and open enrollment can be your only chance to take full advantage of many of them. When in doubt about your selection of benefits, find out if your employer offers a financial wellness program with free guidance and coaching from unbiased financial planners who are trained on your particular benefits. Then go and enjoy the holidays knowing that your family is protected.

I’m a Senior Resident Financial Planner at Financial Finesse, primarily responsible for providing financial education and guidance to employees of our corporate clients. I also

Source: 5 Mistakes You Don’t Want To Make During Employee Open Enrollment

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Feel Lonely? There Are 4 Types of Loneliness. Here’s How to Beat Them

Sadly, we all get lonely from time to time, and social distancing and self-isolation certainly don’t help. Here, a psychologist offers her advice for overcoming these feelings of loneliness.

Have you ever gotten into bed at the end of the day and realized that you haven’t spoken out loud to anyone since the day before? Or simply found yourself feeling completely and utterly alone?

We live in a hyper-connected world, and yet we’re lonelier than ever before, a situation that is certainly not helped by the current UK lockdown. We have more social media followers than real-life friends, and it’s easier to swap digital messages with strangers on the other side of the planet than it is to sit down for a chat with an actual person – especially now that we’re social distancing and putting ourselves in isolation.

Despite being traditionally viewed as an affliction that’s limited to the elderly, it’s now 16-24 year olds who make up the loneliest age group of all, a finding confirmed in the UK’s largest study on the subject, The Loneliness Experiment by BBC Radio 4. The study included over 55,000 people and found that 34% of 25-34 year olds are lonely ‘often or very often’ while 36% of 34-44 year olds felt the same.

Now, scientists are warning of the damaging effects of a ‘loneliness epidemic’, with loneliness even being equated to the health equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

As many of us will know, we don’t need to be physically alone to feel lonely. A toxic friendship or relationship can be incredibly isolating, for example, while spending too much time with people we don’t feel close to can have damaging effects on our psyche, even if we’re only interacting with them through our phones. Loneliness affects people in different ways, and for this reason there are four distinct types of loneliness identified by psychologists: emotional, social, situational and chronic.

But how do we know what type of loneliness we’re experiencing and, more importantly, how can we tackle it? Here, Stylist talks to registered psychologist Dr Becky Spelman, and hears from women who have experienced loneliness – and managed to keep it at bay.

Emotional Loneliness

“Those who are emotionally lonely will find it difficult to improve things without tackling the root of the problem,” says Dr Spelman. “Emotional loneliness is not circumstantial but, rather, comes from within.”

Dr Spelman recommends therapy to help tackle the root cause of these feelings of emotional loneliness. “Working with a therapist, possibly with a technique such as behavioural cognitive therapy, or attending group therapy, is likely to lead to the best possible outcome,” she says.

“The person in question can start to understand why they are lonely, how their background and experiences have contributed to behaviours that make things worse, and how they can develop a new, and more useful, set of behaviours.”

Note: Due to coronavirus, face-to-face meetings with therapists may not be possible at this time. However, the NHS is currently working on a new digital therapy programme, and you can find out more information by clicking here

Situational Loneliness

Many millennials choose to work abroad for a few years in their 20s and 30s, and the rise in solo travel means a great number of us are planning to jet off on solo adventures once the coronavirus pandemic has passed.

While these plans are undoubtedly exciting, it can also be a period of adjustment as we try to make new friends while simultaneously getting to grips with a new culture and way of life – potentially leading to situational loneliness, says Dr Spelman.

“Situational loneliness can result from being in circumstances that make developing friendships difficult,” she says. “Examples include those living abroad, perhaps in a place where they do not speak the language perfectly, stay-at-home mothers (or fathers) with young children, or those with a physical or intellectual disability that makes it difficult to get out and about.”

Situational loneliness is something that digital writer Susan experienced when she moved to Dubai for two and a half years in 2013.

“When I first moved to the Middle East, I was completely alone,” she says. “I didn’t have a friend or a family member I could call when the going got tough, or even just someone to have a cup of tea with. It was my choice to move there for work. And it was my choice to move there as a single woman. But that doesn’t mean it was easy.

