How the Coronavirus Relief Law Helps Retirement Savers and Retirees

What can you tell me about the retirement account changes that Congress recently passed in response to the coronavirus crisis?

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, was signed into law by President Trump in late March. Tucked inside were a series of changes that can help retirement savers. These changes can help those in need of cash, as well as help preserve the retirement savings accounts of current retirees while the stock market is down. Here is a rundown of how three provisions in the CARES Act might help you or someone you know.

Hardship Withdrawals


Normally, if you took money out of an employer-sponsored retirement plan or IRA before 59�, you would be hit with taxes plus a 10% tax penalty on that amount. The CARES Act waives the early distribution penalty on up to $100,000 of distributions in 2020 for "affected individuals." You must still pay income taxes on any amounts withdrawn, but the new law allows you to pay the taxes over three years. Additionally, if you recontribute the amount withdrawn back into your plan within three years, that amount will not be taxed.

To qualify for this penalty-free hardship withdrawal, you, your spouse or a dependent must have been diagnosed with coronavirus (COVID-19) or have experienced adverse financial consequences as a result of COVID-19. This includes being quarantined, furloughed, laid off, having work hours reduced, being unable to work due to a lack of child care due to COVID-19 or closing or reducing hours of a business you owned or operated if you had COVID-19.

Bigger Loans


The CARES Act will also allow you to take larger loans against the money you have saved in your 401(k) or 403(b) during the six-month period after the law was implemented on March 27, 2020. IRAs do not allow loans.

Normally, you can borrow only up to $50,000 or 50% of your vested account balance, whichever is less. The CARES Act doubles that amount - up to $100,000 against the amount you have saved in your plan.

Borrowers typically have five years to repay a loan or the amount will be treated as a distribution and taxed. But if you leave or lose your job, you may be required to pay the balance back early, you could owe taxes and you may face an early-withdrawal penalty.

This provision also helps those with an existing 401(k) loan by allowing them to delay repayments that are due in 2020 for one year.

Suspended RMDs


Beginning in 2020, individuals who turn 70� after January 1, 2020 are required to take annual mandatory distributions from their tax-deferred 401(k)s and IRAs when they reach age 72. In prior years, the age of required distributions kicked in when savers turned 70� years of age. This requirement is known as the required minimum distribution or RMD.

The CARES Act suspends RMDs for 2020, including those for inherited IRAs. This means you can skip taking a distribution this year if you wish.

The temporary waiver of RMDs will help retirees who would otherwise have been forced to base their minimum withdrawals for 2020 on their account balances as of Dec. 31, 2019, when the stock market was near record levels. It will also give the market time to recover before resuming distributions in 2021.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

 

Published May 29, 2020

Do Pneumonia Vaccines Protect from Coronavirus?

Do vaccines that are currently offered to protect against pneumonia provide seniors any protection against the novel coronavirus disease? I have always been bad about getting vaccinated, but this coronavirus pandemic is causing me to change my thinking.

This is a great question. Because the coronavirus (COVID-19) attacks the lungs and respiratory system, many readers have asked whether the pneumonia vaccines, administered to millions of patients each year, might protect an individual if they contract the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Vaccines for pneumonia, such as pneumococcal vaccine and Haemophilus influenza type B vaccine, do not provide protection against the novel coronavirus.

Because this virus is so new and different, it needs its own vaccine. Researchers are in the process of rapidly developing a vaccine against COVID-19, but it is expected to take at least a year before it is ready.

However, you should know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all seniors get up to date on their vaccinations when the coronavirus pandemic dies down. Here is a summary of these vaccines, when you should get them and how they are covered by Medicare.

Flu vaccine: While annual flu shots are recommended for everyone, they are very important for older adults because seniors have a much greater risk of developing dangerous flu complications. According to the CDC, last year up to 647,000 people were hospitalized and 61,200 died because of the flu – most of whom were age 65 and older.

To improve your chances of escaping the seasonal flu, this September or October consider a vaccine specifically designed for people age 65 and older. The Fluzone High Dose or FLUAD are the two options that provide extra protection beyond what the standard flu shot offers. All flu shots are covered under Medicare Part B.

Pneumococcal vaccine: As previously stated, this vaccine protects against pneumonia, which causes the hospitalizations of approximately 250,000 Americans and the deaths of 50,000 each year. It is recommended that all seniors, age 65 and older, get two separate vaccines – PCV13 (Prevnar 13) and PPSV23 (Pneumovax 23). Both vaccines are administered one year apart and protect against different strains of the bacteria to provide maximum protection. Medicare Part B covers both shots if they are administered at least a year apart.

