Tag Archives: Insurance

Piracy risk

Image Credits: nautilusint.org

Most of us are aware of the risks we take every day, but we ran across an interesting article recently that involved a risk we had not considered: being captured by pirates.

Believe it or not, in certain parts of the world, it’s happening.

Impoverished areas dotting the coasts of Nigeria, Somalia, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have been virtual breeding grounds for partially-organized collections of criminals seeking to steal, hijack, kidnap and murder their way to fortune.

We have seen news reports of pirates attacking oil tankers and holding them for ransom.  The peak of this occurred in 2011.  Since then, shippers have improved security, hired armed escorts and received military assistance.

 This modern era of the 21st century pirate is being successfully stunted, yet maritime kidnappings for ransom are on the rise. Although the number of pirate attacks is decreasing throughout the world, the number of kidnappings taking place during those attacks is increasing. Internationally, pirates kidnapped 62 persons in 2016, all of whom were or are still being held for ransom.

Pirates realized that it’s easier to capture people and spirit them away that to deal with ships that can’t be hidden.  People are smaller and pound-for-pound a great deal more valuable.  So we now have a new growth industry: Kidnap and Ransom (K&R) Insurance. If you are planning to travel to the pirate infested waters of Southeast Asia or off the coast of Africa you may want to check out the rates for K&R insurance.  For a premium you’ll get unlimited funding for a crisis response team whose sole mission is to get you safely home.

If you plan to take your yacht through the South China Sea or the Malaccan Straights this is something you may want to consider.

Meanwhile, in this part of the world, we’ll keep an eye on the risks with which we are more familiar: market fluctuations, tax changes, interest rate increases, economic trends and even those things we can’t foresee known as Black Swans.   Stay safe.

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Exploding health care costs

Here are some scary projections about the cost of health care for retirees:

 The average lifetime retirement health care premium costs for a 65-year-old healthy couple retiring this year and covered by Medicare Parts B, D, and a supplemental insurance policy will be $266,589. (It is assumed in this report that Medicare subscribers paid Medicare taxes while employed, and therefore will not be responsible for Medicare Part A premiums.)

If we were to include the couple’s total health care (dental, vision, co-pays, and all out-of-pockets), their costs would rise to $394,954. For a 55-year-old couple retiring in 10 years, total lifetime health care costs would be $463,849.

These projections come from Health View Services.

“Obamacare” enrollment has just begun for the coming year and premiums are increasing an average of 22% even as deductibles have increased to $6,000 for the “Bronze” plan before insurance actually pays anything.   The number of companies offering health insurance to individuals is shrinking and some of the larger companies have stopped offering individual policies altogether.

Many people tell us that health care is one of their top concerns in retirement, right up there with running out of money.  Unfortunately the majority has not even begun to put money aside for retirement and those who have underestimate the cost of doctors, hospitals and drugs during their retirement years.

No matter where you are in your life cycle, you should take action now to get to know a knowledgeable financial advisor, preferable a fee-only Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) who specializes in retirement and who can provide guidance on these issues.

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Buying insurance and annuities

Two kinds of insurance products are often sold as investments, and should not be:

  • Life insurance
  • Annuities

There may be a place for both of them in your financial plan.  But they are often bought for the wrong reason because they are often misrepresented by the agent or misunderstood by the buyer.

Insurance products are complex and difficult for a layman to understand.  Let’s first review the basic purpose of these products.

Life insurance – its primary purpose is to replace the income that is lost to a family because of the premature death of the primary earner.  A young family with one or more children should have a life insurance policy on the earners in the family.  Ideally the insurance is will allow the survivors to continue to live in their accustomed style and pay for children’s education.

This usually means that younger families need more insurance.  However, there will be a trade-off between what a young family needs and what they can afford.  To obtain the largest death benefit, I suggest using a “term” policy.   “Whole Life” policies which have some cash value generally do not provide nearly as much death benefit and are less than ideal as investment vehicles.  Whole life policies are often sold using illustrations showing the accumulation of cash value over time.  What most people don’t realize is that illustrations are based on assumptions that the insurance company is not committed to.  This is the point at which an advisor who’s not in the business of selling insurance can prevent people from making mistakes.

Life insurance can also be used for other purposes.  One popular reason was to pay for estate taxes.  However, changes in the estate tax exclusion amount have made this much less attractive except to the very wealthy.

Annuities – useful for providing an income stream that you cannot outlive.  Like life insurance, it comes in a dizzying array of options that the average layman has trouble understanding. It is also one of the most commonly misrepresented insurance products.

Some of the most heavily promoted annuities are sold as investments that allow you to get stock-market rates of return without risk.  That’s one of those “too good to be true” offers that some people simply can’t resist.  The problem is that few people either read, or understand the “small print.”  Insurance companies are really not in the business of giving you all the upside of the stock market and none of the downside.  If they did, they would quickly go out of business.

These products are popular with salespeople because they pay high commissions.  Unfortunately they also come with very high early redemption fees that often last from 7 years to as much as 16 years.

