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Consumer

Well-kept--and clean--car worth more

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BETHESDA, Md. (6/30/10)--A little elbow grease can pay off when it comes time to sell your vehicle. According to the Car Care Council (carcare.org June 16), a clean, well-maintained vehicle can be worth as much as 50% more than one in "fair" condition. These recommendations take little money or effort but deliver huge returns:
* Wash and polish. Washing once a week and polishing once every six months keeps the finish free from damaging chemicals and dirt. It also protects your car’s finish from the damaging effects of ultraviolet rays and acid rain. * Examine the surface. While you’re washing and waxing, look for dents, dings, scratches, or cracked glass. Fix any problems right away, before they become expensive repairs later. * Use recommended products. Harsh detergents, even dish soap, can damage the protective finish, leaving your vehicle even more vulnerable to the elements than before you washed it. Clean your car with products recommended by the manufacturer.
For more ways to keep your car in great shape for a longer life and better resale value, read “Keep Your Old Car Running” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Consumers trust corporate tweeters

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NEW YORK (6/28/10)--Three-fourths of consumers responding to a Fleishman-Hillard survey said companies using social networks are more deserving of their trust (FOXBusiness.com June 22). Companies use Twitter and other social networks to do more than just market goods to consumers. Many use social networks to share product or service information, news, and updates. For example, Sony used Twitter, among other channels, to update and communicate with customers when a glitch caused thousands of PlayStation 3 units to malfunction in February. With social networking sites becoming more important to consumers and companies alike, how can you use the sites to stay informed and ensure you’re following legitimate developments?
* Check the company. Use links provided by the company you wish to follow. These may appear on the company’s website or in company e-mail messages, and will deliver you directly to its social network profile. * Check for authenticity. Look for indications a profile is legitimate if you search social networking sites for companies, brands, or their appointed representatives. Does the profile have a large number of followers? Are the posts from the profile relevant? Some social networks--like Twitter--may verify the identity of the account and display a special logo on the profile. * Check with friends. Refer to the social network profiles of trusted friends or colleagues for companies and brand profiles to follow. They will most likely share your interests and provide legitimate resources.
For more information, read “Step Carefully: Covering Digital Footprint Is Key to Web Privacy” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Car dealers financial advisers examined on HandFF Radio

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WASHINGTON (6/25/10)--Sunday's H&FF Radio program provides advice about avoiding predatory auto dealers and not-so-great financial advisers, what to consider when it’s time to renew your lease, and ways to save gas money on your summer vacation. The show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* "Stop Predatory Lending. Auto Dealers Ask, ‘Since When Is 19% Interest Too Much to Pay?’" Rosemary Shahan, founder and president, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, Sacramento, Calif., describes how soldiers, women, people of color, and senior citizens can avoid car dealers who prey upon people who lack experience with car loans. * "Five Signs You Are Getting the Wrong Retirement Advice: Maybe It’s Time to Fire Your Broker." Kelly Campbell, certified financial planner, chartered financial consultant, char¬tered mutual fund counselor and principal, Campbell Wealth Management, Fairfax, Va., provides insight on good vs. not-so-good financial advisers. * "What to Consider When Your Housing Lease Is Up." Kim McGrigg, community manager, Money Management International, Denver, Colo., provides tips to help you decide whether to stay or move and what the costs are for your decision. * "How to Save Gas on Your Summer Vacation." Kateri Callahan, president, Alliance to Save Energy, Washington, D.C., covers options for planning your trip, on-the-road travel, and overall vehicle maintenance.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites. For more information, read “Renter’s Rights Get New Lease” and view the “Financing Your New Car” video in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Long-term care Its a Class Act