Shingles vaccine: Caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox, shingles is a painful, blistering skin rash that affects more than one million Americans every year. All individuals age 50 and older should get the new Shingrix vaccine, which is given in two doses, administered two to six months apart. If you have already contracted shingles, you should still get this vaccination because reoccurring cases are possible. The CDC also recommends that anyone previously vaccinated with Zostavax be revaccinated with Shingrix because it is significantly more effective.

All Medicare Part D prescription drug plans cover shingles vaccinations, but coverage amounts and reimbursement rules vary depending on where the shot is given. Check your plan.

Tdap vaccine: A one-time dose of the Tdap vaccine, which covers tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) is recommended to all adults. If you have already had a Tdap shot, you should get a tetanus-diphtheria (Td) booster shot every 10 years. All Medicare Part D prescription drug plans cover these vaccinations.

Other Vaccinations


Depending on your health conditions, preferences, age and future travel schedule, the CDC offers a “What Vaccines Do You Need?” quiz at www2.CDC.gov/nip/adultimmsched to help you determine the additional vaccines that may be appropriate for you. You should also talk to your doctor during your next visit about which vaccinations are recommended for you.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

 

Published May 22, 2020

Seven Tips to Protect Your Stimulus Payment

On May 14, 2020, J. Russell George, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, published seven tips to protect taxpayers against fraud. Millions of Americans have received Economic Impact Payments ("Payments"). These stimulus Payments are a great temptation for thieves and scammers.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act authorizes the IRS to send payments to approximately 160 million taxpayers. The payments are $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for married couples, subject to income phase outs. There is an additional $500 per qualified child. A family of four could receive a very welcome payment of $3,400.

Many taxpayers received their Payments through direct deposit in April. However, millions of checks will be mailed to others in May. A smaller number will receive their payment through a prepaid debit card.

Inspector General George explains that the millions of dollars in federal payments will attract fraudsters and scammers. He offers the following tips to help Americans to be on the lookout.
  • Potential Fraud — If you believe that an individual has attempted to defraud you, contact the Inspector General on the website tips.tigta.gov or call 1–800–366–4484.
  • Fake IRS Email — If you receive any unsolicited emails claiming to be from the IRS, forward it to phishing at IRS.gov. Then delete the email.
  • Website Link — If an email urges you to go to a website, you should always manually type in the website address into your browser. Clicking on a link could download malware on your computer. An actual website is much less likely to be a risk to you and your personal identity. Also, be sure to verify the authenticity of the website.
  • Phony Service Processor — If a person or email sender claims that they can process your stimulus payment, do not contact or respond to them.
  • Personal Information — Be careful not to share your personal information with a person who claims you need to work with him or her to process your payment.
  • Suspicious Attachments — If you do not recognize the sender of an email, do not open any attachments.
  • Personal Data — Do not provide any unknown individual with your account username, password, date of birth, Social Security Number or other financial data.
Inspector General George explains that your Payment may be received by check or electronic transfer. Within two to three weeks, the IRS will mail you a letter that confirms the Payment has been issued.

Grocery and Meal Service Delivery Options for Sheltering in Place

Can you recommend some good grocery and/or meal service delivery options? My 78-year-old mother has always shopped for herself, but since the coronavirus pandemic hit, the grocery store shelves are always half empty, and she's getting more fearful of leaving the house.

There are numerous grocery and meal service delivery options available to help seniors stay safe at home during this pandemic. The services available to your mom will depend on her location and budget. You should be aware that demand for many grocery and meal delivery services are overwhelmed right now, so some services in your mom's area may be greatly delayed or temporarily unavailable. That said, here are some good options to consider.

Grocery Delivery Services


Today, there are a variety of websites and apps that allow you or your mom to shop for groceries and other household goods without having to go inside a store.

Most of these services offer memberships (usually around $100/year), which will get you or your mom free deliveries on orders over $30 or $35. Or, the service will charge a flat delivery fee, which typically costs around $8 to $10.

Depending on where your mom lives there are grocery delivery services like Instacart and Shipt. These companies work with a wide variety of grocery retailers, including national and local chains widely available throughout the U.S. They use shoppers to pick up orders in stores and deliver them to you.

You may want to check Walmart's online grocery delivery or pick-up service, which is available in hundreds of locations across the United States. Amazon Prime now offers services in many U.S. cities. Peapod is available in 24 metro markets. FreshDirect serves the New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. areas and a few other select cities in the northeast.

