Category: Money Basics

Does Paying Taxes Late Affect Credit?

NOTE: Due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the IRS has extended the federal tax filing and payment deadline to July 15, 2020. The recent relief package passed by Congress may have additional tax implications. Please contact a tax adviser for information you may need to complete your taxes this year. Learn more. It’s a good… Read More

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Are Social Security Disability Benefits Taxable?

Social Security benefits, including disability benefits, can help provide a supplemental source of income to people who are eligible to receive them. If you’re receiving disability benefits from Social Security, you might be wondering whether you’ll owe taxes on the … Continue reading →

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6 Tips to Find Affordable Health Insurance When You Become Self-Employed

If you're dreaming about leaving a corporate job to work for yourself, getting affordable health insurance is probably one of your top concerns. Fortunately, there are more protections now than ever for those who leave the safety of a group health plan.

This post will cover six tips to find affordable health insurance when you become self-employed or leave a job for any reason, so you and your family get the coverage you need.

Major benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as Obamacare, became law in 2010, with significant provisions taking effect in 2014. One critical ACA benefit is that you can't be denied coverage or charged sky-high premiums when you have a preexisting medical condition. However, insurers can charge different rates based on where you live, your age, tobacco use, and family size.

One critical ACA benefit is that you can't be denied coverage or charged sky-high premiums when you have a preexisting medical condition.

The ACA also removes annual and lifetime caps on your health coverage. And no matter how much care you receive, the law caps how much you have to pay for it.

Out-of-pocket annual maximums vary depending on your health plan, but if you get in-network care, you'll never have to pay more than $8,150 as an individual, or $16,300 as a family, for the 2020 plan year. For 2021, these amounts increase to $8,550 and $17,100. Note that these limits don't include your monthly premiums.

What is the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Subsidy?

The ACA also offers many low- and middle-income Americans a health subsidy, which cuts the cost of premiums depending on your income and family size. It's a tax credit paid to your health insurance provider every month, which allows you to pay a lower premium.

For 2020, an individual earning approximately less than $51,000 or a family of four making under $104,000 per year may qualify for an insurance subsidy.

The ACA subsidy applies when your household income is between 100% and 400% of your state's federal poverty level. For 2020, an individual earning approximately less than $51,000 or a family of four making under $104,000 per year may qualify for an insurance subsidy. 

One challenge to using a subsidy is that it's based on your estimated earnings in the year when you'll get coverage, not on your last year's income. Since self-employment incomes can vary dramatically from month to month, the chances of knowing exactly how much you'll earn in the current or future year may be difficult. 

If you underestimate your income for a health subsidy, you may have to return a portion of the tax credit already spent on your insurance during the previous year. In other words, you may owe additional taxes that you weren't expecting.

When you enroll in an ACA plan, you'll have access to a marketplace account. That's where you can update changes to your expected income or family size that affect your tax credit so you can correct it as quickly as possible.

What is the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Mandate?

The ACA mandated that individuals be covered by a qualified health plan or pay a tax penalty if you're uninsured for more than two consecutive months. The mandate applies no matter if you're employed, self-employed, unemployed, a child, an adult, or where you live. 

Technically, it's still illegal to be uninsured, but the federal government won't penalize you for it.

However, starting in 2019, due to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the mandate penalty for not having health insurance no longer applies. Technically, it's still illegal to be uninsured, but the federal government won't penalize you for it. 

But several states have their own insurance mandates, requiring you to have a qualifying health plan. You may have to pay the penalty for being uninsured if you live in:

  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

For example, California residents without ACA coverage in 2020 face a penalty up to 2.5% of household income, or $696 per adult, and $375.50 per child, whichever is greater. So, even if the federal government won't penalize you for being uninsured, you could have to pay a hefty state penalty, depending on where you live. More states will likely adopt penalties to keep the cost of coverage for residents as low as possible.

The ACA established health insurance exchanges, primarily as online marketplaces, administered by either federal or state governments. That's where individuals, the self-employed, and small businesses can shop and purchase qualified insurance plans and find other options, depending on your income.

How to get affordable health insurance

When you go out on your own, the cost of a health plan can be shocking—especially if you just left a company that paid a big chunk of the insurance bill on your behalf.