“The first month was particularly difficult as I spent two weeks in a hotel on my own, surrounded by a completely different culture, customs and language. I felt the sting of loneliness as I dined on my own every evening and looked for a flat share – going from one viewing to the next without understanding a word of Arabic. But after I found somewhere to call home, I made friends with my housemates by putting myself out there and never turning down an invitation to do something new. Thankfully, I pushed myself to get to know them and my new country of residence, too.”

But situational loneliness doesn’t just arise in those who relocate alone, as social media editor Sarah discovered when she moved countries with her partner. Sarah left her Sydney home in March 2017 to join her partner in London, where he had arrived a month earlier to start a new job and find the pair a home to live in – although she admits that “didn’t mean it was smooth sailing”.

“On my first night an emotional (jetlagged) me fell asleep whimpering into my partner’s shoulder, ‘I had to give up a lot to be here’. Although very dramatic, I was more right than wrong. I knew making friends as an adult, outside of freshers’ week or a friend-of-a-friend introduction, would be preceded by a stint of loneliness – something I dreaded.

“The reality of that fear set in a week later. Without a job, I had less interaction with people and felt starved of company. I took to being overly chatty to baristas and the person on the till at Sainsbury’s. Each day I would surf LinkedIn and talk about the weather with anyone mildly inclined to respond. I would look forward to my partner coming home after work for the sheer joy of talking to someone who knew me beyond what groceries I was buying that day.”

Sarah did make friends in the city but she is also aware that “having a partner at home slowed my efforts”.

“There would be times I would crave going out with a friend rather than my partner. But the reality was that in those initial weeks he was my only friend in London. And that made me feel tied to him in a way that we never were in our home town of Sydney.

“It did take a considerable amount of effort to form friendships outside of his friendship circle (formed from his middle-school years in south London). Eighteen months on, I keep working on those friendships outside of my relationship – because I now know how very valuable they are.”

Pushing yourself to make new friends – and crucially, maintain those friendships – is exactly what Dr Spelman recommends for someone who is grappling with situational loneliness. And while we can’t currently make an active effort to meet new people in person due to coronavirus, there are alternative solutions.

“The best approach here is a proactive one,” she says. Once we are out of lockdown and able to socialise in person again, she suggests “joining a language class or a hobby group or getting in touch with like-minded people and actively courting friendships, to help overcome loneliness in these circumstances.

“The internet can help. While socialising online is not the same as meeting up with friends for coffee or a drink, establishing a support network online can help to maintain a sense of being liked and wanted, and keep social skills alive.”

Social Loneliness

“Social loneliness is typically experienced by those who have problems in social situations because of shyness, social awkwardness, or a sense of low self-esteem that makes them doubt their capacity to be competent and entertaining in social circumstances,” Dr Spelman explains.

“Different approaches can help. For example, if the root issue is one of low self-esteem, tackling this first should make a positive difference. Trying a structured approach to socialising, such as joining an online or virtual group that gets together to discuss or engage in a particular hobby, can be a good way to start to end a vicious circle.”

Chronic Loneliness

“Chronic loneliness is the term used to describe those who have been lonely for so long that it has become a way of life to them,” explains Dr Spelman. “If solitude has become part of their nature, it can be tricky to break the cycle.”

Chronic loneliness is something that Lyla, now 26, experienced when she moved to London to start university at the age of 18. Lyla had previously lived in Nottingham where she had a solid group of friends who all lived nearby, and spent a lot of time together. Moving to a new city triggered feelings of loneliness for her, which became entrenched over her first two and a half years in the city.

“It was a really bewildering, lonely time,” she says. “The jump of being plonked into a huge arts school, in just one of hundreds of halls of residence in a sprawling city I didn’t understand, made me retreat into myself and I struggled to make friends in the face of it all.

“I spent a lot of time in my tiny room making my mum talk to me for hours and hours on the phone, while I slowly found my footing and met people I connected with. It took me about two and a half years to learn not to hate London, but sticking it out meant it slowly got better, and nine years later nowhere has ever felt more like home.”

Dr Spelman notes that chronic loneliness is often a by-product of circumstance, such as self-isolation, although unlike situational loneliness, it can go on for so long that it almost becomes a way of life.

