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Monday, March 17, 2014

Obamacare + You

Obamacare + You

Over the past year, I've studied Obamacare - the law, the website and the "chatter." This post is the result of some of my findings. Hopefully, it will help you decide whether or not you'll enroll (if you haven't already). 

To insure or not to insure?
The #1 reason people don't sign up for Obamacare is they don't see the value of insurance in general - life, property, disability and - most of all - health. The reasoning is something like this:
  • "I haven't been sick in a few years so I don't see why I need it."
  • "I'd rather save the money now and if I have to go to the hospital, I'll just pay for it myself."
While it's not my goal to argue for or against Obamacare or medical insurance, some facts are relevant: 
  • Health care costs are the #1 cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.
  • The average fees of a broken foot add up to $16,000 while cancer treatment can cost $30,000 or more. (Source: see Healthcare Bluebook)
March 31 is your last chance to enroll in 2014!
Unless you've already qualified for Medicaid or Medicare or have employer-provided health insurance, the window is closing on 2014 enrollment. The next open enrollment period begins in November and is for 2015 coverage. 

Non-enrollment tax penalty.
Taxpayers who are not enrolled by March 31 will be penalized 1% of 2014 household income or $95 per adult (plus $47.50 per child), whichever is higher. It will be assessed automatically unless you have a special exemption. Click here to see exemptions

Biggest objections.
In the past months, I've spoken with at least a dozen people who have no medical insurance but are not signing up for Obamacare - or even getting a cost estimate. Here's what they say:
  • "My friend says it costs too much and isn't worth it."
  • "It's cheaper to pay the penalty."
  • "I'm not comfortable getting it on the computer."
  • "I'm too busy to bother with it this year - maybe next year."
To get a feel for what they were saying, I sat down with them to get online estimates. In each case, they were surprised to see how low their monthly fees would be. For family, we found that the fee was actually zero dollars ($0.00) for a basic plan based on very low household income! (See examples below.)

Enroll online, by phone or in person.
Online - is the online "Marketplace" (often called an "Exchange") where you "shop" for a plan that best meets your needs and budget. The good news: the website is now very easy to maneuver and you can see many options in just a few minutes. If you like, you'll find this site even easier!

In person - If a person doesn't use or own a computer or wants extra help, they can call to make an appointment close to their home or office. In the Dallas area alone, for example, there are 116 "help" locations! Click here to find a U.S. location near you.

Toll-free phone line - call 1-800-318-2596 to ask questions if any part of the process is uncomfortable or difficult for you.
How plan "categories" affect cost.
Note: for individuals and families having lower incomes, fees may be significantly reduced as shown in this chart

Most people choose from one of three plan categories which range from lower- to higher-cost: bronze, silver and gold. A 4th category - platinum - is very expensive and therefore chosen by few. Any category you choose, however, will help pay your family's 10 most important medical expenses:
  1. Outpatient (ambulatory) care
  2. Emergency services
  3. Hospitalization
  4. Pregnancy (before, during and after)
  5. Mental health and addiction care and treatments
  6. Prescriptions
  7. Rehabilitation treatment, therapy and devices
  8. Lab and diagnostic tests
  9. Preventive and wellness services
  10. Pediatric care (medical, dentistry and vision treatment is covered for children
Pre-existing health conditions.
The biggest - and possibly most popular - change in current insurance plans and Obamacare is this: nobody can be denied coverage. In other words, if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, depression or even cancer, no insurance carrier is allowed by law to refuse to insure them. 

Examples: Cost estimates for a family plan as calculated on*
Remember: you and/or your family's monthly insurance payments will be based primarily on:
  1. Age(s) and total income,
  2. The plan category chosen (bronze, silver or gold), and
  3. The deductible amount selected.
The following examples are for three families of 4. Members are the same ages but have different household incomes.

