Elder Financial Abuse: 9 Red Flags

Many Wisconsin elders are as mentally sharp as they were 20 years ago. Others are less fortunate and at risk for elder financial abuse, which can include exploiting money, property, or other assets in a variety of ways.

There are more than one million Wisconsinites over the age of 60, and 35,000 of them are financially exploited annually. That’s according to a 2010 workshop (“Elder Financial Exploitation and Prosecution”) published on the website of the Wisconsin Coalition of Aging Groups: http://cwagwisconsin.org/.

If you have concerns about how an elderly relative or friend is handling their finances, here are a few tips to consider, beginning with these red flags:

  1. Larger than normal cash withdrawals
  2. Excitement over winning a sweepstakes or lottery
  3. Presence in their life of a new “friend” who determines financial decisions
  4. Lack of knowledge about a newly issued credit or debit card
  5. Confusion about account balances or transactions
  6. Missed bill payments
  7. Utility shut-offs
  8. Concern about giving out personal information via phone or email
  9. Caregiver paid too much or too often

If you spot a red flag, ask the elder about it. Ask to see the sweepstakes win confirmation or try to learn the details about how they met that new friend. Avoid prompting; let them answer in their own words. If their explanation raises questions, you may want to ask to see their check register, online account information, invoices, or other financial documents.

You might discover a simple answer to your concern. Maybe the elder did indeed win $500 on a scratch-off Wisconsin lottery ticket. Maybe that new friend is a neighbor who is just as uneasy as you are about the elder’s welfare.

On the other hand, if the answers you receive only increase your level of concern, it’s likely time to seek assistance. Contact your elder’s attorney for added information and counsel. Or, take the elder to visit their local community bank office to straighten out any questions about accounts, transfers, or unexplained checks.

If you believe someone you know is being financially exploited, do not hesitate to call the Elder Financial Empowerment Project at 800-488-2596 for victim assistance and guidance. You can also call your local police or your county’s Aging and Disability Resource Center. You can locate your county’s office and contact information on the center’s website: http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/adrc/.

Once financial abuse has been documented, you may want to help the elder contact one of the nation’s three credit bureaus if the abuse might lead to false or misleading reports. Help them request a copy of their credit report and place a fraud alert on the account. You can find contact information for the three nationwide consumer credit reporting firms (Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union) at www.annualcreditreport.com, or phone 877-322-8228 toll-free.

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Windows Security Alert

Support for Windows XP ends on April 8, 2014. 

What does this mean for you?  After this date, Microsoft will no longer provide technical support, updates, or patches for the software, leaving your computer and personal information at risk! 

Union State Bank is encouraging everyone to upgrade Windows or your computer to have the most up to date version of Windows and security package available.  More information can be found on Microsoft’s website by clicking the following link:  http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/end-support-help

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Windows Security Alert

Support for Windows XP ends on April 8, 2014. 

What does this mean for you?  After this date, Microsoft will no longer provide technical support, updates, or patches for the software, leaving your computer and personal information at risk! 

Union State Bank is encouraging everyone to upgrade Windows or your computer to have the most up to date version of Windows and security package available.  More information can be found on Microsoft’s website by clicking the following link:  http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/end-support-help

 

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April is Community Banking Month!

The Independent Community Bankers of America® (ICBA) and Union State Bank have kicked off ICBA Community Banking Month—a month full of community pride for local residents, small businesses and the community banks that proudly serve them. Throughout the month, ICBA and Union State Bank will encourage consumers and small businesses who are interested in building more economically sustainable communities to check out what their community bankhas to offer.

“Community banks help local families achieve financial stability while also driving small business lending in their communities—keeping America’s communities economically healthy and vibrant,” said ICBA Chairman John H. Buhrmaster, president of 1st National Bank of Scotia, N.Y. “Throughout April, ICBA, our members and our state and regional partners will celebrate the unique and vital role that community banks serve in their communities, while educating consumers and small business owners about the benefits of banking locally with their community bank.”

