How to Avoid the Most Common Medicare Mistakes

If your retirement years are on the horizon and you’re making plans for the future, Medicare is more than likely going to be a part of those plans. Not only do you need to figure out when to enroll but also what plan to enroll in and what coverage will be best for you. In order to do that correctly, and make as few mistakes as possible, we put together a list of some of the most common mistakes so that you’ll know about them and, obviously, be able to avoid them. Enjoy.

Mistake #1: Not reviewing your Part D options every year.

From October 15 through December 7 every year, open enrollment for Medicare Part D and Medicare Advantage begins, and that’s the time that you should review all of your options because they can change from year to year. If you choose the wrong plan you’ll pay more premiums and the cost of your drugs might increase, or you might be forced to go to specific pharmacies in order to get the lowest rates. If you’ve been prescribed any kind of new medications, or the drugs you’re taking have gotten a generic brand, signing up for a different plan might be a great idea.

Mistake #2: Assuming that your doctor, and  any other health providers you visit, will continue to be covered by your Medicare Advantage plan.

Using the Medicare Advantage Plan covers both your medical expenses and prescription drugs, but usually means that the doctors and hospitals you use need to be in their network to get the lowest copayments. In fact, some plans will only cover for out-of-network providers if you are involved in an emergency situation. Assuming that your health providers will still continue to be covered in your plan every year is a mistake that many consumers make. If they’re not, you might need to change plans and make sure that, for the coming year, you’re still  covered.

Mistake #3: Choosing the same Part D plan that your spouse has.

It’s the very rare couple that takes the same medications and, since Medicare Part D doesn’t get spousal discounts, choosing the same plan that your spouse has might mean paying more for the drugs that you need. It would behoove you to look at the specific coverage for specific drugs, making sure that you’re getting the best price possible. By the way, you can use the Medicare Plan Finder to find the out-of-pocket costs for each drug you take.

Mistake #4: Picking the wrong Medigap plan after you first enroll.

If, six months after enrolling in Medicare Part B, you buy a Medicare supplement plan, even if you have a pre-existing medical condition you can still get any plan in your area. After that however you can be rejected, or charged more because of your health, by the insurers in most states. There are some states that will let you switch regardless of what your health happens to be, and others that will also let you switch even if you don’t have a new medical exam. You can find out more on Medicare.gov.

Mistake #5: Not signing up for Medicare when you hit 65.

If you haven’t started receiving your Social Security benefits yet, but you have turned 65, you can still sign up for Medicare but have to do it yourself because it won’t be automatic. In fact, from three months before you turn 65 until three months after, you can sign up for Medicare online.

Taxpayers Beware of the (fake) IRS

Here’s a bit of extremely timely advice, considering that April 15 is just on the horizon; if anyone calls your phone and says that they’re an IRS agent, and they demand money from you in any amount, hang up immediately. In fact, you can hang up as soon as they say that they’re an IRS agent because the IRS will almost never call you directly on your phone.

We’ve talked about this scam here before on our blog but it begs repeating, especially since the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) says that they’ve received nearly 300,000 reports of scam phone calls from fake IRS agents since October 2013. Even worse, they report that 3000 American taxpayers have been scammed,  to the tune of nearly $14 million.

The IRS says that this particular scam is one of their “dirty dozen” top scams going on right now and, over the last few months, has been surging in popularity. (Popularity by scammers, that is.)

In most cases these thieves will use a device that allows them to alter their caller ID number, making it look as if they actually are calling from the IRS. They also happen to target the elderly and new immigrants (because, yeah, they’re thieving sc*mbags with no morals or ethics whatsoever) threatening them with things like deportation, arrest and even the loss of their drivers license if they don’t pay the money they’re demanding right away.

Again, the chance of getting a phone call from the actual IRS is slim to none.

In many cases the scammers will leave a message if you don’t answer, telling you that you need to call them back and that it’s “urgent”. They’ll also say that they’re from the “criminal division” of the IRS and sometimes will even have the last four digits of your Social Security number and send authentic looking follow-up emails that, to the untrained eye, appeared to be from the real IRS.

More often than not they demand to be paid using a prepaid debit card, which is, surprise!,  untraceable after payment has been made.

Even worse is that, after the initial call and threats have been made, many of these scammers call again and change their caller ID to make it look like they’re calling from the DMV or the police department which, as you might imagine, can be pretty scary for some people.

Some go the opposite route and act like they’re your “friend”, saying that you have a refund due and asking for information like your Social Security number so that they can send it to you.