Remember that the high cost of health insurance pales when compared to the alternative. Having a medical emergency or being diagnosed with a severe illness that you can't afford to treat could be devastating. 

Remember that the high cost of health insurance pales when compared to the alternative.

Here are six tips for finding affordable health insurance when you become self-employed or no longer have job-based coverage for any reason:

1. Join a spouse or partner's plan

If your spouse or partner has employer-sponsored health insurance, joining their plan could be your most affordable option. Group insurance generally costs much less than individual coverage. Plus, some employers subsidize a portion of your premium as a benefit. 

However, some employer plans may not offer domestic partner benefits to unmarried couples. So, find out from the benefits administrator what's allowed. 

If you're under age 26, another option is to join or remain on a parent's health plan if they're willing to have you. Even if you're married, not living with your parents, and not financially dependent on them, the ACA allows you to get health insurance using a parent's plan. However, once you're over age 26, you'll have to use another option covered here.

2. Enroll in a federal or state marketplace plan

As I mentioned, the ACA established federal and state marketplaces for consumers who don't have access to employer-sponsored health insurance. The following states have health insurance exchanges:

  • California
  • Colorado 
  • Connecticut 
  • District of Columbia
  • Idaho 
  • Maryland 
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New York 
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

No matter where you live, you can begin shopping for an ACA-qualified health plan at healthcare.gov. However, you can only apply for a policy during the annual open enrollment period—November 1 to December 15, for coverage that will begin on January 1 of the following year. Some states with healthcare exchanges have an extended enrollment period

In general, if you miss the enrollment window, you can't get an ACA health plan until the following year unless you qualify for a special enrollment. That allows you to purchase or change coverage any time of the year if you have a major qualifying life event, such as losing insurance at work, getting married or divorced, having a child, or relocating. However, you typically only have 60 days after the event occurs to enroll.

If your income is too high to qualify for a healthcare subsidy, you can still buy health insurance through the federal or your state's exchange. You can also get an ACA-qualified health plan directly from an insurance company, a health insurance agent or broker, or an online insurance aggregator.

3. Consider a high-deductible health plan (HDHP)

One way to reduce the cost of health insurance premiums is to choose a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). You enjoy lower monthly premiums but have higher out-of-pocket costs. If you're in relatively good health, an HDHP can make sense; however, if you get sick, it can end up costing you more. 

Paying for a broad range of HSA-eligible medical, dental, mental, and vision costs on a tax-free basis can add up to massive savings!

Another benefit of having an HDHP is that you qualify for a health savings account (HSA). Contributions to an HSA are tax-deductible and can be withdrawn at any time to pay for qualified medical expenses, such as doctor co-pays, prescription drugs, dental care, chiropractic, prescription eyeglasses, and mental health care. 

Paying for a broad range of HSA-eligible medical, dental, mental, and vision costs on a tax-free basis can add up to massive savings!

4. Get a short-term plan

If you miss the deadline to enroll in an ACA health plan and don't qualify for special enrollment, are you simply out of luck? Fortunately, no. You can purchase a short-term health plan until the next enrollment period comes around.

The problem is, short-term plans don't have to meet ACA standards and only offer temporary coverage, such as for a few months or up to a year. You may be eligible to renew a plan for up to three years in some states, depending on the insurer. 

You won't find short-term plans on the federal or state exchange, and therefore can't get a subsidy when you purchase one. However, they can be less expensive than an ACA-qualified plan.

Short-term plans can charge more if you have preexisting conditions, put caps on benefits, or not cover essential services like prescriptions and preventive care. Because they fall short of ACA requirements, you can have one and still be subject to a state-mandated health penalty. 

You won't find short-term plans on the federal or state exchange, and therefore can't get a subsidy when you purchase one. However, they can be less expensive than an ACA-qualified plan. 

Having short-term coverage is certainly better than being uninsured, but I recommend replacing it with qualified health coverage as soon as possible. That's the best way to have the protection you need against the enormous financial risk of medical costs. 

5. Enroll in Medicaid and CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program)

If you can't afford health insurance, you may be eligible for free or low-cost coverage through Medicaid or CHIP at any time of year, depending on your income, family size, and the state where you live. In general, if you earn less than the poverty level, which is currently $12,760 for an individual or $26,200 for a family of four, you may qualify for these programs. They may have different names depending on where you live. 

