How to choose a 55-plus active adult community
Dear Savvy Senior,
What tips can you recommend for choosing a good active adult housing community? My husband and I, who recently retired, are planning to relocate to an area closer to our grandkids and are interested in buying a house in an age-restricted 55-plus housing community.
If you’re contemplating moving into an age-restricted community, finding one that’s right for you takes some legwork. While active adult communities generally offer the opportunity for a lower-maintenance lifestyle around similar aged people, they vary enormously. Here’s what you should know.
Today’s active adult communities come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges, ranging from small city-based apartment complexes, to single-family homes, to sprawling resort-style locations situated on a gated golf course. Most are owned by their occupants, but a growing number are rentals. Typically, at least one occupant of each property must be at least 55.
It’s also important to understand that 55-plus active adult communities are not the same as retirement or independent living communities, which are primarily designed for older seniors in their 70s and 80s. Active adult communities do not typically include meals or have a central dining area, but many of them do offer a range of recreational amenities and activities.
To help you locate and research active adult communities in the areas you’re interested in, the best resource is 55places.com. This is a comprehensive website that provides ratings, reviews and information on activities and amenities for thousands of communities across the country.
Once you find a few you like, here are some questions to ask yourself that can help you choose:
What’s our budget? To help you choose the right active adult community you’ll first need to determine what you can afford. Consider the home’s purchase price, whether you’ll need a mortgage, how much the property taxes and insurance are, and how much the homeowners’ association or community fees are.
These fees, which typically run a few hundred dollars per month, go toward lawn care and possibly snow removal, as well as community areas like a clubhouse or pool. However, some communities may require additional memberships or fees for golf, tennis, classes, or other activities.
You also need to consider the area’s cost of living for other things like food, utilities, transportation, health care and taxes. Numbeo.com and BestPlaces.net offer tools to compare the cost from your current location to where you would like to move. And Kiplinger’s has a tax guide for retirees at Kiplinger.com/links/retireetaxmap that lets you find and compare taxes state-by-state.
How active is the community? Some communities provide fitness facilities, swimming pools, tennis courts and more, along with dozens of organized activities, classes and social events. Other communities are much simpler and more laid back with very limited amenities and structured activities. You’ll want to choose a community that has the types of people, facilities, activities and vibe that appeals to you.
Will we like the surrounding area? Will the area around your prospective community serve your needs now and in the future? Ideally, this means having easy access to good doctors and hospitals, and a local airport if you plan to travel much. You’ll also want to research how far you’ll be from essential services like grocery stores, banks and pharmacies, as well as dining, shopping, and recreational attractions.
Schedule a Visit
Once you’ve narrowed your choices, call to make an appointment and visit them. Be sure to allow plenty of time at each community and, if possible, go back to your favorites more than once. Also be sure to ask questions while you are visiting, particularly about the community rules.
Some developments will let you stay overnight in a model home for a few nights to get a feel of what it would be like to live there. While you are there, try the amenities and activities, and speak with as many residents as you can.
Cheap Basic Cell Phone Plans for Penny Pinching Seniors
Dear Savvy Senior,
A few months ago, I read a column you wrote on extremely cheap smartphone plans for budget-conscious seniors. Can you do a similar column for those of us who still use basic flip phones? My old 3G flip phone is about to become obsolete, so I’m looking for the cheapest possible replacement. I only need a simple cell phone (no data) for emergency calls when I’m away from home.
For many seniors, like yourself, who only want a simple basic cell phone for emergency purposes and occasional calls, there are a number of super cheap plans available from small wireless providers you may have never heard of. Here are some of the best deals available right now.
Cheapest Basic Plans
For extremely light cell phone users, the cheapest wireless plan available is through US Mobile (USMobile.com), which has a “build your own plan” that starts at only $2 per month for 75 minutes of talk time. If you want text messaging capabilities, an extra $1.50/month will buy you 50 texts per month.
