Dear Liz: When I sat down with my accountant in March to do my 2017 taxes, he said next year I will take the standard deduction. Are my contributions to charity still deductible if I take the standard deduction?
Answer: No. Charitable contributions are an itemized deduction. If you don’t itemize your deductions, you won’t get the tax break.
Congress nearly doubled the standard deduction as part of its tax reform. For married couples, the standard deduction is now $24,000, up from $12,700. The state and local tax deduction was capped at $10,000. As a result, the proportion of taxpayers who will itemize their deductions is expected to drop from about 30% to 10% or less.
Leaving the U.S. for cheap healthcare
Dear Liz: Your column a few weeks ago suggested a couple consider leaving the country for healthcare benefits until they reach the age to receive Medicare. We are in a similar position, with enough money to retire early but profoundly worried about the future availability of health insurance. Which countries are considered good options for American ex-pats who want good, affordable healthcare?
Answer: Five countries with healthcare comparable to or better than the U.S. are Colombia, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Mexico and Panama, according to International Living, a site for living and investing abroad. These countries have both public and private healthcare systems, with out-of-pocket costs that are a fraction of what they are in the U.S.
In Mexico, for example, many doctors receive at least some of their training in the U.S. and speak English, according to International Living. The public healthcare system typically costs legal residents a few hundred dollars a year, while private services and prescription drugs cost 25% to 50% of their U.S. equivalents.
Some early retirees like their adopted countries enough to stay past age 65, but they should strongly consider signing up for Medicare when they are eligible, even if they can’t immediately use its services. Failure to sign up can lead to permanent penalties that will make Medicare more expensive if and when they do come back to the U.S.
Healthcare costs could nix early retirement
Dear Liz: Recently you included a letter from a retired person who was amused by the suggestion that early retirees may have to go abroad to find affordable healthcare. I was horrified by that letter and shared your article with several friends. Something is deeply wrong when a nation offers citizens who have contributed to its success so few options regarding decent medical care. It makes me very sad and angry. Thank you for focusing attention on this issue.
Answer: Currently early retirees do have an option before they’re old enough for Medicare, which is to buy insurance from Affordable Care Act exchanges. The future of that coverage is in doubt, though, which is why many financial planners are warning their clients who had planned on early retirement to continue working, if that guarantees them access to health insurance. Moving abroad is another option for the adventurous, but obviously won’t be a good solution for many.
Beware of ‘junk’ medical insurance
Dear Liz: In response to your response to the retired couple about healthcare costs. I wish everyone else could be informed about this. Healthcare costs in the individual market before the ACA were anything but affordable. I had to quit my job because my husband got ill in 2000. I was healthy and was paying at first $350 a month. Every couple of years it went up because I entered a new age bracket. I had to drop my coverage when premiums went to $800. And that was for a junk policy. I was hit by a car and I realized what it didn’t cover. I almost went bankrupt, but was able to sue my own car insurance company so that I wouldn’t lose my house. I finally was able to get on Medicare when I turned 65.
Answer: Thank you for mentioning the issue of “junk” policies. Some of the cheaper alternatives to ACA policies offer far less coverage, something buyers may not discover until it’s too late. Any insurance policy worth the name should cover the kinds of catastrophically high expenses that could otherwise wipe out a retirement fund or lead to bankruptcy.
Liz Weston, certified financial planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com. Distributed by No More Red Inc.