Color of Money Live (January 11)

Jan 11, 2018

Join Washington Post nationally syndicated personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary for an online discussion.

“Knowledge isn’t power. The right knowledge is power.”

Stay informed.

Read & share Michelle Singletary’s Color of Money Column on Wednesdays and Sundays: http://wapo.st/michelle-singletary

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So happy you could join me in this forum. I'm live taking your questions. And my guest is Jean Setzfand from AARP. The topic is retirement but of course hear to answer your general personal finance questions. 

So, let's get started.

P.S. Don't forget it's Thursday Testimony Time. Love to hear good stories about your finances.

 

Hi Michelle! Love the chats. You touch more people than you know, because not only do you reach the people who directly read these chats, but also those people influenced by the people who read these chats! Thank you, so very much (you are my main gratitude journal entry today).

Wow!

You just made my day. Putting this in my gratitude journal too. 

In fact, my therapist and I just talk about how to beat back worry. And one tip is to journal everyday or at least tell yourself every day what you are grateful for. 

And yes people I regularly talk to a therapist. Nothing major going on. I see it as preventative medicine. She and I just talk about issues that I'm concerned about. Most recently worrying about my son, a sophomore at college. He's worried about finding a career and making enough to support himself. 

I'm struggling with this question as well. I would like to retire at 62, and am looking to move to a warm, dry climate (medical reasons). If I can manage on my other retirement accounts without drawing the Social Security immediately, I should be better off in the long term, correct? But I'm not sure that I'll have enough to live on without it, even in an area with a lower cost of living. I don't know how to balance the financial implications of starting Social Security at 62 versus the personal and emotional implications of being able to stop work (a lot of stress) and moving to a climate which better suits my needs.

Related: The great Social Security benefits debate: Take it early or wait?

This is a personal issue but if you CAN wait, there are greater long-term benefits.  62 is the earliest you can access your Social Security benefits but it will lower your benefits by  roughly 30% for life if you begin withdrawing now. In addition to tapping retirement accounts earlier, you might want to consider a part time job possibly in areas of your personal interest. 

Michelle recently wrote about this topic too so don't forget to check out her tips!  

So as I've written lately my husband and I are having a great debate about this. He wants to start early. I want to wait.

There is so much to consider on this topic. And frankly, we are all guessing. 

Read what I wrote. Read as much as you can on this issue, including lots fo great articles over at AARP.

Once you have looked at all the issues, make the best decision you can and don't look back with regret. 

If you really need the money, don't suffer trying to wait. 

Last night, I was online looking at my recent credit card statement and it was much higher than I had expected. It didn't take me long to see an $840 purchase from Home Depot that I didn't recognize. I think I would remember making a purchase that large. Since I do shop at Home Depot, if the total had been $84, I might not have thought twice about seeing it on my report. I don't compare items with actual purchases, I normally just check to see if anything looks out of place, either too high or some place I have never heard of before. I have had the credit card company contact me to confirm purchases, so I know they are also watching, but there could have been other, small purchases that I never caught. Without recording every purchase I make, is there a good way to review the recent items on the credit cards?

An easy action is to sign-up for online access to your credit card accounts.  This gives you real-time access to your credit card activities which allows you to quickly identify transactions you didn't make.

I totally agree with Jean. I have alerts on ALL my accounts. And I set the alerts super low -- $5 for checking and $25 for credit card. So any time I make a purchase for more than those amounts, I get an email alert. So it's real time checking of anything on my credit card or bank card (debit or checking).

So funny story. Got an alert for like $8 on debit card. It was for a place I wasn't at. And my husband was at work.

I called him.

"Honey, you having lunch someplace you didn't tell me about? (He takes his lunch). Got out with some woman?"

Honey: "Nope. Why?"

Turns out I had given my debit card to my daughter to buy books at the community college where she is taking classes. (He's in High School). She had bought lunch.

So husband not in trouble.

Daughter got a lecture about eating out for lunch. (Wasn't really mad. She had been rushing out that morning and child needed to eat. Although she should have called first for approval).

 

Hi, Michelle. For the last 30 years (I'm 67) I have concentrated on saving for retirement... and I know how to do that. But I don't know how to go about spending it. I know that probably sounds funny--we all know how to spend, right? But my question is pretty basic---do I cash in some of my mutual funds as I need the money? Do I convert them to cash? Just tell my advisor how much I need and wait till it shows up? I now have about $530K in various 401K accounts ($40K in cash, the rest in mutual funds). I'm sure you can help me. Thank you!