Example #1: Family of 4 - low income:

  1. Total yearly income: $50,000
  2. Ages: 55, 52, 23 and 18
  3. Eligible for lower premiums as shown on this chart.
  4. Monthly premium estimates: start at $0/month (bronze); $285/month (silver); and $518/month (gold).
Example #2: Family of 4 - mid-income:
  1. Total yearly income: $75,000
  2. Ages: 55, 52, 23 and 18
  3. May be eligible for lower premiums as shown on this chart.
  4. Monthly premium estimates: start at $205/month (bronze); $558/month (silver); and $831/month (gold). 
Example#3: Family of 4 - higher income:
  1. Total yearly income: $135,000
  2. Ages: 55, 52, 23 and 18
  3. Not eligible for lower premiums as shown on this chart.
  4. Monthly premium estimates: start at $850/month (bronze); $1,200/month (silver); and $1,476/month (gold)
*Note: rates can fluctuate daily. Estimates presented above are for example only and are not exact. To get real-time estimates. go to


I would personally like to thank each one of you who has referred clients to us in the past months. This has been our busiest Spring tax season ever. Your trust means the world to everyone at Elwell & Associates and we do everything we can to live up to it.

If you refer any active or retired military personnel and/or their families, we extend a 20% discount to them. Just have them mention their status.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Is cybersecurity really possible?

My security worries (and yours,too!) 
With all the news about security breaches at Target, Neiman-Marcus and other retail outlets, I finally decided that I could no longer avoid facing the truth: my 18-month old computer is getting slower - fast. And despite a host of home-remedy security-boosting efforts, I was still get too much general junk and pop-ups (even though my settings supposedly “block” them!). Worse, I frequently found myself having to restart my computer to get back on kilter . . . a symptom of a growing potential for a system crash.

Like me, you've probably had anti-virus software installed since your computer was new. But like most “do it yourself” software, Norton (or McAfee or Other) is only as savvy as the user (you and me). And since I’m not technically savvy enough, I can't maximize the benefits. When I told a friend that it was just "a $60 icon that sits there giving me a false sense of security," he laughed. But the more I think about it, I know that for me, it's a true statement.

A video overview of the problem (via The Today Show).
A few weeks ago, this video was on The Today Show. It will quickly help you understand the severity of the security problems we all share: (Click here)

The most common types of malware.
The major types of malware (e.g., "Adware," "Bot," "Bug," "Ransomware," etc.) are highlighted in this brief, clear article: (Click here)

The video and article above make it clear: if anyone thinks that their computer is not infected, they’re in denial. While a brand new computer is a "clean slate," it starts to pick up unwanted "stuff" as soon as you download the initial software.

Eliminating malware problems.
After spending way too much time reading about – and trying to do – a variety of do-it-yourself security “fixes,” I decided to get help from “real people” at an online security company. I spoke with them on the phone and checked their credentials. Once I chose one, I bought a two-year plan and got started.
Like any tech administrator, the security person had to take remote control of my system. In about three hours, they removed (“cleaned”) out a lot of  debris. Not all "junk" can be removed, though, since all of those downloads made over time add up, and each brings in unwanted items.

Today, I do find that my start-up speed, pop-ups and restarts are somewhat improved. And I now understand that I need to be even more meticulous about what I download and where I "register" for information, services or shopping.

This post barely presents the tip of the tip of the iceberg regarding computer security issues. Hopefully, it has at least raised your awareness of a problem that exists and is growing. If you decide to get the type of hands-on security help that I did, I encourage you to read reviews and ask Customer Service people lots of questions before choosing.

Note: I hesitate to give security company referrals because I'm still a student of solutions. A good resource for recommendations is Consumer Reports which rates several options. Or, you might consider using Best Buy's Geek Squad or another local tech specialist. I will continue to investigate and report any new findings!

Coming soon!

In an upcoming issue of Elwell Money Minder, I will cover ways you can avoid getting malware. It’s never too late to start using Best Practices.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Get it Free - with no strings attached!

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 Get it Free - with no strings attached!
by Ellen Elwell

We all know that millions of apps are free. But did you know that you can find almost anything you want for free? In this newsletter, I'll give you 10 of my favorite links to find the best stuff FREE.
Note: each paragraph heading is the link - just click and go!

Click the heading above for a list of 50 places to find all kinds of free eBooks. If you have a Kindle, you're set. If you have an iPad or another tablet, just download the free Kindle app and go.

Credit Score & Report Card
Lots of free credit score sources have popped up recently. One that I like is Credit Karma. It gives you up-to-date information - and you don't have to buy anything.

Fitness & Diet
Want to skip the cost of a gym membership or getting your own equipment? Then is the place for you. It offers every type of exercise support (yes, free!) you could want - all types and levels, in short or long segments - with illustrated instructions and videos. It also provides many diet plans on video and with daily recipes and support aids/tools.

