2018-05-16 / Seniors

Savvy Senior:

New Shingles Vaccine Provides Better Protection for Seniors
Dear Savvy Senior,

A good friend of mine got a bad case of shingles last year and has been urging me to get vaccinated. Should I?
Suspicious Susan

Dear Susan,
Yes! If you’re 50 or older, there’s a new shingles vaccine on the market that’s far superior to the older vaccine, so now is a great time to get inoculated. Here’s what you should know.

Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a burning, blistering, often excruciating skin rash that affects around 1 million Americans each year. The same virus that causes chickenpox causes shingles. What happens is the chickenpox virus that most people get as kids never leaves the body. It hides in the nerve cells near the spinal cord and, for some people, emerges later in the form of shingles.

In the U.S., almost one out of every three people will develop shingles during their lifetime. While anyone who’s had chickenpox can get shingles, it most commonly occurs in people over age 50, along with people who have weakened immune systems. But you can’t catch shingles from someone else.

Early signs of the disease include pain, itching or tingling before a blistering rash appears several days later, and can last up to four weeks. The rash typically occurs on one side of the body, often as a band of blisters that extends from the middle of your back around to the breastbone. It can also appear above an eye or on the side of the face or neck.

In addition to the rash, about 20 to 25 percent of those who get shingles go on to develop severe nerve pain (postherpetic neuralgia, or PHN) that can last for months or even years. And in rare cases, shingles can also cause strokes, encephalitis, spinal cord damage and vision loss.

New Shingles Vaccine
The Food and Drug Administration recently approved a new vaccine for shingles called Shingrix (see Shingrix.com), which provides much better protection than the older vaccine, Zostavax.

Manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, Shingrix is 97 percent effective in preventing shingles in people 50 to 69 years old, and 91 percent effective in those 70 and older.

By comparison, Zostavax is 70 percent effective in your 50s; 64 percent effective in your 60s; 41 percent effective in your 70s; and 18 percent effective in your 80s.

Shingrix is also better that Zostavax in preventing nerve pain that continues after a shingles rash has cleared – about 90 percent effective versus 65 percent effective.

Because of this enhanced protection, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age 50 and older, receive the Shingrix vaccine, which is given in two doses, two to six months apart.

Even if you’ve already had shingles, you still need these vaccinations because reoccurring cases are possible. The CDC also recommends that anyone previously vaccinated with Zostavax be revaccinated with Shingrix.

You should also know that Shingrix can cause some adverse side effects for some people, including muscle pain, fatigue, headache, fever and upset stomach.

Shingrix – which costs around $280 for both doses – is (or will soon be) covered by insurance including Medicare Part D prescription drug plans, but be aware that the shingles vaccines are not always well covered. So before getting vaccinated, call your plan to find out if it’s covered, and if so, which pharmacies and doctors in your area you should use to insure the best coverage.

Or, if you don’t have health insurance or you’re experiencing medical or financial hardship, you might qualify for GlaxoSmithKline’s Patient Assistance Program, which provides free vaccinations to those who are eligible. For details, go to GSKforyou.com.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.


Savvy Senior
What You Need to Know About Reverse Mortgages
Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about reverse mortgages for retirees? My wife and I are contemplating getting one but want to make sure we know what we’re getting into.
Running Short

Dear Running,
For retirees who own their home and want to stay living there, but could use some extra cash, a reverse mortgage is a viable financial tool, but there’s a lot to know and consider to be sure it’s a good option for you.
    
Let’s start with the basics.

A reverse mortgage is a unique type of loan that allows older homeowners to borrow money against the equity in their house (or condo) that doesn’t have to be repaid until the homeowner dies, sells the house or moves out for at least 12 months. At that point, you or your heirs will have to pay back the loan plus accrued interest and fees, but you will never owe more than the value of your home.

It’s also important to understand that with a reverse mortgage, you, not the bank, own the house, so you’re still required to pay your property taxes and homeowners insurance. Not paying them can result in foreclosure.

To be eligible, you must be 62 years of age or older, own your own home (or owe only a small balance) and currently be living there.

You will also need to undergo a financial assessment to determine whether you can afford to continue paying your property taxes and insurance. Depending on your financial situation, you may be required to put part of your loan into an escrow account to pay future bills. If the financial assessment finds that you cannot pay your insurance and taxes and have enough cash left to live on, you’ll be denied.

Loan Details
Around 95 percent of all reverse mortgages offered today are Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECM), which are FHA insured and offered through private mortgage lenders and banks. HECM’s also have home value limits that vary by county, but cannot exceed $679,650.

How much you can actually get through a reverse mortgage depends on your age (the older you are the more you can get), your home’s value and the prevailing interest rates. Generally, most people can borrow somewhere between 50 and 65 percent of the home’s value. To estimate how much you can borrow, use the reverse mortgage calculator at ReverseMortgage.org.  

You also need to know that reverse mortgages have recently become more expensive with a number of fees, including: a 2 percent lender origination fee for the first $200,000 of the home’s value and 1 percent of the remaining value, with a cap of $6,000; an upfront 2 percent mortgage insurance premium (MIP) fee on the maximum loan amount, plus an annual MIP fee that’s equal to 0.5 percent of the outstanding loan balance; along with an appraisal fee, closing costs and other miscellaneous expenses. Most fees can be deducted for the loan amount to reduce your out-of-pocket cost at closing.

To receive your money, you can opt for a lump sum, a line of credit, regular monthly checks or a combination of these.

More Information
To learn more, read the National Council on Aging’s online booklet “Use Your Home to Stay at Home” at NCOA.org/home-equity. And see the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association self-evaluation checklist at ReverseMortgage.org/consumerguides.