US Mobile runs on Verizon’s and T-Mobile’s networks and gives you the option to bring your existing phone (if compatible or unlocked) or purchase a new device, while keeping your same phone number if you wish.
If your flip phone is becoming obsolete, as you mentioned in your question, you’ll need to buy a new device, which you can do through US Mobile if you choose their plan. They offer the “NUU F4L” flip phone for $39 for new customers. Or you can purchase an unlocked phone through retail stores like Walmart or Best Buy, or online. One of the best value flip phones right now is the (unlocked) “Alcatel GO FLIP 4044 4G LTE,” available at Amazon.com for $80.
Some other super cheap wireless plans worth a look are Ultra Mobile’s “PayGo” plan (UltraMobile.com/PayGo), which provides 100 talk minutes, 100 texts for only $3 per month. And Tello’s (Tello.com) “build your own plan” that starts at $5 per month for 100 talk minutes and unlimited texting.
Both Ultra Mobile PayGo and Tello also run on T-Mobile’s network and will let you use your existing phone (if compatible or unlocked) or buy a new one.
Senior Targeted Providers
In addition to these super cheap plans, there are several other wireless companies that cater to older customers and offer low-cost basic plans and simple flip phones. One of the least expensive is through TracFone (Tracfone.com), which offers a 60-minute talk, text and web plan for $20 that lasts for 90 days. That averages out to $6.66 per month.
Three other providers that are popular among seniors are Snapfon (Snapfon.com), which offers a 100 minutes and unlimited texting plan for $10. Consumer Cellular (ConsumerCellular.com), which provides an unlimited talk plan or $15 per month. They also give 5 percent discounts to AARP members. And Lively (Lively.com), maker of the popular Jitterbug Flip2 senior-friendly flip phone. Their cheapest monthly plan is 300 minutes of talk and text for $15.
You also need to know that if you’re on a government program such as Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income or food stamps/SNAP. Or, if your annual household income is at or below 135 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines – $18,347 for one person, or $24,719 for two – you might also qualify for free or subsidized wireless plans from various carriers via the federal Lifeline program. To find out if you’re eligibility or apply, visit LifelineSupport.org.
Ways to Pay for Long-Term Care Without Insurance or Savings
Dear Savvy Senior,
What types of financial resources are available to help seniors pay for long-term care? My 86-year-old mother will need either an assisted living facility or nursing home care in the near future, but she doesn’t have long-term care insurance and her savings are minimal.
The cost of assisted living and nursing home care in the U.S is very expensive. According to the Genworth cost of care survey tool, the national median cost for an assisted living facility today is over $4,600 per month, while nursing home care runs more than $8,100 per month for a semi-private room. (See Genworth.com/aging-and-you/finances/cost-of-care.html to look up costs in your area.)
Most people pay for long-term care (LTC) – which encompasses assisted living, nursing home and in-home care – with either personal funds, government programs or insurance. But if your mom is lacking in savings and has no LTC insurance to cover her costs, here are your best options to look for funding.
Medicaid (not Medicare): The first thing you need to know is that Medicare (the government health insurance program for seniors 65 and older and those with disabilities) does not cover long-term care. It only provides limited short-term coverage, up to 100 days for skilled nursing or rehabilitation services after a three-day hospital stay.
Medicaid, however, (the joint federal and state program that covers health care for the poor) does cover nursing home and in-home care. But to be eligible for coverage, your mother must be very low-income. Her countable assets can’t be more than around $2,000, including investments. (Note that most people who enter a nursing home don’t qualify for Medicaid at first but pay for care out-of-pocket until they deplete their savings enough to qualify.)
There are also many states that now have Medicaid waver programs that can help pay for assisted living. To get more information on Medicaid coverage and eligibility, call your state Medicaid office (see Medicaid.gov). You can also check your mom’s Medicaid eligibility at MedicaidPlanningAssistance.org.
Veterans benefits: If your mom is a wartime veteran, or a spouse or surviving spouse of a wartime veteran, there is a benefit called Aid and Attendance that can help pay toward her long-term care.
