Find educational trips for retirees who love to learn
Dear Savvy Senior,
My wife and I planning to travel much more frequently in retirement and are very interested in educational trips and adventures. Can you recommend any groups or firms that specialize in this type of travel geared towards retirees?
Love to Learn
Educational travel, which combines travel with in-depth learning opportunities has become a very popular way of travel among retirees. Here are a few good places to turn to find these types of trips in the U.S. and abroad.
One of the best places to start is with Road Scholar (RoadScholar.org), which invented the idea of educational travel for older adults in the mid 1970s. The Boston-based organization offers 5,500 learning adventures in all 50 states and 150 countries.
You can search for learning adventures by location, interest, activity level and price. Road Scholar also offers “Choose Your Pace” senior travel tours that allow participants to adjust their level of challenge on a daily basis. And for skip-gen vacations, they offer tours designed specifically for grandparents traveling with their grandkids.
Another excellent option is Smithsonian Journeys (SmithsonianJourneys.org), a nonprofit travel group affiliated with the Smithsonian Museum. They lead 350 educational trips a year on every continent that are led by experts from a variety of fields — academia, the diplomatic corps, scientists and curators, among others.
If you’re seeking more adventure, you may want to consider ElderTreks (www.ElderTreks.com), which offers 50-plus travelers small-group adventures by both land and sea in more than 100 countries. Their trips center on adventure, culture and nature, letting you get up close and personal with the locals.
Another good source for educational trips is colleges and universities. Some of my favorites include Cornell University’s Adult University (SCE.Cornell.edu/travel), which offers a half-dozen educational trips and courses in the U.S. and abroad, each lasting a few days to a week or more. And Stanford Travel/Study (Alumni.Stanford.edu) that offers educational travel journeys to more than 80 countries each year.
Most college/university trips are led by faculty who share their expertise, along with regional experts and local guides, and you don’t need to be an alumnus to participate.
Also check out the Traveling Professor (TravelingProfessor.com), a small-group touring company led by Steve Solosky, formerly a professor at the State University of New York. They offer a dozen or so tours abroad each year and take between 8 and 16 people.
If you enjoy cruising, consider Grand Circle Travel (GCT.com), which offers educational travel aboard small ships, and Naturalist Journeys (NaturalistJourneys.com), which specializes in nature and birding tours.
American Cruise Lines (AmericanCruiseLines.com) also offers more than 35 river and coastal itineraries in the Northeast, Southeast, Pacific Northwest and along the Mississippi River. And it has themed cruises (Lewis and Clark, Mark Twain, Civil War, etc.) for people with specific historical, literary or other interests.
And Viking River Cruises (VikingRiverCruises.com), which is geared to older travelers, focuses on European art, history and culture.
How to get help as an elder orphan
Dear Savvy Senior,
I need to find someone honest and reliable to look after my estate, health and long-term care when I’m no longer able to do it myself. I’m a 67-year-old recent widow with no children and one sibling I rarely talk to. Any suggestions?
— Solo Ager
This is big concern for millions of older Americans who don’t have a spouse, children or other family they can depend on to watch out for their well-being. While there’s no one solution to this issue, here are some tips and resources that can help you plan ahead.
If you haven’t already done so, your first step, before choosing a reliable decision maker, is to prepare a basic estate plan of at least four essential legal documents. This will protect yourself and make sure you’re wishes are carried out if you become seriously ill or when you die.
These essential documents include: a “durable power of attorney” that allows you to designate someone to handle your financial matters if you become incapacitated; an “advanced health care directive” that includes a “living will” that tells your doctor what kind of care you want to receive if you become incapacitated, and a “health care power of attorney,” which names a person you authorize to make medical decisions on your behalf if you’re unable to; and a “will” that spells out how you’d like your property and assets distributed after you die. It also requires you to designate an “executor” to ensure your wishes are carried out.
To prepare these documents your best option is to hire an attorney, which can cost anywhere between $500 and $2,000. Or, if you are interested in a do-it-yourself plan, Quicken WillMaker & Trust 2022 ($199, Nolo.com) and LegalZoom.com ($179) are some top options.
Choosing Decision Makers & Helpers
Most people think first of naming a family member as their power of attorney for finances and health care, or executor of their will. If, however, you don’t have someone to fill those roles, you may want to ask a trusted friend or associate but be sure to choose someone that’s organized and younger than you who will likely be around after you’re gone.
Also be aware that if your choice of power of attorney or executor lives in another state, you’ll need to check your state’s law to see if it imposes any special requirements.
If, however, you don’t have a friend or relative you feel comfortable with, you’ll need to hire someone who has experience with such matters.
To find a qualified power of attorney or executor for your will, contact your bank, a local trust company or an estate planning attorney. If you need help locating a pro, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA.org) is a great resource that provides online directory to help you find someone in your area.
