Find Free Resources for Your Parents’ Care

As our parents need for care increases, so do the costs. What if your parent can’t afford to pay for the care he or she needs?

Two helpful websites can help you locate affordable and subsidized senior housing, resources and services. is maintained by the American Elder Care Research Organization, which aims to help people plan and implement long term care.

The website:

  • Explains the types of senior care available, the costs, and different ways to pay for the care.
  • Has a free Eldercare Financial Resource Locator Tool which you can use to locate financial assistance for senior care in your parent’s community.
  • Provides information on paid caregiver programs and cost savings technology such as medication management. is maintained by the National Council on Aging. It maintains and regularly updates information on 2,500 federal, state and private benefits programs available nationwide.

The website:

  • Provides information on different types of benefits including medications, income assistance, tax relief, food and nutrition, and more.
  • Has a free tool that connects seniors to benefit programs for which they may qualify.

If your parent needs additional help to pay for long term care, consider applying for Medicaid. An elder law attorney can help you review all of your parent’s available resources and develop a plan to qualify your parent for this program. To find an elder law attorney visit the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys website,

I encourage you to explore these resources before committing to pay for your parent’s care with your own money. While we love our parents and want or feel obligated to help, quitting jobs to provide care or paying care expenses out of our own pockets can be a slippery and dangerous slope, greatly impacting our own ability to retire. 

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.

Save Money in 2018

Are you looking to save money or spend less this year? Here are five ideas I have implemented.

1. Ditch Cable

Last year my family cut the cord and ditched cable. We have no regrets. We purchased an HDTV antenna which hangs in an unnoticed place on a basement wall. We discovered we have access to many more free channels than we expected. (I can even watch re-runs of Gun Smoke, a favorite TV program from my childhood.) We supplement with an online streaming service. We have saved significant money each month by not paying for an expensive cable package with many channels we never watched.

2. Frequent the Library

My local library is an amazing place. I stopped purchasing most books, and instead patronize the library for books, movies, e-books, and audio books. Audio books are available both on disk and via free downloads. When I do want to purchase a book, I borrow it from the library first to determine whether I do, in fact, want spend the money.  At the library’s annual book sale, I can pick up books inexpensively for travel reading. If I finish the book on the road, I will leave it behind for another traveler.

3. Haul Your Own Trash

Many people prefer to have the local garbage company pick up their trash at the curb. In my area, most towns do not provide this service to its residents and homeowners have to pay private companies. By taking our trash and recyclables to the local transfer station ourselves, we pay about a sixth of what we would pay a trash hauling company each month.

As with every do-it-yourself task, you need to weigh the time spent doing the chore against the cost of paying for this service. For every person, the trade-off for each task is different. My family chose trash. You may find a different paid service you can drop and reap significant savings.

4. Join Rewards Programs

When you sign up for rewards with retailers, you earn free merchandise, money off purchases, and other perks. I focus on vendors I use on a regular basis.  (If an e-mail address is required, I give an email address I set up for this purpose to reduce the amount of junk in my main inbox.) I recently received $10 off my grocery bill for rewards earned from last quarter’s purchases. I fill my car with gas on the day my local station offers 5 cents off the posted price. Combined with the five cents per gallon rewards program, I get ten cents off per gallon when I fill up on sale days.

Some retailers and service providers have created rewards programs where rewards can be earned and used at any of the participating companies. In one such program, I can use points earned through my cell phone company to purchase items at my local pharmacy.

Where do you frequently shop? Do those vendors have rewards programs?

5. Choose a Rewards Credit Card that Matches Your Spending Patterns

My family recently took a trip to Vienna where we were able to use credit card rewards to pay for the hotel. Credit card reward programs have been around for many years. There are as many credit card rewards programs as there are credit cards.

To choose the best program for you, identify the spending categories for which you use your credit card (i.e. groceries, gas, restaurants, travel, etc.), and focus on cards that give rewards for your most used categories.

When selecting a credit card with rewards programs consider:

  • Interest rates. If you do not pay your balance in full each month, a high interest rate could negate any earned rewards.
  • Annual fees, if any. Will you earn more in rewards than the annual cost of the card?
  • Method of receiving your rewards. How do you want to receive your rewards? Will the company give you cash back? Are the rewards redeemed through gift cards, merchandise or travel?

