By In General Benefits Knowledge

‘Tidying Up’ Your Benefits

As it appears the rest of the free world is doing right now, I’m taking in episodes of Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up on Netflix. I hadn’t read the book, so her combination of Japanese precision and Buddhist respect for the contributions of all things has been fresh and energizing.

For those who aren’t familiar with Marie’s “KonMari Method” is a collection of organization techniques, combined with an Eastern spiritual mindset, intended to “spark joy” in people’s lives by helping them remove clutter from their living spaces, thereby removing excess from their lives.

As both a pragmatist and a cynic, my excitement for the Kondo’s methods are tempered with the reality of working and helping run a house with kids with other ideas of what sparks joy. In other words, I am down with the KonMari method, it’ll just probably be a phased rollout in this house.

All that organizing got me thinking about how the FIRE goals of financial freedom and early retirement are perfect bedfellows to KonMari’s mission. The idea is to train yourself to live as modestly as you can, and through that modest living you regain control (financial, physical, emotional) of your life, thereby making it easier for you to spark your own joy.

(Sidenote: I must admit that, as an optimistic cynic, typing “joy” is hard for me — “satisfaction” is much more my speed. But Marie’s spirit is pretty infectious, so I’m powering through it!)

That train of thought, in turn, got me thinking about what kind of the decluttering we can do with our benefits. There’s plenty, so here are some ideas.


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By In Do the Math, Health Insurance, Health Insurance Utilization, Money-Saving Tips

Should You Pay Cash for Medical Care?

In the “My Benefits ‘Intentions’ for 2019 and Beyond” post, I noted that it’s important to always ask the price for a service. The premise is pretty basic — we ask the price for pretty much everything else we want to buy, so why wouldn’t we ask the price and be able to see it before we have something done to us.

Of course, reality can be a relative term in healthcare. First, you’re not always in a position to shop around when it comes to your health. A recent article by Vox writer Sarah Kliff, who’s been tracking and reporting on outrageous emergency room bills for the past year, showed how the largest public hospital in San Francisco is “out of network” for ALL private insurance and the result is insured people getting bills for tens of thousands of dollars. Remember, this is the emergency room and, as one “victim” of a crazy bill noted, she was so overcome with the pain and confusion of her migraine that she didn’t have the capacity to ask where she was being sent for care and whether they were in-network for her insurance.

Second, and this is the nutso boondoggle of our system, prices are really, really hard to get straight because there are so many different negotiated rates that you might pay. There’s a different in-network and out-of-network rate for every different brand insurer and plan a provider accepts. There’s a Medicare rate, a Medicaid rate, and possibly many others.

The one (hopefully) consistent rate is straight-up cash. Depending on what kind of insurance you have and what kind of treatment(s) or service(s) you need, this might be your best bet.


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By In Around the Web, Pet Insurance, Voluntary Benefits

Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

See that photo up there? Those are my boys. I love them with all of my heart, as does the rest of the family. The one on the right (Louie) went to the vet just yesterday and my wife sent me this text message when they were finished: “He’s an expensive child.”

That’s the reality with pets. They may not be nearly as expensive as children in the long run — until somebody figures out a way to send pets off to college — but they’re members of the family and we want to make sure we can care for them as such.

An article from the “Your Money” section of the New York Times walks through the perceived value, or lack thereof, of getting pet insurance. Here’s the TL;DR: Pet insurance is probably not worth it in the same way it’s worth it for humans — except if you get a great deal through your employer. More on that below this list.

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By In General Benefits Knowledge, Uncategorized

My Benefits ‘Intentions’ for 2019 and Beyond

I got an email the other day from someone who referred to what we usually call “resolutions” as “intentions.” I like the change because, confession, I’m not much of a resolution guy. I like goals and do my best to make them both practical and aspirational. With resolutions, it feels more like something you’re told you should do every January 1st because it’s a new year and a new start. OK, great, but that implies that things didn’t go as planned in the previous year, which in turn implies that plans are finite. All of these are true for those who want it to be true. If that’s you, then congratulations on your 2018 goals and good luck in 2019!

For the rest of us, let’s go with “intentions.” It implies that you’re going to do it but not only that — it says that you’ve planned for it, you’re ready for it, it’s going to happen. You intend for it to happen, so it will happen. Go forth and conquer!