Community banks are relationship lenders that thrive when their customers and communities do the same. Taking care of customers and looking out for the best interest of local communities is the community banking business model.

There are almost 7,000 community banks, including commercial banks, thrifts, stock and mutual savings institutions, with more than 50,000 locations throughout the United States. Assets may range from less than $10 million to $10 billion or more. Community banks constitute 96.8 percent of all banks.

“Union State Bankhas thrived for more than 100 years thanks to our loyal customers who believe in the community banking business model,” said President Jeff Kleiman. “The future for community banking is bright, and I encourage everyone to Go Local and realize the difference that a community bank can make in their lives now and for years to come.”

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Be in Charge of Your Credit Cards: Our Latest Tips for Choosing and Using Them

Credit cards can offer numerous benefits to consumers, including a convenient way to pay for purchases, the ability to build a credit history, and the potential for rewards. But to make the most of your credit cards, it helps to be an informed consumer. First, remember that any purchase you make with your credit card is a loan that must be repaid. And as with any loan, it’s important to select the right product for you and to use it wisely.

To help you maximize the benefits and avoid the potential pitfalls, here are our latest tips for choosing and using credit cards.

Choosing a Credit Card

Maximize your ability to get a good credit card by ensuring that your credit report is accurate. Correcting inaccuracies may help you improve your credit history and credit score, which card issuers will consider when deciding whether to offer you a card and how they will determine your interest rate and credit limit. You also can find out if an identity thief has opened credit cards or other accounts in your name (see 10 Ways to Protect Your Personal Information and Your Money http://unionstatebank.wordpress.com/2014/03/14/ten-ways-to-protect-your-personal-information-money/).

By federal law, you are entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three major nationwide consumer reporting agencies (also called “credit bureaus”) — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Each company issues its own report, and because some lenders do not furnish information to all three of them, it’s useful to request your report from each one in order to get a comprehensive view of your credit history. Go to http://www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call toll-free 1-877-322-8228 to order free credit reports or for more information.

If you find errors, each reporting agency provides ways to ask for an investigation and a correction. In addition, you can request a correction directly from the entity that supplied the incorrect information.

“Your credit reports play a large role in what credit you will qualify for, so it’s important that they be accurate,” said Jonathan Miller, Deputy Director for Policy and Research in the FDIC’s Division of Depositor and Consumer Protection (DCP). “If you find any mistakes on a report, you have both a need and a right to have them corrected. And, be wary of companies that promise to ‘fix’ your credit report. If there is negative information that is legitimate, there is no way to remove it, although it will expire from your report after a period of time.”

Determine what type of card best meets your needs. First, think about how you will use the card. In particular, do you expect to pay your card balance in full each month or carry a balance from month to month?

If you don’t pay your card balance in full each month, the best card for you will likely be one with a low Annual Percentage Rate (APR). But if you do plan to pay in full each month, you might instead focus on whether there is an annual fee, rewards or other features, such as a waiver of foreign transaction fees (helpful for international trips or purchases).

Shop around and compare product terms and conditions. Although you may receive credit card offers, don’t assume these are the best deals for you. If you decide you need to apply for a card, compare multiple products from several lenders. Various Web sites can help you compare product offerings from different institutions, but be aware that some sites list only companies that pay to advertise there.

What factors should you consider? Federal law requires creditors to disclose important rate and fee information to you before you apply. “This enables you to make apples-to-apples comparisons for the most important factors,” pointed out Elizabeth Khalil, an FDIC Senior Policy Analyst.

Here is additional guidance on how to compare key terms and conditions:

•Annual Percentage Rate: The APR represents the annual cost of the credit. In general, there are three types of APRs that might be applicable to your card: those for purchases, for balance transfers from another card, and for cash advances. Also pay attention to introductory rates. Some credit offers, such as balance transfers, come with special low interest rates that will increase after the promotional period.