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NEW YORK (6/23/10)--The new health care bill President Barack Obama signed into law in March includes a national voluntary insurance program for purchasing long-term-care services, called CLASS, for the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports program (SmartMoney June 11). Working people age 18 or older will have the option to use CLASS, through voluntary payroll deductions, to take the place of or supplement private long-term-care insurance (LTC). The program is expected to launch next year. Why would you want more insurance? If you become disabled, traditional insurance, private LTC, Medicare, Medicaid, and your loving family most likely will not be enough to allow you to stay in your home and out of institutional settings (The New York Times March 24). Here’s what you need to know about CLASS:
* Enrollment. If you are working, you can enroll no matter what pre-existing conditions you have. You can have premiums deducted from your paychecks if your employer participates. Some employers will enroll workers automatically and provide an opt-out if they choose. * Eligibility for benefits. You become eligible for benefits when you need help with two or more activities of daily living (ADL), as long as you’ve worked the previous three years and have contributed for at least five years. ADLs include preparing meals, eating, bathing, dressing, helping with medications, using the toilet, and so on. * Cash benefits. The cash benefits can be used to pay for home care services, nursing home care, assisted living care, or adult day care. CLASS benefits won’t cover all your costs for long-term care. The details are being ironed out--it may take awhile--but the Congressional Budget Office expects they’ll average $75 a day, and be no less than $50 a day.
You might do better getting private LTC insurance, but perform a careful comparison. Fewer than 10% of older adults have bought private LTC policies. The daily cost benefits are not the only differences between CLASS and private LTC insurance. Look at the consumer protection provisions, lifetime benefits, lifetime premiums, discounts, and other features, as well as the daily cost benefits.

Negotiate a lower rent payment

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NEW YORK (6/21/10)--When you think of reducing expenses, the monthly rent doesn’t usually come to mind. Snacks and entertainment are typically first to go. While a dollar or two a day can add up, rethinking your housing situation can yield much larger savings. AOL.com blogger Amy Pyle suggests ways to negotiate your way to a lower rent payment (Walletpop June 15):
* Pay more upfront. Offer, say, six months in advance in exchange for lower rent. * Leverage the competition. If a similar two-bedroom down the road is at the same rate, but offers a pool and covered parking, let your landlord know. * Make your good standing work for you. If you have good credit and are willing to move, let landlords make you an offer. Approach several, and let them come back to you with pricing. * Work for rent. What can you offer? Maybe you like gardening or painting or wouldn’t mind vacuuming the hallways. Trade your time or talent for a cut in your rent. If you’re really handy and have the time, volunteer to be the building superintendent for a steeper cut in rent. * Sign up for two years or more. Landlords dread hunting for new tenants. Lock in this year’s rate for two years or more by signing a longer lease. * Offer to pay a deductible on repairs. Consider paying the first $150 on any needed repairs. This may reassure the landowner that you won’t be pestering about every little hiccup and reduce your monthly rate.
For more thoughts about renting, see the Housing section of Home & Family Finance Resource Center, especially the article on Renter’s Rights.

HandFF Radio presents ways to start a business manage money

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WASHINGTON (6/18/10)--Sunday's H&FF Radio program offers tips for feeding a family on a budget, turning a great idea into your own business, getting good customer service and managing money wisely for teens and young adults. The show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* "Cooking Light: Healthy Foods to Feed Your Family and Still Save Money." Kathy Kitchens Downie, nutrition editor at Cooking Light magazine, Birmingham, Ala., offers nutrition and cost information to help you choose healthy foods that won’t bust the food budget. * "Your Million Dollar Dream." Tamara Monosoff, author, CEO and founder of Mom Invented and business columnist for Entrepreneur.com and WomenEntrepreneur.com, Walnut Creek, Calif., describes how to take a great idea and develop your own business. * "How to Get Great Customer Service." Micah Solomon, author, president, Oasis Disc Manufacturing, expert on customer service, and creator of The College of The Customer, Charlottesville, Va., discusses service from the customer’s point of view. * "Tips for Day-to-Day Responsible Financial Management by Teens and Young Adults." Samantha Paxson, vice president, marketing, CO-OP Financial Services, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., gives money advice for the younger-than-30 population.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA websites. For more information, read “Dig Deep for Grocery Savings” and view the “Financing Your Small Business” video in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Matchmaker matchmaker make me a monetary match