First, great job on your retirement savings.  It is indeed difficult to figure out the 'ideal' spending level.  Since you are working with an advisor, you should talk through options.  By the way, check out AARP's Interview an Advisor online tool (aarp.org/interviewanadvisor) to help you understand your advisor's background, compensation and how he or she supports your needs. 

Ditto on what Jean said.

Here's the key, you want to set a percentage of drawdown on your savings. Some experts say 4% a year. Because you don't want to spend down the money too fast. This also means coming up with a budget just like when you were working. Look at all your expenses. Then look at any other fixed income from say a pension. After you figure this all out you can then see how much you need to withdraw every month or quarterly perhaps. If quarterly, you deposit the money in the account and use it to fund the months ahead. Take into account that when you withdraw from 401k or mutual fund it can take a few days for the money to make it into your account and then cleared for use. 

Also take into account taxes. So only take the money you need for the current year. 

You could always compromise - let him take his SS early, you defer. I know there's a break-even point that you'll both hit, so why not split the difference and each do your own thing?

You so smart!

That's exactly what I've proposed to my husband. But read my column from Wed. Allan Sloan helped us think about something else, whether we will be earning meaningful money in retirement. Then the decision might change because benefits may be reduced. 

Seriously this stuff has my head spinning!

I am a single parent and in a few years my daughter will be attending college. This year I plan to pay off a lot of my credit card debts. What can I do to prepare my daughter in a few years for college?

Paying off your credit card debt is the best first move for sure.  As soon as you are able, you may want to consider opening a college saving account (529) and begin saving as much as possible (and at a minimum use the amount you had been putting towards your credit card debt).  Also, there is NO rule that says YOU need to pay for the full cost of tuition.  Start involving your daughter in these financial decisions that impact her life.  She too should start to save for her future.

Here's my take on this issue.

Parents should pay for college. Why?

Because unless your kid is a superstar TV, music, etc money maker, where would they get the amount of money it takes to go to college? 

Loans!

Even if they've been working part-time jobs they can't save enough as children.

But I also understand that parents may not have been able to save either.

Sooo...

Right now have a discussion with your daughter about what you guys can afford without loans. Start there. 

Talk up community college. She can go there get the basic classes out the way for a fraction of the cost. Then she can transfer to university to finish up. 

She may have to live at home and commute. Or live with relatives.

Don't let loans drive the decision.

Don't put  all the cost on her.

Make it a team effort. You pay what you can. She work part-time jobs if she can because in this case her earning money to help is needed. But you carry the heavier burden. 

While I've never been great at money management, I've also never been terrible. I have always, for example, save relatively generously in my 403B or 401k. And I very rarely carry a credit card balance. However, as a 40something adult, I was recently diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. I am single, and my job is relatively overwhelming, so I don't have the time or energy to devote to figuring out a budget and trying to stick to it. Do you or the chatters have any suggestions?

Sounds like your doing a good job overall.  You're saving AND not carrying credit card debt.  As long as you keep saving and NOT accruing debt, you do sound like you have some system in place to curb your spending.  Just be sure you're also setting aside money for emergencies.

Yup, Jean is right. Give yourself some credit. You are so far ahead of a lot of people without ADD.

You have a budget really. You just don't have it on paper. And how do I know? Because you are managing to save for retirement. But I agree with Jean that you need some rainy day pots.

Emergency fund -- three to six months of living expenses. Start slow. 

Life happens fund - money you set aside separate from emergency fund to pay for stuff in life that happens like your car breaking down. Or your 13-year old dryer breaking a belt and having to replace it for $117. I took the money out of my life happens fund not emergency fund, which is there should you lose your job or frankly in your case have to take some time off for medical reasons.

Michelle, thank you so much for all of your guidance and encouragement. I triumphantly trumpet that my husband and I have a positive net worth, even with a small child and a mortgage. We crossed that line as the year ended. So now our new goals include saving for college, saving to replace our roof and our older car (with cash!), and paying down the mortgage before retirement. Thank you for keeping us on track and encouraging good financial decisions.

Bravo to the two of you!!!!!!

And I'm very impressed that you are measuring growth with net worth and not just your income! 

We my husband and I sit down with folks to go over their budget we always start with the net worth statement, not their budget. Net worth (what you own - what you owe) is a good barometer of where you stand financially. 

It allows you to look at the whole picture and not just focus on your liabilities. 

Again, good for you.

