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Keeping track of the latest scams is a lot like playing whack-a-mole. Even as we learn what to watch out for regarding one scam, the scoundrels are busy developing several more ways to steal from you. Often, the people in the crosshairs of thieves are among the most vulnerable, that is, seniors. Here are just a few.

 

New Medicare Cards: They’re Real but Beware the Scam

Across the country, Medicare and Social Security recipients will soon begin receiving new Medicare cards in the mail. That’s true. But there’s also a scam you need to watch for. If the phone rings and the caller claims to represent Medicare or Social Security, beware. The caller may tell you your file must be updated before the card can be issued and they may add that your benefits are in jeopardy if you don’t cooperate. Then the caller asks you to verify or provide personal banking information and possibly more. That information hands them the ability to drain your assets.

Callers may be aggressive, calling several times a day, possibly threatening you with adverse action. The hope, of course, is to wear you down.

Another version of the scam is that the caller will tell you are due for an upgrade of your benefits, if you allow the caller to update your file. And yet another scam includes telling you there is a fee for your new card.

The Social Security Administration and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services want to assure you, they will not call you with a request for personal information. If you get such a call, hang up immediately. Don’t engage callers in conversation. It will be tempting to berate them for attempted theft, but just hang up.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

7500 Security Boulevard

Baltimore, MD 21244

www.cms.gov

 

Social Security Administration

Office of Public Inquiries

1100 West High Rise

6401 Security Boulevard

Baltimore, MD 21235

(800) 772-1213

www.ssa.gov

 

The operators of this scam are engaged in criminal activity. Citizens who receive such calls are also encouraged to report them to the FBI as follows:

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Minneapolis Office

1501 Freeway Boulevard

Brooklyn Center, MN 55430

(763) 569-8000

www.fbi.gov

To find out when your new card is likely to arrive, here’s a list from Medicare.gov

https://clark.com/health-health-care/new-medicare-cards-mailed-dates/

 

Online Prescription Drug Deals

Ordering medications online can be a good, legitimate way to pay less for prescription drugs. But it can also be a scam. Sites that offer significantly “better prices” may not only be fake, but the drugs you receive from them may be harmful. One pharmacist, Ira Katz, says that by definition, prescription drugs are dangerous, which is why they’re controlled. When you buy drugs online from unknown sources, they may not have the same strength you have been prescribed. Or the medication may be outdated, or worse, a placebo, according to Katz.

That’s not to say that all online drug sites are bad. Here are some sites where you should be able to buy Rx drugs online with confidence. Some require membership, such as AAA.com. And some have income limits.

Publix.com – 14 day supply of select antibiotics for FREE.

Walmart.com – 30-day supply of select generic drugs for $4 or a 90-day supply for $10.

Target.com – 30-day supply of select generic drugs for $4 or a 90-day supply for $10 .

NeedyMeds.org – Free drug discount card accepted at over 60,000 pharmacies.

Eli Lilly – Seniors with income of less than $18,000 a year as singles or $24,000 as couples may qualify for a LillyAnswers discount card, and a 30 day supply of certain drugs. You can use the card at CVS, Longs and Wal-Mart pharmacies. Call 1-877-RX-LILLY to apply.

The Medicine Program – This is for people having below $60,000 of income, and no health insurance. Call 573-996-7300 and ask for an application. Or, check the Phrma Web site Phrma.org for a list of drug companies.

TheAssistanceFund.org – This program non-profit can help you pay for medication in
dire situations, whether or not you have insurance.

 

Funeral and Cemetery Scams

Here are two separate scams that the FBI is warning seniors about.

  1. Criminals scour obituaries and call or attend the funeral services for people they don’t know, with the goal of taking advantage of the grieving parties. The scammer will claim to have an outstanding debt owed to them by the deceased, in an effort to get relatives of the deceased to settle the fake debt. Of course it’s entirely possible that your loved ones who pass away leave unsettled debts and some may not be recorded anywhere. But thieves are counting on your vulnerability. If the “creditor” has no proof and there’s no reason to believe they are telling the truth, you need to ignore them. If they become a problem, refer them to your attorney.

  2. Also, though most funeral homes are honorable, some prey on grieving families, attempting to capitalize on the fact that many people aren’t familiar with the cost of funeral services. The scam occurs when someone at the funeral home adds unnecessary charges by insisting on extra features or services that aren’t required, or by trying to “guilt” family members into buying an expensive casket.

    You can avoid this scam by doing some research before agreeing to what is suggested by the funeral home. There is an abundance of information online about average costs. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides an extensive checklist: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0301-funeral-costs-and-pricing-checklist

 

Anti-Aging Products

The late night TV shows that many older people watch feature ads that promise solutions to signs of aging and other physical problems. The National Council on Aging states that many elderly who are lonely and bored fall victim to such scams advertised on TV and online, such as on Facebook. Some include expensive treatments that can be harmful, and others that, while still expensive, have no effect at all other than draining your bank account.

Some of these scams offer free trial offers of products, such as anti-wrinkle creams. You’re probably familiar with the “free offers” that require you to sign up to get the freebie, and they assure you, you can cancel anytime. But let’s face it. Most of us forget to cancel, or find it very hard to do.

Avoid this scam by remembering what you tell your kids… if it sounds too good to be true, it surely is. You can read more about this type of scam on a site called Clark.com, or by clicking here: http://bit.ly/2EAihjE

 

Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

Meet Teresa

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  • author_first Teresa
  • introduction

    The Social Security Administration and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services want to assure you, they will not call you with a request for personal information. If you get such a call, hang up immediately. Don’t engage callers in conversation. It will be tempting to berate them for attempted theft, but just hang up.

  • publish_date_month March
  • publish_date_year 2018
  • author_last Ambord
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Elder housing isn’t what it once was, and thank goodness for that. Between high school and college I’d trained to be a nurse’s aide at our tiny rural hospital, which included a few convalescent beds where the patients were treated like precious commodities. But when I moved to the city for college, I worked part-time in a real convalescent hospital, and it was a nightmare.

Walk in the front door of that nursing home and the first thing that hit you was the smell of urine. Too many patients and too few staff to adequately care for them meant the residents were miserable much of the time. It was dreadful for all concerned, but mostly for the patients who were so dependent on us.

These days, elder care has become a booming industry and senior facilities have stepped up to meet the demand, in most cases, with excellent care. The older I get, the more friends and family members I have that need the various levels of senior care, from temporary stays in rehab hospitals, to independent living, to full nursing care. And in each facility or level of care, I’ve been wowed at how good the care is.

Now, if anything the choices may be too many. If you foresee that you or a loved one will soon be needing some degree of long-term care, it might be a good idea to start looking at the options.

 

First: What Level of Care are You Considering?

Here’s a breakdown of the major types of facilities.

  1. Independent living. These are best for people who can live on their own, don’t have specific medical care needs, but want convenience. Independent living communities offer such
    niceties as meal preparation, housekeeping, housekeeping, security, and may have on-site beauty parlors and barbers, clubs, church services, buses to take them shopping and transportation to appointments.  Residents can make use of all or none of those things.
  2. Assisted living facilities. These are for people who need some medical care. They include everything offered by an independent living facility, but also provide help with managing
    medications when needed, and with activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, grooming. Some assisted living homes are apartment-like settings, and others are more institutional.
  3. Nursing homes. These are homes for people who need round the clock nursing care, and other support services. If this is the level of home you are considering, it’s important to
    inquire about how emergency care is provided. How available are physicians? Are staff members certified in CPR? What are the qualifications of nurses that provide direct patient care? How does the nursing home deal with family visits? Are visits restricted? How are patients with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s cared for?

