Monthly Archives

March 2016

Think Outside the (Pill) Box: Alternative options for feeling better

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You’ve seen them, those commercials touting a new pill for this or that? In fact, it appears that there is a pill for every single ailment we have. And what’s worse is the disclaimer touting potential side effects if we indeed decide to take the medication, from increased risk of kidney problems to even death. But what about those over-the-counter medications that we take to ease a pain here or there, do they have risks?  The answer is ‘yes’.

As we age, our bodies age. And that means that sometimes we are following in the genetic tracks of our family members or in the tracks that our lifestyles dictate, such as bad eating habits, stress, or environmental factors. Backaches, headaches or even tight muscles in the shoulder blades or wrists and hands are common forms of chronic pain that many people suffer from due to everything from old sports injuries to carpel tunnel syndrome. And that can lead us right to over-the-counter medications that reduce Inflammation. These are known as NSAIDS or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. You may know them as Aleve, Excedrin, etc.

What you may not know is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently elevated its warning against NSAIDS, noting that that they may increase the risk of heart attack or stroke even if you have taken them for a short while. I was taking a prescription NSAID for my chronic migraines and I weaned myself off of them because of the potential damage long-term to my kidneys or liver. I thought using an over-the-counter when I needed it would suffice. Not exactly.

Thinking outside the pillbox for alternative ways to relieve our chronic pain can provide a healthier option. Possible non-medication alternatives include acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, Reiki, hypnosis and therapeutic touch therapy. In addition, some simple day-to-day adjustments might do the trick as well. Here are a few:

1) LOL – that’s laughing out loud. If you have a funny friend, enjoy watching America’s Funniest Videos or go see a comedy at the movies, a good old belly laugh causes your blood vessels to dilate by 22 percent, which improves blood flow and thus, lowers blood pressure.

2) Let It Go. It may be a song in “Frozen” but Disney has something: by letting go of a grudge or just plain forgiving someone, you will reduce your blood pressure and lower your heart rate. Forgive and forget? Yes, and lower your risk of heart disease in the process.

3) Green Acres is the place to be. Apparently, it really is! Research has shown that for every 10 decibels of added roadway traffic near your home, your risk of stroke increases by 10 percent. The Wesley Communities must know something about building tranquil communities with access to nature.

If you are taking medications as directed by your physician, be all means don’t stop. But don’t be afraid to ask if there is an alternative to feeling better or enhancing your health in other ways.

The Countdown to Tax Day

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If you are like me, you have procrastinated organizing your paperwork for tax time and now it’s crunch time with just a few weeks away to file! If you are retired, do you still have to file an income tax return?   All senior citizens who have reached retirement age need to know the answer to this question. You may or may not, but don’t assume anything. If you don’t find the answers that fit your particular scenario in the information provided, please don’t hesitate to contact your accountant or the Internal Revenue Service for more in-depth answers on preparing for this year’s tax season.

When seniors must file

If you are unmarried and at least 65 years of age, then you must file an income tax return if your gross income is $11, 850 or more. However, if you live on Social Security benefits, you don’t include this in gross income. If this is the only income you receive, then your gross income equals zero, and you don’t have to file a federal income tax return. But if you do earn other income that is not tax-exempt, then each year you must determine whether the total exceeds $11,850. If you are married and file a joint return with a spouse who is also 65 years old, then the threshold amount decreases to $21,850. Keep in mind that these incomes thresholds only apply to the 2015 tax year, and generally increase slightly each year.

You may qualify for additional tax credits

You may qualify for the Credit for the Elderly or Disabled if you and your spouse are at least 65 years or are considered permanently and totally disabled. You must meet certain income qualifications found by completing a “long form” (form 1040-A). You will not find the credit on the “short form” (form 1040EZ), so if you think you may qualify, make sure you use the correct form.

Retirement plan contributions

Just because you are retired or semi-retired doesn’t mean that you can’t make tax-deductible contributions to retirement plans, such as IRA’s. Those over 50 have higher contribution limits for traditional IRS, Roth IRA, and 401(k) accounts.

Or, you may prefer to contribute to a Roth IRA. You’ll pay taxes on the income you contribute now. But the withdrawals upon retirement are tax-free. This means no tax needs be paid on all the interest or other income earned by your Roth IRA investments.

Medical and dental expenses

Medical and dental expenses are often some of the largest expenses for retired people. Fortunately, some of these expenses are deductible. These include health insurance premiums (including Medicare premiums), long-term care insurance premiums, prescription drugs, nursing home care, and most other out-of-pockets health care expenses.

If you itemize your deductions, medical and dental expenses are deductible from your income taxes on Schedule A of your tax return. However they are subject to a limit. For many years, the limit was 7.5% of a taxpayer’s adjusted gross income (AGI), meaning that those expenses in excess of 7.5% of taxpayers AGI were deductible. For example, if someone’s AGI was $100,000, only those medical and dental expenses above $7,500 (7.5% x $100,000 = $100,000.00 $7,500) would be deductible.

The rules for deducting medical expenses changed in 2013. Under the new rules, only medical and dental expenses in excess of 10% of a taxpayer’s AGI are deductible. Under the prior rules, the threshold was 7.5% so taxpayers could deduct more of these expenses. In creating the new rules for deducting medical expenses, Congress exempted people 65 and older from the 10% threshold increase until 2017. Thus anyone age 65 or older can use the 7.5% threshold for deducting medical and dental expenses for any tax year ending before January 1, 2017, as long as the taxpayer or his or her spouse was age 65 during or before the tax year.

Don’t assume that you don’t have to file

While it’s true that Social Security income is generally not taxable, that’s not true in all cases. If you have income in addition to your benefits, you may have to file a return even if none of your benefits are taxable. For more on who must file a return, visit the Internal Revenue Service website at www.irs.gov.