Unlike ACA health plans, state-run health programs don't have set open enrollment periods, so if you qualify, coverage can begin any time of year. 

When you complete an application at the federal or state health insurance exchange, you can also determine if you qualify for coverage through Medicaid and CHIP programs. You can learn more about both programs at medicaid.gov

6. Get COBRA coverage

If you leave a job with group health insurance, you can enroll in COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) coverage. It isn't an insurance company or a health plan, but a regulation that gives you the option to continue your employer-sponsored health insurance after you're no longer employed. 

Instead of having your plan canceled the month you leave a job, you can use COBRA to continue getting the same benefits and choices you had before you left the company. In most cases, you can get COBRA benefits for up to 18 months.

The problem with COBRA coverage is that it's temporary and can be expensive. Unlike other federal benefits, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers don't have to pay for COBRA. You typically have to pay the full cost of premiums, plus a 2 percent administrative charge, to the insurer. 

If you're not eligible for regular, federal COBRA, many states offer similar programs, called Mini COBRA. To learn more, check with your state's department of insurance.

Health insurance shopping tips

After you become self-employed and purchase health insurance, it's crucial to shop for plans every open enrollment period. Your or your family's medical needs or income may change.

Additionally, new health insurers come in and go out of the health insurance marketplace. Carriers that offered plans in your ZIP code last year may not be the same set of players this year. In other words, a competitor could offer a similar or better plan than yours, for a lower price. So, if you don't shop annually, you could leave money on the table.

18 Ways the New Tax Laws Affect You

The final 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act legislation passed December 20, 2017, and was signed into law on January 3, 2018. It ended up being less scary than many Americans had feared. And while the biggest impact may yet prove to be on businesses, some important changes affect you and the majority of other… Read More

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Wealth Tax: Definition, Examples, Pros and Cons

A wealth tax is a type of tax that’s imposed on the net wealth of an individual. This is different from income tax, which is the type of tax you’re likely most used to paying. The U.S. currently doesn’t have … Continue reading →

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5 Legal Documents You Need During a Pandemic

As Americans grapple with how to stay physically and financially healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical to make sure you and your family have the right emergency documents. It’s much easier to prepare for a potential disaster than to recover from one that blind-sides you. After a tragedy occurs, it may be too late to make critical decisions.

Let's talk about the different emergency documents and why you may need to create or update existing paperwork. If you get COVID-19 or have another unexpected illness or accident, these documents will help you manage your finances and make essential decisions with more clarity and less stress.   

5 emergency and legal documents to have during a pandemic

Instead of being caught off guard during a difficult time, consider if you should have these five legal documents.

1. Last will and testament

The purpose of a will is to communicate your final wishes after you die. Too many people don’t have one of these incredibly important documents because they mistakenly believe it’s something just for old rich people.

The fact is, every adult should have a will. If you die without one, the courts decide what happens to your possessions, not your family.

The fact is, every adult should have a will. If you die without one, the courts decide what happens to your possessions, not your family.

And once you have a will, don’t forget to update it periodically to make sure it addresses all your wishes, assets, and beneficiaries. Critical life events—such as getting married, divorced, having a child, or losing a spouse or partner—should trigger you to update your will.

If you’re starting from scratch, make an inventory of your assets—like bank accounts, investments, real estate, vehicles, expensive belongings, and sentimental possessions—and decide what you want to happen to them. You can list beneficiaries for specific items, like who gets a piece of heirloom jewelry or an artwork collection. You can also create distribution percentages, such as 50 percent of the value of your assets go to your partner and 50 percent to your only child.

In addition to dealing with your possessions, a will allows you to name a guardian for your minor children.

In addition to dealing with your possessions, a will allows you to name a guardian for your minor children. And don’t forget to leave instructions for what you want to happen to your pets, digital assets, intellectual property, and business assets. You can create a plan for your funeral, such as where you want to be buried and whether you want your organs donated.

Someone must carry out your final wishes and legal details. You can name a designated family member, friend, or attorney to be your “executor” and handle all the arrangements. Depending on the size of your estate, this can be a challenging and time-consuming task. So, make sure they’re capable and willing to do the job.

The bottom line is that having a will makes death easier for the loved ones of the deceased. It can help keep peace in your family by settling disagreements, minimizing bureaucracy, and even saving your heirs from unnecessary expenses. You don’t need a lawyer to create a will, but if you have a high net worth or many different types of assets, it’s a good idea to hire one.