This information should be available from the local Area Agency on Aging. Also, ask the patient’s doctor, nurses, therapists if they would recommend a particular place. You may be able to ask your own doctor, as news of substandard care travels fast in the medical community. Doctors may be reluctant to actually criticize a facility, so you may have to judge by the doctor’s hesitation to recommend that facility. Also ask social workers and relatives and friends.

 

Keep the Patient Involved in the Decision-Making Process if Possible

I have a friend whose husband is inching towards what seems to be inevitable dementia. While he can still participate in the decision, the two of them are visiting a wide variety of facilities. In fact, when the time comes, they might both move into a facility where she can live with him, perhaps an assisted living home, until he needs a great deal more care.

If your – or a loved one’s – need for a care facility is still off in the future, you might consider doing the same. That is, let the future patient participate in the decision of where they will eventually live.

 

What to Consider

If you go “facility shopping,” here are a few points to give special attention to:

  • Cleanliness. To the extent possible, observe hygiene. It shouldn’t be hard to notice if residents are being neglected.
  • Staff. Does the number of staff seem adequate to manage the number of patients? That’s not to say that employees aren’t hopping busy, but the staff-to-patient ratio should be such that all patients get bathed and receive other personal attention they need. The same is true not just for nursing care, but also general maintenance and kitchen staff.
  • Services. What are the patient’s special needs? Be sure the facility provides for those needs. For example, a patient may require the use of a lift machine to get in and out of bed. Many will need physical therapy and/or a gym where they can go to strengthen their limbs. How are supplies paid for? If supply costs are added to the patient’s bill, are the costs reasonable? Are there regular increases in costs? Hidden charges? Obviously meals are a key service. If you’re considering a facility you should visit it during a meal time and observe if meals are served in a relaxed manner and if plenty of food is available.

 

Get the Unseen Story

Don’t accept any facility without first checking its financially stability, record of legal compliance, and quality of management. Facilities aren’t likely to be perfect, but significant problems in any of these areas may lead to trouble finding sufficient staff of qualified health professionals.

Find out if the facility has current valid state and local licenses, and liability and malpractice insurance.

Ask to review state inspection reports and investigate whether they have lawsuits pending.

 

Sidebar: What Would I Have to Pay for Long-Term Care?

Every year, Genworth Financial does a “Cost of Care Survey” that measures the average costs for most levels of care for seniors or other people who need a little help, or a lot of help. Here are the results of the 2017 survey. Costs, says Genworth, rose an average of 4.5% between 2016 and 2017. The biggest increase was seen in the cost of home health aide care.

Here are the average costs in the nation, and the percentage of increase from the prior year:

  • Home health aide services, $21.50 per hour (up 6.17%)
  • Homemaker services, $21/hour (up 4.75%)
  • Adult day health care services, $70/day (up 2.94%) 
  • Assisted living facilities, $123/day or $3,750/month (up 3.36%)
  • Semi-private room nursing home care, $235/day or $7,148/month (up 4.44%)
  • Private room nursing home care, $267/day or $8,121/month (up 5.50%).

Why do this study every year? David O’Leary, the CEO of Genworth’s US Life Division says it’s to raise awareness about the cost of aging and help start the conversation about planning for long term care.” He points out that with most people preferring to remain at home as long as possible, “the good news is that home care is still more affordable than nursing home care."

You can check the average costs in your state on this site: https://www.genworth.com/about-us/industry-expertise/cost-of-care.html

 

Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

Meet Teresa

Additional Info

  • author_first Teresa
  • introduction

    The older I get, the more friends and family members I have that need the various levels of senior care, from temporary stays in rehab hospitals, to independent living, to full nursing care. And in each facility or level of care, I’ve been wowed at how good the care is.

  • publish_date_month March
  • publish_date_year 2018
  • author_last Ambord
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Harold was an “Old Goat.” He was in his late 80s and had served as a sailor aboard an aircraft carrier sunk by the Japanese during World War II. He and his wife Betty were both well-liked in their home town of Stephenville, Texas. They were friendly, personable and upbeat people.

However, Harold was well known around town as a practical joker. He was a member of a group of elderly gentlemen who met six days a week for morning coffee. They called themselves “The Old Goats.” The other individuals of this group were frequent victims of Harold’s trickery. The group was made up of physicians, educators, a minister, farmers, ranchers, and even one chicken-sexer.

So, one morning as he entered the Dairy Queen (the Old Goat’s meeting place) he was greeted by a woman in a short-skirted, low-cut, scarlet dress with flounces, a wildly floral hat, and spiked heels.

Between smacks of her bubble gum she chirped through her heavily applied make-up, “Hiya, Big Boy. Y’lookin’ for company this morning?”

Harold was undone. He was completely discombobulated to the delight of his wife and the other Old Goats who had assembled for the fun.

That was the beginning of my association with the Old Goats. I was the woman who had greeted him that morning with the connivance of the store manager, a couple of the group, and Betty.

The members were so gleeful over the trickster being tricked, they unanimously voted me into the Old Goats, the first and only female member, and designated me as “Chief Nanny.”

As one of my hobbies was the collection of period costumes, two other characters emerged from my alter-persona: Sarah Palin and an angel. The Palin character would show up on election days or holidays always carrying Trig in the form of a baby doll.

The angel appeared to any Old Goat when he was hospitalized. One awoke from a nap to find the “angel” at the foot of his bed and declared to all that he had died and visited heaven.

Whatever the occasion, the Old Goats always seemed to enjoy and be uplifted by these characters. This, of course, made me feel better – a clear case of a double winner.

The editor of the local paper was a close friend of several of the Old Goats, so that made it easy to get press coverage for our antics. An example was the time a 93-year-old member got engaged. I brought out my convertible and carried the man and his bride-to-be around town to show off the newly engaged couple. Only in a small town with an obliging editor would this be possible.

At Christmas, the annual Christmas brunches were among my favorite times with the Goats. Each had its own theme. The last one was “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” Each was asked to bring a personal photo to be included in the display. Since most of the group were veterans of World War II, their photos brought to tie in with the “Home for Christmas” theme were especially poignant.  One to submit a photo was Mike, a Japanese-American who served in the U.S. Army. He was so touched that his photo was received along with the others that he broke down and wept. He then revealed that his brother had also served in the war – but with the Japanese military.

Over the years we lost members due to old age and its complications. So, I painted a picture of an Old Goat gone on to greener pastures. The picture was placed in their meeting room along with a plaque bearing the names of those who had gone on before. Today, the plaque has grown larger, and there are only a few of the original membership still around. But, memories remain strong, bright and vital.

My husband and I have moved from Stephenville to be closer to our family. I know that, over the years, I gained more from the Old Goats than I gave, and I miss them all. Their memories stay strong on my mind and are deeply treasured. They were all true gentlemen-of-the-old-school. During my recent bout with cancer, they flooded me with activities, well-wishes and prayers.

Thank you, Old Goats, for the friendship and fellowship which is such a large part of the small town living experience.

Additional Info

  • author_first Jan
  • introduction

    The members were so gleeful over the trickster being tricked, they unanimously voted me into the Old Goats, the first and only female member, and designated me as “Chief Nanny.”

  • publish_date_month March
  • publish_date_year 2018
  • author_last Johnson
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We have the best of both worlds.

Billy and I often leave the U.S. for months at a time to visit exotic locations. We set up a home base on the other side of the globe and settle into the local community. Then, due to visa restrictions or a desire to see family and friends once again, we return home to America’s stunning Southwest.