•Fees: These can include annual fees, balance transfer fees and cash advance fees (in addition to any interest you might pay), foreign transaction fees, and penalties for late payments or returned payments. Determine if fees can change over time, as many cards will waive an annual fee for the first year but will charge it in later years.

•Rewards: These programs can be complicated, with specific eligibility rules. Know what you need to do to qualify for rewards, which might include meeting spending requirements, and how much you would have to spend to accumulate enough points or miles to get what you want. Also understand what you need to do to maintain your reward points, since they can sometimes expire if an account is closed or considered inactive.

Do your homework before signing up for promotional offers or additional products. Some credit cards come with promotions that are enticing but may cost you more money in the long run. For instance, some credit cards marketed by retail stores offer “no interest” on balances for a certain period of time, such as the first 12 months after purchase. But if you don’t pay off the entire purchase balance by the end of the timeframe that was disclosed, you may be charged all of the interest that accrued since the date of purchase. “With any deferred interest offer, it’s important to pay the balance in full before the promotional period ends,” said Matt Homer, a Policy Analyst at the FDIC. “If you can’t do that, a better fit might be a credit card with a low APR that doesn’t expire after the promotional period.”

Additionally, credit card companies might offer other credit-related products, such as credit protection (to pay, suspend or cancel part or all of your outstanding balance in the event of a specific hardship) and identity theft protection (to monitor your credit reports for signs that a crook attempted to use your name to commit fraud). “Make sure you fully understand how these products work and how much they cost by reading the fine print and asking questions before you sign up,” advised Homer. “Also evaluate whether the price you will pay justifies the value you will get from the product.”

For example, he said, as an alternative to paying for identity theft protection, you can look for warning signs of fraud by monitoring your free annual credit reports, especially if you space out the requests for a different company’s report approximately every four months.

Using a Credit Card

Carefully review your card statements for billing errors and other problems, and report them quickly. The FDIC’s Consumer Response Center reports that billing disputes and error resolution problems and processes are the most common types of complaints it received in 2012 and 2013 related to credit cards. And, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, many consumers are confused and frustrated by the process of challenging inaccuracies on their monthly statements.

If you notice a billing error, such as an unauthorized charge on your statement, contact the card issuer as soon as possible. For guidance, see consumer information from the Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0219-fair-credit-billing.

Checking your account periodically also can help you monitor your spending. “You may want to sign up for alerts on your mobile phone or through e-mail that inform you when your credit card has hit a specific balance amount or you are close to your credit limit. Other alerts can remind you about an upcoming bill,” Homer added.

Review all communications from your lender. Keep a copy of your cardholder agreement and look at all other mailings from your lender because they may include notices about adjustments to the important terms of your card. For example, a credit card issuer must typically provide customers a 45-day advance notice of an interest rate increase.

Pay on time to limit late fees and protect your credit history. If you miss a payment, you’ll likely be charged a late fee, which can sometimes be up to $35 or more. Late payments are also reported to the major consumer reporting agencies, which can harm your credit history.

Pay as much as you can to avoid or minimize fees and interest charges. While it may sound like a bargain to pay the minimum amount due, the long-term costs can be staggering. You will generally be charged interest on the unpaid portion of your balance at the beginning of a new billing cycle and your credit card issuer may start charging you interest from the time of purchase. If you can’t pay the full amount, paying even slightly more than the minimum amount due can reduce your interest costs.

If you add an “authorized user” to the account, set rules and monitor transactions. Adding an authorized user can be a way to jointly manage your finances (for your convenience) or to help someone else (such as a relative under 21 years old) establish a credit history. But remember that you will be liable for any charges the authorized user makes with the card, so it’s best to have a mutual understanding about your expectations as the account owner. Also consider asking your card issuer to place a spending limit on the card assigned to the authorized user. And, of course, be sure to regularly monitor the account and take appropriate action, if necessary.

