Each year, current Medicare beneficiaries can make changes to their Medicare coverage for the following year during the Medicare Open Enrollment Period that starts on October 15 and runs through December 7. Because this period is the only time during the year that all people with Medicare can make changes to their health and prescription drug plans for the following year, you should carefully consider your options. During this annual enrollment period, you can:
- Change from Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage Plan
- Change from a Medicare Advantage Plan back to Original Medicare
- Switch from one Medicare Advantage Plan to another Medicare Advantage Plan
- Switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn’t offer prescription drug coverage to a Medicare Advantage Plan that does offer it
- Switch from a Medicare Advantage Plan that offers prescription drug coverage to a Medicare Advantage Plan that doesn’t
- Enroll in a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan if you didn’t enroll when you were first eligible (a late enrollment penalty may apply)
- Switch from one Medicare Part D prescription drug plan to another
- Drop Medicare prescription drug coverage
Your new coverage, or changes to your existing coverage for the new year, will take effect on January 1.
If you’re currently in (or join) a Medicare Advantage Plan, you have another opportunity to leave your plan and switch to Original Medicare (with or without a Part D prescription drug plan) during the Medicare Advantage Disenrollment Period that occurs every year from January 1 to February 14. However, if you have Original Medicare you cannot make any changes during this period. In certain circumstances, if you’re enrolled in a Medicare Advantage Plan or Part D prescription drug plan, you may also qualify to make changes during Special Enrollment Periods. Visit medicare.gov for more information.
During the Medicare Open Enrollment Period that runs from October 15 through December 7, you can make changes to your Medicare coverage that will be effective on January 1, 2017. If you’re satisfied with your current coverage, you don’t need to make changes, but you should review your options before you decide to stay with your current plan.
Your Medicare plan sends two important documents every year that you should review. The first, called the Evidence of Coverage, provides information about what your plan covers and its cost. The second, called the Annual Notice of Change, lists changes to your plan for the upcoming year that will take effect in January. You can use these documents to evaluate your current plan and decide whether you need different coverage. You should also review the official government handbook, Medicare & You 2017, which is available electronically or through the mail. It contains detailed information about Medicare that should help you determine whether your current plan is right for you.
As you review your coverage, here are a few points to consider:
- What were your health costs during the past year, and what did you spend the most on?
- Will your current plan cover all the services you need and the health-care providers you need to see next year?
- Does your current plan cost more or less than other options? Consider premiums, deductibles, and other out-of-pocket costs such as copayments or coinsurance costs; are any of these costs changing?
- Do you need to join a Medicare prescription drug plan? When comparing plans, consider the cost of drugs under each plan, and make sure the drugs you take will still be covered next year.
If you have questions about Medicare, you can call 1-800-MEDICARE or visit the Medicare website at medicare.gov. You can use the site’s Medicare Plan Finder to see what plans are available in your area and check each plan’s overall quality rating.
Pretax: Tax benefits now
With pretax contributions, the money is deducted from your paycheck before taxes, which helps reduce your taxable income and the amount of taxes you pay now. Consider the following example, which is hypothetical and has been simplified for illustrative purposes.
Example(s): Mark earns $2,000 every two weeks before taxes. If he contributes nothing to his retirement plan on a pretax basis, the amount of his pay that will be subject to income taxes would be the full $2,000. If he was in the 25% federal tax bracket, he would pay $500 in federal income taxes, reducing his take-home pay to $1,500. On the other hand, if he contributes 10% of his income to the plan on a pretax basis–or $200–he would reduce the amount of his taxable pay to $1,800. That would reduce the amount of taxes due to $450. After accounting for both federal taxes and his plan contribution, Mark’s take-home pay would be $1,350. The bottom line? Mark would be able to invest $200 toward his future but reduce his take-home pay by just $150. That’s the benefit of pretax contributions.
In addition, any earnings made on pretax contributions grow on a tax-deferred basis. That means you don’t have to pay taxes on any gains each year, as you would in a taxable investment account. However, those tax benefits won’t go on forever. Any money withdrawn from a tax-deferred account is subject to ordinary income taxes, and if the withdrawal takes place prior to age 59½ (or in some cases, 55 or 50, depending on your plan’s rules), you may be subject to an additional 10% penalty on the total amount of the distribution.
Although the year is drawing to a close, you still have time to review your finances. Pausing to reflect on the financial progress you made in 2016 and identifying adjustments for 2017 can help you start the new year stronger than ever.
How healthy are your finances?
Think of a year-end review as an annual physical for your money. Here are some questions to ask that will help assess your financial fitness.
- Do you know how you spent your money in 2016? Did you make any progress toward your financial goals? Look for spending habits (such as eating out too much) that need tweaking, and make necessary adjustments to your budget.
- Are you comfortable with the amount of debt that you have? Any end-of-year mortgage, credit card, and loan statements will spell out the amount of debt you still owe and how much you’ve been able to pay off this year.
- How is your credit? Having a positive credit history may help you get better interest rates when you apply for credit, potentially saving you money over the long term. Check your credit report at least once a year by requesting your free annual copy through the federally authorized website annualcreditreport.com.
- Do you have an emergency savings account? Generally, you should aim to set aside at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses. Having this money can help you avoid piling up more credit-card debt or shortchanging your retirement or college savings because of an unexpected event such as job loss or illness.
- Do you have an adequate amount of insurance? Your insurance needs may change over time, so it’s a good idea to review your coverage at least once a year to make sure it still meets your needs.
When it comes to planning your estate, you might be wondering whether you should use a will or a trust (or both). Understanding the similarities and the differences between these two important documents may help you decide which strategy is better for you.
What is a will?
A will is a legal document that lets you direct how your property will be dispersed (among other things) when you die. It becomes effective only after your death. It also allows you to name an estate executor as the legal representative who will carry out your wishes.
In many states, your will is the only legal way you can name a guardian for your minor children. Without a will, your property will be distributed according to the intestacy laws of your state. Keep in mind that wills and trusts are legal documents generally governed by state law, which may differ from one state to the next.
What is a trust?
A trust document establishes a legal relationship in which you, the grantor or trustor, set up the trust, which holds property managed by a trustee for the benefit of another, the beneficiary. A revocable living trust is the type of trust most often used as part of a basic estate plan. “Revocable” means that you can make changes to the trust or even end (revoke) it at any time. For example, you may want to remove certain property from the trust or change the beneficiaries. Or you may decide not to use the trust anymore because it no longer meets your needs.
A living trust is created while you’re living and takes effect immediately. You may transfer title or “ownership” of assets, such as a house, boat, automobile, jewelry, or investments, to the trust. You can add assets to the trust and remove assets thereafter.