Protect Your Identity Before It’s Too Late

Protect Your Identity Before It’s Too Late


In the aftermath of the Equifax data breach and many others, households have been left in a scramble to protect themselves. With all the paid identity theft protection services available, it’s hard to know which one is best and whether it makes sense to pay the monthly costs.

Furthermore, out-of-pocket losses for victims of identity theft are minimal, often less than a few hundred dollars. Retailers and credit card companies end up footing the bill.

What’s important to keep in mind is that if your identity is stolen and used improperly, your true loss is how much time you must give up to resolve the matter. Working with your financial institutions, credit bureaus and government agencies to clear the matter up can take anywhere from 20 hours to well over 100 hours. It can even take years to clear up the harm it did to your credit report. This plus the grief and paranoia caused by the whole experience is the real damage. (more…)

Medicare Basics

Medicare Basics

Turning 65 marks an important milestone. It’s the age you become eligible for Medicare – healthcare the federal government provides for retirees.

I. Medicare Part A, B, C and D

Part A – Also called Original Medicare, Medicare Part A covers your stays in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, some health services and hospice care. Part A has no premiums as long as you have 40 qualifying quarters of contribution during your life, similar to qualifying for Social Security benefits. You may also qualify based on your spouse, even if you’re divorced or your spouse passed away. If you don’t meet any of these conditions, you have to pay monthly premiums.

Part B – Covers doctors’ services, outpatient care and medical equipment. There are monthly premiums for Part B.

Part C – Also called Medicare Advantage plans (or Medicare Health Plan), Medicare Part C allows private health insurers to provide Original Medicare benefits (Part A and Part B) through their networks (HMOs, PPOs and fee-for-service). The insurers must offer the same benefits as Original Medicare, but can have different coverage restrictions, costs, limits, etc. This coverage is optional.

Part D – Provides prescription drug coverage through private insurers. The government subsidizes the costs of prescription drugs and the cost of Part D insurance to reduce costs for retirees. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, then you can bundle it with Part D. If you have Original Medicare, Part D is separate policy. This coverage is optional.

II. When to apply

Part A and B

Depending on your circumstances, you’re either enrolled automatically in Part A and B, or you must enroll yourself. You’re enrolled automatically if you are: (more…)

What should I do about the Equifax data breach?

By now, you’ve learned that up to 143 million people in the United States have had their private information stolen through a data breach at Equifax, a national credit reporting agency. What is new and most concerning about this breach is that Equifax is one of the few companies we entrust with our most sensitive financial data.

What was stolen?

Per the Federal Trade Commission, “The hackers accessed names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, addresses and, in some instances, driver’s license numbers. They also stole credit card numbers for about 209,000 people and dispute documents with personally identifiable information for about 182,000 people.”

How do you protect yourself?

If you’ve already enrolled in an identity theft and credit monitoring service, then you have the necessary coverage and don’t need to do anything further.

If you aren’t using such a service, take the following steps: (more…)

Hiring a Financial Advisor

So you’ve decided to hire a financial professional to help you navigate your future. You’ve talked to friends and family members, and while you trust their recommendations, putting your financial future into the hands of someone else is a very big deal. You need to do your own due diligence, but where do you start? Not all financial firms/advisors are created equal. And with all the options available to us, many people decide to go it alone out of fear. They fear they could be hiring the next Bernie Madoff, or that they might end up being a number in a long list of clients. The task can seem so daunting that it’s often easier to hire the first advisor you meet, or do nothing at all.

It’s a big decision and many don’t know what questions to ask and what to look for. The below can help provide anyone looking to hire a financial professional a place to start. The questions are not meant to sway anyone in a certain direction, but rather to help ensure you hire someone you feel comfortable with and confident in.

Understand how the advisor is compensated.

Find out exactly how your advisor is paid and make sure you understand any fees and charges – and have them in writing – before making any final decisions. Fee-only means the advisor does NOT earn any commission, while fee-based advisors can earn commissions.

I believe fee-only advisors are best. I formed this belief working for firms that were fee-based and fee-only, and witnessed the practices at each. Fee-only advisors do their best to align their interests with their clients. They don’t make money off the investments they recommend. In a fee-only structure, anything that comes out of your bottom line in turn comes out of the advisor’s bottom line. Therefore, it’s in the advisor’s best interest to only recommend investments they truly believe are in your best interest.

Fee-based advisors might have incentives to sell certain products. (Have you ever heard: “If you want to buy your financial advisor a new Mercedes, buy an annuity?”) Fee-based advisors can fall prey more easily to their clients’ views and emotions, especially during volatile markets. You want to make sure you are hiring someone that will give you the best advice, even if it isn’t what you want to hear. “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” – Warren Buffet. You don’t want a “Yes” man. (more…)

Determining Which Term Life Insurance Policy Makes the Most Sense

Term life insurance is used primarily for pure income replacement (i.e., your human capital). When you apply for term life (non-permanent) insurance, you have to choose the amount of coverage you want ($50,000 to more than $2,000,000) and the term of the policy – usually a 10-, 15-, 20- or 30-year policy. The coverage amount and term depend on your specific needs, such as taking care of young children, or paying off the mortgage if you pass away unexpectedly.

Since term life insurance policy premiums stay level, i.e., the same, your premium does not change during the term. This causes the premium to be higher for longer terms. At the end of the term, you either lose life insurance coverage or apply to obtain a new policy with a different term, conditions and premium costs.

How the Premium Is Determined
Your premium is determined by your age, gender and health rating, multiplied by a stated factor for the term and coverage amount you’re applying for. The health rating component requires an insurance physical exam where a nurse visits you at home or at work, or you can go to a doctor’s office.

When deciding how much insurance to get, consider the costs of raising a child and potential college tuition, plus the mortgage, funeral costs and any other potential debt. For lower coverage amounts, such as under $250,000, many companies offer simplified issue insurance, which you usually receive advertisements for by mail from your mortgage lender or homeowner’s insurance company. This type of life insurance doesn’t require a medical exam and can be approved in just a couple of days. (more…)

Ask Merriman: SIPC Coverage

Q: Brokerage houses have additional insurance that covers certain events relative to my deposit. Should I be concerned when the funds on deposit at a major brokerage exceed the insurance limits?

Let’s assume this refers to SIPC coverage brokerage firms use. While loosely similar to the more familiar FDIC insurance to cover bank deposits, SIPC insurance is much more limited in scope.

Essentially, SIPC insurance provides coverage from loss due to the brokerage firm going out of business. It provides up to $500,000 of protection on securities and up to $250,000 in cash in excess of what is recovered. It does not provide coverage from a decline in the value of investments.

To help visualize an example of when SIPC would come into play, let’s use an example of a $5 million client account:

· Assume the brokerage firm fails, resulting in $5 billion of client claims on assets.

· Assume 90% of clients’ assets ($4.5 billion) are recovered. The actual historical recovery rate is 98.7% according to SIPC.

· The client in this example holding $5 million in SIPC eligible assets would receive $4.5 million from recovered assets and $500,000 from SIPC. The loss to the $5 million client account would be zero.

It’s exceedingly rare for a client to be entitled to recover damages under SIPC and not be made whole because of the $500,000 limit.

Also, most large brokerage firms purchase “excess of SIPC” insurance, which insures clients for any losses above the $500,000 limit.

Ultimately, clients do not need to be concerned when funds at a brokerage exceed the coverage limits.

More detailed information about SIPC coverage can be found here.


 

Do you have a question about investments, taxes, retirement or insurance? Send it to “Ask Merriman” and one of our financial advisors will help you find an answer.