Meal Delivery Services


If your mom still enjoys cooking, another convenient option is a meal kit delivery service such as Home Chef, Sun Basket or HelloFresh.

Meal kits are subscription-based services that will send your mom a box containing fresh, pre-portioned ingredient items for that kit's recipe. She will need to combine the ingredients (some chopping, and slicing may be required) and cook it. Most meal kit services run between $8 and $12 per meal.

If your mom wants a break from cooking, a great alternative is to set her up with a ready-made meal delivery service like Mom's Meals or Silver Cuisine. These companies, which cater to older adults, offer a wide variety of healthy and fully prepared meal choices that you can just heat and eat. They offer a host of dietary options that can accommodate those managing conditions such as diabetes or for those needing heart-friendly or lower-sodium meal options.

Mom's Meals, which run $7 per meal plus delivery, arrives fresh and will last up to 14 days in the refrigerator. Silver Cuisine meals are delivered frozen and cost $12 or $13 per meal.

You should also find out if there is a senior home delivery meal program in your mom's area. Most home-delivered meal programs across the U.S. deliver hot meals daily or several times a week, usually around the lunch hour, to seniors over age 60. Weekend meals, usually frozen, may also be available, along with special dietary options (diabetic, low-sodium, kosher, etc.). Most of these programs typically charge a small fee (usually between $2 and $6) or request a donation, while some may be free to low-income seniors.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

 

Published May 15, 2020

What Diabetics Should Know About Coronavirus

My husband and I are both in our late 60s and have diabetes. We would like to find out if our diabetes increases our risk of getting the coronavirus.

Currently, there is not enough data to show that people with diabetes are more likely to get coronavirus (COVID-19) than the general population. But the problem for diabetics is, if you do happen to contract the virus, your chance of developing serious complications are much higher. This is especially true if your diabetes is not well-controlled.

Diabetic Risks


Health data is showing that about 25% of people who go to the hospital with severe COVID-19 infections have diabetes. One reason is that high blood sugar weakens the immune system and makes it less able to fight off infections. Your risk of severe coronavirus infection increases if you have another condition, like heart or lung disease.

If you do get COVID-19, the infection could also put you at greater risk for diabetes complications like diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which happens when high levels of acids called ketones build up in your blood.

Some people who catch the novel coronavirus have a dangerous body-wide response to it, called sepsis. To treat sepsis, doctors need to manage your body’s fluid and electrolyte levels. DKA causes you to lose electrolytes, which can make sepsis harder to treat.

How to Avoid COVID-19


The best way to avoid getting sick is to stay home as much as you can. If you have to go out, stay at least 6 feet away from other people. Every time you come back from the supermarket, pharmacy or another public place, wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.

You should wash your hands before checking your insulin levels through a finger prick or administering insulin. Clean each site first with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.

To protect you, everyone in your house should wash their hands often, especially before they cook for the family. Do not share any utensils or other personal items. If anyone in your household is sick, they should stay in their own room, as far from you as possible.

The CDC also recommends that you stock up on medications and diabetes testing supplies to last for at least a month. The same goes for grocery supplies and other household necessities.

You should know that Medicare is covering the cost of telehealth visits. If you have questions for your doctor, you can ask by video chat or phone instead of going into the office.

If You Get Sick


The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are a dry cough, fever or shortness of breath. If you develop any symptoms that are concerning, call your doctor to ask about getting tested.

If you contract COVID-19, the first level of care is to stay home, check your blood sugar more often than usual and check your ketones. COVID-19 can reduce your appetite and cause you to eat less, which could affect your levels. You also need more fluids than usual when you are sick; keep water close by and drink it often.

You should also know that many over-the-counter medicines that relieve virus symptoms like fever or cough can affect your blood sugar levels. Before you take any over-the-counter medications check with your doctor.

Please be aware that if you start experiencing severe shortness of breath, high levels of ketones or DKA symptoms, such as severe weakness, body aches, vomiting or belly pain, you need to see your doctor or get to an emergency room right away.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

 

Published May 8, 2020

IRS Updates "Get My Payment" Tool

 
Millions of Americans are receiving Economic Impact Payments from the IRS. With over 30 million Americans unemployed, the $1,200 payments for individuals (incomes up to $75,000) and $2,400 payments for married couples (incomes up to $150,000) are a welcome relief. In addition, there is a $500 payment per dependent child.