If you have been thinking about buying a life insurance policy or an annuity you should first get some unbiased advice on what to look for.  Most insurance agents are honest, but like most sales people they would like you to buy their product.  It would be wise to get advice from someone who is an expert, but who is not getting paid to sell you a product.  There are a number of financial advisors who will provide guidance.  At Korving & Company we are Certified Financial Planners™ (CFP®) and licensed insurance agents, but we do not sell insurance products.   Since we don’t get paid to sell insurance we can evaluate your situation, advise you, and if life insurance or an annuity is what you need we can refer you to a reputable agent who can get you what you need.

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Getting a bigger tax deduction for long term care insurance in 2016

The IRS is increasing the amount that can be deducted from tax returns in 2016 for Long Term Care insurance premiums.

Medical expenses for seniors keep rising and the cost of a long-term-care facility can reach $10,000 per month. At that rate a lifetime of savings can be depleted rapidly. As a result, many seniors have bought long term care policies.

For people between 50 and 60 years of age the deductible limit is $1,460.

For those older than 60 but under 70 the limit is $3,900.

For younger individuals the limits are lower:
• Under 40 years old it’s $390.
• From 40 to 50 it’s $730.

Keep in mind that the deductibles are classified as unreimbursed medical expenses and can only be deducted if they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. Premiums above the new limits are not considered a medical expense.

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The Real vs. the Ideal (Sometimes Life Happens)

The latest issue of Investment News reminded me of an article I saw recently about Marco Rubio, a Senator seeking the Republican Presidential nomination. It seems that he cashed in a 401k to buy a refrigerator, an air conditioner, pay some college costs for his children and cover some campaign expenses.

Financial planners always tell their clients that they need to put money aside for retirement and to never, ever take money out of retirement plans before age 59 ½ because the taxes and penalties can take nearly half of the money that you withdraw.

The article goes on to say that:

“Unfortunately, many middle-class Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement and some, like Mr. Rubio, even pull money out of their retirement plans prematurely.”

Our advice regarding the timing of withdrawals from retirement accounts is, of course, exactly right. And it will be followed if you are rich enough. Unfortunately, as John Lennon once said, “life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

Most people have finite resources. Not everyone has the money to fully fund their IRA, 401k, 529 college savings plan, health savings account, life insurance and long-term care insurance policies. Life is about making choices between have-to-have and nice-to-have.

We realize that, and provide our clients with the trade-offs they often need to make. Some goals are achievable and others may not be. And sometimes it’s worthwhile cashing in a 401k if it means that later on you can become President.

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Why is Berkshire Hathaway is not on the “Too Big To Fail” list?

It appears that the Bank of England sent a letter to the U. S. Treasury asking why Berkshire Hathaway is not on the list of “too big to fail” institutions.

If you are on the list it is deemed that you are a financial institutions “whose distress or disorderly failure, because of their size, complexity and systemic interconnectedness, would cause significant disruption to the wider financial system and economic activity.”

MetLife, along with a number of other primary insurers, has sued the U.S. government about it’s designation as an SIFI (‘Systemically Important Financial Institution.”)  Being designated an SIFI brings along with it considerably more regulation.

New regulations under the Dodd-Frank legislation, mandate that financial institutions that fit SIFI qualifications, will have to meet higher capital standards and develop contingency plans for potential future failures.

But here’s something that most people are not aware of: insurance companies often take out insurance against catastrophic losses from other insurance companies.  The companies that insure the insurance companies are called “reinsurers.”  Berkshire Hathaway, run by Warren Buffett, is the largest of these reinsurers in the U.S. and the third largest in the world.

So who is more important to the financial stability of the financial system, retail insurance companies or the big global reinsurance companies that insure the insurers?  To me, the answer seems obvious.

To use your local bank as an example.  If it goes broke (and many have) it’s no big deal because your money is insured by the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation).  But if the FDIC went broke, that would be a BIG DEAL.  Then no one’s bank deposits would be safe.

Insurance is Berkshire’s most significant business – accounting for 27% of net earnings last year – and providing Warren Buffett with the capital to invest in stocks and acquisitions.  But Warren Buffett has friends in high places which may explain the reason he’s not on “the list.”

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Delaying Medicare Part B

When you turn 65 you become eligible for Medicare and are asked to sign up. Medicare has a number of parts.

Medicare Part A primarily covers hospital care as well as skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes, hospice and some other services. There is no cost to the individual for Part A.

Medicare Part B primarily covers services (like lab tests, surgeries, and doctor visits) and supplies (like wheelchairs and walkers) to treat a disease or condition. There is a monthly charge for Part B.

If people choose to continue working after age 65 and if they are covered by a group health plan they may not sign up for Part B.

If they do not sign up for Part B at age a 65, they may be subject to a “late enrollment penalty.” According to Medicare.gov

Your monthly premium for Part B may go up 10% for each full 12-month period that you could have had Part B, but didn’t sign up for it.”

However, this penalty does not apply of you can prove that you had medical insurance coverage for the time you declined the Part B.

