Note: This is Part 1 in a series. See also “10 More Checklist Items for the Retiring Baby Boomer“, as well as Part 3: 7 Must-Do Items Now That You Are Retired.
January 9, 2011 — The oldest of the nation’s baby boomers, those born in 1946, start turning 65 this year. For people who grew up with the Mickey Mouse Club and the Lone Ranger, the thought of getting involved with the Social Security Administration might be hard to swallow, but it is about to happen to you. This article will be your primer for what you need to do, now that you are 65. Note: The government’s Social Security and Medicare websites are first rate and very helpful. We have used much of their information in the sections below, and provided links as well.
1. Register for Medicare to start your health care coverage
Medicare is a Health Insurance Program for people age 65 or older, some disabled people under age 65, and people of all ages with End-Stage Renal Disease. Sign up three months before the month you turn 65 to insure that coverage begins on the first day of your birth month. Don’t wait until your birth month to apply or you might experience coverage delays. To apply, visit your local Social Security office or call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. You can apply online (using the Internet) if you meet certain rules. To apply online, visit www.socialsecurity.gov. You cannot apply online if you want to enroll in Medicare but not start your Social Security payments.
2. Decide about Part B insurance
Even if you keep working after you turn 65, you should sign up for Medicare Part A. If you have health coverage through your employer or union, Part A may still help pay some of the costs not covered by your group health plan. However, you may want to wait to sign up for Medicare Part B if you or your spouse are working and have group health coverage, because you will be paying the premium for coverage you are probably already getting.
3. Decide about a Medicare Advantage Plan (Part C).
A Medicare Advantage Plan (like an HMO or PPO) is another Medicare health plan choice you may have as part of Medicare. Medicare Advantage Plans, sometimes called “Part C” or “MA Plans,” are offered by private companies approved by Medicare. If you join a Medicare Advantage Plan, the plan will provide all of your Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) coverage. Medicare Advantage Plans may offer extra coverage, such as vision, hearing, dental, and/or health and wellness programs. Most include Medicare prescription drug coverage (Part D). For more on Part C.
4. Part D – Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage Decision
Medicare prescription drug coverage is insurance run by an insurance company or other private company approved by Medicare. There are two ways to get Medicare prescription drug coverage:
1. Medicare Prescription Drug Plans. These plans (sometimes called “PDPs”) add drug coverage to Original Medicare, some Medicare Cost Plans, some Medicare Private Fee-for-Service (PFFS) Plans, and Medicare Medical Savings Account (MSA) Plans.
2. Medicare Advantage Plans (like an HMO or PPO) are other Medicare health plans that offer Medicare prescription drug coverage. You get all of your Part A and Part B coverage, and prescription drug coverage (Part D), through these plans. Medicare Advantage Plans with prescription drug coverage are sometimes called “MA-PDs.”
Important: If you decide not to join a Medicare drug plan when you’re first eligible, and you don’t have other credible prescription drug coverage, you will likely pay a late enrollment penalty.
Finding a Medicare Drug Plan:
The Medicare Drug Plan Finder can help you find and compare plans in your area.
Costs of Part B: Your Part D monthly premium could change based on your income. Many people qualify to get extra help paying their Medicare prescription drug costs but don’t know it. Most who qualify and join a Medicare drug plan will get 95% of their costs covered. You must have Medicare Part A or Part B to get Part D coverage. See Medicare Part D for more details.
Consider a Medigap Policy. Many people also consider a Medigap policy to cover out-of-pocket expenses like the $1,156 deductible for hospitalization under Part A, or the 20 percent coinsurance for outpatient and physician care under Part B. This Medicare brochure explains them in greater detail, including how to shop for one.
5. Decide when you want to start receiving social security.
If you have started taking your benefits this question doesn’t apply. For people born between 1943 and 1954, your full retirement age is 66. If you were in born in 1946 and elect to start receiving your benefits this year, you will get 93.3% of the monthly benefit you would receive if you waited until age 66. If you delay taking benefits even longer (until a maximum of age 70), you will receive 8% more for each year you wait.
When to start taking your benefits is an important question with many different factors and conflicting opinions. If you live to the average life expectancy it probably doesn’t make any difference when you start – if you start early you will get less over a longer time, and if you starte later you get more for a shorter time. If you continue working your benefits can be reduced – in 2010 if you were under your full retirement age, for every $2 over the $14,160 limit, $1 is withheld from benefits. In the year you reach full retirement age the limit goes to $37,681; then for every $3 over the limit there is a benefit reduction of $1. After that you can make as much as you want and see no reduction in benefits.
If you live longer than the average life expectancy you would probably earn more if you started your benefits later. When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits from the Social Security Administration is very helpful; so is “A Surprising Answer as to When to Start Taking Social Security Benefits” from Topretirements.com. Here’s where you can apply for Social Security.
6. Save more money for retirement
If you are working, it’s never too late to save more for your retirement (and shield it from taxation until at least age 70 and 1/2). For example, if you are over age 50 you can contribute $6,000 to your IRA (until the year you reach 70.5). You might also be able to contribute to a 401k, Roth IRA, or SEP. Contact your tax professional to find out what might apply in your situation.
7. Decide where you are going to retire
We hope you visit Topretirements to help find out your best place to retire. Even if you are not going to retire for a few more years, it is not too early to start planning. Make a list of your primary considerations (our “Baby Boomers Guide to Selecting a Retirement Community” is a great resource”). Check out Topretirements to look for towns that fit your needs. Take our Retirement Ranger Quiz to help identify likely towns and communities. Then start visiting different places – either on special trips or tacked on to your other travel. Take advantage of “Stay and Play” packages – there is no better way to evaluate a place than to stay there for a while.
8. Write out your bucket list
Take retirement by the throat – this is your chance to do anything you want. Spend some time and write out the list of things you want to accomplish in the rest of your life. Our “Retirement Bucket List” article can definitely help.
9. Take responsibility for your own retirement
In a recent PBS show, “Will Baby Boomer Retirements Strain U.S. Resources“, Judy Woodruff interviewed 2 experts about baby boomers’ impact on retirement. Ted Fishman, who wrote “Shock of Gray” talked about the impact of having fewer than ever workers support a huge number of retired boomers. Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute urged boomers to take charge of their finances, since most haven’t saved enough, and many had to retire earlier than planned. He urged boomers to ask pro-active questions like: “How do I improve my skills so I can work longer and save more money.”
10. Start taking your senior citizen discounts
Sure it hurts to be getting older. But for those of us with a little Scotch ancestry, saving 10-15% every time we buy a movie ticket, cup of coffee, or ski pass might help take the sting out of it.
For further reference:
Part 2: 10 More Checklist Items for the Retiring Baby Boomer
Part 3: 7 Must-Do Items Now That You Are Retired
Didn’t Sign up for Medicare Part D – Double Ouch!
Social Security Website
How to Solve the Healthcare Insurance Puzzle if You Retire Before Age 65
Consumer Reports info on Medigap Policies
What Else Should You Know, Now That You Are 65?
Please use the Comments section below to tell us what we missed, or add your thoughts and observations.