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APPLETON, Wis. (6/16/10)--No matter how much you love your spouse, chances are there’s something you’d change if you had the chance. Often that desired change is about how your significant other handles money, according to a recent Thrivent Financial and Kiplinger’s survey (June 2). Nearly two in five Americans said they most wanted to increase their spouse’s earning power, the survey found. Three in 10 respondents said they wish their spouse would talk about money more. Seventeen percent wish their spouse did more of the routine money management duties. Twenty-three percent of respondents want their mate to be less of a spendthrift; one in 10 wish their spouse was less of a tightwad. A willingness to accept your partner’s money personality is a start, but you have to take action if you really want to achieve financial harmony. Discussing what’s important to each other can help you understand each other. To reduce conflict and reach your and your spouse’s financial goals, the Credit Union National Association’s Center for Personal Finance recommends:
* Communicate--It’s vital that you talk about money and your marriage. Set aside time to do so. Remain open-minded rather than insisting your partner do things your way. Make agreements to compromise. * Set goals together --Start by making separate “wish lists” and then, together, rank the items and work toward those that you both feel are most important. Revisit goals at least annually and make adjustments based on changing priorities and goals. * Maintain individual accounts--Consider having his, hers, and ours accounts. Use the joint account to pay household expenses, including mortgage and rent, utilities, insurance, and car and home repairs. If there’s money left over, split it into your individual accounts. From these accounts you can pursue individual goals. For a spender, that might mean paying for a dream vacation. For a saver, that might mean beefing up a retirement account. * Get professional help--If you run into roadblocks, consider getting professional help. Whether you choose to see a marriage counselor, financial planner, or another type of professional such as a member of the clergy will depend partly on whether you believe your issues have more to do with your relationship or your finances. Contact the professionals at your credit union. You also can find a nonprofit, accredited credit counseling agency by visiting the National Foundation for Credit Counseling website at nfcc.org or by calling 800-388-2227.
To learn more, read “Couples and Money: Reconciling a Spender-Saver Marriage” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Dodge costly bankruptcy bullet

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McLEAN, Va. (6/14/10)--Despite a growing number of student loan defaults, home foreclosures, and credit card loan defaults, only a fraction of debtors in serious financial distress are filing for bankruptcy--often because they simply cannot afford to file (USA Today June 9). The bankruptcy laws changed in 2005 to curb abuse. Now it’s harder and more expensive to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which erases most debts. Higher attorney and filing fees have resulted in many debtors postponing a bankruptcy filing until they receive a windfall such as a tax refund, but experts fear that a delay could lead to even more financial problems for the individual or family. A bankruptcy cannot wipe out student loans unless you can show undue hardship. It cannot prevent a secured creditor from repossessing property. And it cannot eliminate child support or alimony obligations, or free you from most tax debts. Even more critical: Once you file, the bankruptcy stain stays on your credit report for 10 years, and there is no way to legally remove the filing from your report (Bankrate.com June 8). If you’re struggling financially, consider these tips to dig out and dodge the bankruptcy bullet:
* Talk to creditors. The sooner, the better, particularly if you think you soon may fall behind on payments. Making a good faith effort early on could be the most important move you make to protect your credit during tough times. * Consider refinancing your home. With record-low interest rates, a lower monthly payment could give you a much-needed financial cushion and allow you to pay down other debt. Ask the credit union to run the numbers, based on your credit score. Remember: Avoiding bankruptcy protects your credit score. * Spend smart. Find hobbies that don’t require opening your wallet. Identify spending leaks. Ask family members to identify less-costly alternatives. * Don’t add new debt. Keep balances low, and don’t sign up for any more loans or credit cards. Get off prescreened credit card and insurance solicitation lists at optoutprescreen.com or call 888-5opt-out. * Steer clear of credit repair scams. If you see a promise to “eliminate bad credit” or “erase negative information,” run the other way. It’s a scam. Visit fraud.org for more warnings about credit repair scams. * Get help. Ask the credit union about consolidating credit card debt and how to connect with local credit counseling assistance. Visit nfcc.org or call 800-388-2227 for the consumer credit counseling service office nearest you.
For more information, read, “Tough Times Series: You Can Avoid Wage Garnishment,” in Home & Family Resource Center.

HandFF Radio examines travel papers scams and cons

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WASHINGTON (6/11/10)--Sunday's H&FF Radio program gives advice about tax-free municipal bonds; documents needed for world travel; how to spot and stop frauds, scams, and cons; and how to prepare a college student for financial independence. The show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* "Are They Safe? Tax-Free Municipal Bonds." Bill Walsh, co-founder and president, Hennion & Walsh, Parsippany, N.J., provides information about this investment option. * "Bon Voyage! Travel Documents Take You Around the World." Sue Tanzman, owner and president, Martin's Travel and Tours Inc., Los Angeles, describes the differences among the documents required and how to get the ones you need. * "There’s a Sucker Born Every Minute: How to Spot Audacious Frauds, Scams, and Cons--and How to Stop Them." Jeffrey Robinson, journalist and author, New York, gives advice as an internationally recognized expert on organized crime, fraud, and money laundering. * "Do You Know Enough Financially to Handle Being on Your Own at College?" Patricia Seaman, director of marketing and communications, National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), Denver, Colo., tells parents how they can prepare their children for life on their own with appropriate financial management skills.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites. For more information, read “Gap Year Before College Can Bring Valuable Life Experience” and view the “Money and Travel” video in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Flying this summer Plan ahead