Electronic payments to taxpayers who provided their bank account numbers for direct deposits of refunds on 2018 or 2019 tax returns were made in April. The IRS created the "Get My Payment" tool on IRS.gov to enable Americans to review the status of their payments.

Because millions of Americans do not have direct deposit information on file with the IRS, their paper checks may be delayed for a period between two and six weeks. In addition, millions of workers with low, modest or moderate incomes, such as Supplemental Security Income and Veterans Affairs beneficiaries, were not required to file 2018 or 2019 tax returns. Their checks are delayed, and they may not receive the $500 per qualified child payments until after their 2020 taxes are filed.

IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig highlighted updates to the "Get My Payment" tool designed to help these individuals and families. He noted, "We want to 'Plus $500' these groups so they can get their maximum Economic Impact Payment of $1,200 and their $500 for each eligible child as quickly as possible. They will get $1,200 automatically, but they need to act quickly and use the Non-Filers tool on IRS.gov to get the extra $500 per child added to their payment. Everyone should share this information widely and help others with the Plus $500 Push, so that more Americans get more money as fast as possible."

Rettig continued, "The IRS is working hard to find new ways for people who do not have a filing requirement to receive their Economic Impact Payment. The Non-Filers tool is an easy way people can register for these payments. I appreciate the work of the Free File Alliance to quickly develop a Spanish -language version of this tool to reach additional people. This is part of a wider effort to reach underserved communities."

The "Get My Payment" Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) explain how to update your information and promptly receive a payment. It also covers common problems and offers solutions.
  • Check Sent to Unknown/Incorrect Account — If you used the Refund Anticipation Loan or Refund Anticipation Check method and had your refund sent to that account, the stimulus payment may also be sent there. Some individuals had their tax refund loaded on a debit card. If either of these circumstances applies to you, after the payment is returned to the IRS it will be mailed to the address on your 2019 or 2018 tax return.
  • Error in Payment Amount — Most of the shortfalls in the stimulus checks will be for families with qualifying children. If your payment does not include all of your qualified dependents, you will qualify to receive a $500 rebate per child on your 2020 tax return when that is filed in April 2021.
  • Did Not File and VA or SSI Recipient — If you are a VA or SSI recipient and do not file a return, you still may receive the $500 per qualifying child payment this year. You may use the Non–Filers tool and enter the appropriate information by May 5, 2020.
Editor's Note: With billions of dollars in federal stimulus payments, there are risks for individuals. The IRS urges all Americans to be on the lookout for scammers. Do not open emails or answer questions on phone calls about your Economic Impact Payment. You should only use IRS.gov for information and services.

Published May 1, 2020

Social Security Offers Lump Sum Payouts to Retirees

In light of the recent economic downturn I have heard that Social Security offers a lump-sum payment to new retirees who need some extra cash. I have not yet filed for my retirement benefits and would like to investigate this option. What can you tell me?

There is indeed a little-known Social Security claiming strategy that has been around for many years and can provide retirees a lump-sum benefit. However, you need to be past your full retirement age to be eligible and you should be aware that there are significant financial drawbacks of the lump sum.

Here are the basics. Remember that while workers can begin drawing their Social Security retirement benefits anytime between ages 62 and 70, full retirement age is 66 for those born between 1943 and 1954, and it rises in two-month increments to age 67 for those born in 1960 and later. You can find your full retirement age at SSA.gov/pubs/ageincrease.htm.

At full retirement age, you are entitled to 100% of your benefits. But if you claim earlier, your benefits will be reduced by 5% to 6.66% for each year you start payments before your full retirement age. If you delay taking your benefits until beyond your full retirement age, you will get 8% more for each year delayed until age 70.

Lump Sum Option


If you are past full retirement age and have not yet filed for benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) offers a retroactive lump-sum payment that is worth six months of benefits.

Here is how it works. Say for example you were planning to delay taking your Social Security benefits past your full retirement age of 66, but you changed your mind at age 66 and six months. You could then claim a lump-sum payment equal to those six months of benefits. For instance, if your full retirement age benefit was $2,500 per month, you would be entitled to a $15,000 lump sum payment.

If you decided at age 66 and three months that you wanted to file retroactively, you would get only three months' worth of benefits in your lump sum. SSA rules prohibit you from claiming benefits that pre-date your full retirement age.

Drawbacks


The downside to this strategy is that once you accept a lump-sum payment, you will lose the delayed retirement credits you have accrued, and your future monthly retirement benefit will be reduced to reflect the amount you already received. It will also affect your future survivor benefit to your spouse or other eligible family members after you pass away.

