3 Ways Insurers are Helping Policyholders Affected by COVID-19

The insurance industry is an “essential” business during the coronavirus pandemic and all the related upheaval social distancing and self-quarantining has created. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to continue working in the industry are finding as many ways as possible to help those who can’t work, or who can only work limited hours, and are suffering financially.

Please check with your insurance agents and insurance companies to see what assistance is being made available to you. Here are 3 types of help you should be able to obtain immediately with respect to your current insurance policies. In many cases, these actions are MANDATED by federal or state law.

  • Health insurance companies are waiving patient cost-sharing in the forms of deductibles, co-payments, and coinsurance
  • Insurance carriers have suspended the issuance of cancellations for failure to pay premiums when due–for a certain time period (i.e., until May 1)
  • Some insurance carriers are allowing people to extend the due date of premiums due on renewal policies for a certain time IF they call the carrier at a designated phone number to make arrangements

Each insurance company will be responding differently based on a number of factors, so call your agent or insurer to find out what type of assistance is being offered. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has created a Coronavirus Recourse Center on its website, which can be found here.

Many insurance companies, agencies, and other professionals are publishing and broadcasting all kinds of information to help but take care to be sure you’re listening to a reputable source. As we often see on social media, some individuals thriving on exploiting others.

Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you might have about, and I’ll get you an answer.

3 Biggest No-Nos When Working from Home

Nine years ago, I took the plunge and began a freelance writing business working from home. And when I say “plunge,” I don’t do so lightly. When you’ve spent 37 years working in sales, and owning three businesses, and teaching agents and adjusters insurance continuing education classes, that tumble is more like a nosedive.

In all honesty, I must disclose that I’m an introvert. Yes, I’m loud and shine in group settings. But I’d prefer to be in small groups or, better yet, by myself. Still, making the adjustment from talking to 50 or more people each day to only holding regular conversations with my dog and cat took an adjustment.

I’m sure I made 95% of the mistakes one can make when working from home–which is why I know what the three biggest ones are, and what you can to do avoid them.

My sister will back me up on this. Although she works in healthcare billing, and is an “essential” employee, she’s juggling working from home with spending a couple of days a week at the office due to the coronavirus shelter in place requirements of the state she lives in. At the end of her first day working from home–ever, she actually called me and volunteered that she was glad she’d followed some (not all) of the tips I’d shared. So, let me share the three she appreciated most.

No-No #1: Not having a dedicated office or work area. A business associate, like my sister, is learning all about this. During our telephone conference the other day, she was sitting in her bedroom closet with the door closed while I was at the desk in my office

I understand most of you don’t have an extra room sitting around. I wouldn’t, either, if I hadn’t planned my living space around my job. But before I could afford to do that, I placed a desk with my PC next to a small bookcase in a corner of my living room and that was my “office.”

Whenever I worked, that’s where I sat. That’s where my supplies were, and no one else could use the space. (Except the cat. And that’s only because he doesn’t listen.) I don’t watch television, so I wasn’t tempted to turn on the nonexistent device. But I sure was tempted to look at the activities going on outdoors, and the clouds floating by in the sky, and anything else that caught my eye.

Concentrating is difficult, especially when there are so many more interesting things to do than work. Having a dedicated work location is the best way to minimize distractions.

No-No #2: Not establishing “work” hours. When we begin working from home, we view the burgeoning day as we sip our coffee or tea. We see the enormous expanse of time and visualize all the things we’re going to get done … after we toss a load of laundry into the washer … or take a walk with Fido … or finish the last chapter of that great book we’re reading.

Problem is, by the time we finish doing all three of those things, and then hop in the shower, it’s noon. And half our day is shot. Stick to your office schedule at home. If you absolutely MUST run outside to meet the mailman, or romp with Rover in the back yard, schedule those activities as you would your break time at the “real” office. Work is work. You can still do it the same way, at the same time, regardless of where you are.

No-No #3: Staying in your PJs. More so now than when I started working from home, technology makes things easier and more difficult, all at the same time. Having work laptops that travel with us, and remote access to our servers at the office, truly does allow us to perform the same tasks regardless of where we are. However, when your boss says you need to be available for video chats, she means it.