We are able to live this footloose life with comfort and ease, and without breaking the bank. Although our choice may not fit everyone’s idea of The Perfect Domicile, it works spectacularly well for us.

We live in an active adult community. Sometimes they are called master planned communities, active resort living, or even age-qualified villages. These culturally-rich, low-maintenance enclaves are springing up all over our nation as well as in exotic locations such as Panama, Mexico and Thailand. With baby boomers turning their attention towards retirement, building these villages has become quite a lucrative business, with fierce competition for our domicile dollar.

There are many reasons why we choose this style of living.

  • Value for money spent.
  • Lots of activities, amenities and neighborhood involvement.
  • Clean environment, manicured gardens.
  • Release from the burden of high property taxes.
  • Savings on home owners insurance.
  • Savings on transportation
  • >Reasonable maintenance costs.
  • Safety.

Perhaps one or more of these points appeal to you.

 

Value for Money Spent

I realize that some people feel that manufactured housing aren't real homes, that they are like toys, or somehow, inferior places to live. These types of houses have improved greatly over the years, and the attractiveness of their affordability has been proven by their rise in sales.

Our home is paid for so we don't carry a mortgage with the financial weight that this brings to any lifestyle. It is a very attractive arrangement and it frees us up to roam the world, renting apartments or hotel rooms without thought of draining our finances in the housing category of our budget.

However, there are lots of options in these communities. You can spend a few thousand dollars for a place – or millions. You can choose to lease the property or buy the lot and build from the ground up. It all depends on your personal needs for freedom or security.

Some places offer memberships to country clubs and championship golf courses, and most usually have a long list of amenities such as full-time lifestyle directors, organized social
clubs, dinners, and ballrooms for dancing, computer center with free Wi-Fi, and state-of-the-art fitness rooms and spas, swimming pools, tennis courts. Plus lapidaries, billiard halls, card rooms, athletic pro shops, sewing rooms, libraries, softball fields, language and lecture halls, travel offices and theaters. To join all these organizations independently or to pay for the real estate to house rooms for your own private equipment adds up quickly. Our full access to these outstanding options and all the apparatus needed is covered in our lifestyle fees.

We live close to both college and professional sports arenas, have world-class shopping nearby, and an international airport for quick getaways. Living in a breathtaking residential environment gives us extraordinary value.

 

Tax and Insurance Relief

In our location we have chosen to lease the land on which our home stands –  a common option that many retirees prefer. However, some readers have challenged us directly asking, "How can you not own the property itself? Don't you feel at the mercy of rent rising without your control? Property values always go up, and aren't you being foolhardy?"

These are excellent questions. However, many people don’t realize how expensive owning a home is. So much of the costs seem hidden or taken for granted. The maintenance required and rising property taxes are expenses that cannot be ignored. We have lived here since the early 1990s, and our lifestyle fees are less than most homeowner's property tax bill. During these many years, our lease has increased, but it is still a value for all of the amenities included. Another benefit is that our home owners insurance has not doubled as it has in other locations in the country due to being in the path of a natural disaster.

Owning less and being lighter also allows you to insure for less. It is common now for
developers to attract residents by touting their tax-friendly state; not owning the property itself loosens up thousands of dollars a year for other activities such as travel, gifts for the grandchildren, or pursuing hobbies.

 

Savings on Transportation and Maintenance Costs

Having entertainment and dining options nearby or within walking distance saves a surprising amount on transportation costs. Granted, we do travel the world, but Billy and I did the math, and our average miles driven per year had been 1,200. This is a huge cutback on gasoline charges, and wear and tear on our vehicle. We even received an insurance discount based on the few miles that we drove per year. Eventually, we became car-free.

We like to bike or walk to many locations and this helps us keep fit and active. Many of our neighbors utilize their golf carts or motorbikes to run their errands. Of course we drove to the grocery store when we needed to stock up, but when we only wanted a few items, we'd grab a daypack, walk to the nearest upscale grocery store in our neighborhood and load up our pack.

Although we are responsible for the maintenance of our home and personal gardens, the responsibility for maintaining the whole resort does not belong to us. We don't worry if the pool heater breaks down, if a piece of equipment in the fitness room needs replacing or when to update the lounge chairs, tables and umbrellas by the pool. We don't resurface our tennis courts or re-felt the billiard tables, and we don't trim the hundreds of palm trees or re-coat and maintain the roads in our village. It's all taken care of – yes, paid for in our lifestyle fees.

 

Safety

I don't fret about my personal safety here in our resort. For instance, recently Billy took off for a trip to Mexico. I chose to stay at home and enjoy the awesome autumn weather we get here at this time of year and to catch up on some projects.

One morning I found myself awake at 3:30 a.m. At 4, I decided to take an early morning walk. I felt completely safe, and it never crossed my mind to feel otherwise. In fact, I met other neighbors who were walking their dogs waiting to catch the sunrise. Being anxiety-free walking my neighborhood alone, in the dark, at this time of morning is a rare feeling when Billy and I visit in many cities and towns across the globe.

For the numerous singles here in our community, having the familiarity of neighbors close by is comforting.

Why not open your mind to the options that are available to you at this time in your life? You may just find that a lighter financial weight appeals to you in more ways than you imagined. Or if you still prefer a traditional home, the communities to choose from will certainly expand your social horizons.  

 

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. Their books, "The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement" and "Your Retirement Dream IS Possible" are available on their website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com or on Amazon.com.    

Additional Info

  • author_first Billy and Akaisha
  • introduction

    Although we are responsible for the maintenance of our home and personal gardens, the responsibility for maintaining the whole resort does not belong to us. We don't worry if the pool heater breaks down, if a piece of equipment in the fitness room needs replacing or when to update the lounge chairs, tables and umbrellas by the pool.

  • publish_date_month March
  • publish_date_year 2018
  • author_last Kaderli
  • Column_Title Passport Perspectives
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Vacation photos are extraordinary. You can gaze upon your family’s smiling faces in Kodak-moment locations, while the lost luggage, the overpriced dinner, the underwhelming hotel, or the rude taxi driver fade into memory. No matter how perfectly planned and executed are your special times, perfect moments are rarely as perfect as we imagined they would be. Contrarily, ordinary moments can be sublime.One day I sat out on my patio for lunch. Suddenly I felt so peaceful that I wanted to clutch the air. A pair of squirrels raced noisily through the dry leaves. I heard woodpeckers’ harsh calls from the oaks while

What’s remarkable is that this occurred on the heels of a terrible time. It was less than two months the largest wildfire in California history, a fire that forced my husband and me to evacuate for 12 days,and came within a mile of our home.

It was less than a month since our son had suffered a long hospitalization due to a chronic illness. We had spent Christmas Day through January 2 dealing with the emergency room, testing, insurance, doctors, and providing games and New Year’s Eve decorations to lighten the mood.

It was less than two weeks since a half-inch of rain fell in five minutes on the scarred slopes of the mountains behind the community, triggering a mudslide that killed 23 and left hundreds homeless, several of them close friends.

After weeks of dark clouds, I experienced this moment, like I was taking my first deep breaths, like a newborn. I recognized this feeling – it’s like the day after a vicious migraine. I am totally spent but simultaneously euphoric. These didn’t beat me. I am still alive.

I can only be grateful for this out-of-the-blue intense emotion. My joy de vivre was no more deserved that the previous weeks’ events were undeserved. But it helped me remember that perfect happiness can’t be bought or even earned. It can only be recognized, upheld, and cherished for as long as it lasts.