Another resource that can help you manage and oversee your health and long-term care needs as they arise, and even act as your health care power of attorney, is an aging life care manager. These are trained professionals in the area of geriatric care who often have backgrounds in nursing or social work. To search for an expert near you, visit AgingLifeCare.org.
Or, if you need help with bill paying and other financial/insurance/tax chores there are professional daily money managers (see AADMM.com) that can help.
Aging life care managers typically charge between $75 and $200 per hour, while hourly rates for daily money managers range between $75 and $150.
It’s also important to note that if you don’t complete the aforementioned legal documents and you become incapacitated, a court judge may appoint a guardian to make decisions on your behalf. That means the care you receive may be totally different from what you would have chosen for yourself.
How to Choose a Medicare Advantage Plan
Dear Savvy Senior,
I will be 65 and eligible for Medicare in a few months and am interested in getting a Medicare Advantage plan to cover my health care and medications. What tips can you provide to help me pick a plan?
— Ready to Retire
Medicare Advantage plans have become very popular among retirees over the past 15 years, as nearly half of all new Medicare enrollees are signing up for Advantage plans, which accounts for about 42 percent of the entire Medicare market. Here are some tips and tools to help you pick a plan that fits your needs.
First, let’s start with a quick review. Medicare Advantage plans (also known as Medicare Part C) are government approved health plans sold by private insurance companies that you can choose in place of original Medicare. The vast majority of Advantage plans are managed-care policies such as HMOs or PPOs that require you to get your care within a network of doctors.
If you join an Advantage plan, the plan will provide all of your Part A (hospital insurance) and Part B (medical insurance) coverage like original Medicare does. But many plans also offer extra benefits like dental, hearing and vision coverage along with gym/fitness memberships, and most plans include prescription drug coverage too.
Medicare Advantage plans are also cheaper than if you got original Medicare, plus a separate Part D drug plan and a Medigap policy. Many Advantage plans have $0 or low monthly premiums and don’t always have a deductible, but they also typically have a high out-of-pocket maximum. In 2021, Advantage plan participants on average were responsible for a maximum of around $5,100 for in-network care, and about $9,200 when out-of-network care is included.
How to Choose
To help you pick a plan, a good first step is to call the office managers of the doctors you use and find out which Advantage plans they accept, and which ones they recommend. Then go to the Medicare Plan Finder tool at Medicare.gov/plan-compare to compare Advantage plans in your area. This tool provides a five-star rating system that evaluates each plan based on past customer satisfaction and quality of care the plan delivers. When comparing, here are some key points to consider:
Total costs: Look at the plan’s entire pricing package, not just the premiums and deductibles. Compare the maximum out-of-pocket costs plus the copays and coinsurance charged for doctor office visits, hospital stays, visits to specialists, prescription drugs and other medical services. This is important because if you choose an Advantage plan, you’re not allowed to purchase a Medigap policy, which means you’ll be responsible for paying these expenses out of your own pocket.
Drug coverage: Check the plan’s formulary – the list of prescription drugs covered – to be sure all the medications you take are covered without excessive co-pays or requirements that you try less expensive drugs first.
Dental, vision and hearing: Many Advantage plans come with dental, vision and hearing benefits, but are usually limited. Get the details on what exactly is covered.
Coverage away from home: Most Advantage plans limit you to using in-network doctors only within a service area or geographic region, so find out what’s covered if you need medical care when you’re away from home.
Out-of-network coverage: Check to see what’s covered if you want to see a specialist in a hospital that is not in a plan’s network. You can get a list of doctors and hospitals that take part in a plan on the plan’s website.
If you need help choosing a plan, contact your State Health Insurance Assistance Program at ShipHelp.org or call 877-839-2675. Also see the HealthMetrix Research 2022 Cost Comparisons Report at MedicareNewsWatch.com that lists the best Advantage plans based on health status.
A Common Heart Problem That’s Often Ignored
Dear Savvy Senior,
What can you tell me about atrial fibrillation? Every so often, I’ve noticed my heart starts beating rapidly for no particular reason. Is this something I should be worried about?
— Anxious Annie
Heart palpitations can be harmless if they are brief and infrequent. But if you’re experiencing an erratic heart rhythm, you need to get checked out by a doctor for atrial fibrillation, or AFib.
AFib – which is marked by rapid, fluttering beats – can lead to serious complications such as stroke and heart failure, when the weakened heart can’t pump enough blood to the rest of the body.
Normally, your heartbeat follows a steady rhythm as your heart contracts and relaxes. But when you have AFib, the upper chambers of your heart (atria) beat rapidly and irregularly, sending blood to the lower chambers (ventricles) less efficiently. These episodes can last for minutes to hours or longer, and can cause palpitations, lightheadedness, fatigue, and/or shortness of breath. Over time, AFib tends to become chronic.
