6 Steps Seniors Should Consider Before Retiring

Guest post from Alice Stevens at BestCompany.com

Those golden years have arrived. If you’re lucky, retirement is just around the corner. Before you retire, you need to make the following important considerations:

  • Setting a retirement date
  • Making withdrawals from retirement accounts
  • Receiving Social Security benefits
  • Enrolling in Medicare
  • Writing a will
  • Paying for your final expenses
Retired Couple
Retired couple dancing on the beach

Setting a Retirement Date

While you may have been eager for your retirement to start as soon as you began working, you need to consider your financial situation before you retire.

Take a look at your savings account and your retirement accounts. Think about how much your Social Security benefits will be. If you have a health savings account, also consider those numbers. 

Determine your living expenses, health expenses, and the costs of your other retirement dreams. 

Go over your available funds and expenses with a financial adviser to estimate how much you need to take care of yourself during retirement and compare those numbers with what you have in your retirement accounts and what you can receive from Social Security.

Making Withdrawals From Retirement Accounts

When you start planning withdrawals from your retirement accounts, you need to understand how taxes work on them and what the age requirements are.

Some retirement accounts, like 401(k)s, are tax-deferred accounts, which means that you’ll owe taxes on what you withdraw.

Other retirement accounts, like Roth IRAs, are made of taxed income. Since these funds were already taxed before growing in the account, they are not taxed when you make withdrawals.

Understanding how taxes work for your retirement accounts will help you plan your withdrawals and anticipate your taxes each year.

You can start making withdrawals without penalties from your retirement accounts at age 59 and a half. 

Everyone is required to take a required minimum distribution by April 1 a year after reaching age 70 and a half. The required minimum distribution is determined based on life expectancy and the amounts in your retirement accounts.

Meet with a financial planner or advisor to review the specifics of your situation and discuss the best option for planning your withdrawals. In some cases, making some withdrawals before the first required minimum distribution may help with tax-planning.

Financial Advisor
Financial advisor shaking hands with senior woman in living room

Receiving Social Security Benefits

You should also discuss Social Security retirement benefits with a financial advisor. You can start receiving benefits as early as age 62, but the benefit amount may be lower than it could be because you’re receiving the benefit early. 

If you wait until the full retirement age based on the Social Security Administration’s Retirement Age Chart, the benefit amount is not reduced.

Additionally, if you’re still working when you begin collecting, your benefit may be reduced if you make over a certain amount.

Deciding when to start receiving Social Security retirement benefits depends on your situation, including how long you want to work, your financials, and your health. Whenever you decide to start receiving Social Security benefits, be sure to apply four months in advance of that date.

Additional government programs, like Supplemental Security Insurance, can also help you with living expenses.

Enrolling in Medicare

While there are some exceptions that allow you to become eligible for Medicare earlier, you become eligible for Medicare when you turn 65 years old. Your initial enrollment period (IEP) starts three months before your 65th birthday and ends three months after your 65th birthday. If you retire from the railroad, you may automatically be enrolled.

During this first enrollment period, you do not have to worry about passing an underwriting process or being charged more or denied for pre-existing conditions. Take advantage of this time to research your options and make an informed choice.

You can choose to enroll in Parts A and B (Original Medicare) only, or add on either Part C (Medicare Advantage Plan) or D. Original Medicare is run by the government and includes Medicare Part A, hospital insurance, and Medicare Part B, medical insurance. You can visit any doctor in the country who accepts Medicare. Enrollment is managed by Social Security.

If you enroll in Medicare Advantage, you’ll still have A and B, but you may be able to get additional benefits. These plans are managed by private health insurers and are similar to other private health plans. For example, these plans have networks of health care providers. Some also offer dental, hearing, vision, and prescription drug coverage.

As you decide the direction you want to take when you enroll in Medicare, consider Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage) and Medigap. You cannot have Medicare Advantage, Part D, and Medigap at the same time. You’ll have to choose between Medicare Advantage only, Medigap only, Part D only, or Medigap and Part D.

Part D plans only provide prescription drug coverage. Medigap (or Medicare Supplement) plans help with out-of-pocket expenses (like copayments) from Original Medicare. 

Turning 65 Checklist
Turning 65 Checklist

Writing a Will

If you haven’t written a will yet, now’s a good time to do it. Include your wishes regarding medical treatment if you are on life support or in a coma. The will should also identify someone who will make medical and financial decisions on your behalf if you become unable to make them for yourself.

The rest of your will should set forth how you want your assets distributed. If you do not put your wishes into writing, your assets will be distributed according to state and federal laws.

While it can be intimidating to create a will, it’s important because it will lift decision-making burdens from your children and caretakers. You can use online resources to create your will yourself or go over it with an attorney. Reviewing it with an attorney can help you think through potential scenarios and plan for them.

Paying for Your Final Expenses

You also need to consider how your funeral and final costs will be paid. Funerals are expensive. The National Funeral Directors Association (NDFA) found that the median funeral costs with a viewing were $6,260 for cremation and $8,755 for burial in 2017.

