Tricare Drops Telehealth Copays

Tricare will now cover telephone services for some medical appointments and will eliminate copayments for beneficiaries who use telehealth services in place of an in-person visit to the doctor during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Effective Wednesday, the Defense Department’s health program will cover audio-only remote services for office visits “when appropriate” and will not require copays for telemedicine, according to a notice in the Federal Register.

The coverage will extend through the end or suspension of the national emergency as declared by President Donald Trump, according to the ruling.

The ruling eliminates cost-sharing, including co-pays and deductibles, for in-network telehealth services for both Tricare Prime and Tricare Select beneficiaries in all geographic locations.

It also lifts Tricare’s prohibition on medical services via telephone, allowing physicians or other providers to evaluate a patient’s symptoms by phone. While the ruling is clear that appointments via telehealth — with audio and video capability — are preferred, phone calls are acceptable for those who may not have access to high-speed internet or a computer with Wi-Fi access.

The service applies to any illness or injury covered by Tricare, including COVID-19, but calls must be considered medically necessary and conducted by a network Tricare provider within the scope of his or her professional license.

To be eligible for reimbursement for a telephone consult, providers should determine that a phone call is “appropriate for accomplishing the clinical goals of the encounter” and must document it, according to the ruling.

Any visit requiring a physical exam would not be appropriate for a phone consultation and would not be covered, Tricare officials added.

The ruling also lifts some restrictions on providers practicing medicine across state lines. Under normal circumstances, Tricare requires that providers must be licensed in the state where they are practicing, and they can treat patients only in that state.

Under the temporary rule, providers will still be required to be licensed but can provide telehealth and audio medicine to patients across state lines. For example, in Washington, D.C., Tricare providers would be allowed to provide telemedicine to their patients who reside in Virginia. Previously, this was prohibited.

The change was made to ensure that providers can deliver care as needed to beneficiaries, regardless of where they are located.

The licensure change also would let Tricare providers treat beneficiaries in other nations, as long as the host nation allows it and is not on a sanctions list. Under such circumstances, the host nation will still regulate the provider’s ability to practice; the ruling simply ensures that it is allowable in places where it is permitted and would be reimbursable under Tricare.

The change could help Tricare beneficiaries who need mental health services during the pandemic; some military families living overseas have said they are unable to access quality behavioral health care because mental health treatment practices and availability vary widely across countries.

Source: Patricia Kime, article found on Military.com

How The Economic Stimulus Can Seriously Affect Your Retirement Funds

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides many economic benefits to citizens and businesses that are designed to help the economic well being of the people and nation. While everyone knows about the stimulus checks that were authorized as part of the law, some of the lesser known provisions may affect your retirement fund.

To qualify for any of these new changes to the law you need to be “personally affected” by the COVID-19 outbreak. This may mean that you, or an immediate family member are diagnosed with the disease; or you have been furloughed, laid off, had work hours reduced or have otherwise had your employment status seriously affected by the pandemic.

Several of the provisions of the CARES act made changes to the way you can withdraw money from your Individual Retirement Account (IRA), 401k employer sponsored retirement plan or your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) account, which is the 401k plan for federal government employees including military members.

While almost every financial expert strongly advises against taking money out of your retirement fund before retirement, there may be situations where you have no other choice. Just remember, if you are considering a 401k or TSP withdrawal or loan you should only use it as your last resort.

Exclusion of Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) for 2020

When you reach your early seventies you are normally required to take a certain amount out of your 401k, TSP, or IRA each year or be hit with a penalty from Uncle Sam.

Language in the CARES act effectively did away with that requirement for this year. So, if you are old enough, have enough money to get by on and don’t want to take money out of your retirement savings, you don’t have to this year. This could effectively give you a big tax break.

Extension of Rollover Time Limit

If you want to transfer money from one retirement fund to another you now have longer to do it.

Prior to the CARES act you had 60 days after withdrawing money from your 401k plan to deposit it into another qualified retirement plan. You would normally only do this if you changed employers or found a better plan and wanted to switch.