My wife and I are several years out from retirement and trying to make sure we are on course. A few questions re: heading toward the big date? 1. What is a good resource for finding an advisor that can help us with holistic planning - financial, legal, insurance, etc... It seems the folks that come recommended are looking almost entirely at the financial side ... and also won't really start helping until they can start managing our funds - ie once our money is out of respective 401Ks. 2. If there were one or two issues that rise to the top regarding things retirees wish they had done before retiring, what would they be?

Way to get a head-start.  First, make a wish list for what you want from an advisor and do check-out more than one.  In fact, AARP just released an online tool that provides you a set of questions to help you "interview an advisor" before hiring one (aarp.org/interviewanadvisor).  Also, check out BrokerCheck.FINRA.org to see summary background and most importantly any violations.

As for "advice from retirees," separate emotions from your financial decisions, which includes WHEN you retire (stop working) and accessing your Social Security benefits.  Believe it or not, WHAT to do in retirement is also very important to consider before you take the plunge.

I read your article about filing taxes early to prevent identity theft, and I have a question. One of my friends works as an apprentice for cash, with no IRS record. He has no W2 or other income documents, and hasn't tracked any of it. Should he still file? If someone else did file with his number, what would they gain?

Related: Ready for the 2018 tax season? It starts Jan. 29, and here’s why you should file early.

First of all, if your friends makes enough money the he is "supposed" to file, he should. I would never advocate for any of my friends not to file taxes if they should. That's stealing from me! You! Us! If we all pay as we should, less burden for all of us.

As far as tax fraud, he should file because if someone else does and the IRS catches it, they may then look at his history and earnings and he may end up being fined for not filing when he should have regardless of the fraud. 

I usually have to wait until late February/early March to get all of my statements and file my tax return. Is there anything I can do to prevent someone from filing a return in my name in the meantime?

So when I wrote file early, I meant file as early as you can. Of course some of us can't file as early as Jan. 29. 

As for what you can do, sign up for an IRS account. If you can't sign up that's a sign something is wrong. 

This also leaves you out in the cold for Social Security history.

Good point!

Start with just 4 categories: housing (all costs), taxes, health insurance, and other. The first 3 ought to be relatively easy to separate out. When you have the time, you can work on the "other" category a bit more.

I like this advice. Thanks

Thank you for all you do, but most especially today thank you for normalizing going to therapy and talking openly about your son with ASD. Mine's starting the evaluation process at 3, and even though I've read you for years, that just sunk in and gave me the warm and fuzzies.

You are so welcome. 

I started therapy after my brother died. I had been taking care of him. He was 32. I was feeling so guilty because I was going on vacation and had wanted him to go. But my husband said we really needed time to ourselves, which we did. Caring for my brother who had epilepsy  was overwhelming at times. 

But when I got the call that he had died, you can imagine the guilt. I kept thinking had he been with us, he wouldn't have died. But, as my grief therapist and my husband pointed out, he might have died while he was with us on vacation.

Anyway, from the grief therapy I realized I had a lot of issues I hadn't dealt with like being abandoned by my parents. Lots of mommy issues (for some reason not so much from my absent father). Anyway, once those issues were under control, I just kept regular appointments to talk about dealing with the teen years, a son with autism and all that entails, etc. 

Thankfully, very strong marriage so was good on that front.

But I talk about this because A LOT of the financials issues you have don't have much to do with money. It's the baggage you carry about other things. 

You shop too much because maybe you grew up poor.

You overspend because you like the feeling you get because you never felt loved by your mother.

See where I'm going?

Take care of your mind and the money will come.

Like that categories - one more: transportation, which can be quite large - especially in the DC area ... .

Very true!

Hello Michelle and Jean, I am 52, and in reasonably decent health. I have heard that the ratio of stocks you should be in is 100 or 110 minus your age. I was wondering your thoughts on this. I lean toward a larger percentage in stocks, only because that's where the growth is, but on the other hand, I'm a little spooked by the run-up in the stock market and whispers about a market "correction". What do you all think? Thank you.

I have heard that general rule, but it comes down to your personal situation (risk tolerance, amount saved, time horizon, other investment, retirement lifestyle, etc.).  Carefully consider how investing in more stock will impact your portfolio and, alternatively, if you put ALL your eggs in lower risk options, will that conservative strategy meet your long-term needs?  

Ellen McCarthy wrote a profile in the Post of a children's librarian who is struggling with graduate school debt. (Strangely, though, she also qualified for a mortgage.) The woman came across as a bit naive, frankly, but it was hard not to feel bad for her in light of this mountain of debt that is going to hang over her for probably decades. Ugh.

