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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)