These are just a few ideas to save money. How do you save? Do you use any particular apps? I’d like to hear about, and possibility share, your favorite methods.

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.

Did You Earn $66,000 or Less Last year? File Your Taxes for Free

If your income is $66,000 or less, you can file your tax returns online for free.

The IRS Free File program  is a partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, offering do-it-yourself tax preparation software at no charge.

The Free File Alliance  is a group of a dozen major tax preparation software companies, including H&R Block and Intuit, that have agreed to provide free access to its online tax preparation and electronic filing software.

Generally, taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of $66,000 or less for the 2017 tax year qualify to use the software through the IRS Free File program. You answer a few questions on the IRS Free File website and the IRS matches you with a software program.

The IRS Free File program is not well known. It is estimated that 100 million US taxpayers qualify for the IRS Free File program, yet only about three million use it each year.

Several members of the Free File Alliance also offer free versions of their tax preparation software through their own websites. However, each company sets its own guidelines on who qualifies to use the free version (income requirements may be lower), and they may set limits on the complexity of the returns that can be filed.

Thus, when using the IRS Free File program, be certain to start at and consistently return to work on your return via the IRS Free File website.

If your income is greater than $66,000 you can use Free Fillable Forms at

These are electronic versions of the paper forms which you can fill out online. Limited guidance is available, however.

Three In-Person Tax Assistance Programs

If you prefer to work with a live person and you meet the qualifications, community-based, free personal tax return assistance is also available.

The IRS sponsors two in-person tax assistance programs. With both programs, the help is provided by IRS-certified volunteers who are associated with non-profit organizations receiving grants from the IRS.

1.  The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program provides free basic income tax return preparation. This service is available to people who typically make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities, and people with limited English speaking skills who need help to complete the tax forms.

2. Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) offers tax help for all taxpayers, but gives priority to people aged 60 and above. It specializes in retirement-related issues unique to seniors.

Both the VITA and TCE programs focus on basic tax returns. If you have more complicated tax matters, such as Schedule C with losses or Schedule D with capital gains and losses, and want in-person assistance, you should consult with a professional tax preparer. The services available at each VITA and TCE site vary in accordance with the level of the volunteers’ certification.

For more information about the VITA and TCE programs and to locate a visit

3. The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide Program offers free tax preparation assistance provided by IRS-certified volunteers. It serves low to moderate income taxpayers, particularly people 50 and older who can’t afford a tax preparation service. To locate an AARP Tax-Aid Program site, visit


This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.

Social Security Numbers to be Jettisoned from Medicare Cards

At long last, Medicare is removing Social Security numbers from all Medicare cards.

For any years the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers the Medicare health insurance program, resisted pressure to make this change. In 2015, however, Congress passed the Medicare Access and ChiP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) requiring CMS to replace the existing Medicare claim numbers, which are currently based on individuals’ Social Security numbers.

This move is expected to reduce medical identity theft for Medicare beneficiaries. It is also expected to decrease the amount of Medicare fraud, saving the government and tax payers money.

All Medicare beneficiaries are required to have new Medicare numbers by April 2019.

There are two terms to know:

1. Health Insurance Claim Numbers (HICNs) are the current numbers on Medicare cards. They are usually the beneficiary’s Social Security number plus a letter.

2. Medicare Beneficiary Identifiers (MBIs) are the new claim numbers. The new number will consist of 11 characters – randomly generated numbers and uppercase letters. Each MBI will be unique and “non-intelligent,” meaning they won’t have any hidden or special meaning. The MBIs will be used for Medicare transactions such as billing, eligibility status, and claim status.

CMS will begin mailing the new Medicare cards with the new MBIs in April of this year. It will randomize the mailings by geographic location. All beneficiaries should have their new card by April 2019.

The period from April 1, 2018 to December 31, 2019 will be a transition period during which medical providers and patients with Medicare can use either the HICNs or the MBIs to submit claims. Following the transition period, the old HICNs can still be used to appeal or check the status of a claim made prior to January 1, 2020. Beginning January 1, 2020, all new claims will need to be made with the new MBIs.

As with Social Security numbers each MBI will be confidential. Both beneficiaries and medical providers will need to safeguard these numbers.

To see an image of the new Medicare card design, click here. 

*Medicare Cards will have a new design beginning April 2018.*

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.