With that in mind, here are my three intentions related to benefits in 2019 and beyond, which have been my intentions for years already, through trial and error, consultation, experimentation, and good ol’ luck!

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By In Health Insurance, Individual Health Insurance

Why You Need -Good- Health Coverage

Over the past month, I’ve had a ton of conversations with people who work in and around the health insurance and benefits businesses about what it means to have insurance. A lot of them are surprisingly candid about what’s good about coverage and what’s not, and we look forward to having a lot of them share those thoughts with you to help you plan for a hopefully-early-retirement future.

I’ve also had conversations through social media about whether people who are responsible for finding their own health coverage — self-employed, freelancers, gig workers — should get an expensive ACA plan or get a short-term health plan. I’ll tell you now that, as a 40-something with a wife and kids, short-term coverage is out of the question for me. But the bottom line is that it should, in almost all circumstances, be out of the question for you, too.

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By In Do the Math, Health Insurance, Money-Saving Tips

Get Paid to Get Your Flu Shot! Srsly

We’re well into flu season but it’s never too late (well, if you’ve already gotten the flu, then it’s too late!) to get your flu shot. It occurred to me that some people, possibly even most people, don’t know that flu shots are typically free if you have health insurance. There’s this thing called “essential health benefits” (EHBs) that are provided under the Affordable Care Act, which essentially set a minimum of benefits and services covered by your health insurance. Plus, lots places have started providing extra incentives to get your flu shot, so you could actually come out ahead on taking care of yourself and the public health populi!

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By In Health Financial Accounts, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)

Morningstar’s Retail HSA Rankings Provides Good Insights for Evaluating the Best Fit for FI

Did you know you can pick your health savings account (HSA) provider? If you get your health insurance through your employer, they will likely have a preferred “vendor” for this purpose, which will ensure you have payroll deduction for pre-tax contributions to your HSA (and hopefully an employer contribution as well). It’s almost always a decent option for the convenience.

But in case your employer’s default is only focused on the spending side of your HSA and not the investing side, you might want to look for your own provider. Or if you’re shopping for your own health insurance as an individual and you get a qualified high-deductible health plan (HDHP), you’ll likely have to shop for your own HSA provider as well.

This research from Morningstar outlines some of the key criteria they use to evaluate vendors — things like transparency, transaction and investment fees, and other services. You can read through what they say regarding the evaluation on their blog, and you can go over to this BenefitsPro article to see a bit more on their “top 10” list of providers.

The research is a good reminder that, just like your investment and savings options, it can pay to shop around.

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By In Do the Math, Health Financial Accounts, Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), High-Deductible Health Plan (HDHP)

Why We Talk So Much About HSAs for FI

Confession: It took me a long time to come around to liking HSAs. The analyst in me looked at “consumer-driven health plans” (CDHPs) as not consumer-driven at all but rather a way for employers to get us employees to pay more when we get sick. To be honest, I still feel that way. High-deductible health plans (HDHPs), which is the plan type you must have in order to qualify for a health savings account (HSA), are a hedge that allows employers to shift some of the ever-growing expense of providing insurance to the employees for which they’re providing it. They’re not ideal if you have a family or are thinking of starting one, you have a chronic condition you must manage, if you’re low-income and have an accident — basically anything that requires you to see a doctor or get a prescription or other medical products/services.

But there are caveats that make them pretty ideal if you’re on the FI journey.

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By In Budgeting, Other Voluntary Benefits, Student Loan Debt

The Benefits of Employer-Provided Student Loan Debt Pay-down

Why are an increasing number of employers offering benefits that address financial wellness, including student loan payoff? Simply put, it’s good for their business. A non-distracted workforce equates to more productivity. It is also a powerful recruitment tool.

While there are benefits to employees who are trying to get out from under the yoke of student loan debt, are there better ways to protect one’s financial future? Before you sign up for the company student loan debt repayment benefit, there are some things you need to consider.

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By In Uncategorized

Over 65 and Retired? Here’s the Difference between Medicare Advantage and Medigap (AKA Medicare Supplement)

I still have more than two decades until I’ll be eligible for Medicare and hence eligible to shop for Advantage or Medigap coverage. But I’ve been close enough along the periphery of commercial Medicare coverage that it has become clear to me that selecting a Medicare Advantage/Supplement plan is incredibly complex. I also know that you can literally save — or cost yourself — thousands of dollars annually if you make bad choices.

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