If You Plan to Retire This Year, Be Prepared

If you’re sure that you are going to leave the working world and start your retirement life in 2020, better not put in your notice at work until you’ve done your homework. The Motley Fool article “Retiring in 2020? 3 Things You Need to Know” covers three important steps.

If you were born in 1958, then this is the year you celebrate your 62nd birthday—which means you are eligible to collect Social Security. However, if you do, your benefits will be reduced as you have not yet reached your “Full Retirement Age” or FRA. People born in 1958 need to be 66 and eight months to reach that important milestone. At that point, you can collect your full benefit. Collect earlier, and your monthly benefit is reduced for the rest of your life.

Born in 1954 or earlier? Full retirement age for you is 66, if you were born between 1943 and 1954. If if you were born at the tail end of this range, then you can collect your full Social Security benefit this year. However, it still may pay to hold off on claiming benefits.

The longer you can delay tapping your Social Security benefits, the better. From the time you reach your FRA until age 70, your monthly benefit grows by about 8% each year. Few investments today have that kind of guaranteed yield. Some advisors recommend tapping retirement accounts first and delaying Social Security benefits as long as possible. It’s worth taking a closer look to see how this can be of benefit.

If you are planning to retire, but you’re not 65, you’ll need to find and pay for health insurance until you celebrate your 65th birthday. You can enroll in Medicare a few months before your 65th birthday, but if you’re 62, then you have a three-year health insurance gap. Private health insurance is extremely expensive, there’s no way around it. Before putting in that letter to HR that you’re retiring, get some real numbers on this cost. If your employer will consider having you work part-time so that you can maintain your employer-covered health insurance, it may be a good idea.

If you’re closer to age 65, then COBRA is a consideration, although it may still be expensive. Typically, COBRA allows you to retain your existing health coverage if you change jobs, or are fired, for a certain amount of time. However, you have to pay for the full cost of health coverage.

If your gap is only three months, then COBRA might make sense. However, if your gap is a year or more, then you need to be realistic about health coverage options. Pre-existing conditions and a limited marketplace for individual coverage may make this the reason you keep working until 65. You should also check the rules of going from COBRA to Medicare—they may not be the same as going from an employee plan to Medicare.

The more prepared you are for retirement, the more you’ll be able to relax and enjoy this new phase of your life. If these three points have made it clear that you’re not yet able to retire, understand that it is better to work a little longer to reach your eventual goal of retirement, then to find yourself struggling to pay bills and jeopardize a lifetime of savings because of unexpected expenses.

Reference: The Motley Fool (Dec. 28, 2019) “Retiring in 2020? 3 Things You Need to Know”

Timing Is Everything Where Medicare’s Concerned

There are many complex rules about transitioning from employment-based health care coverage to Medicare, and mistakes are expensive and often, permanent. That’s the message from a recent article in The New York Times titled “If You Do Medicare Sign-Up Wrong, It Will Cost You.”

Tony Farrell did all the right things — he did the research and made what seemed like good decisions. However, he still got tripped up, and now pays a penalty in higher costs that cannot be undone. When he turned 65 four years ago, he was still working and covered by his employer’s group insurance plan. He decided to stay with his employer’s plan and did not enroll in Medicare. Four months later, he was laid off and switched his health insurance to Cobra. That’s the “Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act” that allows employees to pay for their own coverage up to 36 months after leaving a job.

Medicare requires you to sign up during a limited window before and after your 65th birthday. If you don’t, there are stiff late-enrollment penalties that continue for as long as you live and potentially long waits for coverage to start. There’s one exception. If you are still employed at age 65, you may remain under your employer’s insurance coverage.

What Mr. Farrell didn’t know, and most people don’t, is that Cobra coverage does not qualify you for that exemption. He didn’t realize this mistake for over a year, when his Cobra coverage ended, and he started doing his homework about Medicare. He will have to pay a late-enrollment penalty equal to 20% of the Part B base premium for the rest of his life. His monthly standard premium increases for Mr. Farrell from $135.50 to $162.60.

There are several pitfalls like this and very few early warnings. Moving from Affordable Care Act coverage to Medicare is also complex. There are also issues if you have a Health Savings Account, in conjunction with high-deductible employer insurance.

Here are some of the most common situations:

Still employed at 65? You and your spouse may delay enrollment in Medicare. However, remember, Cobra does not count. You still need to sign up for Medicare.

If you have a Health Savings Account (HSA), note that HSAs can accept contributions only from people enrolled in high deductible plans, and Medicare does not meet that definition. You have to stop making any contributions to the HSA, although you can continue to make withdrawals. Watch the timing here: Medicare Part A coverage is retroactive for six months for enrollees, who qualify during those months. For them, HSA contributions must stop six months before their Medicare effective date, in order to avoid tax penalties.

There are many other nuances that become problematic in switching from employer insurance to Medicare. If this sounds complicated, at least you are not alone. Moving to Medicare from other types of insurance is seen as complicated, even by the experts. The only government warning about any of this comes in the form of a very brief notice at the very end of the annual Social Security Administration statement of benefits.

There are advocacy groups working on legislation that would require the federal government to notify people approaching eligibility about enrollment rules and how Medicare works with other types of insurance. The legislation was introduced in Congress last year – the Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification Act — and will be reintroduced this year.

Reference: The New York Times (Feb. 3, 2019) “If You Do Medicare Sign-Up Wrong, It Will Cost You”