Protect your card from fraud. Never provide your credit card numbers — including the account number and expiration date on the front and the security code on the front and/or back — in response to an unsolicited phone call, e-mail or other communication. When using your credit card online, make sure you’re dealing with a legitimate company.

Also, take precautions at the checkout counter and gas pump, watching for card reading devices that look suspicious, such as a plastic sleeve inside a card slot or other possible signs of tampering.

If you have lost your card or are the victim of identity theft, contact your credit card company as soon as possible. Write down the contact number printed on the back of your card and keep it somewhere else that you can quickly access.

Recent security breaches at a few major retailers have some consumers concerned about using their credit cards. Federal law protects consumers from unauthorized activity, and card issuers often will waive any liability for fraudulent purchases that are reported promptly. For more tips on avoiding fraud and reporting identity theft or unauthorized charges, see 10 Ways to Protect Your Personal Information and Your Money.

To try to resolve a complaint, first contact your card issuer. Before calling, think through and summarize what the problem is and what you’d like done about it. This will help you remember the key points of the issue. In case the financial institution doesn’t agree to your solution, think about other alternatives you might propose or accept.

“If you’re having trouble resolving a complaint with the credit card issuer you can consider taking your concerns to the institution’s federal regulator,” pointed out DCP Director Mark Pearce. “Doing so not only can assist a consumer with a legitimate complaint, but it also provides the regulator with important information on consumer concerns and trends in general.”

The FDIC and other banking regulators can’t settle contract disputes between a bank and a consumer, but they often can assist consumers in other ways, such as helping people understand confusing information, contacting the issuer and initiating a formal review process, and/or taking supervisory actions if the institution is in violation of a law or regulation. To find the regulator for an FDIC-insured institution, you can use our online directory at http://research.fdic.gov/bankfind or call the FDIC toll-free at 1-877-ASK-FDIC (1-877-275-3342).

Reprinted from FDIC Consumer News Winter 2014.  https://www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/news/cnwin1314/
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Money & Banking Tips for the Tax Season

How can you save money and avoid a variety of problems at tax time?

Guard against tax-related frauds. Examples include scam e-mails falsely claiming to come from the IRS. Many of these are intended to trick taxpayers into revealing Social Security numbers and other personal information that can be used by criminals to steal victims’ identity and money, including tax refunds. Others involve phone callers saying the taxpayer owes money to the IRS that must be paid promptly by wire transfer (that actually goes to the crook) or by loading funds onto a prepaid debit card and then sharing the number. The scammer may try to intimidate a targeted victim who refuses to cooperate, such as by threatening arrest or suspension of a business or driver’s license. For information from the IRS about tax frauds targeting consumers, visit www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Scams-Consumer-Alerts.

Carefully choose how to prepare your taxes. At tax time, you gather and submit a substantial amount of sensitive information that, if misused, could cause you significant problems. If you are using a computer program to prepare your return, make sure that your computer has an up-to-date security package.

If you plan to hire a tax preparer, consider factors such as the preparer’s professional background and the likelihood that the preparer will be around to help you answer questions the IRS may ask months after your return has been filed. For tips from the IRS on how to choose a tax preparer, including red flags to avoid, go to www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc254.html.

After you choose a preparer, carefully review the completed tax return. Question any income and/or deductions on the return that you do not recognize. Unsupported income and deductions can be signs of an unscrupulous preparer who may deliberately make fraudulent errors, such as inflated claims for deductible expense. When the IRS detects these unsupported claims, the taxpayer is responsible for paying additional taxes, interest and perhaps costly penalties.

Be cautious with offers by tax preparers to handle your refund. These include suggestions that they can somehow get your money faster or that you should direct deposit your refund into any bank account other than your own. These services can be costly and perhaps even put you at additional risk for fraud. “Keep in mind that the IRS issues refunds to more than 90 percent of taxpayers in less than 21 days,” noted Luke W. Reynolds, Chief of the FDIC’s Outreach and Program Development Section.