2. Living will

In addition to a last will, you also need a living will. This document specifies what you’d want to happen regarding your end-of-life care. It would help if you were unresponsive for an extended period or in the final stages of a terminal condition.

Having a living will makes your wishes clear when you’re facing death. It’s an essential guide for family and doctors who might need to know if you’d want to extend your life by artificial means or to die without any interventions.

3. Health care proxy

When it comes to your health care, another critical document is a health care proxy. You might also hear this called a health care power of attorney or a health care surrogate. In it, you designate someone to make medical decisions for you when you can’t.

Imagine that you’re in an accident or come down with a severe illness and become mentally incapacitated. Having a health care proxy allows the person(s) you choose as your representative to make medical decisions for you or admit you into a health care facility.

Having a health care proxy allows the person(s) you choose as your representative to make medical decisions for you or admit you into a health care facility.

You might want to name two proxies in case one isn’t available when you need them. Consider who you’d trust with your care and discuss the responsibilities and your wishes with them.

Some hospitals won’t allow medical professionals to disclose any information about you—even to your health care proxy—unless you have a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability) medical privacy release. Your family needs to speak to your doctor about your medical situation without creating a legal problem for the doctor, so consider having this legal document as well.

4. Power of attorney

Even if you don’t need a designated proxy to make medical decisions for you, you likely need someone you trust to help with other types of decisions, such as managing your finances or legal affairs. Creating a power of attorney (POA) allows another person to stand in for you as an agent if you’re incapable of making routine transactions, such as paying bills or signing contracts.

You can use it power of attorney any time you’re not capable of doing something like selling real estate, making insurance claims, filing taxes, or making financial decisions.

There are different kinds of POAs, but the most common is a durable power of attorney. You can use it any time you’re not capable of doing something like selling real estate, making insurance claims, filing taxes, or making financial decisions. You can also create one or more limited powers of attorney, which name people to act on your behalf for specific transactions during a limited period.

Having a POA is how the financial end of your life can run smoothly if you become incapacitated. It’s also a tool for giving someone the authority to manage nearly any aspect of your life if you’re unavailable or don’t have time to handle it yourself.

5.  Childcare authorization

If you’re the parent of a young child, you should have a childcare authorization. This document can address a variety of situations, such as whether your child’s school or daycare can release them to another individual.

You can use this authorization to allow someone else, such as a partner or nanny, to temporarily make decisions for your child in your unexpected absence.

Do you need emergency documents if you’re married?

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you don’t need emergency or legal documents because you’re married. While a spouse may be able to make some crucial decisions for you, you could both die or become incapacitated at the same time.

Let’s say your spouse is in a coma in the hospital due to a disease or accident. If you had a financial hardship and needed to sell assets, such as jointly owned investments or real estate, it could be difficult. Each of you would have to authorize the transaction.

Married couples and domestic partners should give each other power of attorney to avoid having financial restrictions during a crisis. And each of you should have wills and healthcare proxies.

Therefore, married couples and domestic partners should give each other power of attorney to avoid having financial restrictions during a crisis. And each of you should have wills and healthcare proxies.

Also, consider what would happen to your minor children if you and your spouse were in an accident together. It’s critical to name a guardian in your will, so the court doesn’t appoint one for you that you may not like.

Where should you keep emergency documents?

Keep your original signed legal documents safe, such as at your attorney’s office, in a fireproof safe, or a bank safe deposit box. Also, maintain copies of everything at home in case you need them at night or on the weekend. You should scan and upload them to a cloud-based storage service, such as Dropbox or Evernote.

Do yourself and your family a favor by getting all your emergency documents created as soon as possible. If you already have them, put an annual reminder on your calendar to make any necessary updates. You’ll feel at ease knowing you’re as prepared as possible for the unexpected. Your emergency documents make sure that you and your children’s future is protected no matter what happens.

More Americans are Using Retirement Savings to Cover Expenses

Twenty-twenty has taken its toll on the average retirement savings, according to a new study by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine and Personal Capital, an online financial advisor. More than half of Americans are dipping into their savings, with 60 percent using their IRAs and 401(k)s to get them through the difficulties they are facing from […]

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