I can think of other sublime ordinary times. There is the satisfaction of concentrated writing or working intensely on a client’s financial plan. Time flies or floats until I wake from a near trance. My thoughts have imprinted directly on the page seemingly without having to transpose through imperfect typing fingers or imprecise translation to words.

Physical work can be equally satisfying. My husband and I dismantled our woodpile not long ago, moving it to further from the house in our fire-prone neighborhood. I donned my work-worn gloves, and we toiled together.

The satisfying clack of kindling sticks hitting each other reminded me of a game from half a century ago. Two kids would hold either end of two long sticks close to the ground, clapping them together and apart while a third hopped among them.

I love discovering one of these long-buried pleasant memories. Perhaps it’s not sublime, but a more reliable source of happiness than my younger self’s need for thrill and adventure.

I hope this is what Heaven will be like: a oneness with the universe that doesn’t ignore life’s difficulties but is at peace with them. The peace that surpasses all understanding that is promised in the New Testament’s Philippians. The feeling that I can meet the challenges, and then rest on the seventh day.

This is my seventh day and I am resting with tears of sadness and joy. The sadness is for the tragedy and illness that has happened not just on the news but in my community, to my friends and my family. The joy is that, as long as I am alive there can be deep satisfaction alongside the deep sadness

I’m reaching for perfect moments in the kind words of strangers, the touch of a friend, and even the optometrist who provides discounted glasses for the ones that disappeared over the course of the evacuation madness.

I found perfect moments in a tearful meal for a book club member who lost her home but was spared her life. The gathering reinforced my appreciation for the intrinsic humanity of people within the intrinsic power of nature.

Once in a while, when you have no expectation but great need, you may have such a Kodak moment: a rainbow in time. Between storms, grab a rainbow.

 

Karen Telleen-Lawton is grateful to serve seniors  and pre-seniors as the Principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory in Santa Barbara, California (http://www.DecisivePath.com). You can reach her with your financial planning questions or Gratitudes comments at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Meet Karen

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  • author_first Karen
  • introduction

    What’s remarkable is that this occurred on the heels of a terrible
    time. It was less than two months the largest wildfire in California
    history, a fire that forced my husband and me to evacuate for 12 days,and came within a mile of our home.

  • publish_date_month March
  • publish_date_year 2018
  • author_last Telleen-Lawton
  • Column_Title Financial Fortitude
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The long awaited, hotly debated tax reform bill finally passed and was signed into law on December 22. During the months of debate between the House and Senate versions of the bill, there was a lot of confusion about what was proposed, what was eliminated, and what made the final cut. The IRS even published the changes that were anticipated and relied upon, but are now changed.

Known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), it affects most everyone in various ways. Here are several parts of the final bill that will affect everyone who files tax returns, and some that will affect seniors more than most.

 

Personal and dependency exemptions and standard deductions.

Beginning in 2018 there is no such thing as a personal and dependency exemption, as these are eliminated. (In 2017 these exemptions were $4,050.) Standard deductions nearly doubled. They are:

  • $12,000 for singles (up from $6,350 in 2017)
  • $24, 000 for married couples (up from $12,700 in 2017)
  • $18,000 for heads of household (up from $9,350 in 2017)
    There is still an additional amount of standard deduction allowed for the blind and elderly.
    The amount of the additional deduction is expected to be:  
    – $1,300 individuals who are age 65 and over or blind (and married). So a married couple where both are at least 65 can claim an extra $2,600.
    – $1,600 for those who are age 65 and over or blind (and single).


The estate tax exemption

Previously you may have heard that the federal estate tax exemption would rise to $5.60 million, and the estate tax rate would remain at 40%. In fact, the estate tax rate did remain at 40%, but after the dust settled, the estate tax exemption rose to a whopping $11.2 million (this is the expected exemption, but still not finalized as it is based on inflation).

That’s great news for family farms and other businesses that are property- and equipment- rich but cash-poor. Critics say this benefits the wealthy, but, too often, these businesses are forced to sell everything, including the family home, just to pay the punishing death taxes, on already-taxed assets. And of course, when businesses are sold, jobs may be lost. A higher estate exemption protects those jobs and keeps the wheels of commerce running.

With all that said, if there’s a loser in the estate tax changes, it could be charities. Why? Because many people who use charitable contributions (including charitable trusts) to minimize the possibly of being hit with estate tax will not need to do that. Also, there’s a disincentive to itemize deductions (of which charitable donations is one), since the standard deduction nearly doubled. By some estimates, charitable donations could decline between $4.9 billion and $13.1 billion. Of course, most people donate to charities that touch their hearts, so let’s hope donations remain high.

 

Speaking of charities…

Some politicians warned that in the new tax bill, our ability to deduct charitable contributions would disappear or be limited. That didn’t happen. Instead, donations that were previously limited to 50% of your adjusted gross income (AGI) can now be made up to 60% of AGI.

 

Medical expense deduction

Here’s a good turn for many seniors who have high out-of-pocket medical expenses. Again, some fretted that the medical expense deduction was going away. But good news… it got better. You may know already that you can only take a deduction for the amount of medical expenses that exceed a certain percentage of your adjustable gross income (AGI). For decades that percentage was 7.5%, which is a high hurdle for many taxpayers. Then in 2013, it became an even higher hurdle, rising to 10% for younger taxpayers. And for 2017, it rose to 10% for all
taxpayers, regardless of age. Thanks to the TCJA, this deduction reverts back to 7.5% for all taxpayers for all of 2017 and 2018.

 

Alimony loses its tax effect

If you pay alimony (under a legal order) you know it is tax deductible. If you receive alimony, you know that you must claim that amount as taxable income. However, the rules are about to change and disappear. For divorce settlements that occur after 2018 (or for existing settlements that are substantially modified after January 1, 2018), those who pay alimony can no longer deduct the amounts paid, and those who receive alimony do not have to claim those amounts as taxable income.

 

State and local taxes

There’s a lot of talk about losing your ability to deduct state and local and property tax. To some extent that is true, if your state and local and property taxes combined exceed $10,000, which is the new limit ($5,000 if you are married and file separately). Previously you could deduct an unlimited amount of personal state and local income and property taxes, or state and local general sales taxes if that benefitted you more (the option to claim general sales tax is still available, subject to the $10,000 limit).

 

Don’t delay

There are many other changes in the TCJA that may affect you so talk it over with your CPA or tax preparer. Keep in mind, with all the changes rolling in, your advisors are going to be busier than ever this year. Call early to get an appointment so you can get your tax ducks in a row.

 

Teresa Ambord calls herself a recovering accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, surrounded by her small dog posse.

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  • author_first Teresa
  • introduction

    Known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), it affects most everyone in various ways. Here are several parts of the final bill that will affect everyone who files tax returns, and some that will affect seniors more than most.

  • publish_date_month February
  • publish_date_year 2018
  • author_last Ambord
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IRS impostor schemes are always in search of victims, but even more so during tax filing season. That’s because from January through mid-April, every year, the IRS is top-of-mind; for many of us, like an unwelcome guest that won’t leave.

Low income or high, most of us are dealing with the IRS in some way. Assuming you file a tax return, you’re waiting for a refund, trying to calculate and minimize your tax bill, or seeking advice from someone with more tax knowledge than you have. So when the phone rings and the caller ID says IRS, even the strongest men may go weak in the knees and may fall for a scam call. That’s why, if you have elderly parents or friends, especially those who live on their own, you need to warn them about bogus calls from the IRS that could cost them dearly.