“Examples include the elderly whose friends have largely passed away or moved into nursing care, while adult children live far away, or those who are inhibited from socializing by a controlling partner or other circumstances that feel out of their control,” she says. “It is important to remember that we all deserve friends and a social life and that there is nothing wrong with asking for help or making the first step.”

Are you looking to make new friends? See Stylist’s guide to the art of friendship dating here, or find out what happened when we tried friendship apps here.

By: Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Commissioning Editor at Stylist. Follow her on Twitter.

Source: Feel Lonely? There Are 4 Types of Loneliness. Here’s How to Beat Them

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How To Choose The Right Employee Benefits For 2022 During Open Enrollment

For employees, it’s not pumpkin spice season right now, it’s Open Enrollment season. That means it’s time to make the health and retirement plan choices that will be right for you in 2022.

It isn’t easy, and many workers feel uneasy about choosing wisely. In its 2021 State of Work in America survey of 1,500 U.S. employees, the professional services firm Grant Thornton found that 36% of workers weren’t confident they’d chosen the best medical plan. And 80% of employees surveyed by Lincoln Financial said they wish they better understood some aspect of their retirement plan.

Employees can expect to see rising out-of-pocket health costs through their employer coverage in 2022, including premium increases of 4% to 5%. Some higher-paid workers will be asked to pay more for their health insurance than lower-paid workers. Roughly a third of employers surveyed by the benefits consulting firm Willis Towers WLTW +0.1% said they’d consider narrowing the network of doctors and other health care providers available to patients.

But you may be in for a few pleasant surprises.

“As employers continue to compete for talent, many are adding a number of new benefits to their lineup for next year including resources and additional paid leave for caregivers, surgery Centers of Excellence [more on this below], financial planning and expanded mental health benefits, virtual physical therapy and other digital health programs,” says Erin Tatar, senior vice president of workplace consulting at Fidelity Investments.

Some employers have added an emergency savings account option through payroll deductions, too. About 23% of employees are currently offered one, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Tatar’s advice: “Take time to attend virtual benefits fairs to review the growing list of health, wealth and other benefits from your employer this fall.”

Getting the Right Health Coverage

For many older workers, access to affordable health care coverage is the No. 1 employee benefit they seek. Before you enroll in a health plan for 2022, ask yourself: How much did I pay in premiums this year? How many trips to the doctor, hospital or emergency room did members of my household make? What else did we spend out-of-pocket for health care in 2021?

Then, start comparing the features and prices of your options, since they can vary significantly. Compare the benefits, rules, restrictions and costs such as co-pays, annual deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. You may well need to deal with Alphabet City, deciding among a high deductible health plan (HDHP) with a health savings account or HSA (an HSA lets you save money in a tax-advantaged account and then withdraw cash tax-free to pay for qualified medical expenses), a health maintenance organization (HMO) plan and a preferred provider organization (PPO) plan.

Don’t assume that whatever health plan and benefits you had in 2021 will be the best for you in 2022. Your plan may have changed. Your circumstances may have changed; for example, if your last son or daughter is now in college, it might make sense to buy a university plan for that child while you and your spouse change from family coverage to “employee + 1” coverage.

And don’t miss out on the panoply of health benefits in your plan choices, especially new benefits that can save you money.

“An often-overlooked benefit for older workers is a surgery Centers of Excellence program,” says Tatar. Here, if you are planning to have surgery — such as spine, knee, hip or bariatric surgery — the company will arrange for you to receive care from a Center of Excellence to receive top notch and affordable treatment.

“They will often provide more generous benefits coverage for patients who participate and will cover any upfront travel costs for you and a companion if the best care is outside your community,” Tatar notes.

If you’re in good health, says Seth Mullikin of Lattice Financial in Charlotte, N.C, “an HSA (with a high deductible plan) generally makes sense. From a financial planning perspective, it gets better if you can fund these costs from personal savings and let your HSA money grow tax-free over time.”

The HSA also lets you pay for health expenses in the future, even into retirement, adds Mullikin. In 2022, employees with high-deductible health plans will generally be allowed to contribute up to $3,650 in an HSA; as much as $7,300 for family coverage.