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MADISON Wis. (6/9/10)--Planning to fly this summer? Expect full flights, higher prices, delays, and a difficult time using frequent flyer miles. The number of first-class, business-class, and economy class travelers is up more than 7% from a year ago, and those increases are in no way being matched by increases in passenger seats. Air Transport Association, the trade group for the American airline industry, says domestic capacity will only increase about 0.2% this summer over last year (The New York Times June 1). In April, Delta, United, American, Continental, and US Airways averaged domestic load factors of 85%--the measure of how many seats on planes are occupied by paying customers. Airline loyalty programs are sitting on a cache of at least nine million frequent flyer miles, say some observers. With planes filling up with paying customers and airlines not increasing the number of potential seat availability, it becomes obvious that airline reward programs will pay off less frequently (frequentflyer.com May). Frequent flyer programs started in 1981; by 2005 travelers had accumulated more than five trillion unused miles. Where once consumers racked up rewards by flying, today consumers are more likely to rack up miles based on credit card reward programs. As a result, today there are more miles chasing fewer reward seats. In 2008, airlines began making program changes that made it more difficult and costly to exchange miles for free tickets and upgrades. All this means travelers will have to be even more diligent when trying to recoup frequent flyer miles. Here are some suggestions from frequentflyer.com:
* Choose one frequent flyer program and concentrate your mileage earning in that program. * Monitor your account and look for new mileage-building opportunities. * Know how to get points from partner programs--businesses that reward miles with your particular frequent flyer program. * Track your miles diligently. Keep receipts and reconcile mileage statements. * Monitor expiration dates of your miles and redeem them before they expire. * Make your plans as early as possible; space is limited.
For more information, read “Rx for Airline Cancellations and Delays” and listen to “Travel Packages: Are Bundled Vacation Deals a Bargain?” in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Job hunting in the modern cyber world

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MADISON, Wis. (6/7/10)--Looking for work ain’t what it used to be. Long gone are the days of circling want ads in the daily newspaper and hitting the pavement. Today, like it or not, you’ve got to be prepared to take your job hunt online. With the economy adding 195,000 jobs in April (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics May 7), you want to be as competitive as possible. Here are some suggestions from the Credit Union National Association's Center for Personal Finance for conducting a job search in cyberspace:
* Know your way around. If your computer skills are limited, spend some time getting up to speed. Some public libraries offer Internet navigation courses, as might your local technical college. Not only will you improve your job search, but you’ll also acquire the ability to fill out online applications, which are becoming more and more common. * Investigate prospective employers. Many companies now post job openings on their websites. While you’re there, study each company’s information, its products and services and its industry. This will help you identify places that are a good fit for your talents and career plans. It’ll also help you write cover letters that reveal knowledge relevant to the position you aspire to get. * Consider several job search sites. By now you’ve probably seen ads for Monster.com, but there are many competing sites out there. On her website job-hunt.org, self-described online job search expert Susan P. Joyce says, “Many of the ‘big names’ are great sites, but they can also be expensive for employers to use and not attractive to some specialized groups of job seekers.” Therefore, you’ll need to poke around and compare search site features, ease of use, and supporting help, such as résumé guidance. * Complement your personal network with online contacts. The more people you know who are aware that you’re looking for work, the more likely you’ll hear about openings that aren’t advertised. Be sure to spread the word about your availability and employment interests among relatives, friends and business associates. But also set up accounts with one or more online social networks such as LinkedIn and cast your net among acquaintances you don’t see every day. * Be careful. The Web can help you snare a great job, but it also can be a trap. Joyce points out that identity thieves and con artists often use job seekers’ eagerness and desperation against them. So, for example, she warns against including your Social Security number on your résumé and urges you to be “very wary of an e-mail from an anonymous employer or recruiter.”
Finally, if you’re successful in getting a job interview, don’t forget the final step, which the Internet can never improve upon--a thank-you note, on paper and in ink, just like Mom always told you, remember?