Michael Raanan, former IRS agent (now the president of Landmark Tax Group in California) says that the IRS telephone scam is one of the most pervasive scams out there, right now, and those criminals tend to target seniors. Even tax professionals themselves are sometimes fooled by these schemes, in fact, the former director of the IRS himself got a scam call. I was an accountant for years, and an Enrolled Agent with the IRS, and now I write warnings about scams every month. Yet when my phone rang and it was an angry “I’m from the IRS” robo-call, it took me aback for a moment. I typed the phone number into a browser and up came a list of complaints from others who had gotten these calls. I sent the phone number to the IRS scam line and then deleted it.

Every year, the IRS reminds us to beware of these calls. But scammers continually change their tactics, just enough that they will fool some more people. Lately it seems, they’ve been using this scenario: the phone rings, with a caller ID saying it’s the IRS. The “agent” gives a fake badge number to add credibility. The caller doesn’t ask to speak to anyone particular (or it might be a robo-call), and begins aggressively accusing the victim of being delinquent on his or her tax bill. If you don’t pay immediately, using a gift card or wire transfer, says the caller, you face possible arrest, deportation, loss of your driver license, or worse. It’s unnerving, and many people fall for it because it happens too fast to think clearly.

 

Some Variations on the Scheme

Taking a counter-approach, instead of demanding payment, callers may inform you that you’re due for a refund. That’s good news! But first, the agent needs to verify that he’s reached the right person, and asks you to identify yourself with details such as your Social Security number. Oh, and, the only way this refund can be paid out is by direct deposit. So you’ll need to supply your bank account information.

Fake agents may also call and, in a very reasonable tone, simply tell you that he (or she) has your tax return in hand, but there are a few unclear details you need to clear up. The bogus agent may know some things about you, such as your marital status and the last four digits of your Social Security number, and ask you to prove you are you, by supplying the rest of your Social Security number, which he says he is looking at on the tax return you filed. Obviously, the agent is phishing for your identity.

Once again, the IRS reminds us:

  • The IRS does not initiate contact with a taxpayer by phone, email, or social media. If they need to talk to you, they will generally contact you by snail mail first.
  • IRS agents don’t call to demand immediate payment, especially with a particular method (such as a wire transfer, gift card).
  • They will not demand payment without giving you a chance to question the amount they claim you owe.
  • hey will not ask for credit/debit/bank account numbers on the phone or by email.

The IRS adds this: if you don’t owe tax or have no reason to believe that you might owe tax, hang up the phone immediately. Don’t give out any information, don’t vent your anger, and don’t follow the caller’s directions, such as “press 1 to speak to a supervisor.

If you think you may indeed owe taxes, hang up. Then call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 and ask for help.

If you receive an email that claims to be from the IRS and you suspect it’s a fake, forward it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . The IRS is overwhelmed with such messages, but they do keep track of
which scams are heating up, and that allows them to designate resources to stop the scammers. Forwarding a fake IRS message could make you an unsung hero, but a hero nonetheless.

 

Teresa Ambord calls herself a recovering accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, surrounded by her small dog posse.

Meet Teresa

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  • author_first Teresa
  • introduction

    The IRS telephone scam is one of the most pervasive scams outthere, right now, and those criminals tend to target seniors. Even tax professionals themselves are sometimes fooled by these schemes, in fact, the former director of the IRS himself got a scam call.

  • publish_date_month February
  • publish_date_year 2018
  • author_last Ambord
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Dear Jonathan: My husband recently died and since we jointly owned all of our assets, there was no probate estate. It was quite a relief to avoid having his estate go through probate. I would like my estate to pass directly to my daughter and my son without having to go through probate first. Consequently, I am thinking of adding my daughter’s name to the title of all of my assets making her a joint owner. It is my understanding that if I do this then, upon my death, all of my assets will be owned by my daughter without the necessity of probate. My daughter has agreed that upon my death
she will split the assets with her brother. Is there any reason why I should not do this?

Jonathan Says: Yes. Adding your daughter’s name to the title of your assets may help your estate avoid probate, but it could create a host of other problems. First of all, if you don’t use the proper terminology when adding your daughter’s name to the title of your assets, you will inadvertently create a tenancy in common with your daughter. A tenancy in common means that each of you will own a one-half interest in those assets and as a result, upon your death your one-half interest will need to be probated. 

Further, even if you title the assets correctly so that those assets will be owned outright by your daughter upon your death without first having to go through probate, if she were to predecease you, then you, as the survivor, will once again be the sole owner of those assets and those assets will need to be probated upon your death.

Besides the above-referenced problems, putting your daughter’s name on the title of your assets could be problematic for several reasons including the following:

  1. If your daughter gets divorced after your death but prior to her dividing the assets with her brother, those assets could get tangled up in her divorce and become part of the marital settlement.
  2. If your daughter dies prior to dividing the assets with her brother, those assets will pass as part of her estate and unless her brother is a beneficiary of her estate, he will not get a share of those assets.
  3. Your daughter will be taxed on the income earned by assets between the date of your death and the date your daughter splits the assets with her brother.
  4. When you add your daughter’s name to the titles of your assets, you are in effect making a gift to her of one-half of the value of those assets and you will incur a gift tax on the amount of that gift in excess of the annual gift tax exclusion amount, which is currently $14,000. You will also be required to file a gift tax return with the IRS to report the gift. Your daughter will have to deal with the same issues when she divides the assets with her brother.
  5. Your daughter will legally own of all of the assets upon your death and as a result she will not be legally obligated to share any of those assets with her brother.

There are better ways to achieve probate avoidance that you should consider. One of those ways would be for you to create a trust during your lifetime which, upon your death, divides the trust assets between your son and your daughter in equal shares. In order for your assets to avoid probate, however, you will need to either transfer your assets to the trust during your lifetime or for certain qualifying assets, you can name the trust as the beneficiary to receive those assets upon your death. By taking these steps, not only will those assets avoid probate at your death but all the potential complications referenced above will be avoided.

I recommend that you meet with an estate planning attorney who can review this with you in more detail and make appropriate recommendations to you. Good luck.

 

Jonathan J. David is a shareholder in the law firm of Foster, Swift, Collins & Smith, PC, 1700 East Beltline, N.E., Grand Rapids, Michigan 49525.

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  • author_first Jonathan J.
  • publish_date_month February
  • publish_date_year 2018
  • author_last David
  • Column_Title Legal Ease
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Pledging to keep good intentions for ourselves and for others are, after all, exactly what resolutions are all about. This tradition of making promises to oneself is not new to humanity if we take a brief look at the past.

As far as history reveals, the ancient Babylonians about 4,000 years ago were the first to celebrate each year and to make resolutions which most often included returning borrowed farm equipment since their new year coincided with the planting of crops in mid-March. A 12-day festival also ensued when subjects pledged allegiance to their king, and promised to pay all debts in addition to return all borrowed items. If these promises were kept, the pagan gods would bestow blessings upon them.

It wasn’t until the Roman emperor Julius Caesar decided to change the calendar to coincide with the sun that there was to be a year beginning on January 1st. The god Janus gracing arches and doorways had special symbolical significance to the Romans with one face looking back into the old year and with the other face looking forward into the year ahead. Of course the ancient Romans celebrated and also made promises of good behavior to their deity.

Over time, the early Christians regarded January 1st as a time of reflection upon the past year’s transgressions and of declaration to do better in the upcoming year. The tradition of a renewal night (New Year’s Eve) began in the 1700s with religious readings, hymns, and making resolutions – and is still a continued activity in several evangelical Christian denominations today.

So here we are in the modern world where New Year’s celebrations are mostly secular and promises are made to ourselves primarily for self-improvement. Several days, weeks or several months after our own resolutions have been made they are broken. Perhaps we need to look at the reason why this happens.