Age is a common risk factor for AFib, which affects roughly 10 percent of people older than 75. Other factors include genetics, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and alcohol and tobacco use. The condition has also been linked to viral infections, including COVID-19.
If you’re experiencing AFib-like symptoms you need to see your doctor who will listen to your heart and likely recommend an electrocardiogram (EKG) or a treadmill heart test, or you may wear a portable monitor for several weeks to look for abnormal heart rhythms to confirm a diagnosis of AFib. Such tests can help distinguish AFib from less serious conditions that may cause the heart to flutter, like anxiety and stress.
AFib affects some three million adults in the United States, a number that is expected to quadruple in the coming decade as the population ages and risk factors like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure become even more common. The lifetime risk of developing AFib is greater than 20 percent, yet many people don’t even know they have it.
A growing body of research underscores the importance of lifestyle steps such as exercise, a healthy diet, and limiting alcohol for treating AFib.
Depending on your age and symptoms, your doctor may prescribe drugs to help control your heart rate, like beta blockers such as metoprolol (Toprol XL); and/or rhythm, such as antiarrhythmics like flecainide (Tambocor).
You may also need an electrical cardioversion, an outpatient procedure that delivers an electrical shock to the heart to restore a normal rhythm. You will be sedated for this brief procedure and not feel the shocks.
Catheter ablation is another outpatient treatment for AFib that scars a small area of heart tissue that causes irregular heartbeats. This procedure is becoming more common based on evidence of its safety and ability to normalize the heart rhythm and ease symptoms. Ablations can be effective in people 75 and older, but medication may still be required afterward.
If you’re at higher risk for stroke, you may be prescribed a blood thinner, too. In the past, Coumadin (warfarin) was the only such drug widely available, but it requires monitoring with regular blood tests. Newer anticoagulants, like apixaban (Eliquis) and rivaroxaban (Xarelto), don’t have that requirement and have been shown to be just as effective at preventing strokes.
When to Expect Your Social Security Checks
Dear Savvy Senior,
I am planning to retire and apply for my Social Security benefits in July. When can I expect my first check, and is direct deposit my only option for receiving my monthly payment?
— Almost 62
Generally, Social Security retirement benefits, as well as disability and survivor benefits, are paid in the month after the month they are due. So, if you want to start receiving your Social Security benefits in July, your July benefits will be distributed in August.
The day of the month you receive your benefit payment, however, will depend on your birthdate. Here’s the schedule of when you can expect to receive your monthly check.
If you were born on the:
• 1st through the 10th: Expect your check to be deposited on the second Wednesday of each month.
• 11th through the 20th: Expect your check to be deposited on the third Wednesday of each month.
• 21st through the 31st: Expect your check to be deposited on the fourth Wednesday of each month.
There are, however, a few exceptions to this schedule. For example, if the day your Social Security check is supposed to be deposited happens to be a holiday, your check will be deposited the previous day. And, if you are receiving both Social Security benefits and SSI payments, your Social Security check will be deposited on the third day of the month.
You should also know that for Social Security beneficiaries who started receiving benefits before 1997, their Social Security checks are paid on the third day of the month.
To get a complete schedule of 2022 payment dates, visit SSA.gov/pubs/EN-05-10031-2022.pdf.
There are two ways you can receive your Social Security benefits. Most beneficiaries choose direct deposit into their bank or credit union account because it’s simple, safe and secure. But if you don’t want this option, or you don’t have a bank account that your payments can be deposited into, you can get a Direct Express Debit MasterCard and have your benefits deposited into your card’s account.
This card can then be used to get cash from ATMs, banks or credit union tellers, pay bills online and over the phone, make purchases at stores or locations that accept Debit MasterCard and get cash back when you make those purchases, and purchase money orders at the U.S. Post Office. The money you spend or withdraw is automatically deducted from your account. And you can check your balance any time by phone, online or at ATMs.
There’s also no cost to sign up for the card, no monthly fees and no overdraft charges. There are, however, some small fees for optional services you need to be aware of, like multiple ATM withdrawals. Currently, cardholders get one free ATM withdrawal per month, but additional monthly withdrawals cost 85 cents each not including a surcharge if you use a non-network ATM. To learn more, visit USDirectExpress.com or call 800-333-1795.
When and How to Apply
The Social Security Administration recommends that you apply for benefits three months before you want to start receiving checks. This will give you enough time to make sure you have all the needed information to complete the application. See SSA.gov/hlp/isba/10/isba-checklist.pdf for a checklist of what you’ll need.
You can apply for your Social Security benefits online at SSA.gov, by phone at 800-772-1213, or in person at your local Social Security office – call first to make an appointment.
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.