Here's the story: This Life: An existence she loves, under a growing cloud of student debt

Of course I read it too. Very interesting read. 

I would have not advise this young woman to take on that debt but I understand why she did.

This is the American story people. Way too many people taking on student loans.

So I was working in the non profit world and have some funds in a TIAA 401K. After I left I never talked to anyone about what to do, its been about 5 months since I left and don't want to roll it into my current new one. Can I just leave it sit and do nothing. What if the non profit I left folds will my funds go somewhere? So much I don't know, maybe just call TIAA for my needs?

It's fine to leave it where it is, even if your previous non-profit employer folds, your money is with TIAA.  After you review your current 401k account (e.g., fees, investment options), it may be 'easier' to manage one account vs. multiple if again the new employer plan has reasonable fees and good investment options.  

He is aware of this, but his "employer" doesn't want this job on record. He is trying to find a different job, but hasn't had any luck yet. Also, this job is still keeping him below the poverty line.

It's hard to do the right thing. Have your friend talk to a tax professional about his options. 

 

I recently paid of my credit card (whoo!!!) using my annual bonus. It was about $2200. Now I can focus in on my student loans. My debts aren't much compared to what some folks have, but I want them gone. I should be happier, but am mostly mad at myself for accruing so much stupid debt.

Don't be mad. Get even. With yourself by getting out of debt and staying out of debt.

But for now, you deserve praise. Don't look at at your mistakes. 

When you know better, do better.

Michelle, a little while ago you asked for folks to identify if they had a million dollars saved for retirement. It made me look at my family's retirement accounts. We are half-millionaires. We are 15-20 years away, and plan to soup up our savings once our kids get through college, but I'm suddenly worried that I'm not saving enough -- and I don't think we're going to get another half million in 20 years anyway. Is $1M a widely-recognized goal for all people, or is it just a psychologically-satisfying number?

Related: The 401(k) millionaire next door

Everyone's number is different. 

Sure, having a million in retirement puts you at a great level.

But if you go into retirement with no mortgage, no debt, got a pension or other fixed income that can support your retirement, you may not need a$1 million.

My grandmother Big Mama retired with a small pension, Social Security and $20,000 in the bank. He retired with no mortgage and always hated debt.

She died with $20,000 in the bank.

Just saying.

Measure yourself against yourself.

I think for us it will depend on the market at the time we decide to retire. If it's still breaking records every day, I'll definitely delay taking it and start drawing on my retirement funds. But if we are in another major recession and suddenly our considerable retirement funds are worth significantly less, I might take SS in order to minimize or completely avoid drawing on our retirement funds while they're only worth 75% of what they were, and probably will be again in a year or two or three. What do you think?

There are LOTS of uncertainties, which is why Social Security's guaranteed lifetime benefit is SO important.  As such, the longer you wait to claim Social Security (up to age 70), the higher your monthly income for life.  

Market performance is one of many things you should consider when thinking through your retirement decision.  Some others that come to mind are retirement goals, other savings, where you want to live, etc.

  

Hi Michelle and Jean, thank you so much for doing this chat. Do you have any resources for determining when it's best to retrofit an aging parents house (moving laundry upstairs, stair lift) versus moving? The parent in question has limited finances. We can do some, but are saving for our own retirement and have our own expenses.

I'm glad you're considering changes to allow your parents to remain in their home.  AARP does have an educational guide that outlines a wide range of changes you can consider from no/low cost changes to those requiring more significant investment.  Consider YOUR home too...there's no bad time to make these changes.  To access the resource, search "Homefit Guide" at aarp.org/livable. 

As a follow up to your first post today, you said you regularly see a therapist as preventative medicine. Thanks for making that seem "normal" - every little thing we can do to help break the stigma of mental illness is so appreciated. :-)

I believe in therapy!!!!

Keeps me level headed. Helps me put things in perspective. Sometimes an appointment comes up and on the way there, I'm thinking, "I got nothing to talk about today."

Then my wonderful therapist will ask me a simple question, "How's it going." 

And next thing I'm grabbing a tissue. 

Because it may turn out something was deep in my soul. Something happen at work. Or with a church member I'm concerned about, a friend, my kids, my husband, our dog. 

Anything. It helps keep deep depression at bay. Yesterday, she helped me see that bad stuff can be outweighed by looking at the good stuff in my life. 

And really to bring it back to finances, having a clear mind allows me to help you guys. It helps me stop worrying that I don't have enough for retirement, etc.