Find out if you may be eligible for free tax-preparation assistance through the IRS. One example is the IRS “Free File” program, which allows taxpayers who earn $58,000 or less (for returns to be filed during 2014) to use a software program available to them free through the IRS Web site to prepare and file their federal taxes. Taxpayers who exceed the income threshold and are comfortable calculating and preparing their own returns without a software program can manually complete their federal forms through the IRS Web site.

Also, low-income, disabled, elderly and non-English speaking taxpayers can receive free tax-preparation assistance by trained, certified volunteers through the IRS-coordinated Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs. For details, start at www.irs.gov/Individuals/IRS-Free-Tax-Return-Preparation-Programs.

These various IRS-affiliated options enable you to electronically file your return, which is generally the easiest and fastest way to get your return to the IRS. Note: Certain tax returns are not eligible for e-filing.

Direct deposit your tax refund into your bank account. “Direct deposit is generally the fastest and safest way to get your refund,” Reynolds said.

Put some of your refund into savings or toward paying down debt. If you’re expecting a refund, consider deciding how much of it you can save toward a goal or for a “rainy day fund” for unplanned expenses. You can split your direct deposit tax refund in up to three different accounts at three different U.S. financial institutions, including savings accounts. And, you can use part of your refund to purchase a U.S. Savings Bond for yourself or for someone else. Also consider using part of your refund to pay high-cost loans and other bills, starting with the ones that charge the highest interest rates.

If you owe money on your taxes, consider the best way to pay it. You can have your payment withdrawn electronically from your bank account on a date you specify, such as April 15, but make sure you have enough money in your account. If you don’t have money to pay your tax balance, you have several choices, including an IRS monthly installment plan. Also remember that borrowing money on a credit card to pay your taxes can be costly.

Plan for next year’s tax return. If you’re expecting to receive a significant tax refund or owe money, consider filling out a new W-4 form with your employer to adjust your “personal allowances.” This adjustment will reduce or increase the taxes withheld each pay period.

“Many people are excited about getting a big refund, but that really means they have overpaid on taxes and missed an opportunity to invest or otherwise use the money,” said Elizabeth Khalil, a Senior Policy Analyst in the FDIC’s Division of Depositor and Consumer Protection. “If this happens year after year, it may be time to reevaluate how much you are having withheld.”

And, if you owed a lot of money on last year’s taxes, you may want to increase your withholding (or your estimated tax payments if you are self-employed) to reduce the risk of a penalty for underpayment of your taxes during the year. Regardless, you may be able to reduce your taxes through contributions to tax-preferred retirement plans and higher education savings vehicles such as a 529 Plan for college savings.

For more information on taxes, start at www.irs.gov or consult a tax advisor. For tips on other useful financial topics, visit www.mymoney.gov.

Reprinted from FDIC Consumer News Winter 2014.  https://www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/news/cnwin1314/taxtips.html
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Ten Ways to Protect Your Personal Information & Money

The news often includes reports about thieves gaining access to sensitive personal information that can be used to commit fraud or steal money, sometimes involving major security breaches at large companies such as retailers. “These reports may cause some consumers to be skeptical about engaging in even the simplest financial transactions, but that is unrealistic for most people, especially in today’s online and electronic world,” said Michael Benardo, Chief of the FDIC’s Cyber Fraud and Financial Crimes Section. “That’s why it’s important to be vigilant about protecting your finances by taking some reasonable precautions.”

While federal laws and industry practices generally limit losses for unauthorized transactions involving bank accounts, debit cards and credit cards, it pays to be proactive. Here are 10 things you can do to help protect yourself:

1. Know that offers that seem “too good to be true” are probably a fraud. Crooks often pose as businesses promising or guaranteeing high interest rates, high-paying jobs or other “opportunities,” such as a big prize or lottery winnings for which you must pay taxes or other charges upfront. Be especially careful if someone pressures you to make a quick decision or if you are asked to send money or provide bank account information before receiving anything in return.