If the IRS actually does need to contact you, which is rare, it’s usually by regular “snail mail” first. Also they will never make a demand for immediate payment, ask for personal financial information or ask for any type of credit or debit card numbers. They won’t do it by email, text or social media either, by the way, so don’t get fooled into thinking it’s the real IRS if you get a message through any of these channels.

Lastly, you can report a scammer to the TIGTA by calling 800-366-4484 or by going online to their website.

Frugal Does Not Mean Forgo

We shop almost everyday. Even if it’s only to grab a coffee or two every morning, spending is so easy to do on a daily basis especially for our essential items. For your everyday necessities, something as simple as a grocery store run can add up. Finding the right places to shop can keep your budget on point and a little extra cash in your wallet.

It seems simple, so why aren’t more people pros at saving? Answer: People love their brands.

We all have our favorite shampoo, specific type of soap, and certain laundry detergent we can’t and won’t live without.

The fact is, that while grocery stores were once a go to, their prices are often higher on goods like cosmetics and healthcare products. Finding the right places to shop means saving the most without sacrificing the brands that make you who you are.

Saving doesn’t have to involve photo books of coupons or pinterest boards on shopping smarter. Being savvy about your everyday purchases can be as simple as knowing where to shop.

For the smaller necessities, stick to a store with everyday low deals. Walgreens has thousands of products online and in stores that are marked down up to 50 percent off weekly.  A bottle of shampoo here or there might not seem like much but if you need to refill the bathroom cabinet, things can get pretty pricey. Walgreens is known for having brands that are trusted and loved for a fraction of the cost. If you are looking to save even more, try their in-house versions of all your favorite products.

Shopping smart for smaller items can make a huge difference, but what about bigger items? For life’s more expensive or unexpected necessities Sears has regular sales, free shipping and discounts on major appliances, electronics, and other important housewares.

Life is full of the unexpected but being a smart shopper means being an even better saver. Don’t let anything from a broken washer to an empty soap bottle discourage you. There is always a better price to be found, you just have to know where to look for it.

Just Turned 18 and Need a Credit Card? Here’s How To get your First

So you finally reached 18. Awesome. As a legal adult, you can finally vote and, most likely, you’ll be headed off to college sometime soon. Also, ta-da!, you can finally get a credit card of your own.

While congratulations are in order, a little bit of caution is as well. Indeed, instead of jumping feet first into the deep end of the pool and getting herself several credit cards, you should probably just focus on getting one and making sure it’s the best for your needs and situation.

Now, we hate to sound like your mom, but the fact is that even though you’re old enough to get a credit card, you might not actually be ready to get one. Having credit means being responsible enough to use credit, well, responsibly, and not simply run up credit card bills beyond your ability to pay them back.

In fact, one of the worst things you can do for your credit (which, by the way, is vitally important) is to  go into debt up to your eyeballs because you didn’t realize just how much you had spent on your credit card.

With that in mind, here are a few pointers for getting your first credit card and using it responsibly. Enjoy.

First, in order to actually get your first credit card at 18, you need to have verifiable income that a bank or other lender can check, or else you’re going to need a cosigner. Also, since this is your first credit card, you won’t have any “credit history”, one of the primary factors that most credit card companies look at when you send in your application.

That means you’ll need to get yourself a job and have some type of steady income, even if it’s just part-time, in order to get your first credit card. Again, without it, you’ll  need a cosigner.

Next you need to find the best lender, and the best card, for your particular needs. Most of the major credit card companies have what they call a “student credit card” but, frankly, sometimes even though this sounds like a good idea, the higher interest rates and annual fees they charge can turn it into a bad one.

If you’ve had a checking or savings account in a local bank, getting a credit card through them will probably be quite a bit easier, especially if you’ve been responsible with either one of those two accounts.

Then there’s a credit card from a retail or department store, and you can be sure that most of them will bend over backwards to  give you one of their cards. However, most retail credit cards come with very high interest rates and aren’t very versatile, limiting what you can purchase but encouraging a spending spree that might just damage your credit badly.

In some cases you might need to start off with a secured credit card, which basically is like a debit card in that they secure it using your money. If you do that, and then can show a history of using it responsibly and paying your money back on time, most lenders will switch you to an unsecured credit card within a year or two. By the way, your credit report doesn’t show if a credit card is secured or not, so getting one doesn’t damage your chances of getting another, unsecured credit card.

Finally, don’t be discouraged if you don’t get approved right away. As a new adult, most banks and lenders will be a bit wary of giving you credit because, frankly, they don’t know whether or not you can handle it. If you can, and you’re responsible with your credit, you’ll find that a world of credit opportunities open up to you that can help you to purchase what you need and also save money on interest rates and fees when you make big ticket purchases like automobiles and homes in the future.