Time for a Second Opinion?

You may also be able to sign up to get a second opinion as part of your health coverage. Some employers have even expanded eligibility to receive a second medical opinion for an employee’s parents and grandparents.

“As we get older, the risk of having a serious health event increases. If this happens to you, it’s natural to seek a second opinion. Some employers we are working with now want to give employees better peace of mind, so they offer ‘second opinion’ benefits,” notes Tatar. “Then they can provide an entire medical diagnosis and treatment plan as an option for you to discuss with your doctor. And it is usually covered one hundred percent.”

Mental Health Coverage

The pandemic and revelations by star athletes including tennis’ Naomi Osaka and gymnastics’ Simone Biles, has made taking care of our mental health a priority.

More than three-quarters of large employers surveyed by the nonprofit Business Group on Health say access to mental health care is now a top priority. In 2021, 62% of employers this group surveyed added mental health benefits.

To that end, check to see if your employer is incorporating resiliency and mindfulness training and mental health options such as telehealth counseling into its benefits offerings.

Disability Coverage

You may also want to look into getting disability insurance coverage through work.

“Your chance of being disabled is much greater than the risk of premature death,” says wealth adviser Graham Ewing of Financial Consulate in Hunt Valley, Md. “If your employer is offering disability insurance, consider it.”

But, he adds, “you need to understand how disability is being defined by the insurance company. For example, some policies will pay out benefits for only two years if you can’t do your current job. Others won’t pay beyond two years if you are not completely incapacitated. So, find out what’s covered and what’s not.”

Group disability coverage typically pays up to 60% of salary if you can’t keep working at your job or switch to another position and you expect to be disabled for a year or more.

Care Giving Benefits

If you are caring for an aging loved one or someone with a serious illness, inquire about work/life balance or employee assistance programs. Some companies are now offering caregiver navigation benefits which connect you with experts to help find local elder care resources or options for assisted living or nursing homes.

If you’re a caregiver, you’ll likely need some give and take with your schedule, so see what HR will do for you.

Says Tim Glowa, a principal and leader of Grant Thornton’s employee listening and human capital services offerings: “Everyone has a unique set of responsibilities outside of the office. As companies return to the office, it will be more crucial than ever to give people the time they need to take care of what’s important at home.”

Financial Wellness and Retirement Planning

Open Enrollment season may also be a good time to revisit your retirement plan and do a “financial check-up,” similar to getting an annual wellness physical from your doctor, says Ewing.

“You may want to revisit your risk tolerance, especially if you are concerned about gyrations in the stock market,” he adds.

Mullikin notes that many of his 50+ clients are worried about having enough money to retire comfortably. “So, our first order of business is to find out if they can increase, or max out, their 401(k) contributions,” he says.

Another way to save more for retirement when you’re over 50 is to make catch-up contributions to your retirement plan.

These let you put in up to $6,500 more than others can in a 401(k) or 403(b) plan or up to $1,000 in an Individual Retirement Account. “Plus, you and your spouse (if they are also enrolled) can make catch-up contributions of up to a thousand dollars to your HSA at age fifty-five,” notes Mullikin.

Reimbursing Your Remote Work Expenses

If you’ll be working remotely in 2022, even part of the time, check with your HR department about getting reimbursed for home office expenses like a standing desk, a Wi-Fi extender, a headset and any ergonomic equipment designed to keep you healthy and productive.

About a fifth of employers the benefits consulting firm Mercer surveyed said they’d be adding or enhancing reimbursement for off-site workers in 2021, including subsidizing ergonomic furniture.

Some firms pay for setups of $200 to $300. Others offer partial ongoing reimbursement for an employee’s home internet service and cell service.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

Next Avenue is public media’s first and only national journalism service for America’s booming older population. Our daily content delivers vital ideas, context and…

Source: How To Choose The Right Employee Benefits For 2022 During Open Enrollment

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What The New Outlook For Social Security Means For You

Whew! The pandemic had a smaller impact on the Social Security trust funds — that is, Social Security’s solvency — than many feared during the depths of the pandemic downturn.