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What are the least expensive cars to insure.

When you get ready to buy that new car one of the issues you should consider is: how much is it going to cost to insure? Insurance rates vary widely by state, the age of the driver, the driver’s accident history and the kind of car her or she drives. All things being equal, cars that are less expensive to repair and have fewer claims cost less to insure.

Below is a list compiled by “insure.com” for a 40 year-old male with a good driving record. The premium is the average of premiums throughout the country.

10.Ford Escape S 2WD
$1,190 average annual premium

9.Smart FORTWO Pure
$1,186 average annual premium

8.Ford Edge SE 2WD
$1,176 average annual premium

7.Subaru Outback 2.5i (tie with No. 8)
$1,176 average annual premium

6.Jeep Compass Sport 2WD
$1,164 average annual premium

5.Honda Odyssey LX
$1,163 average annual premium

4.Dodge Grand Caravan SE Plus
$1,162 average annual premium

3.Honda CR-V LX 4WD
$1,160 average annual premium

2.Jeep Patriot Sport 2WD
$1,136 average annual premium

1.Jeep Wrangler Sport 4WD
$1,134 average annual premium

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GE Retirees health insurance

GE is one of the companies that are working hard to reduce the amount it must spend on retiree health care. As people live longer, the cost of lifetime health care coverage for retired employees becomes a larger part of a company’s bottom line. GE recently offloaded the supplemental insurance coverage for salaried retirees to another company that specializes in employee benefits.

With that in mind, here is what a member of the GE employee family had to say about this. Even if you are not a GE retiree, the analysis is very worthwhile.  (edited)

When you turn 65, Medicare becomes your primary health insurance even (I think) if you are still working for GE, and definitely if you are retired from GE. … [But] one needs to sign up for Medicare within 3 months before or after their 65th birthday month, or face a lifetime late enrollment penalty.

You can either purchase a Medigap plan on the open market using Medicare.gov to search the available plans, or you can use OneExchange the same way. Or, if you’re feeling lucky/healthy, one can just use the 80% coverage of Medicare Part B and go without a Medigap plan – after all, Medicare Part B pays 80% of Dr. visits…The Medigap plans basically cover the 20% of OV’s that Medicare doesn’t – plus a few other things, but that’s their primary role. A person could do a simple break-even analysis and figure out how many OV’s they would have to have in a year to equate to the premiums they will pay for a Medigap plan. A healthy person would actually be better off financially (in the short term anyway) without a Medigap plan, as most people are paying at least $100 per month per person for that coverage, I believe. Of course, it is insurance, so what you really hope for is that you pay the premiums and don’t need it, right?

Since you also would be losing your GE drug coverage, you very much would want to enroll in Medicare Part D, drug coverage, or you will be paying the retail price for drugs, without the coverage of the Part D plan, and also without the negotiated drug prices the insurance carriers receive – a bad proposition all around. If one’s prescription drug needs are modest, there are very low-cost plans available like Humana/Walmart, which provide good protection at very low cost. If one’s prescription drug needs are a little more exotic, then it would pay to explore which plan would be best, using the plan selector engine at Medicare.gov or OneExchange. My experience using both plan selector engines was they came up with a very closely matching answer. In my case, even with one Tier 3 drug that costs $250 per month retail, Humana/Walmart was the least costly plan, but several others were very close.

Or, if this person was OK with using a managed care plan, there is also the option of going with a Medicare Advantage Plan, or a managed care plan, aka Medicare Part C. Those are the plans for which we get the flyers every Annual Enrollment period. I think generally these are very cost effective, often covering Medicare Parts A, B and D with a premium of zero dollars, but you have to be prepared for the restrictions on where you can go and who you can use, you generally need a visit with a Primary Care Physician (PCP) in the HMO before seeing a specialist, etc. My view on these plans is that you give up some choice and control in exchange for saving quite a bit of money on premiums. But watch out for the geographical and network restrictions.

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How safe is your long-term-care policy?

A guarantee is only as good as the people who stand behind the product. It turns out that when long term care policies were introduced, insurers misjudged a number of issues.

Executives misjudged everything from how much elder care would cost to how long people would live. Result: these policies are costing insurers billions.

Today those problems are a financial headache for insurers who are losing billions. Tomorrow they could be a problem for the insured. Long-term care Insurance premiums are already rising steeply and several insurers including MetLife Inc. and Prudential Financial Inc. are no longer offering new policies.

“I was mad as hell,” says Arthur Mueller, an 83-year-old former real estate executive who lives in Dallas. Over the past 15 years, his annual Genworth premium has roughly doubled to $6,879.

As the cost of insurance has risen, the number of people buying these policies has decreased. Price is one reason. If long-term care insurance is relatively cheap, people will pay for it. As it becomes more expensive, they will explore other options for the elderly. Family members are going back to providing care and government programs cover much of the rest.

Meanwhile, seniors who have long-term care policies generally continue to pay the premiums, having invested years in these policies and hope that the coverage will be there when they need it.

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