MemoryBanc: A Comprehensive Place to Store and Locate Your Information

If you were unexpectedly incapacitated, would your loved ones know which of your bills to pay?  Would they know how to contact your accountant or insurance agent, or even know who they are? Would they be able to give your health insurance information to your medical providers? Be able to check your e-mail?

We all carry this information in our heads or have it stored somewhere in our homes, phones and computers. No one expects others to need this detail, but if you can’t act for yourself, your personal representative will need to have access. On the flip side, you may need someone else’s information to assist him.

This is a lot of information to gather and compile. How do you record it all? Exactly what information should you document?

One useful tool is MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life by Kay H. Bransford. MemoryBanc provides one place to record all your key personal information.  Chronicling this information can be overwhelming. Bransford breaks it into manageable sections: personal, financial, online, medical, household, and “etcetera” (to include such information as birthdays and pet care).

While there are other record-keeping systems on the market, I like MemoryBanc for several reasons:

The workbook is available in three formats: a paperback book, a binder with dividers and loose leaf pages, and, for individuals who want a portable paperless system, a flash drive with editable PDFs. For security, Bransford recommends not storing your sensitive personal information in your computer unless your documents have very strong encryption. This, however, could make it difficult for your representative to access your data when they are needed.

The workbook can be used by individuals or couples as there are separate pages for each person’s information.

Emphasis is placed on the importance of recording online usernames and passwords for electronic accounts. It is easy to forget online access, including social media, shopping sites, and even your highway toll pass. Yet, we use these every day. Bransford writes, “Even mundane situations can arise that require you to know the basics of your accounts. For example, if your spouse or partner were unavailable, would you be able to make changes to your mobile account or request services for an item under warranty? Many of these accounts include PINs or security questions.”

The workbook can easily be handed over to loved ones should the information ever be needed to help them navigate your medical care and finances.

There is ample room to document information. The book edition has large spaces to record information which is important for people who have difficulty writing. Additionally, there are plenty of entries. There is space to enter 12 credit cards, for example.

The financial section is comprehensive. It includes income sources, bank and investment accounts, trusts and securities, retirement accounts, insurance policies, real-estate, loans, credit cards, and utilities.

Consider MemoryBanc not only for yourself, but for others for whom you are currently assisting or may assist in the future. And, while we may think chronicling this information is for “older” adults, don’t forget our youth. If something should happen to your twenty-year-old college student, for example, would you be able to access his bank or social media accounts?

We live in the Information Age. We have plenty of information relating to all aspects of our lives. The MemoryBanc workbook provides one comprehensive go-to place to store and locate your important information.

MemoryBanc: Your Workbook for Organizing Life by Kay H. Bransford in paperback lists for $19.95 and is available from book retailers. To order multiple copies of the book, the binder or flash drive, visit

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.

Photo by Robyn Young, Money Care, LLC

Equifax Breach & Protecting Yourself

Note: This is a guest blog originally posted by my colleague Alison Salisbury, President and Founder of Fiscally Fit, Inc. in Los Altos, California. 

Between Equifax and the Yahoo breaches, millions of Americans and billions of accounts were exposed. Rather than rant and rave about how security violations happen, I’d like to focus on how to take control. Given the laws of probability, we all experience some kind of fraud or exposure. Many of the tips shared below I’ve done, or we’ve helped clients straighten out the messes caused by fraudulent activity.

Anatomy of a Social Security Number

Did you know the last four digits are the most important numbers in your social security number? Those last four numbers are unique to you. All the other digits are assigned based upon where you lived when the card was originally issued to you. The first three digits represent an area number. The middle two digits are “central” or a group number and aren’t related to a particular geographic area. Curious what your social security number says about you? Check out this primer.

Lock Down Your Credit

In a recent Bankrate article, they recommend assuming your identity has been compromised. Consider freezing your credit at all three credit bureaus. The upside is that freezing blocks fraudsters from applying for new credit. The downsides are: 1) you may have to unfreeze your accounts when applying for new credit, (e.g., car loan) or opening a new service (e.g., cellphone) and then refreeze them afterward, and 2) it can be a time-consuming process when applying for a new credit account.

Potential fraud aside, freezing your credit has another benefit especially if you’re struggling with credit card debt. The average American family owes $8,377, which is 6% higher than last year. While locking down your credit doesn’t help you with outstanding debt, it’s a psychological stake in the ground. Start your New Year’s resolutions early and vow to pay down those cards and avoid taking on new debt obligations.