Under previous rules, if you didn’t redeposit the money within sixty days you were hit with a penalty of 10% of your withdrawal payable to Uncle Sam and on top of that you had to pay taxes on the entire amount.

The new law did away with the 60 day deadline and says that you have until July 15 to reinvest any withdrawals made between Feb. 1 and May 15.

Elimination of Early Withdrawal Penalty

Another provision of the CARES act eliminated the 10% early-withdrawal penalty and the 20% federal tax withholding on all early withdrawals from your retirement account.

If you are younger than 59 years and six months and take money out of your retirement account it is considered an “early withdrawal.” You are limited to a maximum withdrawal of $100,000 under this provision.

While your tax liability is different for withdrawals from a traditional retirement plan and a Roth retirement plan, the penalties have been removed from both. The new law also lets you spread out your tax liability on any early withdrawals over three years instead of hitting you with the entire tax bill in the year you take money out.

Expansion of Loan Limits

If you want to get a loan from your 401k or TSP account, the maximum loan you can get has been increased from $50,000 to $100,000. Also, if you have an existing loan, you may be eligible to delay repayments for up to one year.

Source: Military.com

Your Finances in the “New Normal” of the COVID-19 Pandemic

As countries and businesses begin plans to return back to work and relax social distancing orders, you might be thinking about what life is going to look like in the “new normal.”

Obviously, it is going to take a while for everything to get back to 100%, but it’s good to start thinking about what this transition might look like for your finances.

Know What Grace Periods Are Ending

In most places, governments and companies have provided grace periods for those who have had financial challenges as a result of COVID-19. As the world starts to open back up, you’ll want to know the end dates for these grace periods so that you don’t accidentally miss a payment.

It might take you an afternoon, but sit down sometime soon and figure out any grace period that you opted to use. If you share expenses with a partner, be sure to go over any finances together so that you are both on the same page. Think about any student loans, car payments, mortgage payments, and so forth.

After you’ve accounted for all of your expenses, be sure to write down when you need to start paying those bills again. You might even want to put a notification in your phone to remind you to start the routine again or put the bills on auto payment so that you don’t forget.

Figure Out What Expenses You Have to Pay

If you’ve deferred some expenses due to grace periods, you’ll want to figure out what you absolutely have to pay the next time that you get a paycheck. Maybe you have to pay two months of rent because your landlord gave you an extension. Or perhaps you need to pay a couple months of cell phone bills.

Knowing what you have to pay, when you have to pay it, and where it’s coming from will help you as you transition to this next phase. This is why it’s also important to know when grace periods are ending. For example, you might only have until the end of the month to pay your internet bill for the past two months, but you might have additional time to pay for your electricity. If finances are tight, you might want to put the money toward what you absolutely have to.

Come Up With a Budget for Going Forward

There’s a good chance that you had to drastically alter any budget that you had before the pandemic to adjust for new changes. But as people return to work, you’ll likely need to update your budget to figure out your finances going forward.

For example, for those who experienced decreased hours as a result of COVID-19, depending on your employer and work situation, you might be easing back into work and slowly gaining additional hours each week. You’ll want to account for the fact that you may now have more income, but that you’re still not at the amount of hours that you were previously used to. You may also need to adjust your budget to deal with expenses that you previously weren’t able to cover.

Depending on your situation, you may need to go through several iterations of budgets as you transition to a life that looks more like what happened before the COVID-19 pandemic. Keeping your budget constantly updated will help you deal with all the unknowns in the future.

Be Prepared for Any Unexpected Expenses

You’ll also want to be thinking about any unexpected expenses that may arise. If you’re able to, you might want to set aside some money in your budget to manage expenses like these.