Also note that because reverse mortgages are complex loans, all borrowers are required to get face-to-face or telephone counseling through a HUD approved independent counseling agency before taking one out. Most agencies typically charge around $125. To locate one near you, visit Go.usa.gov/v2H, or call 800-569-4287.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.


Savvy Senior
‘Extra Help’ Program Helps Seniors With Their Medication Costs
Dear Savvy Senior,
Are there any special Medicare programs that help seniors with their medication costs? My 74-year-old mother, who lives primarily on her Social Security, takes several high-priced drugs that sap her income even with her Medicare drug plan.  
Looking for Assistance

Dear Looking,
Yes, there’s a low-income subsidy program called Extra Help that can assist seniors on a tight budget with paying for their premiums, deductible and co-payments in their Medicare (Part D) prescription drug plan.

Currently around 10 million people are receiving this subsidy, but another two million may qualify for it and don’t even realize it. They’re missing out on hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars in savings each year.
 
Changes in the law make it easier than ever to qualify for the Extra Help program. Even if your mom applied and didn’t qualify before, she may be eligible now. The amount of additional assistance she would receive depends on her income and assets. If she qualifies for help, she’ll pay no more than $3.35 for a generic drug and $8.35 for a brand-name drug in 2018.

To get the subsidy, your mom’s assets can’t be more than $14,100 (or $28,150 for married couples living together). Bank accounts, stocks and bonds count as assets, but her home, vehicle, personal belongings, life insurance and burial plots do not.
 
Also, your mom’s monthly income can’t be more than $1,538 (or $2,078 for married couples). If your mom supports a family member who lives with her, or lives in Alaska or Hawaii, her income can be higher.
 
In addition, the government won’t count any money if your mom receives help for household expenses like food, rent, mortgage payments, utilities and property taxes.
 
How To Apply
There are three ways to apply for Extra Help: online at SSA.gov/prescriptionhelp; by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213; or by visiting her local Social Security office.

The application form is easy to complete, but you’ll need your mom’s Social Security number and information about her bank balances, pensions and investments. Social Security will review her application and send her a letter within a few weeks letting you know whether she qualifies.

If your mom doesn’t qualify for Extra Help, she may still be able to get help from a state pharmacy assistance program or a patient assistance program. Visit BenefitsCheckUp.org and click on “Medications” to search for these programs.

Other Medicare Assistance
If your mom is eligible for Extra Help, she may also qualify for help with her other Medicare expenses through her state’s Medicare Savings Program.

State Medicaid programs partner with the federal government, so income and asset qualifications vary depending on where she lives. Medicare Savings Programs will pay her entire Medicare Part B premium each month. Some also pay for Part B coinsurance and copayments, depending on her income. Contact your mom’s state Medicaid office to determine if she qualifies for benefits in her state.

You can also get help through her State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), which provides free one-on-one Medicare counseling in person or over the phone. To locate a SHIP counselor in your area, visit ShiptaCenter.org or call the eldercare locator at 800-677-1116.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.


Savvy Senior
How to Choose a Good Estate Sale Company
Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you provide some tips on how to choose a good estate sale company who can sell all the leftover items in my mother’s house?
Inquiring Daughter

Dear Inquiring,
The estate sale business has become a huge industry over the past decade. There are roughly 22,000 estate sale companies that currently operate in the U.S., up nearly 60 percent from just 10 years ago. But not all estate sale companies are alike.

Unlike appraisal, auction and real estate companies, estate sale operators are largely unregulated, with no licensing or standard educational requirements. That leaves the door open for inexperienced, unethical or even illegal operators. Therefore, it’s up to you to decipher a good reputable company from a bad one. Here are some tips to help you choose.

Make a list: Start by asking friends, your real estate agent or attorney for recommendations. You can also search online. Websites like EstateSales.net and EstateSales.org let you find estate sale companies in your area.

Check their reviews: After you find a few companies, check them out on the Better Business Bureau (BBB.org), Angie’s List (AngiesList.com), Yelp (Yelp.com) and other online review sites to eliminate ones with legitimately negative reviews.
 
Call some companies: Once you identify some estate sale companies, select a few to interview over the phone. Ask them how long they’ve been in business and how many estate sales they conduct each month. Also find out about their staff, the services they provide, if they are insured and bonded and if they charge a flat fee or commission. The national average commission for an estate sale is around 35 percent, but commissions vary by city and region.

You may also want to ask them about visiting their next sale to get a better feel for how they operate. And be sure to get a list of references of their past clients and call them.

Schedule appointments: Set up two or three face-to-face interviews with the companies you felt provided you with satisfactory answers during the phone interviews.

During their visit, show the estate liquidator through the property. Point out any items that will not be included in the sale, and if you have any items where price is a concern, discuss it with them at that time. Many estate companies will give you a quote, after a quick walk through the home.

You also need to ask about their pricing (how do they research prices and is every item priced), how they track what items sell for, what credit cards do they accept, and how and where will they promote and market your sale. EstateSales.net is a leading site used to advertise sales, so check advertising approaches there.

Additionally, ask how many days will it take them to set up for the sale, how long will the sale last, and will they take care of getting any necessary permits to have the sale.

You also need to find out how and when you will be paid, and what types of services they provide when the sale is over. Will they clean up the house and dispose of the unsold items, and is there’s an extra charge for that? Also, make sure you get a copy of their contract and review it carefully before you sign it.

For more information on choosing an estate sale company, see National Estate Sales Association online guide at NESA-USA.com, and click on “Consumer Education” then on “Find the Right Company.”

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.


Return to top

Copyright 1999-2018 The Service Advertising Group, Inc. All rights reserved.