You also need to consider the tax impact of a lump sum payment. Depending on your income, Social Security benefits may be taxable and a lump-sum payment could boost the amount of benefits that are taxed and bump you into a higher tax bracket.

The federal government taxes up to 50% of Social Security benefits at ordinary income tax rates if your combined income – defined as adjusted gross income plus nontaxable interest income plus half of your Social Security benefits – exceeds $25,000. Up to 85% of benefits are taxable if combined income exceeds $34,000. For married couples, the comparable income thresholds for taxing benefits are $32,000 and $44,000.

To help you calculate this, see IRS Publication 915 "Social Security and Equivalent Railroad Retirement Benefits" at IRS.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p915.pdf or call 800-829-3676 and ask them to mail you a copy.

In addition, if the lump-sum payment of retroactive Social Security benefits boosts your yearly income beyond the $85,000 level, it will increase your future Medicare premiums too. See Medicare.gov/Pubs/pdf/11579-medicare-costs.pdf for details.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

 

Published May 1, 2020

Medicare Expands Telehealth Services

Does Medicare cover telehealth services? My 71-year-old mother has chronic type 2 diabetes but is very concerned about going to the doctor for fear of exposing herself to coronavirus. What can you tell us?

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Medicare recently announced that it will be expanding coverage for telehealth services to help keep vulnerable seniors safe at home. Here is what you and your mom should know.

Telehealth Services


If you are not familiar with telehealth or telemedicine services, they are full visits with a health care provider who is not at your location using a telephone or video technology device – i.e. smartphone, tablet or computer.

Telehealth services allow Medicare beneficiaries to take care of ongoing medical problems as well as new concerns, while following public health advice to stay home during the coronavirus outbreak.

Medicare patients with chronic health conditions now do not have to postpone a regular follow-up visit with the doctor to keep safe. They can do it via Skype or FaceTime. People concerned they may have the virus could see their doctor or nurse practitioner virtually to find out how to get tested. Nursing home residents will also be able to have telehealth consultations with their doctors.

If your mom is not familiar or comfortable with technology, you, another relative or friend can assist her. You may need to go over to her house to help her do this. Bring your smartphone, tablet or laptop – but remember, do not visit if you are feeling sick.

Risk of serious illness from the coronavirus is much greater for older people and those with underlying health problems such as lung conditions, diabetes or heart problems. Many seniors are also managing chronic health issues that put them at heightened risk.

Until recently, telehealth coverage under original Medicare has been limited to beneficiaries only in rural areas, and patients often need to go to specially designated sites for their visits.

The expanded telehealth coverage, which will remain in effect during the coronavirus outbreak, now allows doctors and hospitals to bill Medicare for visits via telemedicine that previously had to take place in person, at a medical office or facility.

If your mom happens to get her Medicare benefits through a private Medicare Advantage plan, they will also be expanding their telehealth services. For coverage details, contact her plan provider directly.

Other Medicare Coverage


In addition to the expanded telehealth services, Medicare will also be covering all coronavirus testing costs and medically necessary hospitalizations. If her doctor recommends that she remain in quarantine at the hospital rather than self-isolating at home, she will not have to pay for those costs.

If your mom has a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan, it will cover the coronavirus vaccine when it becomes available and will waive prescription refill limits, so she can have extra medication on hand during the pandemic.

For more information on how Medicare is covering the coronavirus see Medicare.gov/medicare-coronavirus. For the latest information on the coronavirus, visit Coronavirus.gov.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

 

Published April 24, 2020

Tips to Protect Against Coronavirus Scams

Amid all the troubling coronavirus news, I have also read that there are various coronavirus scams going around right now taking advantage of innocent people who are afraid of getting sick or are worried about those that have. What can you tell me about coronavirus scams and what can I do to protect myself?

Unfortunately, coronavirus scams are spreading nearly as fast as the virus itself, and seniors are often the most vulnerable. Con artists are setting up websites to sell bogus products. Scammers are also using spoofed caller IDs, email addresses, text messages and social media accounts as a ruse to take your money and get your personal information.

The emails and posts from these accounts may claim to promote awareness, provide prevention tips, but will also disseminate fake information about cases in your community. The emails and posts may ask you to donate to fictitious victims, offer advice on unproven treatments and may contain malicious email attachments.

Here are some tips to help you keep the scammers at bay:

Click carefully: Do not click on coronavirus-related links from sources you do not know in emails, text messages or unfamiliar websites. When you click on an email or download a file, you may instead get a program on your computer that spreads malware and digs into your personal files looking for passwords and other personal information.