For example, maybe you haven’t been able to work for a month, but have been watching your six-year-old child at home. If your child isn’t able to go back to school when you go back to work, you’ll want to think about your plans and how that might impact your finances. For example, you might need to arrange for childcare, which may be an expense that you typically didn’t need to pay and plan for during the school year.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

If you’re still struggling financially, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. If your landlord gave you extra time to pay rent and you still need more time, ask if that’s still a possibility. It might not be, but it’s helpful for people to know if you have a financial need.

If you lost your job as a result of COVID-19, you may just be starting to look for a new one. Reaching out to people in your community can help, as well as researching what industries are in demand right now and what companies are hiring during this time. As such, there have been several corporations hiring and looking specifically for those who have lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19.

Final Thoughts

Transitions are always hard, and it’s likely that the next few months will be volatile as everyone navigates the transition of going back to work during this pandemic. Thinking ahead about how this might impact your finances and seeing what you can do will set you up for success as the world starts to emerge from their homes.

Source: iGrad

Budget Friendly Activities During COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has changed the way we live dramatically. As COVID-19 spreads around the world, social distancing has been appointed as one of the ways we can contribute to flattening the pandemic curve. That means that by staying home, we can help slow the spread of the virus.

Although many countries have not yet ordered official lockdowns, many people are choosing to stay home to protect themselves and others. As reclusion and social distancing over the long haul can be distressing and overwhelming, finding ways to remain calm and maintain your well-being will be extremely important to get through these times. In this article, we will share budget-friendly activities ideas to do at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Use Technology Wisely

According to Scientific American, it is not about how much we use social media platforms, but how we use them, as “we can all benefit from developing digital habits that support meaningful human connections—especially now.” There are many cool ways that people around the world are able to stay connected with the outside world because of technology.

Join an Online Concert or Music Festival

All over the world, many artists are starting to perform live for free through their social media accounts and online. If you’re looking for shows that you might be interested in, you can always check out the social media profiles of your favorite artists to see if free online concerts are available to you. Billboard is also keeping a comprehensive list of live streams and virtual concerts that are happening, along with the dates that they will take place.

Similarly, in countries like Portugal and Brazil, local artists are getting organized to perform live in online festivals. You can even check out festival lineups on each festivals’ profile to know how to join the free show.

Attend Virtual Parties and Happy Hours

Many apps facilitate face-to-face interactions online. Skype, Zoom, House Party and FaceTime are a few examples of platforms you can use to meet your friends for free, sometimes even with more than one person at a time. You can also use Eventbrite to browse upcoming online events.

Co-Watch Content

There are many free apps and browser extensions that allow you to watch movies and shows with your friends and family remotely. These services allow you to synchronize video playback from your preferred streaming platform. Some free examples are Netflix Party, Kast (previous Rabbit), Scener, and Rave.

Learn Something New

The internet is full of online courses that can fit your budget. Whether you want to learn a new language, learn how to cook, or learn how to play an instrument; whatever your topic of interest is, there are many free classes on the internet.

One great idea is to look for people on your network who can virtually teach you. Independent professionals such as musicians, artists, and physical education teachers, for example, along with other entrepreneurs and small local businesses, will need all the support they can get.

Watch Live Streams of Famous Attractions and Attend Virtual Tours

With the internet, you can see the koalas of San Diego’s Zoo, or scope out Scotland’s famous Loch Ness, or visit the Sistine Chapel for free and from the comfort of your home. Good housekeeping has even provided a list of museums, zoos and other sites offering virtual tours and live or recorded images for free.

Go Offline

While the internet provides an infinite amount of possibilities to stay busy and entertained at home, let’s not forget the other many activities you can do outside of your computers.

Hang Out With Who You Live With

Sit down and catch up on each other’s lives. You can also listen to music, cook, play games, watch a movie, or do a puzzle together. The list of things to do together is endless.

Take Care of Yourself

Treat yourself to a manicure and pedicure, do a facial mask, try auto massage, catch up on sleep, and take the time to meditate. You don’t need to go online for that—you can simply rest quietly and focus on your breathing.