Not wearing makeup is one thing. Wearing your college sweatshirt with the shredded, distended neckline is entirely something else. I no longer wear suits to work these days, and I definitely don’t wear makeup unless I know for sure I’ll be video chatting that day. I wear jeans in the winter and shorts in the summer. I wear slippers or go barefoot. But I always wear a nice blouse or top, along with earrings and a little jewelry.

If I weren’t dressed, I wouldn’t feel as if my day had truly begun. I’d be too relaxed, not ready to jump into action. When I work, I want to be prepared for anything that happens–which is tough to do if I’m wearing old white socks, red plaid flannels, an orange t-shirt, and a black sweatshirt.

To get back to my sister and wrap this up. When she called me that night after her first day from working at home, she said the best thing she could have done was get up, have her coffee, shower, dress and head for work the same way she always does. She got a kick out of having a commute that lasted four steps instead of twenty minutes driving through traffic, but said going through the same motions put her head in the right place. She declared her dining room the “office,” which worked well. But she did keep the television on low in the living room. Unlike me, she’s not real fond of being alone in absolute silence.

What No-Nos have you fallen prey to, and how do you avoid them?


Do You Write Short Stories?

Once upon a time, if you wrote short stories, you could make some serious money doing so. Nowadays, writing short stories isn’t so lucrative. At least not if you measure success in the form of money.

Four years ago, I entered the first short story I ever wrote to the 16th annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. I loved that story but sadly, it didn’t place in the top 25–which it needed to do to receive honorable mention and publication in the compilation edition.

I was really surprised that the story didn’t receive mention, so I decided to conduct some more research into the required elements of a short story. I should have done that in the first place. No matter how much we think we know about writing, or publishing, or the market–things are constantly changing and there’s stuff we simply don’t know. For a smart person, I do some pretty dumb things sometimes…

After conducting my research and taking months upon months for inspiration to strike so I could put that newly learned knowledge to work, I submitted my second short story to the 17th annual WD competition. Mama ranked 15th of more than 4,000 entries. (In reality, it ranked 16th and was fortunate enough to be booted up a place when one of the first 15 entrants withdrew his/her entry because it sold!) It was published in the compilation and has received some excellent reviews.

During the past couple of years, I’ve found writing short stories to be a gold mine in terms of cultivating idea, honing my craft, and … well … telling stories. I’ve taken the first couple of chapters of a book that never got past the first act and turned them into a short story. I’ve taken ideas that simply don’t support an entire novel, and turned them into short stories. Right now, I’m taking a personal issue I’ve had for some time and, I hope, am in the process writing a short story as a form of catharsis.

Will I actually publish it? Who knows? But I need to write every day and since writing these shorts seems to be helping me professionally, I’m fine with that. FYI, I revised that first short story and submitted it to a different competition earlier this year. I should know by the end of the month if it won.

Here are a few tidbits I came up with when research the writing of short stories, followed by some short story markets that interest me. Disclaimer: This is information that appeals to me–it may not appeal to you. Feel free to share resources and info that appeals to you. Other people will likely share your perspective:

  • Word count for short stories is typically between 1,500 and 7,500 words. Having said that, some markets routinely accept stories up to 10,000 words.
  • Flash fiction, or short short stories, are between 500 and 1,500 words. Micro flash fiction can be even fewer than 500 words.
  • Writer’s Digest and Crazyhorse hold annual short story (and other ) competitions, in addition to publishing/buying them.
  • Other markets that publish/buy short stories include Story, The Sun, Fireside, and VQR.
  • The Short Mystery Fiction Society Blog is a great resource, you should check it out.

What challenges have you faced writing, marketing, and/or selling short stories? Want to share your own resources? We inquiring minds want to know…



Federal Law Changes that Will Affect Your Tax Return – Part 3

Yesterday and Tuesday I published the first 2 posts of a 3-part series about some of the questions people are asking with respect to recent federal legislation. Specifically, those questions are:

  1. Was Obamacare really declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court?
  2. Were the required minimum distributions (RMDs) at age 70 ½ from your retirement plan really eliminated?
  3. And how about the threshold for writing off medical expenses–was that also tossed away?

I answered question #1 in Tuesday’s blog post, question #2 in yesterday’s blog post, and will answer question #3 today.

Not everyone knows or understands about the medical expense deduction that can be taken when filing your federal income tax return. Obviously, if you’re in good health and you spent little or no money on medical expenses, it’s not something you would know about. But for people with serious and/or ongoing conditions, and for the self-employed, the costs of medical expenses can be quite high.