Instead of focusing upon a huge, realistically unattainable goal to correct what we see as a negative – “I’m going to lose 40 lbs” or “I’m going to exercise for an hour at the gym every single day” – we need to be positive and we need to celebrate the small victories. Look to the past, look to the present and look to the future for your inspiration for your resolutions.

Is there an activity that you used to love but haven’t taken part in lately? A realistic resolution would be to give it a go, and if you physically can no longer perform, then adapt. Can’t run? Then walk. Add the resolve to be more mindful, to enjoy every moment. Remember those childhood days of walking barefoot, skipping in the rain, catching snowflakes on your tongue, or stargazing after sunset? Resolve to do something simple even if it’s just once this year.

Is there a skill that you want to learn or try out? Surely some of us would love to dance but realistically we won’t ever be competing on “Dancing with the Stars.” Remember to adapt. Give line dancing a try – work your feet and your mind. And speaking of your mind, maybe you would like to try a strategy game (chess) or a language (sign language) or a new sport (pickleball) or to further your education (auditing classes).

Is there something on your bucket list that you can do this year? Does it take some planning? Want to take a road trip? Perhaps you have always wanted to skydive or hang glide or ride a hot air balloon or scuba dive – all of which can be done tandem! Perhaps your bucket list is a bit more down to earth with a resolve to mentor a child in a local school, or to volunteer with a local ecological program in a cleanup program, or to perform random acts of kindness quietly/anonymously or merely to express gratitude to someone for a job well done.

Resolutions simply need to be positive, realistic and easily attainable. Resolutions don’t need to be merely January 1st promises. After all, the Babylonians made theirs in mid-March. We can reset our goals anytime – a holiday, a birthday, a season. Don’t abandon this wonderful tradition but adapt your intentions and definitely celebrate the small successes.

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  • author_first K. F.
  • introduction

    Resolutions simply need to be positive, realistic and easily attainable. Resolutions don’t need to be merely January 1st promises. After all, the Babylonians made theirs in mid-March. We can reset our goals anytime – a holiday, a birthday, a season.

  • publish_date_month February
  • publish_date_year 2018
  • author_last Donahue
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Life does have its ups and downs, doesn't it?

A person can be on top one day with his dreams coming true and pockets full of cash. The sky is the limit. And then it all comes crashing down. What happened?

Although everyone experiences what I am talking about sooner or later, it seems to be especially true of gamblers. Anyone who has lived any length of time eventually comes up with certain rules he follows, a lifestyle philosophy that he tries to adhere to.

It all depends on our background and early life experiences, but we live and learn and make adjustments to the way we live in order to gain the maximum benefits from life.

I have always been a positive thinker. My daughter asks me, “Dad, how can you wake up so cheerful every morning. Don't you ever have a bad day?”

I respond, “Not on purpose. If I ever do, I don't want to show it.” And I generally don't.

It helps, of course, to surround yourself with positive people. As a journalist and magazine writer, I have had the opportunity to interview some of the world's most successful people – individuals whose golden touch won them fame and fortune that lie beyond the grasp of most individuals.

I met Og Mandino, probably the world's great motivational author of best-selling books, in Phoenix, Arizona, in the early 1980s. He was living in Paradise Valley, an affluent suburb of Phoenix. His next door neighbors included legendary track star Jesse Owens, syndicated newscaster Paul Harvey and insurance billionaire W. Clement Stone.

Mandino had worked as editor of Stone's nationally circulated magazine “Success Unlimited” while writing his books. He had also developed a taste for alcohol that turned into an addiction. Mandino eventually beat his alcoholism and went on to write huge best selling books like The Greatest Salesman in the World, The Greatest Secret in the World and my personal favorite The Greatest Miracle in the World.

Og believed in God. During one of our luncheons, he told me that automatic writing flowed through his writing regularly when he was at his typewriter. He said he would literally fall asleep at his typewriter and when he awoke, the writing would be there and he had no recollection of writing the wordsThat was how the “God Memorandum” was produced, he said.

The God Memorandum includes the four rules of life that I personally have adopted as my own. I have observed them closely for years. When I follow them, things turn out good for me. When I don't, I need healing. Boy, do I need healing.

Rule number one is: Count your blessings daily.

All people are blessed in one way or another and for us to operate at our optimum we need to appreciate those blessings on a daily basis. That gives us an optimism for living and builds good karma in our lives.

Rule number two: Go the extra mile, always.

How many times has a relative, friend or even a stranger approached us with an idea to improve our lives, whether physically, economically or spiritually, and we blew that person off with a comment like, “Let me think about it. I'll tell you later.”

Mandino took the position that if a person fails to go the extra mile, he cheats him of a possible opportunity that could lead to greatness in its many forms.

Rule number three is a personal favorite of mine: Proclaim your rarity. Don't follow the herd mentality. Dare to be different. Each person is a walking, talking miracle who, unfortunately, rarely reaches the heights that are possible within him. The ones who do proclaim their rarity are like laser beams reaching into outer space. Nobody is capable of estimating how far those beams will project.

Rule number four is the toughest one for most of us. If you are capable of following it and using it for your benefit, you are far ahead of the average person. Rule number four is “Use wisely your powers of choice.”

I was playing in a Texas Hold'em no-limit poker tournament not long ago and raised with A-K suited in hearts. The flop came A-3-7, with one heart. I came out betting and got two callers. A nine fell on fourth street and it was a heart. I increased my bet.

One player folded and the other went all in.

Wow!

There I was with a pair of aces and four hearts. It was plainly obvious that the other player had me beat, either with trips or two pair. He had sufficient chips to put me all in. I knew I was beat. The question was simple: should I call or fold?

Hey, rule number four, are you listening?

I made the wrong choice. I called. I failed to pick up a second pair on fifth street and no heart fell. The player beat me with two pairs and knocked me out of the tournament.

Rule number four is the most powerful rule you will ever have in your arsenal of life's weapons.

Use it wisely and be a winner.

 

Geno Lawrenzi Jr. is an international journalist who has worked in many parts of the United States as well as the Caribbean on newspapers and magazines. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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  • author_first Geno
  • introduction

    Proclaim your rarity. Don't follow the herd mentality. Dare to be different. Each person is a walking, talking miracle who, unfortunately, rarely reaches the heights that are possible within him.

  • publish_date_month February
  • publish_date_year 2018
  • author_last Lawrenzi, Jr.
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Of course, there’s no way to repay or adequately thank those who have served our country in the military, or the families who muddled through without them while they served. But a lot of businesses take it upon themselves to give a nod to military personnel with a discount on Veterans Day and some, more often.

Thanks to a list provided mostly by Country Living Magazine, a site called bradsdeals.com, and other resources, here are dozens of restaurants, plus a few other businesses that take discounts for our veterans seriously.

Before you go, remember these points:

1. Unless otherwise stated, be aware that you’ll need to present valid military ID of present or former military service.

2. Also realize that some locations of each restaurant do not participate, so don’t depend on a discount unless it’s been verified. Some discounts are by state, and some vary by the franchise owner’s discretion. A quick call should do it.

3. Some of the discounts below are only on Veterans Day while others are any day or on certain days (for example, any Monday).