Exercise Often

There is news of people all around the world exercising in their balconies along with their neighbors, like in Spain. Try to organize something like that in your home or simply workout alone in your living room. There are many free apps to help you with your sports routines, but know that you don’t necessarily need the internet to keep active. Squats, push ups, sit ups, and jumping jacks are all examples of simple exercises you could do on your own. Remember that exercising is one of the best ways to stay healthy, so no excuses!

Work on Household Chores

Try rearranging your furniture to make your home feel new and different. Organize your closets and separate items for donation. Take care of your plants and watch them grow.

Just Be Home

Take the opportunity you have to stay home to enjoy the company and unconditional love of your pet. Read that pile of books you have on your list. Practice your preferred hobby like playing an instrument, drawing, or painting. You can also work on your financial planning. How about organizing your income and expenses sheet for the next few months? Or even better: do your taxes!

Conclusion

It’s okay to feel sad, frustrated, and bored. You’re not alone with these feelings. But for the time being, try to see your home as a place of love and security. Look for information from reliable sources and, until you’re told otherwise, stay home as much as possible to protect yourself and others from spreading the virus.

Source: iGrad

What You Need to Know About Financial Vulnerability

  • If you’re feeling anxious, fearful, frustrated, or hopeless about your financial situation, you may be financially vulnerable.
  • Income fluctuation, a low credit score, a lack of savings, high levels of debt, and an inability to afford a home are all behavioral markers of financial vulnerability.

Ask yourself the question:

Would I be able to survive four weeks without a paycheck?

Depending on your level of financial vulnerability, the answer might be no. Not to worry! We’ve compiled some ways to know if you’re financially vulnerable and what you can do about it so that a job loss, reduced hours, emergency, or unexpected expense won’t take you down.

Psychological Markers

Even before considering your financial habits, you may be able to tell if you’re financially vulnerable based on some psychological markers. Psychology Today identifies four things that might suggest you are financially vulnerable.

If you’re feeling anxious about your financial situation, you might be financially vulnerable. Financially hard times can cause your anxiety and stress levels to increase. Similarly, you may feel fearful, frustrated, or hopeless if you’re financially vulnerable, which can also lead to negative effects on your health.

Other indicators are if you’re unsure about what will happen in the future (especially if you live paycheck-to-paycheck), lack knowledge about your personal financial situation or financial literacy in general, or are feeling negative emotions such as fear, frustration, or hopelessness when it comes to finances. These are all psychological markers that you’re financially vulnerable.

Behavioral Markers

While you may or may not have the psychological markers of financial vulnerability, you likely will have behavioral markers if you’re financially vulnerable. If you discover that you meet some of the characteristics, don’t worry! We’ll also include some tips on how to get yourself into a more financially stable position.

1. Income Fluctuation

Just having a job isn’t enough to suggest that you’re not financially vulnerable. If you have low or unreliable wages, you likely are financially vulnerable, especially since people with income variations tend to be twice as likely to fall behind on bills.

Maybe you pick up some additional contract-based work to supplement your main income, or work a part-time job without benefits, or perhaps rely entirely on commission for income. In any case, all of these examples are not only realistic, but can be a reason for large income fluctuations, potentially leading to financial insecurity.

If you find yourself in this position, you can work to get to a more financially stable place. If it’s possible, consider trying to find a job that offers more consistent pay. You might also be able to pick up some freelance work or a part-time job to supplement the income you have now.

Additionally, you might try to live on the average of what you earn. For example, if you’re in sales, you’re going to have high months and low months. Take the month where you earned the most and add that number to the month where you earned the least and divide the final number by 2. That can be a quick way to figure out what is a reasonable average monthly income.

Finally, don’t spend all you earn. Try to find ways to save money during the high months so that the low months don’t have to be so tight.

2. Low Credit Score

Another symptom of financial vulnerability is your credit score. If it is fair or poor (669 or below), you might find yourself in a financially tenable place. You might feel like you’re the only person who has struggled to get to a good credit score, but you’re not. As they say, credit is earned, not given, so many others may be struggling to either improve or start their credit history, just like you.