That's because that's how the federal government pays for college these days: by lending people the money. They used to give more grants, and the states used to give more direct aid. If people don't borrow, they can't afford to go. I thought that woman's problem was that she borrowed way too much, more than a year's expected salary. (I was also appalled that despite making payments she owes more now than she did on graduation day. That's messed up.)

You are right on the money. 

BUT ... I think we need to buck the system in place now.

We need to encourage our kids to go to community college, earn more college credit while in H.S. Commute, etc.

Mostly, we have to stop accepting that loans are the only way. And maybe if we stop, the colleges, states, and federal government will be force to find a better way.

But as long as we pay no matter what with loans there is no incentive for change.

I am a TSP millionaire (took me 22 years) and my husband is a half millionaire. We both max out TSP and my husband also does catchup contributions. We have over $40K in liquid saving and 529 plans for the 3 kids. We are 10 years from retirement. are we saving too much for retirement

Only you can really say so. But if you are living some life now -- I do want you guys to live some now -- you are probably just fine. Some folks wish they could ask this question. 

Just make sure the college funds are fully funded so no loans.

Michelle -- you suggested that a person whose friend described him as below the poverty line should talk to a tax professional about his options. Um, how do you think this guy is going to pay for a tax professional when he's below the poverty line?

Um, lots of free tax help like through AARP! 

Go to IRS and look for free file. On that page is also information about groups that work with low-income folks.

The point is he needs to know what happens if he was supposed to file and doesn't. 

This is exactly what shady employers do when they want to keep their taxes and expenses low. Exploit young people who need experience and will accept lower and under the table wages. Not that this young person is doing anything wrong deliberately. But the employer sure is!

Sure is!

You mention signing up for an account with the IRS to prevent identity theft. How/where do I do that?

Go to irs.gov and search for setting up an online account. 

My biggest takeaway from that article was that the woman paid way too much money for a master's degree to read books to children at storytime. That was a very poor "investment" in higher education.

It was more like $60,000 but your question still applies. Could she have gotten that job with out that advanced degree?

There's such pressure to go to college and that without it you'll get nowhere that people who would be better served with other routes - on the job, apprenticeship - feel forced into this situation. We do need to change.

Or figure out a less costly way to go to college. But you are also right  about training.

My wife and I are in our mid-40s and are starting to explore retirement timing. We have done a good job saving and want to consider early retirement. Are there any specific books you would recommend to help us educate ourselves for the options, challenges, etc?

I will say that many books on early retirement talk mostly about maximizing returns on your retirement account.  What you may want to consider as well is how you define retirement and what you want to do in the next stage of life.  Maybe it's about volunteering, part-time jobs, pursuing your life passion, starting a new business.  Let me point you to some articles that may help you think some of these things through...aarp.org/work.

Jean, could you recommend a good book (or website) on how to navigate the years just before retirement and just after, re how and when to do Roth conversions, minimizing earned income to not get hit with a big Medicare premium, and dozens of things I haven't thought of. We are mid/late-50s and planning to retire in the next year or 2, assuming the ACA is still there. Not looking for advice saying we should find a financial planner, just research tools. Thank you.

Well, I have to point you to AARP's resources...please do visit aarp.org/money.  We do have financial books such as "Social Security for Dummies" - search "books" at aarp.org. 

Do also check out resources that may be available through your employer via your 401k provider.  Also, check out resources provided at Investor.gov, FINRA.org and your State Securities regulator.

 

I like to use my credit card to earn the rewards. But after a few bills, I realized I needed a good way to track it. Where I have my Life Happens savings online, you have different savings buckets, so in addition to Life Happens, I created Credit Card. When I use my card, I automatically transfer the amount charged from my bank account in the CC savings account. That way when the bill comes, the money is there.

Smart!

We set up VA prepaid college plans and 529s for our 2 kids - one is a college sophomore and the other a HS sophomore. A one time bonus I got years back funded much of the prepaid; 529 has been a steady $75/month (since they were infants). One surprise has been how much stuff other than tuition costs! My son lives in university housing, has a 5 meal per week plan, and eats alot of ramen and scrambled eggs. He's a frugal guy. Nevertheless, we're more than 60% through the 529 designed to last 4 years. He'll be able to fill some of it with summer earnings but my advice to parents is to adequately consider all of the non-tuition costs your kid will incur - rent, food, books, computers, etc. It adds up quickly.