Ignore bogus product offers: Online offers for coronavirus vaccinations or miracle cures are rampant on the internet. Do not fall prey to those advertisements. At publishing time, there are currently no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure coronavirus. If you see or receive ads touting prevention, treatment or remedies that claim to cure the coronavirus, remember they are not legitimate.

Beware of CDC spoofing: Be wary of emails, text messages or phone calls claiming to come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and/or the World Health Organization (WHO). These scams can take several forms – such as fake health agency warnings about infections in your local area, vaccine and treatment offers, medical test results, health insurance cancellation, alerts about critical supply shortages and more.

For the most up-to-date information about the coronavirus, visit CDC.gov/coronavirus.

Beware of fundraising scams: Be wary of emails or phone calls asking you to donate to a charity or crowdfunding campaign for coronavirus victims or for disease research. To verify a charity's legitimacy use apps.irs.gov/app/eos/. If you are asked for donations by prepaid gift card or by wiring money, it is probably a scam.

Beware of stock scams: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is warning people about phone calls and online promotions, including social media promotions, that tout stocks of companies with products that supposedly can prevent, detect or cure coronavirus. The promotions typically urge you to buy these stocks now, because the stocks will soar in price.

In this scheme, the con artists have already bought the stocks, which typically sell for a dollar or less. As the hype grows and the stock price increases from additional purchases, the con men dump the stock, saddling other investors with big losses created by the mass sale of stock. Making matters worse, you may not be able to sell your shares if trading is suspended.

When investing in any company, including companies that claim to focus on coronavirus-related products and services, carefully research the investment. Remember, investment scam artists often exploit the latest crisis to line their own pockets.

For more tips on how to avoid getting swindled, see the Federal Communications Commission COVID-19 consumer warning and safety tips at FCC.gov/covid-scams.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

 

Published April 17, 2020

How to Get Help from Social Security During the Coronavirus Pandemic

I have heard that the Social Security Administration has closed all their offices because of the coronavirus pandemic. How are they accommodating people while they are closed?

The Social Security Administration has closed its 1,200 field offices throughout the country to protect benefit recipients and workers from the coronavirus pandemic. Their offices have been closed since March 17. How long they will be closed is unclear. It will depend on the course of the pandemic.

In the meantime, services will continue to be available online at SocialSecurity.gov and over the phone. You can also rest assured that monthly payments to the more than 69 million Social Security beneficiaries will not be affected in any way.

Here is a rundown of how you can get help and get answers to your Social Security questions, while their offices are closed.

Online Help


For any Social Security related tasks you need to conduct, go to SSA.gov/onlineservices. There you can view your latest statement and earnings history, apply for retirement, disability, and Medicare benefits online, check the status of an application or appeal, request a replacement Social Security card (in most areas), print a benefit verification letter and much more. You can do this from anywhere with an internet connection and from any of your web-enabled devices.

Their website has a wealth of information to answer most of your Social Security questions without having to speak with a representative. For answers to many of your Social Security questions see their frequently asked questions page at SSA.gov/ask.

Phone Assistance


If you cannot complete your Social Security related tasks online, check the SSA online field office locator (see SSA.gov/locator) for specific information about how to directly contact your local office. Your local office will be able to provide critical services to help you apply for benefits, answer your questions and provide other services over the phone.

You can also call the Social Security national toll-free number at 800-772-1213 (TTY 800-325-0778). This number has many automated service options you can use without waiting to speak with a telephone representative.

If you already have an in-office appointment scheduled, Social Security will call you to handle your appointment over the phone instead. The call may come from a private number and not from a federal line.

Beware of Scams


Be aware that Social Security telephone impersonation scams are growing. These scammers may falsely tell you that there is a problem with your account, that your Social Security number has been suspended because of suspected illegal activity, that you are owed a cost-of-living benefit increase or that your monthly benefits will stop because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The caller may also threaten your benefits, suggest you will face legal action if you do not provide information, or pressure you to send money via wire transfers, cash or gift cards. They may even “spoof” the caller ID to make it look like Social Security is calling.

If you receive one of these calls, hang up. Social Security rarely contacts anyone by phone unless it has ongoing business with them, such as a scheduled appointment. Social Security will never threaten you or ask for any form of payment.

For more information on how to get help with Social Security during the coronavirus shutdown, visit SSA.gov/coronavirus.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

 

Published April 10, 2020

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