If you have enough savings to pay for it yourself, you need to realize that probate will delay your beneficiaries’ access to those funds. Probate is the legal process for reviewing a will or applicable laws and disbursing everything out accordingly. 

You do not want to put family and friends in a financial bind when planning your funeral.

You have two main options for funding your funeral

  1. You can pre-pay for your funeral
  2. You can buy a final expense or burial insurance policy.

If you know where you want to be buried and which funeral home you want to use, then it may be worth pre-paying for your funeral. Choose the funeral home wisely because if you prepay and the funeral home closes, you might be out of luck. You’ll also want to be sure that it’s a reputable funeral home.

Final Expenses and Arrangements Guide
Final Expenses and Arrangements Guide

Alternatively, you can buy a final expense or burial insurance policy. These policies are designed for seniors and are a kind of permanent life insurance policy. These permanent policies have lower coverage levels because they are meant to cover final expenses and funeral costs.

Once you have all these details taken care of, you’ll be able to stop worrying about problems you may encounter and how you’ll leave your loved ones. You’ll be able to maximize your time enjoying your golden years and cherish moments with family and friends.

How do I Check my Benefits for Medicare and Other Programs?

Have you recently performed a healthcare benefits check up? Are you missing out on the benefits that you qualify for? They can be hard to keep track of when there are so many out there. There are benefits available for everything from your health to the food on your table, and they all have different eligibility requirements. Thankfully, there are tools out there that can help you keep track. One of our favorites is benefitscheckup.org.

What is My Benefits Checkup?

BenefitsCheckUp is a free financial and healthcare benefits check up tool offered by the National Council on Aging. They scan over 2,500 federal, state, and private benefits programs for eligibility standards to keep their tool up-to-date. When you visit benefitscheckup.org and click on “Find My Benefits,” you’ll get results for all the programs that you might be eligible for based on your:

  • Zipcode
  • Gender
  • Birth year and month
  • Monthly gross income (including your spouse, if applicable)
  • Marital status
  • Veteran status
  • Race/ethnicity (optional)

Your report will reveal what programs you may be eligible for, which can include (but is not limited to):

  • Adult daycare
  • Adult education
  • An Alliance for Accessible Hearing Care (AUDIENT)
  • Donated Dental Services (DDS)
  • Elderly Nutrition Program/Home delivered meals
  • Foreclosure prevention
  • HUD Public Housing or Section 8
  • Legal assistance
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  • Medicaid
  • Medicare
  • Medicare Savings Programs
  • Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE)
  • Retirement benefits
  • Social Security
  • State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Tax credits
  • Transportation benefits
Check Benefits Online
Check Benefits Online

Who is the National Council on Aging?

The NCOA, or National Council on Aging, partners with governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations to support aging adults. NCOA’s mission is to “improve the lives of millions of older adults, especially those who are struggling.” They accomplish this by finding ways to help seniors make more money, save more money, participate in healthy social programs, remain in their communities, and fight fraud, waste, and abuse.

How to Check my Health Benefits

You can check your health benefits online, but there are a few different ways to do that depending on what health benefits you have. If you have marketplace health insurance, go to healthcare.gov, then complete these steps: 

  1. Log into your account 
  2. Click on your name in the top right corner
  3. Select “My applications & coverage”
  4. Under “Your existing applications,” select your completed application

Once you get there, you’ll see a summary of your health benefits. If you need more information, you can also call your health insurance company.

Check my health benefits
Check My Health Benefits | Healthcare.gov

How do I Check My Medicare Status?

To check your Medicare enrollment status online, visit Medicare.gov at this link. Enter your information, then click “continue.” You will need your Medicare card for your Medicare number. You won’t be able to continue until you’ve answered all the questions.

Check my Medicare Benefits
Check Medicare Status | Medicare.gov

How to Check Medicare Eligibility Online

You can qualify for Medicare by:

To check your Medicare eligibility online, go to Medicare.gov at this link and complete the series of questions. It is important that you answer them accurately to find out if you are eligible. 

Check Medicare Eligibility Online | Medicare.gov

When you’re done, you can click on the button that says “Eligibility & Premium Calculator Home” at the bottom, and then click on “Calculate my premium” to find out what your Part B premium will most likely be.

Check Medicaid Status Online

Checking your Medicaid status online isn’t quite as easy as Medicare because Medicaid is different in every state. Your state might have its own application portal where you can track the status of your application and find out more about your benefits. You can also visit your local Medicaid office (usually a Social Security building or another government office) or call to check your application status, but know that it could take a few weeks. 

How do I Check Medicaid Eligibility?

Checking your Medicaid eligibility will be different in each state as well. Medicaid eligibility is based on your income and ability to pay for your healthcare services, but each state’s income limits are slightly different due to the cost of living and other factors. Check with your state’s page, here, to find out if you might be eligible.