Your Own Blog
Do you want to start a blog for your business without the cost of a designer or server? Google offers at absolutely no cost. It's easy! In just a few minutes, you can pick your design and type style and get started.

IRS Refund Tracking
Once your tax return is submitted to the IRS, track it on the "Where's my refund? section of their website. It gives you the status of your return . . . and the information is updated every 24 hours.

Makeup & Beauty Samples
Beauty bloggers who contribute to magazines like Vogue, Allure, Lucky and even GQ post their free finds - with photos - on this Pinterest section. You can try new products before making a purchase.

Movies & TV Series
Who needs Netflix when you can get an unimaginable amount of media for free? Here are the Top 15 websites to watch Free movies and TV.

These 5 free music download sites will give you tons of tunes you can keep (and they're not radio!).

Dallas Venues & Activities
Looking for places to take visitors? Or your kids? Or yourself? Here are 50 fun things to do in Dallas for free (enough to fill up lots of fun hours and days). Another city? Just Google "things to do in (your city) for free."

160 Birthday Treats
Here are 160 national retailers  - like Sephora, IHOP, Ben & Jerry's, la Madeleine and Houlihan's - will give you a gift on your birthday. Be sure to look at the right sidebar of the page for more categories of free stuff!

We would like to thank each one of you who has referred clients to us in the past months. This has been our busiest year ever. Your trust means the world to everyone at Elwell Associates, and we do everything we can to live up to it.

If you refer any active or retired military personnel and/or their families, we extend a 20% discount to them. Just have them mention their status.
Photo credit: (c)

Monday, June 24, 2013

5 Tips to Sell Your House Faster!

John L. Elwell, CPA, JD

Why you may want to sell your home now: an overview.

According to the National Association of Realtors, the median home sales price in May increased 15.4% vs. a year ago. It's the biggest annual increase since 2005 plus current home prices at their highest level since July 2008. So if you've been waiting to sell, now may be the right time. 

  • Interest rates on home loans are still low enough to attract new buyers.
  • Inventories are low - especially in popular areas - with fast turnover in sales.
  • The tax break is good - you pay no tax on anything under $500,000 of gain over what you originally paid for the house.

Five Tips for selling at top price.

Get a terrific real estate agent. The #1 variable in selling quickly and for a good profit is your real estate agent. The difference between a pro and an amateur can equal more than a 20% difference in the final sales price. 

Be sure to interview at least 3 agents (5 is preferable). And do have each one tell you exactly how, where and when and they'll market. The very best agents hold multiple realtor open houses as well as weekly buyer open houses. They also develop and pay for ads in various local real estate flyers, magazines and online.

De-clutter, store and clean your house ruthlessly. Your family pictures and knick knacks may be dear to you, but they're a turn-off to buyers. They want to see clean, bright and organized spaces. So rent a POD and store your stuff before you open your doors. This also includes everything inside your cabinets, closets, garage and basement.

Make cosmetic and absolutely essential improvements. There are many inexpensive things you can do by yourself to add eye appeal and perceived value. Your real estate agent will help you determine what is essential to bring the house up to local codes and what small things you can do to will add value and get a higher price.

If your house is "vintage" (aka "old"), you may want to get a professional inspection and written evaluation. This will help you develop a "must do" list of fixes and set a price (discussed below).

Maximize curb appeal on a budget. When people drive up to visit your home, their first impression sets the tone for the entire viewing.  So it's worth some "sweat equity" to add as much eye appeal as possible. Paint the front door in a stand-out color. Fix and paint gutters. Trim shrubs to a uniform height. Plant lots of flowers of vibrant colors around the front and back. Get a new "Welcome" mat. Be sure that bold house numbers are installed and visible from the street. 

Price realistically and without emotion.  Most realtors say that the biggest reason that a house doesn't sell is that it's overpriced. Your realtor should help you price. He or she must know local market and neighborhood values ("comparables") and how your house stacks up against its competition. 

A great source of help on all things "home."

If you don't already watch HGTV on cable, you'll be pleased with all the free help you'll get on this home and garden channel. Shows like House Hunters will help you understand the kinds of things that buyers look for. Love It or List It and Property Brothers demonstrate the ins and outs of renovation. Plus the new HGTV Magazine has all kinds of articles that give you "how tos" and ideas.