  • Applebee’s. Get a free entrée on Veterans Day.
  • A& W, discount varies.
  • Arby’s, discount varies.
  • Ben & Jerry’s: the discount varies by location, 15% to 25%.
  • Boston Market. No ID is required for activity duty and retired military personnel and their families to receive a free brownie or cookie with any purchase on Veterans Day.
  • Buffalo Wild Wings. Get a free small order or wings and a side of fries on Veterans Day.
  • Captain D’s. Not all locations participate, but those that do offer a 10% discount, and sometimes as much as 25%.
  • Carl’s Jr. Discount varies.
  • Chevy’s Fresh Mex gives a 20% discount if you wear your uniform or show a valid military ID.
  • Chick-Fil-A. Discount varies.
  • Chipotle’s give discounts to those in uniform, some as much as 50%. That’s a sure sign that Chipotle’s is proud to have military guests.
  • Cinnabon, 15% off.
  • Cold Stone Creamery. Discount varies.
  • Cracker Barrel. 10% to 15%, based on the manager’s discretion.
  • Dairy Queen. The discount varies by location, but at some places you can get up to 50% off.
  • Del Taco, 10% off at participating locations.
  • Denny’s. Participating locals offers 10% to 20% off. And the 24/7 breakfast chain usually offers Veterans Day specials as well.
  • El Pollo Loco, offers 15% discount at participating locations, and this extends also to police, firefighters, EMT, law enforcement, as well as military. Nice! They ask that you let your wait person know before you pay, and if you’re not in uniform, show your badge or official ID.
  • Famous Dave’s. 15% discount on Tuesdays. On Veterans Day, former and active military get a free entrée, and possibly a corn muffin and side dish. This is true at participating locations, so be sure to check.    
  • Golden Corral. On Veterans Day, anyone who’s served in the military qualifies for a free dinner. Other discounts may be available, depending on the location.
  • Hard Rock Café. 15% off your meal (alcohol excluded).
  • Hooters. Yes, we know why you really go to Hooters, but the food is good too. And, they are a good place to find specials on Veterans Day. And on any Monday you can get 10% off. There have been reports of some Hooters not offering discounts, so ask.
  • IHOP, some give hefty discounts every single day to military personnel. Ask!
  • Johnny Rockets. Up to 50% off.
  • Lone Star Steakhouse& Saloon. 20% off on Mondays, and 10% off on other days. That’s a sweet deal.
  • Longhorn Steakhouse offers 10% discount at participating locations.
  • Margaritaville Casinos offer 10%, and other retail discounts at participating locations on Veterans Day.
  • Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub. Active duty and retired military can get 10% off at participating locations.
  • O’Charley’s, veterans and active duty military get a 10% discount. And on Veterans Day, a full complimentary meal from a special menu, plus a 20% discount on the next visit.
  • Outback offers a 10% discount, but some Outbacks do not offer discounts. Outback has also been supportive of certain military reunions, a nice way to say thank you to our fine military members.
  • Papa Murphy’s. Participating locations will take up to 50% off one pizza.
  • Pizza Hut, discount varies.
  • Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen. 10% discount at participating locations.
  • Ruby Tuesday, active duty, veterans, and reserve military members can get a free appetizer on Veterans Day at all locations.
  • Scholotzsky’s Deli. Get a 10% to 30% off at participating locations.
  • Shoney’s. In 2017, on Memorial Day, active duty and retired military were each given free All-American Burger and fries. Will they do it again in 2018? Too soon to tell, but you can ask.
  • Subway. 10% off if not in a military town.
  • Texas Roadhouse. At participating locations, you can get up to a whopping 20% discount (in some places higher, even up to 50%).
  • Wendy’s, discount varies.
  • Zaxby’s gives a 10% discount at participating locations.

Want more? Here are a few other businesses that honor our military with discounts:

  • Cabelas gives a 5% discount.
  • Eddie Bauer, 15% off most merchandise (some promotions excluded).
  • Home Depot and Lowe’s also give military discounts, but not at every location.
  • Sam’s Club. With the purchase of a membership, active or retired military get a $15 gift card.

You can also check this website, https://www.bradsdeals.com/blog/military-discounts for a more exhaustive list of military discounts.

Don’t have a valid military ID? Go to a Veteran’s Outreach Center and take your military paperwork. You should be able to get an ID card. You may be able to go to the government website for the county you live in and get an ID.

 

Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

Meet Teresa

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  • author_first Teresa
  • introduction

    A lot of businesses take it upon themselves to give a nod to military personnel with a discount on Veterans Day and some, more often.

  • publish_date_month November
  • publish_date_year 2017
  • author_last Ambord
  • Column_Title Dollar Sense
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Last year’s holiday shopping season brought about 57% of shoppers to their computers and smartphones to find deals. The convenience and cost savings of shopping online are enticing to us… and irresistible to the criminals who see this as their heyday. More shoppers looking to avoid the crowds means more opportunity for thieves. That’s why Consumer Reports provided some steps to enhance the security of your online shopping. Here’s what they say, based on advice from Raymond Pucci, of the Mercator Advisory Group consulting firm.

  • Find out what your credit card offers in terms of extra security. Credit cards offer security features that you can take advantage of to greatly increase the safety of using your cards online. Before you shop, check with your card issuer to find out if you can get a temporary credit card number. The number is linked to your account, so when you log onto a merchant site and provide that temporary number, your transaction goes through. But the merchant and any hackers that may be scouring the merchant’s data can only see the temporary number. And that number will be useless to them.

Check with your card issuers to see if this is available. Bank of America, for example, has a program called Bank of America ShopSafe. Citibank’s program is simply called Citi Virtual Account Numbers. You can also disable a card when you’re not using it, with an app on your smartphone. Ask your card issuer. Discover and Capital One allow this, and others may too.

You can strengthen the security on your card by registering it with American Express SafeKey, MasterCard SecureCode, or Verified by Visa. After you register it, create a personal ID number that is known only to you. When you go, for example to Walmart.com to use your card for online shopping, you’ll be asked to enter the code before you can proceed.

  • Use a mobile wallet. A mobile wallet such as Android Pay or Apple Pay is more secure than a card, because they use substitute numbers or tokens, rather than your real account numbers. Also, your smartphone adds protections of its own, such as a fingerprint reader.

  • What about paying with a bank debit card? Consumer Reports reminds us that if you use your debit card to pay for an online purchase and a data breach occurs, you may have just handed thieves the keys to the bank account that is tied to your debit card. Even though your deposits are protected from unauthorized withdrawals, your funds may be unavailable while the mess is being sorted out.

On the other hand, credit cards have better consumer protections, as well as helping you dispute transactions when merchants don’t come through as promised.

Better idea: Buy a prepaid card. That prevents you from running up a credit balance, and if your card number is stolen, the loss is limited to the limit on the card. Be sure to register the card with the issuer so you get added protection if it is hacked or stolen, and it gives you a list of what you purchased. Depending on the card, there may be a charge of a few dollars to buy it – for example, a MasterCard or American Express or Visa prepaid card – but the protection of using a prepaid card is worth it. Often around holiday times throughout the year, companies will waive the fee. If you shop online at a merchant such as Walmart, you can purchase a gift card for no fee, and use it for online shopping.

  • Use familiar websites. Don’t find shopping sites in a search engine. The results can be rigged to send you where you didn’t intend to go. Instead, stick to familiar sites where you can type the name in. Just beware, if you type in a site and it looks different than what you expected, leave and try again. Scammers deliberately misspell a name or use a different ending (for example, .net instead of .com).

  • Allowing sites to keep your number on file: should you? I always believed the answer was definitely no. But according to Consumer Reports, doing that lets the merchant site protect you. How? They track your spending and if an anomaly occurs, such as a sudden charge of $500 where you generally spend $25 or less, the merchant may be able to detect fraud.