Good advice. I always caution folks who do pre-paid college plans to consider room and board. Some forget about that and end up short.

You are so right that we use money to fix other things in our lives/past. In my 20s, I wanted to fix my wallflower ways with convertibles and fancy clothes and shoes until I realized I was okay. I’m 45 now and drive a boring sedan—love blending in!!!!

Bravo!

It doesn't have to be complex. I started with a simple Excel spreadsheet. That was nearly 20 years ago and I'm still using the same file! It's interesting to go back through the years to look at how my expenses have changed. In the beginning, though, it was simple to start - sit down with a couple of statements from your bank account and make entries for your recurring monthly expenses. Then you can categorize the rest as entertainment/food/etc. Adjust and make changes as needed .

Good advice.But pen and paper work too.

I have a wonderful son, who is an amazing student and a great kid generally. He applied to UMBC and UMCP for college, with UMCP as his first choice and UMBC as his safety. UMBC has offered him merit aid that would essentially give him a free ride. We have yet to hear from UMCP, but it is my impression that while he may not get in, he will probably not get the same kind of merit aid. He said he is inclined to go to UMCP if he gets in, regardless of money. To be clear, we can afford it send him there, but I keep on thinking that the money we saved for his college could be applied to graduate school or even to his sister's college fund, which is less robust (we have another 10years before she goes). How much should I push him to consider UMBC as his first choice if UMCP does not give him merit aid? We visited UMBC and liked it very much, and think he could get a great education there, for free to boot.

For what it's worth, my son is at UMBC and we LOVE IT! It's such an under appreciated option to College Park, where i got my degree. 

If I were you, I would look at the whole picture, including your daughter's savings. If you can fully fund her college fund in 10 years AND you have the money for him to go where he wants then sure I'd let him go to College Park. It's why you saved, to have choices. Besides that would free up money for another student whose parents may not have the means. 

But . . .  if you can't stretch, I would encourage and push for UMBC. 

What you can afford has to be front and center.

And remember he's the child. He doesn't know. He can't look down the road. And frankly he WILL get as good an education at UMBC as he would at College Park.

You should not leave this decision up to him. Because he can't borrow enough without you. So you have the power. 

My 14YO daughter recently got a real job (as opposed to occasional babysitting etc.) It's not very many hours and doesn't pay much, but she loves it. We're trying to decide what she should do with the money. As a family, we're comfortable so she doesn't need to buy necessities. There is enough saved that her college and any grad school expenses are covered. And, she's the least materially-oriented person I know so she doesn't really want much (we do usually have her pay for her very occasional wants from her paycheck). So, what to do with this money? Regular savings account? CD? Money market? I do think it should be somewhat liquid so that if she does want to buy something she can and it's not stuck in some retirement fund. Thoughts?

When our kids began earning money we required a few things.

-- You have to set aside money to give. In our case for tithing but you could say just charity.

-- You have to set aside money to cover some college expense. We require them to pay for their books and personal expenses. We cover everything else.

-- You have to save for short term and long term goals. Think inexpensive jacket they want, iPad, etc. 

When you put all that on the table money is accounted for. 

And I would keep it liquid too. 

I had a total knee replacement at the end of September. My doctor ordered a pneumatic compression device to be used at home to help prevent deep vein thrombosis. His staff told me they would bill my insurance. My insurance company denied it as not medically necessary; they say I could have taken a blood thinner. Of course, I was billed for the device, to the tune of $2,000! Not eactly the Christmas present I was hoping for. I called the insurance company and they refused to reconsider, and said I was not responsible for the payment. But I had signed that pesky form that said I would accept financial responsibility if the insurance company didn't cover the charge. I found the device online at a medical supply company for $303. Long story, short, after several calls back and forth with the doctor's office, they agreed to accept $300 as payment in full. Still not an expense I expected, but I'm thankful to have the money in my life happens fund to cover it. My advice to others: be careful what you sign, and don't hesitate to dispute charges for durable medical equipment.

So glad you shared this story. Thank you. 

Thanks for sticking around. I know we went long and still didn't get to all your questions. So sorry. But I read everything you send. And often I turn your question into a column. Or please come back next week. 

Thanks to Jean and for all of you for joining me today. 

Take care. 

In This Chat
Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, "The Color of Money," which appears in The Post on Wednesday and Sunday and is carried in more than 120 newspapers.

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Jean Setzfand
Jean C. Setzfand is the senior vice president of AARP programs that produce interactive educational programming designed to address health, wealth and personal enrichment concerns for consumers 50 and over.
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