HandFF Radio presents investing and financial checkup tips

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WASHINGTON (6/4/10)--Sunday's H&FF Radio program exposes investment tips that don’t work and discusses survey results showing Americans are more frugal in 2010, why and when to get a financial check up, and what the latest in ATM technology means for you. The show, which you also can hear later via the Internet, features Paul Berry, Washington, D.C., journalist and broadcaster, discussing these topics with special guests:
* "Investment Tips That Simply Don’t Work." Michael Reese, president and founding principal, Centennial Wealth Advisory, Traverse City, Mich., provides insights about how to avoid losses. * "Americans More Frugal Than One Year Ago." Janet Bodnar, editor, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine, Washington, D.C., reviews the surprising and sobering results from a survey on family finances. * "Get a Financial Checkup." Susan Tiffany, certified credit union financial counselor and director, consumer periodicals, Credit Union National Association (CUNA), Madison, Wis., covers how to recognize the signs that you could stand a professional checkup--even if you aren’t in dire financial straits. * "The Latest in ATM Technology." Kathy Herziger-Snider, vice president product development, CO-OP Financial Services, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., describes how advances in ATM technology affect you.
Home & Family Finance is a resource center for personal finance information at CUNA. The radio show is sponsored by CO-OP Network, the national credit union ATM network; Cabot Creamery Cooperative, maker of award-winning cheddar; and the Defense Credit Union Council and member credit unions, serving those who serve the country worldwide. Home & Family Finance airs Sundays at 3 p.m. ET on the Radio America Network. The show also is carried on American Forces Radio Network. The one-hour program devoted to consumer finance issues is brought to you by America's credit unions and their 90 million members, and is presented by CO-OP Network. CUNA and Radio America are podcasting Home & Family Finance through iTunes, Podcast Alley, Odeo, and other popular podcast library sites, as well as on Radio America and CUNA's websites. For more information, read “In a Down Market, It Pays to Know the Financial Risks,” and view the “Investing: Dollar Cost Averaging” video in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

Got Medicare Health care reform and you

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WASHINGTON (6/2/10)--If you’re retired or getting close, you may wonder how the new health care law will affect your Medicare coverage. The complex plan has a long phase-in, but you’ll see at least two changes immediately. Starting Jan. 1, 2011 you no longer will have co-pays for certain preventive services. And if you fall into the prescription drug coverage gap called the “doughnut hole” in 2010, you’ll get some help (NPR May 18). Your existing basic traditional Medicare or private Medicare Advantage benefits will not change, some benefits will improve, and, contrary to rumor, your health care won’t be rationed (The Daily Star May 1). Beyond the basics, the new law, called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act, will affect you in these ways over the long haul:
* Bye-bye Part D prescription-drug doughnut hole. Medicare recipients now pay 25% of prescription-drug costs, up to $2,830 a year. After that, recipients pay 100% of prescription-drug costs until out-of-pocket spending reaches $4,550. At that point, Medicare recipients again pay only 25% of the drug costs. The gap between $2,830 and $4,550 is the doughnut hole. If your expenses fall in the doughnut hole in 2010, you will receive a one-time payment of $250. Starting in 2011, you’ll be able to buy brand-name drugs in the coverage gap at 50% of the current price. The doughnut hole will gradually phase out and be eliminated by 2020. The new law also improves the Extra Help program that reduces drug costs for lower-income Medicare enrollees. * Hello preventive care. Once you’re a recipient of traditional Medicare, you won’t have a co-pay for annual physicals, preventive services, and most screenings. If you’re in Medicare Advantage, you’ll have to check with your plan to see if these services are free. * Hmm…early retirement? Starting 90 days after it is enacted, until Jan. 1, 2014, the act creates a temporary reinsurance program for employers. The program provides retiree health insurance coverage to former employees age 55 and older who are not yet eligible for Medicare. You most likely will see reduced premiums or deductibles. * Warning on Part B and Part D premiums. The new law freezes income thresholds for income-related Part B health-insurance premiums from 2011 to 2019. That means if you are high income ($85,000 for a single person or $170,000 for married couples filing joint tax returns), you could see a Part B premium surcharge. You’ll also pay higher premiums for drug coverage, starting in 2011 (income thresholds same as for Part B). * Watch Medicare Advantage. Medicare Advantage costs the government 14% more than traditional Medicare and provides more generous benefits. This is where the government intends to find about $135 billion of the $455 billion the reform purports to save over the next 10 years. If you’re covered by Medicare Advantage, your costs could go up or your benefits could be reduced--or both. Your plan may even choose to leave Medicare.
Of course this list is not complete. If you have a chronic medical condition such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes, the law will help you get the patient-centered care you want and need. If you need long-term care, the new law will make it easier to get and pay for your care at home. There will be no changes to Medigap supplemental insurance and you won’t be required to buy a private Medigap policy.