Health Savings Accounts (HSA's) are an underappreciated vehicle

A health savings account (HSA) allows you to use tax-free money to pay for qualified medical expenses. The money you use to fund the account is not subject to federal income tax or state income tax in most states (California being one exception), and employer contributions are not taxable to the employee. Unlike a flex savings account (FSA), the money contributed to an HSA can be rolled over from year to year. There is no "use it or lose it" feature. In order to contribute to an HSA, you are required to be enrolled in a high deductible health plan (HDHP). You cannot contribute to an HSA if you are on Medicare Part A, but if you had an existing HSA account, you can use the funds to pay for qualified medical expenses while you are on Medicare. Considering Medicare doesn't pay for all medical expenses in retirement, and that this money is tax-free, there is a planning opportunity to over-fund an HSA with the understanding that you are letting the funds grow to be used tax-free in retirement.

For 2018, the max that can be contributed to an HSA is $3,450 for one person or $6,900 for a family.

Open Enrollment Season

October & November are open enrollment months for health benefits.  If you are employed at a company with benefits, this is the time to make any needed changes.  Typically, you cannot change your benefits during other months of the year unless you have a qualifying event such as a new baby or a change in marital status.  Review your most recent financial plan and see if there are any recommendations regarding your benefits.  You may need to obtain additional life insurance or start utilizing a flex spending account (FSA). If you have coverage or are looking for coverage through Covered California, this page has everything you need with regards to open enrollment (start date is November 1 for 2016).   Open enrollment for Medicare starts on October 15 for 2016 (here is more information).  Enrollment for Medi-Cal is year-round.

Living to 100

At a national financial planning conference this year, I heard a speaker who is a Medical Doctor turned Financial Planner. She has all new clients go to Livingto100.com and complete the online questionnaire with her. The questionnaire gauges probable life expectancy and enables the planner to estimate a possible end date (end of life) for the client's financial plan. This is helpful not only for the retirement plan, but also to help clients understand the factors that insurance companies look at when calculating insurance premiums. For example, did you know premiums are much cheaper for people with BMI's (body mass index) lower than 28? Living to 100 asks for an email address at the end of the 15 minute questionnaire. I answered the questions and it came up with an estimated life expectancy of age 97. It also gives you feedback. For example, I was told if I cut my caffeine consumption I could add a 1/2 year to my life. That is not really enough to motivate me to change but you may find something that compels you to adjust current habits.

What do you think? Is this too personal? Or is there a benefit to adding something like this to the financial planning process? Share your thoughts with me by emailing linda@planningwithinreach.com.

Why I Decided to Purchase Earthquake Insurance 

The first earthquake I felt in San Diego was on Easter Sunday 2010.  While it lasted for just over a minute and didn't cause any major damage in our immediate area, it certainly made me uneasy.  It made me aware of how vulnerable we are to the forces of mother nature in our new home. Four years, 2 kids and a dog later, I am reviewing my insurance policies to make sure they are up to date, as I do ever year.   Earthquake damage, like flood damage, is not covered through most homeowner's insurance policies.  The cost depends on where you live, the type of house you have and the coverage amounts that you select.

We purchased a California Earthquake Authority (CEA) policy through USAA where we also have our Homeowner's Insurance.  It costs us a couple hundred dollars per year with a 15% deductible.  The deductible is the amount you need to pay out of pocket before getting the money to rebuild.  For example, if you are covered for a $400,000 house, you have to pay $60,000 ($400,000 x 15%) out of pocket before the dwelling coverage kicks in.

Since other insurance policies such as home and auto have options for much smaller deductibles (ex. $500 or $1,000), this high deductible may be what makes earthquake insurance unpalatable to some.  I think it is yet another good reason to have an emergency cash cushion on hand at all times.  The reality is that if we didn't have earthquake insurance, and we experienced earthquake damage, we couldn't afford to rebuild our house without jeopardizing our retirement and children's education.  While our house isn't sitting on a fault line as far as we know, we do have faults within close proximity.  According to the CEA website, new faults are discovered all the time and no part of California is immune.

In addition to the coverage to rebuild, we are covered for $25,000 (not subject to the 15% deductible) for living expenses while we are displaced and rebuilding.  This is essential now that we have children.  If school is in session, we can't head back to the east coast to live with family.  We can't crash with friends since most of them have at least two kids now and wouldn't have the space to put us up.

I have heard people say they would just walk away from their house if "the big one" came.  Even if we were willing to walk away from the equity in our house, which we are not, we couldn't walk away from the mortgage.  If we did, it would hurt our credit score and make it hard for us to get another loan in the future.

To get an idea of what earthquake insurance would cost you, check out the CEA website's premium calculator.  I also highly recommend reviewing their FAQ page and your own policy disclosures and information to make sure you fully understand it.

Evaluating if Pet Insurance is Right for Your Family

Most of us think of our pets as part of our family. As such, we care for them when they are sick or injured as we would any family member. While we know that the human members of the family should have medical insurance, we may not think about it for our pets. That begs the question, should you obtain insurance for them? Well, it depends. Insurance is just one way to manage risk. Here are some tips for evaluating the decision. Determine if you can self-insure. We decided to self-insure our dog when we found him 4 ½ years ago. Instead of paying $50 / month ($600 / year) for a comprehensive insurance policy, we put that amount into a separate pet account each month. The money in the account is used only for pet expenses. His bills have averaged $400 / year so I now have a cushion in the account. If something were to happen to him, I still have this savings that I can use towards another pet or unrelated expenses.

Decide if you would be prepared for larger costs. The automatic savings plan works for a fairly healthy pet without major expenses. If our dog had a serious illness or injury, our pet account funds wouldn’t have been sufficient. That is where the emergency fund comes in. An emergency fund is a pot of liquid assets or cash that is set aside for emergencies. These can include a disability or job loss. You could choose to also make this fund available for unexpected pet costs while you are getting started with your pet account. If you don’t have an emergency fund, insurance may be a better option for you while you create one.

Determine what your limits are. If you are willing to pull from savings for unexpected pet expenses, decide what your limit would be. You don’t want to be faced with an emotional decision with an already sick or injured pet. Would you do anything to save your pet even if it meant putting them through a painful, risky treatment that cost $10,000? You may not want to deplete your savings leaving you vulnerable to falling into debt.

Review insurance policy specifications and cost. As with all types of insurance, there are multiple tiers and limits on benefits. If you decide to obtain insurance, review the list of items covered, deductibles, copays, premiums and benefit maximums.

As more and more procedures and medications become available for pets, questions regarding pet insurance will likely increase. Self-insurance has worked for me. What has worked for you? Email me with your experiences: linda@planningwithinreach.com.