Dear Liz: I am 25 and work two part-time jobs, neither of which offers health insurance. Once I’m 26, I will no longer be able to remain on my parents' policy. Do I need a full-time job to receive health benefits, or do I have other options?
Answer: You currently have other options, but you may still want to look for a full-time job that offers this important benefit.
Although a Texas judge ruled the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, the law giving people access to health insurance remains in effect while legal challenges play out. You can start your search for coverage at www.healthcare.gov. The open enrollment period for most people has ended, but some states including California have extended the deadline to Jan. 15. In addition, you would qualify for a “special enrollment” period once you turn 26 and lose eligibility for coverage on a parent’s plan.
If the ACA does go away, health insurance may become harder to qualify for and more expensive. Group health insurance through an employer may become your best option.
Options for high debt, low income
Dear Liz: I'm 87 and drowning in debt, owing more than $21,000 with an income of $23,000 from Social Security and two small pensions. I don’t like the idea of debt consolidation but is that better than bankruptcy? My only asset is a 2003 car.
Answer: Debt consolidation merely replaces one type of debt (say, credit cards) with another, typically a personal loan. You are unlikely to qualify for such a loan and even if you did, your situation wouldn’t improve much if at all because your debt is so large relative to your income.
You may be confusing debt consolidation with debt settlement, which is where you or someone you hire tries to settle debts for less than what you owe. Debt settlement can take years and may not result in much savings, since the forgiven debt is considered taxable income and hiring a debt settlement company can cost thousands of dollars. In addition, people in the debt settlement process risk being sued by their creditors. Bankruptcy is typically a better option for most people because it costs less, is completed more quickly and ends the threat of lawsuits.
You may not need to file for bankruptcy, however, if you’re “judgment proof,” which means that even if you stop paying your creditors and they successfully sue you, the creditors wouldn’t be able to collect on those judgments. That’s typically the case when someone’s income comes from protected sources, such as Social Security and certain pensions, and they don’t have any assets a creditor can seize.
Please discuss your situation with a bankruptcy attorney who can review your options. You can get a referral from the National Assn. of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys at www.nacba.org.
Retirement planning needs expert help
Dear Liz: I am about to retire and have had to make some very important decisions: How should I receive my company pension, when should we start taking Social Security, should we convert some IRAs to Roths, how to best cover our healthcare needs and what the best ways are to manage our tax bill. I think we are OK and on track, but I worry about people who don’t have a college degree and who have not studied these issues trying to make similar decisions. I think it’s scary and we should do more to help people secure their retirement.
Answer: You’re quite right that retirement involves a number of complex choices, many of which are irreversible. It’s easy to make the wrong decisions, even if you do have a college degree and think you know what you’re doing.
Everyone approaching retirement should realize that they don’t know what they don’t know, and if possible seek out an expert, objective second opinion on their retirement plans to ensure they’re making the best possible choices.