With a little extra precaution, you can have safe online holiday shopping, avoid the crowds and scoop up deals. Plan ahead so you can take time to shop safely and protect your assets. Happy shopping!

 

Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

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  • author_first Teresa
  • introduction

    Consumer Reports reminds us that if you use your debit card to pay for an online purchase and a data breach occurs, you may have just handed thieves the keys to the bank account that is tied to your debit card.

    * * * * *

    A mobile wallet such as Android Pay or Apple Pay is more secure than a card, because they use substitute numbers or tokens, rather than your real account numbers. Also, your smartphone adds protections of its own, such as a fingerprint reader.

  • publish_date_month November
  • publish_date_year 2017
  • author_last Ambord
  • Column_Title Dollar Sense
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Dear Miss Nora: I'm in love with my next-door neighbor. There! I finally said it. I have known this man for ages and always felt a sort of connection with him but kept a dignified distance while his wife was alive and convalescing from one illness after another. I was supportive after she passed away and always let Mr. Neighbor know that I cared. But, just lately, I've been making myself more available to him and I'm almost certain that he feels the same way.

It’s been too long to calculate since I've had a romantic interest (I've been a widow for 10 years) and I'm not sure of the rules for this sort of thing. Would it be wrong if I invited Mr. Neighbor over for dinner? Do women do that sort of thing nowadays or should I wait patiently for him to ask me? --Really Hopeful in Houston

Dear, Really: There are so many directions that this scenario can go in. So, let’s unwrap this situation a little before you embark on a plan of attack.

First, you make no mention of other family members – his or yours. The passing of a parent is always a sensitive subject for children of the deceased when the other parent moves on “too quickly” for their liking. One of the few complications of romance in our twilight years is the presence of defensive offspring. Adult children can be fiercely protective and deliberately obstructive – and nothing spoils a potential romance like a brood’s blockade.

Second, you’re a dash vague when it comes to why you perceive that your neighbor feels the same way as you. Be forewarned: sometimes graciousness and gratitude can give the impression of interest. I fear this could be the case here particularly, as you say, you’ve been out of the dating game for a while and your radar for such things might well be a bit skewed. I caution you to gently test the waters before you commit to an all-out assault. Leave yourself room to discreetly withdraw from circumstances should you become aware that you are mistaken about your neighbor’s level of interest. I don’t know about you but I’d be mortified to offer my affections only to have them rejected by someone I’m then forced to wave a cordial good day to on a regularly basis.

Which brings me to my last point. You live right next door to your Romeo. If he isn’t interested – just chivalrous – or if this is what you thought but his children are indeed hostile to the idea and spoil all possibilities or, he returns your attentions but you then realize too late that without the spice of clandestine goings on, he isn’t your cup of tea after all, what then? It’s all well and good to be liberated or unconventional and I'm all about striking while the iron’s hot – especially since I'm lucky these days if my iron even gets warm – and granted, at our age, we need little else in the way of motivation than to want to do a thing – but have a game plan if this goes the way of the Beanie Baby (a reasonable gamble but flawed in execution).

To conclude, don’t be discouraged if this all comes to nothing. Try again but perhaps next time keep a little distance between you and your amour – at least a zip code or two.

 

Nora will take requests for advice through email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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  • introduction

    One of the few complications of romance in our twilight years is the presence of defensive offspring. Adult children can be fiercely protective and deliberately obstructive – and nothing spoils a potential romance like a brood’s blockade.

  • publish_date_month November
  • publish_date_year 2017
  • author_last Miss Nora
  • Column_Title Ask Miss Nora
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In the Thanksgiving scene in Holiday Inn (1942), Bing Crosby plays a record of himself singing “I’ve Got Plenty to Be Thankful For,” while he dejectedly plays with his food:  An enormous turkey all to himself, and all the trimmings. Louise Beavers, who plays his cook, Mamie, sets the feast before him, and then berates him for letting rival Fred Astaire steal his best gal Marjorie Reynolds away.

This classic film is, of course, a showcase for the songs of Irving Berlin in the setting of a string of American holidays. We jump from one holiday to the next, and each one is introduced with a calendar page graphic such as an illustration of George Washington for Washington’s birthday, or an Easter lily, or a firecracker for Independence Day. But Thanksgiving is presented with a brief clip of a black and white animated cartoon of a turkey. The message might mystify younger viewers today; there is, however, a reason for his silly antics and it has to do with politics, commerce, and American heritage.

In this cartoon clip, a doleful turkey sitting on a calendar page on Thanksgiving Day – of course, the last Thursday in November – suddenly hoists himself up and walks over to the highlighted Thursday of the week before. He now chooses to occupy the third Thursday. Just as he settles himself down to nestle on that date, then the box marking the fourth Thursday in November is highlighted again as Thanksgiving, and he proceeds, with no small ruffling of the feathers, to waddle down and return to the Thursday he had previously occupied. The turkey is repeatedly teased in this manner, jumping from the third week to the fourth week of the month, until the poor, confused bird finally shrugs, giving up on trying to guess which Thursday is really Thanksgiving this year. The audience of the day knew the joke.

Younger viewers may think that Thanksgiving is all about the Pilgrims and turkey and cranberry sauce and all that, but modern Thanksgiving is also about commerce, in so far as it leads into the December holiday shopping season. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, still trying to jump start us out of the Depression, pushed Thanksgiving 1939 up a week, to the third Thursday of November.

This was intended to extend the holiday shopping season, to encourage people to shop and spend more. Most Americans followed the president’s lead, but interestingly, many New Englanders refused to follow suit and stubbornly continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday. They derisively called the Thursday before “Franksgiving” after Franklin Roosevelt. New Englanders, particularly those residing in Massachusetts, always took a rather proprietary view of Thanksgiving, a stubborn sense of ownership. Until roughly about the late 1940s, it was a much bigger holiday in New England than Christmas ever was.

Christmas as a public holiday never really got established in the New England states until about the time of the Civil War, but Thanksgiving had been celebrated there for over 200 years. In 1863, President Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official national holiday, to be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. Christmas did not become a federal holiday until 1870.

The dispute over which was the real Thanksgiving Day continued in 1940 and 1941. The stores had no complaints about an extra week of shopping, but sentiment was still strong for tradition. Afterward, and with our entrance into World War II and more pressing matters, Congress capitulated to tradition and voted to return Thanksgiving Day to the fourth Thursday of November, where it remains today. At last, that flustered, goggled-eyed cartoon turkey can contentedly nestle down and roost on one date, undisturbed.

Today, with many store chains opening seven days a week, even on Thanksgiving Day, there no longer seems to be a need to spur holiday shopping. Like the Frankenstein monster, holiday commerce has taken on a life of its own. Many of us will see those first Christmas merchandising TV commercials and receive those first catalogues sometime in August. The idea of President Roosevelt’s trying to increase the December shopping season from four weeks to five weeks seems quaint and naïve.

This unspoken reference to the nation’s Depression-era Thanksgiving debate in Holiday Inn is one of those small, but interesting historical and cultural markers to watch for in old Hollywood films.

 

Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star., and several other non- fiction books on history and classic films, as well as novels. www.JacquelineTLynch.com.

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  • author_first Jacqueline T.
  • introduction

    Younger viewers may think that Thanksgiving is all about the Pilgrims and turkey and cranberry sauce and all that, but modern Thanksgiving is also about commerce, in so far as it leads into the December holiday shopping season. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, still trying to jump start us out of the Depression, pushed Thanksgiving 1939 up a week, to the third Thursday of November.

  • publish_date_month November
  • publish_date_year 2017
  • author_last Lynch
  • Column_Title Silver Screen, Golden Years
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