According to the new 2021 annual report from the Social Security Trustees, the depletion date for the combined trust funds —retirement and disability — is 2033 without any changes to program benefits. That would be when today’s 54-year-olds reach Social Security’s Full Retirement Age. Still, that’s one year earlier than last year’s 2034 estimate.

Depletion date or insolvency doesn’t mean bankruptcy — far from it. Funding from payroll tax receipts will be enough to pay 78% of promised benefits after the combined Social Security trust funds depletion date is reached.

“The trust fund report should be seen as a strength,” says Eric Kingson, professor of social work and public administration at Syracuse University and co-author with Nancy Altman of “Social Security Works for Everyone: Protecting and Expanding the Insurance Americans Love and Count On.”

What the Social Security Trustees Said

The report, Kingson said, “provides information for Congress and the public on what needs to be done to maintain benefits.”

And Altman, president of Social Security Works, chair of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition and a rumored possible Biden appointee to run the Social Security Administration, said this when the Trustees report came out on Wednesday: “Today’s report shows that Social Security remains strong and continues to work well, despite a once-in-a-century pandemic. That this year’s projections are so similar to last year’s proves once again that our Social Security system is built to withstand times of crisis, providing a source of certainty in uncertain times.”

But the Social Security Trustees are strikingly cautious about their estimates involving the impact of the pandemic on the Social Security trust fund and its sister trust fund for Medicare, the federal health insurance program primarily for people 65 and older.

Despite the dry language of actuaries, the uncertainty is apparent.

Employment, earnings, interest rates and gross domestic product (GDP) dropped substantially in the second quarter of 2020, the worst economic period of the pandemic. As a result, the decline in payroll-tax receipts which pay for Social Security benefits eroded the trust funds, though the drop in payroll taxes was offset somewhat by higher mortality rates.

“Given the unprecedented level of uncertainty, the Trustees currently assume that the pandemic will have no net effect on the individual long range ultimate assumptions,” they write.

The Pandemic and Social Security Solvency

But, they add, “At this time, there is no consensus on what the lasting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the long-term experience might be, if any.”

The Trustees say they “will continue to monitor developments and modify the projections in later reports.”

Translation: the status quo remains and the forecast for the pandemic’s effect on Social Security’s solvency is cloudy.

Odds are the coming Social Security financing shortfall won’t get sustained attention from either the Biden administration or Congress despite the need to take action before 2034.

The Trustees aren’t too happy about that.

Their report says: “The Trustees recommend that lawmakers address the projected trust fund shortfalls in a timely way in order to phase in necessary changes gradually and give workers and beneficiaries time to adjust to them. Implementing changes sooner rather than later would allow more generations to share in the needed revenue increases or reductions in scheduled benefits… With informed discussion, creative thinking, and timely legislative action, Social Security can continue to protect future generations.”

The Political Outlook for Social Security Reforms

But the Biden administration and its Congressional allies are instead focused on threading the political needle for an ambitious $3.5 trillion infrastructure spending package, while also dealing with the fallout from the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Leading Republican legislators have called for so-called entitlement reform (think Social Security benefit cuts), but that’s a tough sell in the current Democratically controlled Congress.

“Does the report mean the timetable argues for real concrete action on [addressing solvency issues of] Social Security? Probably not. Will it revive the rhetoric that the sky is falling? Sure,” says Robert Blancato, national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition advocacy group, president of Matz Blancato and Associates and a 2016 Next Avenue Influencer in Aging.

The issue over how best to restore financial solvency to Social Security isn’t going away. That’s because the program is fundamental to the economic security of retired Americans. Social Security currently pays benefits to 49 million retired workers and dependents of retired workers (as well as survivor benefits to six million younger people and 10 million disabled people).

However, the tenor of the longer-term solvency discussion has significantly changed in recent years.

To be sure, a number of leading Republicans still want to cut Social Security retirement benefits to reduce the impending shortfall. Their latest maneuver is what’s known as The TRUST Act, sponsored by Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.

It calls for closed-door meetings of congressionally appointed bipartisan committees to come up with legislation to restore solvency by June 1 of the following year. The TRUST act would also limit Congress to voting yes or no on the proposals. No amendments allowed.