To be eligible, your mom must need assistance with daily living activities like bathing, dressing or going to the bathroom. And her yearly income must be under $15,816 as a surviving spouse, or $24,610 for a single veteran – after her medical and long-term care expenses. Her assets must also be less than $138,489 excluding her home and car.
To learn more, see VA.gov/geriatrics, or contact your regional VA office, or your local veterans service organization. Call 800-827-1000 for contact information.
Life insurance: If your mom has a life insurance policy, find out if it offers an accelerated death benefit that would allow her to get a tax-free advance to help pay for her care.
Or consider selling her policy to a life settlement company. These are companies that buy life insurance policies for cash, continue to pay the premiums and collect the death benefit when she dies. Most sellers generally get four to eight times more than the policy cash surrender value.
If she owns a policy with a face value of $100,000 or more and is interested in this option, get quotes from several brokers or life settlement providers. To locate some, use the Life Insurance Settlement Association member directory at LISA.org.
To look for these and other programs in your area that can help pay your mom’s long-term care, go to PayingForSeniorCare.com and click on “Find Financial Assistance for Care.”
What is an Annual Notice of Change?
Dear Savvy Senior,
Last year I received a “notice of change” letter from my Medicare provider. Should I expect another one this year, and what should I do with it?
The letter you’re asking about is actually referred to as the Annual Notice of Change (or ANOC), which is a letter you receive from your Medicare Advantage or Medicare Part D prescription drug plan in late September. (People with only a Medigap plan don’t receive these because Medigap plans do not have benefit changes from year to year). So yes, you should expect to receive another letter next month.
The ANOC gives a summary of any changes in your plan’s costs and coverage that will take effect Jan. 1 of the next year. The ANOC is typically mailed with the plan’s “evidence of coverage,” which is a more comprehensive list of the plan’s costs and benefits for the upcoming year.
You should review these notices to see if your plan will continue to meet your health care needs in 2023. If you are dissatisfied with any upcoming changes, you can make changes to your coverage during fall open enrollment, which runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7.
Here are three types of changes to look for:
Costs: If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, find out what you can expect to pay for services in 2023. Costs such as deductibles and copayments can change each year. For example, your plan may not have had a deductible in 2022, but it could have one in 2023. A deductible is the amount of money you owe out-of-pocket before your plan begins to cover your care. Another example is that your plan may increase the copayments you owe for visits to your primary care provider or specialists.
Coverage: If you have an Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage check to see if your doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers and pharmacies will still be in network for 2023. You have the lowest out-of-pocket costs if you go to providers and pharmacies that are in your plan’s network. If you see an out-of-network provider, your plan may not cover any of the cost of your care, leaving you to pay the cost out-of-pocket. You should also contact your providers directly to confirm that they will still be accepting your plan in the coming year.
Drugs: If you have prescription drug coverage, look through the plan’s formulary, which is the list of drugs the plan covers. Formulary changes can happen from year to year, so make sure the medications you’re taking will be covered next year, and that they’re not moved to a higher tier which will affect your copay. If you see any changes that will increase your costs, you may want to select a different drug plan that covers all of your medications. If the formulary is incomplete, or you do not see your drug(s) on the list, contact the plan directly to learn more.
If you have not received an ANOC by the end of September, you should contact your Medicare Advantage Plan or Part D plan to request it. This notice can be very helpful in determining whether you should make any changes to your coverage during the fall open enrollment. Reading your ANOC can also prevent any surprises about your coverage in the new year.
Shopping, comparing and enrolling in a new Medicare Advantage or Part D plan during the open enrollment period can easily be done online at Medicare’s Plan Finder Tool at Medicare.gov/find-a-plan.
Or, if you don’t have a computer or Internet access, you can also call Medicare at 800-633-4227 and they can help you out over the phone. Your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), which provides free Medicare counseling, is also a great resource to help you make any changes. To find a local SHIP counselor, visit ShipHelp.org or call 877-839-2675.
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.