Overlooked VA Benefits Can Help Boomers in Retirement

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With the financial outlook for Baby Boomer retirement looking bleak for all but the wealthy, one thing veterans definitely should not overlook is taking advantage of the VA benefits! Most are aware of – and have taken advantage of – VA education and home purchase benefits. But there are a host of other benefits that may have been overlooked, such as:

  • Health Services. The Veterans Health Administration is America’s largest integrated health care system, providing care at 1,243 health care facilities, including 170 medical centers and 1,063 outpatient sites of care of varying complexity (VHA outpatient clinics), serving 9 million enrolled Veterans each year. If you are a Boomer veteran and having trouble getting affordable healthcare, it pays to contact the VA to determine your eligibility for free health services.
  • Prescriptions and Prosthetics. Boomer veterans who cannot afford their prescriptions or prosthetics may be able to get them free through the VA.
  • Disability Compensation. Disability compensation is a monthly tax-free benefit paid to Veterans who are at least 10% disabled because of injuries or diseases that were incurred in or aggravated during active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training. A disability can apply to physical conditions, such as a chronic knee condition, as well as a mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Even an issue like tinnitus from being around jet engines, engine boiler rooms or explosions in the military is eligible for compensation. Plus, there are certain health issues (e.g., Parkinson’s) that are “presumed” to be the result of service in Vietnam, for example, which automatically qualify for free VA health services and perhaps disability compensation.
  • Assisted Living and Elder Care. Low-income Boomer veterans (and surviving spouses) may be eligible for assisted living and elder care benefits. See Paying for Senior Care for details.
  • Death Benefits. When a veteran dies, families have a few unique benefits available to them. A U.S. flag may be requested to drape over the casket and families may request a Presidential Memorial Certificate to honor the deceased loved ones service. The Department of Veterans Affairs also provides free headstones or grave markers.
  • Children of Veterans with Exposure to Agent Orange. If your child has a birth defect including spina bifida, a congenital birth defect of the spine, and certain other birth defects may be entitled to VA benefits. These include monetary benefits, health care, and vocational rehabilitation services.
  • Re-Use your VA Home Loan. One of great parts of the VA home loan program is that eligible service members have the VA Home Purchase benefit for life. Even if a veteran has used most or all of their entitlement to purchase a home, that entitlement can be fully restored once the loan is repaid in full. Under certain circumstances, vets can also use any remaining eligibility to purchase a second home.

Where to Find Help

Start with ExploreVA and VetsFirst. Veterans service organizations like the Disabled American Veterans Organization, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion are great resources for free help in navigating the VA eligibility requirements. Also check out MilitaryBenefits.com.

The Bottom Line for Baby Boomers

If you are a veteran with an honorable discharge, there are a variety of benefits for which you may be eligible. This is especially helpful for Baby Boomers who are struggling financially. Accessing these benefits can dramatically reduce your monthly expenses. The best way to find out what benefits you may qualify for is to contact one of the organizations listed above rather than going to the VA directly – they will work for you, not the government.

 

A Tablet Bargain for Baby Boomers – The Amazon Fire!

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I’ve been thinking of sharing my experience with the Amazon Fire tablet for some time now, simply because it is a great bargain and perfect for Baby Boomers looking for a low-priced yet highly capable device to enrich their lives. And with a few adjustments, the Fire can be turned into a more generic tablet for hundreds of dollars less than comparable devices!

Let me start by stating that I am NOT a compensated spokesperson for Amazon. I bought my Amazon Fire 8 on sale in July 2017, upgraded to maximum memory (32GB) and added a hard cover. Total price: $124. The same configuration is on sale this Holiday Season for $96. Take my advice and get the $16 hard cover – I drop my tablet all the time and the cover continues to save its life.

Here’s what you get with the Fire 8 (copied straight from the Amazon webpage):

The Amazon Fire can be converted into a general tablet for Baby Boomers at an amazing price!

Alexa for voice interaction is included, a nice feature. It also includes a camera and personal video recording. Plus, I’m a big Kindle fan and was pleased to see that after logging into my Amazon account, my new Fire tablet was automatically set for ebook downloads. And I found the Fire easy to set up with my home Wi-Fi and was pleasantly surprised at its lightning-fast performance. After six months of use, I can honestly say the Amazon Fire has proven to be a superb tablet for everyday information access and entertainment activities.

But Wait – There’s More!

Now, here’s what Amazon doesn’t broadcast about the Fire tablet. It has a proprietary front end based on Google’s Android operating system. Hence, with a few steps, you can get rid of any unwanted Amazon stuff and open the tablet up to more conventional tools like Google Chrome, GMail and Play Store applications.

First, use the Amazon proprietary web search tool (“Silk”) to download and set up icons for more familiar (and more useful) Google tools. Go to Google Play Store and install the applications that most of us use in our daily lives, such as the more effective Chrome search engine, Google Maps, Netflix, YouTube, CNN, weather, Google Cloud Print, etc. You can also easily delete any Amazon applications (and icons) you do not want to use on the fire.

To stop the annoying Amazon “push” advertising that comes up on the home screen. Visit www.amazon.com and sign in to your account, then:

  1. Click the drop-down menu from Your Account and select Manage Your Kindle.
  2. Click Manage Your Kindles on the left rail.
  3. Select the device you want to rid of ads.
  4. Click Edit next to where it reads Subscribed.

It’s petty, but Amazon charges $15 to unsubscribe from their ads on the Fire. They claim the ads help support the low Fire pricing. Personally, I think this will backfire on them big time down the road. For me, it was worth a few dollars to get rid of these annoying ads.