2. Guard against scams involving fraudulent checks and requests to wire money or send a prepaid card. A stranger or unfamiliar company might send you a check for more than you are due for an online sale and ask you to deposit the check and wire back the difference. Or, you might be asked to send a prepaid card to the crook. “If you send a wire transfer or a prepaid card, the money is immediately removed from your account, but the check you deposited may not have cleared. If that check is counterfeit, your financial institution would likely hold you responsible for the losses,” said Benardo.

“Also,” he added, “if you are selling something online, be wary of a request by a ‘buyer’ to wire you the money because that may be a ruse to get your bank account information.”

3. Be suspicious about unsolicited e-mails or text messages asking you to click on a link or open an attachment. Crooks are known to distribute and install malicious software (“malware”) that can capture passwords and PIN numbers. This information could be used to gain access to your online banking sites.

4. Don’t give out personal information to anyone unless you initiate the contact and know the other party is reputable. “Crooks pretending to be from legitimate companies or government agencies often contact people asking them to ‘confirm’ or ‘update’ confidential information,” explained Kathryn Weatherby, a fraud examination specialist for the FDIC. “But your bank, credit card issuer and government agencies would never contact you asking for personal details such as bank account information, credit and debit card numbers, Social Security numbers and passwords. Presume that any such request by phone, text message, fax, e-mail or letter is fraudulent.”

5. Carefully choose user IDs and passwords for your computers, mobile devices, and online accounts. For unlocking devices and logging into Web sites and apps, create “strong” IDs and passwords with combinations of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols that are hard to guess, and then change them regularly.

6. Be careful when using social networking sites. Scammers use social networking sites to gather details about individuals, such as their place or date of birth, a pet’s name, their mother’s maiden name, and other information that can help them figure out passwords — or how to reset them. Even small tidbits of information can help them steal your identity, such as by answering security questions that control access to accounts. “Don’t share your ‘page’ or access to your information with anyone you don’t know and trust,” said Benardo. “Criminals may pretend to be your ‘friend’ to convince you to send money or divulge personal information.”

Fraudsters also have become sophisticated at creating fake social networking sites for financial institutions and other businesses.

For tips on avoiding fraud at social media sites, visit from the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov/media/2009/091001.aspx. For additional information about safely using financial institutions’ social media sites, see the Fall 2013 FDIC Consumer News (www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/news/cnfall13/socialmedia.html).

7. Regularly review your transaction history. Look at your bank statements, credit card bills or other transaction histories – preferably as soon as they arrive – and make sure you had authorized all of the transactions. Immediately report to your financial institution any suspicious activity, such as an unfamiliar charge. “Many financial services providers allow you to conveniently check your transaction history on their Web site or through an app on a mobile device,” noted Weatherby.

8. Periodically review your credit reports to make sure someone hasn’t obtained a credit card or a loan in your name. Ask for a free copy from each of the nation’s three major credit reporting agencies (also known as credit bureaus) because their reports may differ, but spread out the requests during the year. For more information and to order a report, go to www.AnnualCreditReport.com or call toll-free 1-877-322-8228.

If you find an unfamiliar account on your report, call the fraud department at the credit reporting agency that produced it. If the account turns out to be fraudulent, ask for a fraud alert to be placed in your file at all three of the major credit bureaus. The alert tells lenders and other users of credit reports that you have been a victim of fraud and to verify any new accounts or changes to accounts in your name.

9. Protect your personal financial documents. Keep bank and credit card statements, tax returns and blank checks in a secure place. And, shred any sensitive documents instead of just throwing them in the trash, because thieves look through trash to find this type of information to commit identity theft or other crimes.

10. Guard your incoming and outgoing mail. From time to time, your mailbox may contain credit card or bank statements, documents showing confidential information, or checks you are sending. For incoming mail, try to use a locked mailbox or a mailbox in a secure location. Put outgoing mail, especially if it contains a check or personal information, in a U.S. Postal Service mailbox or take it to the post office.