In this Simple Dollar article, there are links to all three credit bureau freeze forms.

Paid Monitoring Services

If freezing your account is not your style, a paid monitoring service might be the solution. LifeLock is one option; it may get expensive depending upon the plan. Many of my clients use EverSafe (it’s an AARP award winner) and they offer discounts for family members and seniors (60+).

There are many other identity theft monitoring providers, so I recommend you do your due diligence to find the right service for your needs and budget. Such providers typically monitor:

  • Credit file activity
  • New loans
  • Requests for change of postal address

If you are affected by fraud, most paid service provides will also help you restore your credit.

Free Monitoring

There are also free monitoring services like CreditKarma. Curious about your credit score or want to build up creditworthiness? Then this may be the service for you. Receive alerts if anything important changes on your TransUnion report as well as get access to financial calculators and educational articles. The service is free because CreditKarma partners with financial providers; you’ll receive recommendations (and approval odds) based upon your credit file. If you’re already a CreditKarma user, check your profile settings to see which alerts are checked. I recommend you at least check: 1) credit monitoring, 2) large purchases where you set the amount, and 3) credit limit changes.

Credit Sesame offers a similar service, and you can upgrade to a premium account for monitoring of all three credit bureaus.

Free Fraud Alerts with Each Credit Bureau

Did you know that under Federal law, if you put a fraud alert on one credit bureau, they must notify the other two? If you’re one of the many Americans concerned by the Equifax breach, place a fraud alert on your credit. Fraud alerts make it harder for identity thieves to open more accounts in your name. An initial alert lasts at least 90 days. An Extended Fraud Alert  can last seven years. This FTC Article provides an excellent overview of the fraud alert process.

Don’t forget that you’re also eligible by law to receive an annual review of your credit report for free.

Super Safe Passwords & Other Not So Safe Items

I’d be remiss if I didn’t address safe passwords, especially to online banking accounts. “123456” is still the most common password, according to a CNN Tech article. We all know the importance of difficult-to-hack passwords. We should also have unique passwords each for each account. I can hear you now… “but that’s such a hassle and I can never remember them!!” Consider a password vault (like LastPass) or other solution to generate passwords that aren’t easily guessed or hacked by brute force software. In light of the Equifax and Yahoo attacks, it’s a good idea to update the passwords on all your accounts.

Lastly, remember that sending sensitive information via email isn’t a good idea. Oh, and never log into bank or sensitive accounts on a public computer. While I’m not promoting paranoia, caution is warranted. Hackers are very crafty at getting our personal and private information. Better safe than sorry.

Special thanks to Alison Salisbury of Fiscally Fit, Inc. for use of this blog. Please feel free to contact Alison at 650-965-4090, or visit Fiscally Fit. 

This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate

Buy Yourself Some Happiness

Money can’t buy you happiness, the old saying goes.

But, maybe it can.

Many studies have found money can create some happiness – depending on how you spend it.  Purchasing physical things for ourselves isn’t the ticket.  Any good feelings from the purchase wear off quickly, and we are left with just more stuff.

To boost our happiness, we need to get away from buying things. Instead, we can:

Invest in others.

Behavioral scientists have discovered we get more out of our money when we give to others, whether it is buying coffee for a friend or making a donation to charity. When we give to charitable causes, the part of our brains associated with pleasure triggers the release of endorphin’s or “happiness hormones.” Even a dollar donation can make a difference.

Spend on experiences.

Studies have shown when we spend the same amount of money on an experience as on a tangible item, the experience makes us happier in the long run. It doesn’t matter if the experience is a deluxe ski vacation or coffee with a friend.  Experiences are often shared with family and friends, deepening our connections with others. These connections help boost our positive emotions.

Buy time.

A recent study found when we buy timesaving services such as house cleaning, lawn mowing and grocery shopping, our happiness level rises. This may be related to a reduction in stress. Today, people are hiring virtual assistants to help with other mundane tasks.

The amount of money we have does not matter. Nor does where we live. Researchers have found people in all income levels all over the world experience greater happiness when they invest in others, pay for experiences, or buy themselves time.

Although we can spend to increase our happiness, we still need to meet our basic needs, save for the future, and keep our spending in check. When we spend beyond our means, we create debt which can lead to stress. This will certainly negate any emotional boosts.

Want some more happiness? Try being more selective about where and how you spend your money.