The Bottom line for Baby Boomers

The Amazon Fire is a great tablet that is perfect for everyday use by Baby Boomers. And it is a bargain! I have purchased many tablets over the years and the Fire meets or exceeds the capabilities of much higher-priced devices. For those of you locked into Apple devices, you have my sympathy. The rest of us who can’t afford (or refuse to pay) Apple’s outrageous pricing have found our answer without sacrificing ease-of-use, functionality or performance.

Baby Boomers and Our Pets

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I would guess that most Baby Boomers have a pet or two. Pets make good companions for empty nesters. They become our surrogate children. Whether it’s evening walks with the dog, curling up on the couch with a purring feline or just having another living, responsive thing in your abode if you live alone, pets become family. They are good for our souls and our health.

I’ve always wondered who is the master in my relationships with pets. I don’t know about you, but I’ve concluded that they train us. For example, pets quickly learn what it takes to get a treat, doing everything but dragging us to the kitchen or wherever their stash is. In case you don’t get the hint, they can become vocal about it. And get out of the way when dinner time rolls around.

I’m convinced that all pets have concealed watches. How else can they know when its time to get up in the morning or eat dinner? And I’m sure I’m not the only having to live with the outcry spawned by the end of Daylight Savings Time. Yea, try explaining that to your cat or dog!

Pets also learn the words that are important to them, like “walk,” “treat,” or “get the ball!”  Somehow, it seems to take a little longer to grasp the meaning of “NO!”

We have three pets – an old cat and two younger dogs – the cat rules. My wife, Mary, keeps falling in love with critters and bringing them home.  “Oh look how cute!  She won’t be a problem at all.”  Famous last words. Pets quickly become a lifetime commitment. And we are getting to that age where a young pet could actually outlive us, which is horrible for a pet. Next time, we going to the shelter to adopt an older critter in need of a good home.

Some days I feel like I’m living in a barn. Getting up in the morning can be dangerous. Not only do I have to avoid occasional land mines, but when it’s breakfast time the natives get restless and are not above pushing me along with little love bites. “FEED ME!  FEED ME NOW!” is not hard to interpret from their subtle barks and meows. So half asleep I go about my chores while my wife (the instigator of all this) sleeps in…what’s wrong with this picture? I live in mortal fear of a stampede.

Moreover, pets are not any cheaper than taking care of kids. My vet charges $500 to clean the cat’s teeth. After the last visit, I told Mary to just buy soft food hereafter as the cat is going to be gumming her dinner for the rest of her life. As it is, the dogs get our left-overs so we wind up buying larger portions to make sure there’s enough for them. I need Medicare for critters.

But we Boomers love out pets. I can’t imagine life without them. And I’m not the only one – According to Forbes, Baby Boomers now spend an astounding $68 billion on pets each year. As a generation, we grew up with household pets and the trend has stuck. But I’ll be damned if I’m giving up the drumstick on Thanksgiving this year!

Retiring Baby Boomers Face a Choice – Rent or Buy?

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As Baby Boomers retire, they often consider downsizing their home. This especially true of “empty nesters,” whose children are grown and have moved away. The question is, should they buy or rent?  There are good arguments for doing either. Aside from financial considerations, it depends on how Boomers envision their retirement.

It used to be that owning your own home was an investment that could be expected to appreciate over time. As we have learned during the Great Recession, this is not necessarily the case. So let’s simplify the decision of “buy versus rent” by removing any expectation of investment appreciation as a factor in our considerations.

Looking at “buy versus rent” as a strategy where the right answer is different for each person or family based on their unique circumstances, the benefits and risks associated with each choice can be generally summarized as:

Factor Buy Rent
Major Benefits Postpone some or all of taxes on capital gains from the sale of your previous home. May be only option if you went through a foreclosure, deed-in-lieu of foreclosure or short sale.
After down payment, typically – but not always – enjoy lower house payments. Takes less money to accomplish and it’s faster to get into a retirement home.
Annual tax deductions help higher-income retirees. Not tied down to one place – can move if you want.
Enjoy more control over a property than a tenant. Savings may do better in financial investments other than the real estate market.
Creates estate value for heirs. Savings have more liquidity than being tied up in real estate.
Annual housing costs are typically less than owning a property.
Major Risks
Property values could decline. Rent may go up over time. Owner could sell out from under the tenants, forcing a move at the end of a lease.
Not easy to relocate if necessary due to illness, job, divorce, etc. Renters forego many tax breaks.
Depending on location, annual costs (PITI, maintenance, HOA fees, etc.) are typically higher than renting. Depending on the amount and circumstances, you could be taxed on the profit from the sale of your previous home.
Less liquidity – it can take a long time to sell a residence. Stocks or mutual fund investments could decline in value while property values increase.

In the final analysis, much of it comes down to personal preferences.  Many retiring Baby Boomers simply do not want to be tied down to one location. They would rather rent homes in different locations during their retirement years. Others desire the security of property ownership. Owning a home, however, is not for everyone. And Boomers may be the first generation in quite a while to abandon traditional home ownership during retirement in favor of mobility and more freedom.

Which choice is better? It really depends on each Boomer’s unique circumstances. Retiring Boomers who have a nice financial nest egg and are in a higher tax bracket are generally better off buying a retirement home rather than renting. Those Boomers who have been financially hurt by the Recession are likely in a lower income bracket and may have dings on their credit score too. They are probably better off renting. Remember, renting rather than buying a property preserves quick access to liquid investments that would otherwise be tied up in a real estate.

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