What’s Different About Future Social Security Changes

AARP, responding to the Trustees report news, came out vehemently against The TRUST Act’s closed-door reform plan. “All members of Congress should be held accountable for any action on Social Security and Medicare,” AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins said.

“The concern seems to be they would look to cuts first, versus a more comprehensive approach,” says Blancato. A more comprehensive approach could include tax increases for the wealthy and technical changes to the Social Security system.

Something else that’s different is that liberals are no longer trying to simply stave off benefit cuts and preserve the program exactly as it is — the main tactic since Republican Newt Gingrich was House Majority Leader in the mid-1990s. That have bigger and bolder ideas.

Most Democratic members of Congress have co-sponsored legislation to expand Social Security or voted in support of incremental increases in benefits, such as providing more for the oldest old and a new minimum Social Security benefit equal to at least 125% of the poverty level (that translates to $16,100 for a household of one).

Addressing Social Security’s shortfall and paying for the new benefits, with the Democrats’ plans, would come from tax hikes, ranging from gradually raising the 6.2% payroll tax rate to hiking or eliminating the $142,800 limit on annual earnings subject to Social Security taxes to some combination of these.

But Social Security benefit cuts are off the negotiating table for the Democrats.

“Biden has made a commitment not to cut and to make modest improvements in benefits,” says Kingson. “He won’t back off that.”

The President has pushed for raising the Social Security payroll tax cap so people earning incomes over $400,000 would owe taxes on that money, too. He has also backed raising the minimum Social Security benefit to 125% of the poverty level.

The Good News for Social Security Beneficiaries

One more piece of Social Security news to keep in mind: Social Security recipients are likely to get a sizable cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their benefits in 2022. The exact amount will be announced in October and estimates vary widely, from 3% to as high as 6%. A 6% increase would be the highest in 40 years.

But there’s a catch: Medicare Part B premiums for physician and outpatient services — a significant portion of Medicare’s funding —will also go up due to inflation. And those premium payments usually come right out of monthly Social Security checks.

The Trustees report says the estimated standard monthly Medicare Part B premium in 2022 will be $158.50, up about 7% from $148.50 in 2021 and a 9.6% total increase since 2020. (Monthly premiums are based on income, though, and can exceed $500 for high earners.)

The Trustees report says Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund (HITF) has enough funds to pay scheduled benefits until 2026, unchanged from last year. Medicare’s finances stayed stable during the pandemic, with people over 65 largely avoiding elective care. The pandemic “is not expected to have a large effect on the financial status of the [Medicare] trust funds after 2024,” the Trustees report noted.

Like Social Security, the trust fund behind Medicare Part A (which pays for hospitals, nursing facilities, home health and hospice care) is primarily funded by payroll taxes. There will be enough tax income coming in to cover an estimated 91% of total scheduled benefits once the trust fund is insolvent.

Medicare Part D, which covers prescription drugs, is mostly funded by federal income taxes, premiums and state payments.

But the political story about Medicare is less about its projected 2026 shortfall and more about momentum toward expanding the program. The Biden administration has proposed adding hearing, visual and dental care to Medicare benefits, something also being pushed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) At this time, it’s unclear how those new benefits would be paid for, though they wouldn’t affect the trust fund.

Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn. Check out my website.

Next Avenue is public media’s first and only national journalism service for America’s booming older population. Our daily content delivers vital ideas, context and perspectives on issues that matter most as we age.

Source: What The New Outlook For Social Security Means For You

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If You’re Still Working at 65, How To Avoid Costly Medicare Mistakes

Key Points
  • You could face lifelong late-enrollment penalties if you don’t sign up for Medicare when you’re supposed to.
  • The rules for enrollment when you already have insurance through your job depend partly on whether your employer is large or small.
  • It’s important to know that once you sign up for Medicare, even if only for Part A (hospital coverage), you can no longer contribute to a health savings account.

Workers who are nearing age 65 and have health insurance through their job may want to consider how Medicare could factor into their medical coverage.

While not everyone must sign up for Medicare at that age of eligibility, many are required to enroll — or otherwise face lifelong late-enrollment penalties.