Happy 4th of July from everyone at Elwell Associates!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Why I love Wendy Williams

Why I love Wendy Williams

My friends and family laugh at me because I quote Wendy Williams at least 5 times a day. I DVR all her shows, watch her daily After Show segment on my computer as a work break, and have her new book downloaded from Audible. In short, I'm all over Wendy.

Until I discovered Wendy on Dancing with The Stars and first saw her show, I'd never heard of her. I don't watch much TV. I read, even have a Master's Degree in Literature. I'm a self-made business person. (See Linkedin.) But Wendy surpasses any accomplishments I could ever dream of for myself. She's a phenomenon, totally self-made and a tour de force.

Wendy in ChicagoWhy am I so crazy about her?

Why not?

I'm sick of watching all the news. Especially the parts about politics, Congress, war, uprisings, the stock market - to name a few. It only leads to fear and worry (for me). And while once I felt that I and my vote could make a difference, I have given up on the notion. If we don't know what's really going on behind the scenes, how can we hope to change it. It's a total downer.

So after a long day at work, I happily switch on Wendy. I smile the minute I hear her voice. She looks gorgeous. She dresses beautifully. Her smile in infectious. She never complains - even when she's sick or working 24/7 (like now with the show plus a role in the Broadway play Chicago). She keeps it light and fascinating. And while I've never followed the entertainment/celebrity world before, I enjoy hearing her talk about it with passion. Wendy's incredible personality and enthusiasm make her discussion bits compelling.

As well, Wendy goes to great lengths to be "Every Woman." She relates to young and old, Moms and aunties, single and married, rich and poor. She "gets" it: women in all walks of life share very common problems (except for her crazy celebrities, of course). She is far more than the "Hot Topics" lady. She is a relevant friend who makes a day brighter and better.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Moms & Mums Rock!

Moms & Mums Are Heroes!
by Ellen Z. Elwell

In the early '90s, I began my lifelong marketing specialization: mothers. In rapid succession, my own agency became an agency-of-record for Beech-Nut Baby Food (owned by Ralston-Purina), Baby Orajel, A+D Ointment, Brainy Baby, Wonder Bread, Stonyfield Farm, Chex and Clorox brands to name a few.

Then, however, the only way to "hear" what Moms wanted and needed was focus groups and research data. The representation was small and the assumptions were high. 

Today . . .

Thanks to Social Media, marketers can get to know what moms and mums really want and need. Chat resources like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram allow any mom to make friends and influence people. And we can meet women who share our own interests - from pregnancy to cooking to losing weight to photography.

Can you imagine my amazement when I started to use Twitter? So many different conversations between moms and mums, so many different perspectives!

Revelation (to me): most mothers are insecure

I used to think I was the most insecure, inadequate mother in the world. Even though my beautiful, smart, sweet and wonderful daughter is happily married and has given me a wondrous granddaughter, I still feel that way. The combination of intense work and travel with running a household, arranging child care and school  - not to mention being a wife - was overwhelming.

Now, after following thousands of moms and mums online for several years, I feel that I was in the majority and just didn't know it. Most moms feel  we're lacking next to the "supermoms" who always look great and seem happy, who claim they have great love affairs with their husbands, have quiet little children . . . well, you get the picture.

Conversely, if you're like me, you look in the mirror and feel out of shape, stressed and tired. And every single day, wonder how and when you'll get everything - or even anything - back together. This is the real picture that I see every day on Twitter!


We have the opportunity to help each other!

About a year ago, I started following Pippa at @Story of Mum - a blogger in the United Kingdom. Her website/blog is totally amazing: it's all about mums speaking to one another - through Twitter - to understand how beautiful they are.

What's amazing is that Pippa actually gets mums to "tell" their most personal feelings, stories and photos along with projects and letters/articles on the blog to tell their own stories. Some are painful; others are uplifting. But they're all REAL. You have to visit the site to believe it. Mums actually help other mums feel better. 

You can follow Story of Mum on  Twitter, Pinterest,  Facebook and Storify. Pippa also has "Make Dates" (a UK expression) on Twitter two times a month. They are not sponsored and they're not designed to be giveaways. What they "give" is a feeling of community and support, and advice for and among mums who participate..

Until next time, I'll see you @ellenZelwell and #MomTips.