Check Medicaid Eligibility
Check Medicaid Eligibility

How to Check my Financial Benefits

Checking your financial benefits is easy with today’s online tools. Health benefits aside, the major welfare benefits are TANF, SNAP, EITC, Supplemental Security Income, and housing assistance. 

Social Security benefits can begin when you retire. To be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, you must have worked for at least ten years. The longer you’ve worked, the higher your benefit can be. For example, if you wait until you are age 70 to retire, your benefit may be higher than if you retire at age 62.

If you don’t qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, you might instead qualify for SSI, or Social Security Income. To qualify for SSI, you must be either blind, disabled, or over the age of 65, and you must have limited income and resources. Qualifying for SSDI (Social Security Disability Income) is different. SSDI eligibility is based on means, severity, and work. That means you must have low income due to your disability/inability to work substantially, a severe disability, and must be incapable of working and earning a livable income. If you receive SSDI for at least 25 months, you may also qualify for Medicare (even if you re under 65).

What Tax Benefits do I Qualify for?

There are lots of different types of tax benefits out there. The best way to make sure you’re not missing out on any tax benefits is to meet with a tax accountant before you file each year. Retirees might qualify for the tax credit for the elderly and disabled. To qualify, you must be:

  • Age 65 or older at the end of the tax year
  • A legal U.S. citizen or resident alien (or married to one)
  • Earning less than:
    • $17,500 if single
    • $20,000 if married but only one spouse qualifies
    • $25,000 if married
    • $12,500 if married but living and filing separately

How do I get Income Assistance Through TANF?

TANF stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. TANF is not a government handout. It promotes job preparation and job hunting, helps to reduce unprepared pregnancies, and encourages healthy marriages. TANF is both federal and state-based, similar to Medicaid. 

The government has a TANF budget every year that is divided among the states. Each state then has the ability to determine how much each state is allowed to give out and can adjust the eligibility standards. 

Check with your state’s Health and Human Services office to find out if you’re eligible. Many states have TANF applications built into their Medicaid applications, so you can apply for both programs at the same time.

Collecting Unemployment After Retirement

Some states have different requirements. For the most part, if you are not retired and lose your job after age 62, you can apply for unemployment. You may be able to receive Social Security and unemployment at the same time. However, if you are retired/over 65, you may not be able to collect unemployment. You’ll have to rely on your senior tax break and your Social Security retirement benefits instead.

Check Benefits Online
Check Benefits Online

Other Benefits you Might be Eligible for

Government assistance can extend far beyond healthcare and income. You may be eligible for meal assistance, free or low-cost housing, and more!

What Veterans Benefits am I Eligible for?

You can qualify for VA (Veteran’s Affairs) healthcare benefits as long as you served the full period for which you were called to active duty or at least 24 continuous months. If you served prior to September 7, 1980, the time period limit may not apply to you. It also may not apply if you were honorably discharged.

You can qualify for TRICARE if you are a uniformed or retired uniformed Service member or family member, a National Guard/Reserve member or family member, a survivor, a former spouse, a Medal of Honor recipient, or otherwise registered in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS).

You may also be able to qualify for disability compensation, memorial benefits, pension, home loans, education, job training, life insurance, and more.

What Housing Benefits am I Eligible for?

Public housing options tend to be a bit limited, so the eligibility standards can be strict. Eligibility depends not only on your income and citizenship status but also on whether you are elderly or disabled or if you have dependent kids. Eligibility can change based on where you live, so it’s best to contact your local PHA (Public Housing Agency) and fill out an application.

How do I Check Eligibility for SNAP Benefits?

SNAP eligibility depends on your location and household income. You must apply for SNAP in the state that you legally reside in. Use this website to find your local office (click on your state) to apply for SNAP.

Can I get Meals on Wheels?

Meals on Wheels operates through different local programs throughout the nation. Each programs’ eligibility requirements are slightly different, but for the most part, you will need to be homebound and over the age of 60 (some people under 60 may be able to qualify). Some people may be able to get Medicare Advantage plans that offer Medicare meal delivery services through Meals on Wheels.

Superfoods for seniors and medicare eligibles
Meal Delivery Services

How else can I Check my Benefits?

There are several ways to check on your current benefits and to see what you’re eligible for. We encourage anyone who is receiving benefits to check with a licensed agent who understands health insurance programs. You can also visit your local Social Security or other government offices to ask about benefits in person.

We also recommend that you find a great lawyer and a great accountant. Benefitscheckup.org can tell you if you might qualify for free or low-cost legal assistance.

These websites offer benefits checks:: 

Why Should I use a Licensed Agent?

Using a licensed agent to check your benefits and find out what you’re eligible for can prove to be extremely useful. Licensed agents are often familiar with the rules and regulations set in place by both the federal government and your state. Additionally, they are often able to help walk you through the application process for benefits. 

We have licensed agents available who can sell Medicare Advantage, Medicare Supplements, Medicare Part D, and sometimes more. To get started, click here or call 844-431-1832.

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