“The biggest mistake … is to assume that you don’t need Medicare and to miss enrolling in it when you should have,” said Danielle Roberts, co-founder of insurance firm Boomer Benefits.

Roughly 10 million workers are in the 65-and-older crowd, or 17.9% of that age group, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The general rule for Medicare signup is that unless you meet an exception, you get a seven-month enrollment window that starts three months before your 65th birthday month and ends three months after it. Having qualifying insurance through your employer is one of those exceptions. Here’s what to know.

The basics

Original, or basic, Medicare consists of Part A (hospital coverage) and Part B (outpatient care coverage).

Part A has no premium as long as you have at least a 10-year work history of contributing to the program through payroll (or self-employment) taxes. Part B comes with a standard monthly premium of $148.50 for 2021, although higher-income beneficiaries pay more through monthly adjustments (see chart below).

Some 43% of individuals choose to get their Parts A and B benefits delivered through an Advantage Plan (Part C), which typically includes prescription drugs (Part D) and may or may not have a premium.

The remaining beneficiaries stick with basic Medicare and may pair it with a so-called Medigap policy and a stand-alone Part D plan. Be aware that higher-income beneficiaries pay more for drug coverage, as well (see chart below).

Remember that late-enrollment penalties last a lifetime. For Part B, that surcharge is 10% for each 12-month period you could have had it but didn’t sign up. For Part D, the penalty is 1% of the base premium ($33.06 in 2021) multiplied by the number of full, uncovered months you didn’t have Part D or creditable coverage.Working at a large company

The general rule for workers at companies with at least 20 employees is that you can delay signing up for Medicare until you lose your group insurance (i.e., you retire).

Many people with large group health insurance delay Part B but sign up for Part A because it’s free. “It doesn’t hurt you to have it,” Roberts said. However, she said, if you happen to have a health savings account paired with a high-deductible health plan through your employer, be aware that you cannot make contributions once you enroll in Medicare, even if only Part A.

Also, if you stay with your current coverage and delay all or parts of Medicare, make sure the plan is considered qualifying coverage for both Parts B and D. If you’re uncertain whether you need to sign up, it’s worth checking with your human resources department or your insurance carrier.

“I find it is always good to just confirm,” said Elizabeth Gavino, founder of Lewin & Gavino and an independent broker and general agent for Medicare plans. Some 65-year-olds with younger spouses also might want to keep their group plan. Unlike your company’s option, spouses must qualify on their own for Medicare — either by reaching age 65 or having a disability if younger than that — regardless of your own eligibility.If your employer is small

If you have health insurance through a company with fewer than 20 employees, you should sign up for Medicare at 65 regardless of whether you stay on the employer plan. If you do choose to remain on it, Medicare is your primary insurance. However, it may be more cost-effective in this situation to drop the employer coverage and pick up Medigap and a Part D plan — or, alternatively, an Advantage Plan — instead of keeping the work plan as secondary insurance.

Often, workers at small companies pay more in premiums than employees at larger firms. The average premium for single coverage through employer-sponsored health insurance is $7,470, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. However, employees contribute an average of $1,243 — or about 17% — with their company covering the remainder.

At small firms, the employee’s share might be far higher. For example, 28% are in a plan that requires them to contribute more than half of the premium for family coverage, compared with 4% of covered workers at large firms. Original Medicare consists of Part A (hospital coverage) and Part B (outpatient care coverage). Excluding limited exceptions, there is no coverage related to dental, vision or hearing, which can lead to beneficiaries forgoing care.

“It would be a significant improvement [to provide coverage] for people who often go without needed care because they can’t afford it and for people who pay a lot for the care they need,” said Tricia Neuman, executive director for the Kaiser Family Foundation’s program on Medicare policy. Some beneficiaries get limited coverage for dental, vision and hearing if they choose to get their Parts A and B benefits delivered through an Advantage Plan (Part C), which often include those extras. About 40% of beneficiaries are enrolled in Advantage Plans.

However, Lipschutz said, the extra coverage generally is not comprehensive. On the other hand, if expanded benefits — no matter how generous — were required under original Medicare, they’d become standard in an Advantage Plan.

Source: If you’re still working at 65, how to avoid costly Medicare mistakes

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