If you would like to read more about this topic, here are some interesting articles discussing the link between money and happiness;


Need A Happiness Boost? Spend Your Money To Buy Time, Not More Stuff, National Public Radio

Science Proves It: Money Really Can Buy Happiness, Los Angeles Times

Research: Can Money Buy Happiness? Insights by Stanford Business

Can Money Buy You Happiness? The Wall Street Journal


This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.


What To Do When You Turn Up Dead

Imagine you go to your ATM one day and find you are locked out of your account. You inquire at the bank and learn your bank account is closed. You have been reported dead. This happens more than you would think. About 500 alive people each month are recorded as dead -, enough that Social Security has a Frequently Asked Question about this on its website.

People learn they are dead when they go to pick up a prescription and learn they no longer have health insurance. Or they apply for credit and are told they are dead. Or they receive a letter from Social Security expressing condolences on their death. Sometimes their government benefits stop.

According to the Social Security Administration, 90 percent of these errors originate at the Social Security Administration. Social Security receives death notices from funeral homes, county clerks, the post office, family, health insurance companies, and states. If one of its workers inadvertently types in a wrong number, a living person can end up dead on paper. It is also possible that reporting sources have made a mistake.

Once this happens, your name goes on to the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File. In the past anyone who paid a fee could purchase this list, making your information readily available to identity thieves. In response, Congress passed legislation,  which went into effect November 2016, restricting access to the Death Master File for the three calendar years following an individual’s death to authorized users. Authorized users include banks, credit reporting agencies, and insurers.

While this helps reduce identify theft, it does not alleviate the headache of having died on paper. When this happens, you are locked out of your life. The information spreads quickly to banks, insurers, hospitals, pharmacies, and other important parts of your health and financial life. You are left with the job of proving you are still alive.

Start with Social Security. You will need to meet in person with a Social Security representative and show an ID or document that proves your identity.  Social Security will remove the death coding. To locate your closest Social Security office, visit SSA will provide a letter that you can give to banks, doctors or others to show that your death report was in error.  You can also locate the erroneous death certificate, have it amended through the issuing office, and send it to your banks, insurers, the credit bureaus, and other financial organizations.

If you are one of the unfortunate people who learns they have died, first I send you my condolences. Then I urge you to act quickly to rejoin the land of the living.


This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.


What Happens to Debt When Your Loved One Dies?

What happens to a deceased person’s debt after he dies? His heirs may wonder whether they are responsible for the debt their loved one left behind.

When a person passes away, she leaves an estate which is comprised of money in bank and investment accounts, cash, real estate, vehicles, household furnishings, and other financial or tangible assets. The estate, managed by the executor named in the person’s will, pays the debts. Anything left over is passed to heirs as dictated by the will. If the loved one didn’t have a will, state law governs how any remaining funds are distributed.

If the deceased does not have any assets or there is not sufficient money in the estate to pay debts, the estate is declared insolvent and the creditors don’t get paid.

There is some exception to this, including:

  • Loans with co-signers. These payments now become the responsibility of the co-signers.
  • Credit cards with joint owners. The surviving joint owners need to pay these bills.
  • Secured debts. Secured debts have an asset attached to it such as an automobile or a house. These loan or mortgage payments still need to be paid. If the estate is insolvent, an heir may need to make these payments until the loan is paid off, the property is sold, or it is returned to the lender.
  • Debt in community property states incurred by a deceased spouse.  According to, “in the handful of states with “community property” rules, most debts incurred by one spouse during the marriage are owed by both spouses.” (Community property states are Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.)

Family members and other heirs may be contacted by debt collectors when those members become responsible for a loved one’s debt. They are protected by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act which, according to the Federal Trade Commission (, “prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you.”

State laws determine the order in which bills and debts get paid. Generally, estate administration fees, funeral expenses, medical bills, and taxes get paid first. These are followed by secured debts. Credit card debt is usually paid last.

There are some monies creditors cannot tap to have their bills paid. These are assets that have named beneficiaries and include retirement accounts and life insurance policies.

If you have questions regarding a loved one’s debt or estate, I recommend you contact an estate planning attorney. He or she will know the state laws and be able to advise you. You can look for an attorney at


This blog is published to provide you with general information only, and is not intended to provide specific or comprehensive advice.  Money Care, LLC encourages individuals to seek advice from competent professionals when appropriate.