To learn more about avoiding fraud, see back issues of FDIC Consumer News (online at www.fdic.gov/consumernews) and the FDIC’s multimedia presentation “Don’t Be an Online Victim” (at www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/guard/index.html). Also find tips from the interagency Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force at http://www.stopfraud.gov/protect.html. For information about tax-related scams, see Money and Banking Tips for the Tax Season.

Reprinted from FDIC Consumer News.  More information can be found at http://www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/news/cnwin1314/fraud.html.
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Long-Term Care Insurance: To Buy or Not to Buy?

At first glance, long-term care insurance sounds like a good idea. You consider your Aunt Millie, who spent the last decade of her 101 years in a Wisconsin nursing home, leaving her children without any estate at all. But then you recall the case of a friend’s mother, who passed away after only a few months in a care facility-following years of long-term care insurance premium payments. What to do?

There’s no getting around it: Long-term care is expensive. A monthly care facility invoice can easily top $5,000, depending on the services needed. A resident who is unable to perform half a dozen Activities of Daily Living-such as eating, dressing, or bathing-will require a higher level of care. A resident who is mentally foggy or disoriented may also incur higher costs. Whether caused by Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia, cognitive impairment can require increased oversight, personal assistance, and medication provision. Prescriptions, wheelchairs, and transportation to medical appointments are among the typical additional costs.

Long-term care insurance policies cover care at a nursing home or other facility, beginning with coverage of $60 a day for one year. These policies come with a range of premium costs, depending on the level of benefits and the age at which you purchase the policy.

While many Wisconsinites are interested in long-term care insurance, it is not right for everyone. Generally, consumers with high income and asset levels would often do best to simply pay for their own care as the need arises. Consumers with lower income and asset levels would often do best to consider other options, including available community services and their eventual eligibility for Medicaid-a federal- and state-supported program that can assist with long-term care.

In many cases the cost of long-term care insurance is too high for the benefits received. Paying for premiums should never cause a financial hardship. Financial experts suggest that a consumer should not spend more than 7 percent of their annual income for long-term care insurance.

Some consumers will find that they are ineligible for long-term care insurance due to preexisting conditions. If you have been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, you are unlikely to qualify for a policy.

The Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner’s Office (http://oci.wi.gov) offers a Guide to Long-Term Care, which includes a worksheet to help you decide if long-term care insurance is the right choice for you. The guidebook also provides a checklist to help you compare different policies according to cost, benefits, and limitations.

Policies designated as “tax-qualified” or “qualified” under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) enable you to deduct part of the premium you pay. If you itemize your federal income tax deductions, you can include the premiums with other uncompensated medical expenses in excess of 7.5 percent of your adjusted gross income.

One more resource is the Wisconsin Board on Aging and Long-Term Care (http://longtermcare.wi.gov), which operates the Long Term Care Ombudsman and Medigap Helpline Services.

 

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America Saves Week tip #5

Automate Your Bills

Most utilities, businesses, and even lenders now allow you to set up automatic payments. There are two ways that this helps automate savings. First of all, automatic payments ensure that you pay your bills on time, saving you from late fees and possible dings to your credit. Secondly, sometimes you can get a discount for paying automatically — for example, some cell phone providers will knock $5 off of your monthly bill if you sign up for the automated system. If you do begin paying automatically, just make sure to check your billing statements regularly to ensure there aren’t any mistakes and you’re not being charged for services you aren’t using.

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America Saves Week tip #4

Use a Cash-Back Credit Card

You should only follow this suggestion if you’re able to pay your credit card off in full every month and you won’t let credit card rewards and 0% balance transfer offers become an excuse for spending more than you normally would. If you fit this criteria, start making your purchases on a cash-back credit card. Then, at the end of every month, deposit that cash back directly into your savings.

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