Be aware that a lot has changed. The tax code is constantly changing, and these changes may affect you. In fact, a significant percentage of changes to the code in recent years involves retirement accounts and tax credits. Before you file, prepare a list of questions for your accountant, or if you file your tax returns on your own, be sure to check the IRS website for any changes that may affect you this year that haven’t in the past.

Share with us any tax tips you learn about this year that might help your friends and neighbors before they file their taxes this season.

Super Tuesday in Ohio. Are you Ready?

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Hold on to your political hats, Ohio. The 2016 Presidential Campaign is about to get real and will make many stops right here in our home state. It has already started — Super Tuesday comes to Ohio on March 15th. Do you know the candidates and what they stand for?

The 2016 election campaign is already shaping up to be one for the record books. Whether you are Republican, Democrat or Independent, your vote for our next President of the United States will go down in the record books and is more than likely to change your life in some way. From Social Security to Medicare to healthcare and everything in between, the platform of your chosen candidate or that of the opponent will change the face of America moving forward.

And once again, national eyes are on Ohio. When Ohioans head to the polls on March 15th, they will have the opportunity to cast their votes for a former First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, or another U.S. Senator who touts many years of expertise in Washington and refers to himself as a socialist. Interestingly enough, Bernie Sanders is gaining a lot of traction with the millennial generation. On the flip side, the GOP brings a whole other element with business tycoon Donald Trump, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. And let’s not forget our very own Governor John Kasich, who just this past weekend announced he is just ramping up his campaign to a whole new level. Hang on. It’s going to be one interesting campaign year.

As part of the population heading toward retirement, there are a few topics the candidates are drilled in on that should have you on alert:

Medicare & Healthcare: Both have serious impact on the aging population as the funding and affordability of private and public healthcare plans, drug companies and programs will directly affect long-term care, health insurance and so much more. Pay attention and make sure you understand every nuance of not only your candidate, but also the opposition.

Social Security: Baby boomers are aging out of the system at a rapid rate. Many are heading towards retirement. The system was created to provide secure retirement for Americans who have paid into it throughout their work life. It also has been critical as income for those individuals who may have suffered the loss of the main breadwinner. In 2013 alone, 22 million Americans were kept from living at poverty level because of Social Security. But, as we know, this system is in trouble. Updating Social Security for future generations is crucial and a primary focus for candidates. Want more info? Check out www.2016takeastand.org.

In addition, focus on our foreign policy, minimum wage, college affordability and the effects of global warming and environment changes and needs are all topics that will have impact to not only you, but also to your family, your grandchildren and future generations. Remember, voting is your American right. Choose wisely.

And on a personal note: Rest in peace, Mrs. Reagan. Thank you for your service.

Marketing Mail: How to Decipher Between Important Bills and Marketing

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Is your mailbox cluttered with catalogs and credit card offers? Well, imagine my 96 year-old grandmother checking her mailbox and receiving offers for warranties for a refrigerator that she bought 10 years ago and a letter regarding a line of credit that she hasn’t used in several years. Explaining to her that she is not obligated to purchase any additional warranties and that she did indeed pay her line of credit in full many years ago has been a constant challenge for my family.

Junk mail is unwanted advertising that arrives in your postal mailbox along with the mail you really want or need. While it is nearly impossible to eliminate all junk mail, you can take steps to reduce the amount of junk mail that you receive. Cutting down on some of your junk mail will take some time and will require some legwork. The hope of the senders of this unsolicited mail is that the marketing will persuade you to buy, donate, subscribe or invest.

There are a variety of strategies you can use to omit your name from the direct mailing list:

DMA Choice (National Mailing Lists)

If you want to be taken off as many national mailing lists as possible, your first step is to contact the Direct Marketing Association’s DMA Choice program. DMA Choice represents about 80% of the total volume of marketing mail in the United States. When you register, your name and address are placed in a “do not mail” file, which is updated monthly. DMA members are required to update their list at least quarterly, and some do it monthly. You must re-register after three years.

  • Register online. You may sign up online at the DMA choice website dmachoice.org/register.php. There is no fee for online registration.
  • Pre-approved Credit Offers. Opt out of pre-screened credit offers. You can substantially reduce the number of pre-screened, pre-approved, credit card applications you receive by calling 888-567-8688, or sign up online at optoutprescreen.com.
  • Warranty Registration Cards. Avoid sending warranty registration cards. You will still be covered by the warranty, but the company can’t use your information to send out other products. If you decide to send the registration card, include only minimal information such as name, address, and date of purchase and product serial number. For some products you may want the company to have a record of your purchase in case there is a safety recall.
  • Company Mailing Lists. Opt-out of individual company’s mailing lists. The term “opt-out” refers to methods by which an individual can avoid receiving unsolicited products or service information. Contact the customer service department of companies that send you junk mail and ask to be removed from the company’s mailing list. It is helpful to have the mailing label or envelope so that you can relay exact names and codes on the label. Let them know you not only want to be off their list, but you don’t want them providing your contact information to other companies. You should try doing this in writing.
  • Online information and E-mail Lists. Don’t provide personal information (address, phone number) on the Internet unless absolutely necessary. Always review the website’s Privacy Policy regarding the use of your personal information. Many websites will share your information with their “affiliates,” which means anyone willing to pay for it. This could result in more junk mail, commercial e-mails and phone calls. The DMA offers the E-mail Preference Service (EMPS), which allows you to remove personal (not business) email from a national list.

In closing, the key to stopping unwanted advertising mail being delivered to your home is getting your name off the mailing list. Of course that’s a lot easier said than done, and with literally thousands of commercial lists, putting forth the work to have your name removed may seem a waste of time. Believe me I understand, but if a little effort on my end means less junk mail in my mailbox, it’s worth it.