The IRS has long allowed individuals who itemize their tax deductions on their federal income tax returns to deduct expenses for medical and dental care for themselves, their spouses, and their dependents. (See the most current IRS Publication 502, or Tax Topic 502 on the IRS website.)

Before the ACA was enacted, the amount of expenses that could be deducted was the total that exceeded 7.5% of the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income. Example:

  • Taxpayer’s AGI was $50,000
  • Total medical and dental expenses paid by the taxpayer for himself and his family during the tax year was $10,000
  • The amount the taxpayer could deduct is $6,250
    • 50,000 x 7.5% threshold = $3,750
    • Deductible amount is the amount OVER $3,750, or $10,000 – $3,750 = $5,250

When the ACA was enacted, the medical expense deduction threshold was increased to 10%, although it didn’t apply to anyone over age 65 until tax year 2017. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act contained a provision that said the increase in the medical expense deduction threshold would not apply to anyone in tax years 2017 and 2018. This meant the threshold remained at 7.5% for all taxpayers through 12/31/2018.

The recently enacted Taxpayer Certainty and Disaster Relief Act extended the lower 7.5% threshold for medical expense deductions for the 2019 tax year. Clearly, if you don’t itemize on your tax return, this doesn’t affect you. But it does affect many Americans, especially those who are older and have chronic medical conditions.

I hope this series has provided information you can use or pass along. Feel free to reach out to me if there are any other topics you’re interested in learning more about.


Federal Law Changes That Will Affect Your Tax Return – Part 2

Yesterday, I began a 3-part series about some of the questions people are asking about recent federal legislation. Specifically, those questions are:

  1. Was Obamacare really declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court?
  2. Were the required minimum distributions (RMDs) at age 70 ½ from your retirement plan really eliminated?
  3. And how about the threshold for writing off medical expenses–was that also tossed away?

I answered question #1 in yesterday’s blog post and will answer question #3 in tomorrow’s blog post. Here’s my answer about the changes the SECURE Act brought to required minimum distributions (RMD).

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act went into law in December 2019 as part of the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020. The SECURE Act deals primarily with retirement plans–and a number of changes to those plans, especially to qualified plans.

A qualified retirement plan is established with money that has not been taxed. Examples include an employee depositing money into an IRA or 401(k) with salary before payroll taxes are deducted, or an employer depositing matching funds.

The IRS has long required individuals to begin withdrawing funds from qualified accounts at a specific age. Why? So it can collect taxes on that money! If a person establishes an IRA, or begins contributing to a 401(k) at age 40, the government doesn’t collect any taxes on the funds in these qualified plans until the account holder begins withdrawing the funds. A person can easily build an account with hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime of working.

The required beginning date of a retirement account is the date the account holder MUST begin making withdrawals–withdrawals that will be taxed by the IRS. These withdrawals are called required minimum distributions, or RMDs. For people who turn age 70 ½ on or before January 1, 2020, RMDs must be taken no later than April 1 of the year after the account holder turns age 70 ½.

For example:

  • If my 70th birthday was March 3, 2018, I turned 70 ½ on September 3, 2018. I had to make my first RMD no later than 4/1/2019.
  • If my 70th birthday was October 9, 2018, I turned 70 ½ on April 9, 2019. I have to make my first RMD no later than 4/1/2020.

Per the SECURE Act, the required beginning date was changed to 72 because many people are working longer. But it only changed for those who turn 70 ½ after 1/1/2020. People who turn 70 ½ after 1/1/2020 must begin their RMDs no later than April 1 of the year after they turn age 72. For example, if my 70th birthday is February 21, 2020, I will have to take my first RMD by April 1 of 2023 because that is the year after I turn age 72.

One of the issues concerning this age change is the fact that some people won’t have to make any RMDs in 2020. Here’s a Forbes article that explains this issue in more detail.

One final thing about RMDs. Before the SECURE Act, individuals could not begin a traditional IRA after age 70 ½, nor could they make contributions to it after that age. Now, so long as a person is working and earning income, he or she can open and make contributions to a traditional IRA at any age.

Check back tomorrow for the third and final part of this blog post series: the medical expense deduction threshold.