If this sounds like you, don’t worry. You can start rebuilding your credit score today. It will take time, but you can do it.

First, you should know what factors go into your credit score so that you know what area to target. The five components that contribute to your credit score are:

  • Payment History (35%): how often you’ve paid on time
  • Credit Utilization (30%): how much you owe
  • Length of Credit History (15%): how long you’ve had your lines of credit
  • New Credit (10%): how many new accounts you open
  • Credit Mix (10%): how many different lines of credit you have (credit card, loan, etc.)

Next, you need to figure out a plan that will help your credit score the most. If you regularly are late on your payments—which is a large portion of your credit score— definitely target that category, as you can see the greatest increase in your score. Missing/late payments can show up for years.

Also, don’t forget to target debt. As you pay it off, lenders will know that you can responsibly use and pay off credit, making you less of a risk and thus increasing your score.

Finally, just remember to use your credit cards responsibly. If you don’t have the money, don’t put it on the credit card. Only use your credit card if you can pay it off.

3. Lack of Savings

If something unexpected happens and you find yourself looking at your savings account and seeing practically no money, you might be financially vulnerable. Lacking even modest savings can indicate that something like a government shutdown for four weeks might be a huge financial disaster for you.

Even on an income with little wiggle room, it doesn’t have to be that way. Experts recommended putting away 15 percent of your annual income for savings. That might seem like an enormous amount, but if you work your way up to it a paycheck at a time, it can become more and more manageable.

The first step is designating a portion of your income to savings. Start small so that you can keep it up. Just like experts recommend that you start small with fitness goals—start by just getting out of the house and walking instead of trying to train for a marathon right off the bat—you should start small with your financial goals as well.

If you haven’t been saving any of your income at all, try saving 5% of it to begin. If you get paid by direct deposit, have 5% automatically go to your savings account. Then it’s out of sight and out of mind. If you’ve been saving 10%, try 12% or even 15%—anything to give yourself a little more in your savings account.

Also, once you get in the habit of saving, you might also want to make sure that you have 3-6 months of income saved in an emergency fund. Like a savings account, this will help prevent you from slipping into financial vulnerability if you if you find yourself without income for a month or two.

4. High Levels of Debt

Between rising housing costs, lofty education prices, and a climbing cost of living, it’s fairly likely that you either have some debt or will incur some over the course of your life, potentially putting you in a financially vulnerable position. If you want to get yourself out of a financially vulnerable position with your high levels of debt, you’ll need to simply pay off your debt. That, of course, is easier said than done.

Obviously, the first step is to stop taking on more debt and make a plan for tackling and paying off what you currently owe.

When figuring out a plan for paying off different kinds of debt (for example, if you have a mix of student loans, car loans, credit card debt, etc.) the best way is to pay off the debt with the highest interest rate first. This will save you the most amount of money in the long run. However, if you need to start small to eat the elephant one bite at a time, pay off your smallest debt first. Then you’ll start to see your progress, and it could be easier for you to keep going.

5. Inability to Afford a Home

While there is obviously nothing wrong with renting, if you’d like to buy your own home but can’t, you might be in a financially vulnerable position. If you’re currently a renter dreaming of homeownership, it’s going to be a herculean task, but you can do it with dedication and diligence.

If it’s possible, the first thing to consider is thinking outside of the box and looking into different homes that you may not have considered before. This may mean looking into less expensive homes, homes in a different part of town, or maybe slightly older homes.

Another option is getting a roommate.

Finally, you can also see if there are any incentives for first-time home buyers or low-income families if you fit into one of those categories. For example, you may qualify for a grant as a first-time home buyer if you make below a certain income level.

In conclusion, if recent setbacks have gotten you thinking about your financial situation and you’ve concluded that you are financially vulnerable right now, don’t worry! Just by taking some of these small steps, you can target your problem areas and get yourself to a financially healthy place so that no unexpected expense or life event will threaten your financial stability!

 

Source: iGrad