Tips from A to Z

Advance Directives - Are You Prepared?

RMDs, What Are They?

Saving Money on Gas and Electric Bills

Wireless Phone Bill Scam


ADVANCE DIRECTIVES – ARE YOU PREPARED?

What is meant by advance directives?
Advance directives are documents in which you state your financial and health care choices and designate who will make these choices if you are unable to express your wishes.  In Wisconsin, the documents available are: the Power of Attorney for Finance & Property, the Declaration to Physicians (Living Will), and the Power of Attorney for Health Care (POAHC).  There is also a Christian version of the Power of Attorney for Health Care available. You do not need an attorney to complete these forms, but you may want to seek legal advice if you have particular circumstances or concerns.
 
Where are these documents available?
The Wisconsin documents can be downloaded from Wisconsin’s Dept. of Health and Family Services website: http://dhs.wisconsin.gov/forms/Advdirectives or by mail.  Send a stamped, self-addressed business-size envelope to:  Living Will/Power of Attorney, Division of Public Health, P. O. Box 2659, Madison, WI  53701-2659.  Some hospitals and nursing homes may also have these forms available. Explanatory directions are included with each form.
 
The Christian version of the POAHC is available at: ChristianLifeResources.com.
Click on “Medical Directives” on the left side of the home page.  You will be asked to select your state of residence from the drop-down menu.  An explanatory supplement is available to download, as well as the actual document.  Christian Life Resources may also be contacted at 1-800-729-9535.
 
What is the difference between a Living Will and the Power of Attorney for Health Care?
The living will is shorter, usually with 3 paragraphs outlining alternative levels of care. You will have a “yes-no” box to select for each one.
 
The power of attorney for health care (POAHC) gives some direction for medical care, but the main purpose of the document is to designate a health care agent, usually a family member or close friend, to make medical decisions for you, if you are unable to do so.
 
Advance directive documents for health care must be signed in the presence of two witnesses, 18 or older, who know you personally, but are not related to you “by blood, marriage or adoption”. Prohibited from witnessing are your doctors, their staff, employees of your treatment facility (except for a social worker or chaplain); your designated health care agent; those with a claim on your estate, and those who have direct financial responsibility for your health care.  Signatures for the POAHC do not have to be notarized. All documents are revocable by you at any time, as long as you are mentally competent.
 
The main difference between the two documents is that a doctor will consult a piece of paper for health care direction (living will) if you are unable to express your wishes or will consult a trusted family member or friend if you have completed a POAHC.
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RMDs, What Are They?

What are RMDs?   Required minimum distributions are annual withdrawals that you must take from traditional IRAs, as well as from 401(k)s and other employer-based retirement plans -- including 403(b)s, 457s and the federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) -- after you reach age 70½.  Payouts are taxed at your ordinary income-tax rate unless you have made after-tax contributions, in which case a portion of your withdrawals is tax-free.  You can always withdraw more than the required amount; but if you don’t take out the minimum, you will incur a 50% penalty on the amount that you failed to withdraw.

Who must take RMD's?   
RMD rules apply to owners of retirement accounts. If you’re still on the job at age 70½, you can generally skip the distribution from your employer plan (check with your employer) until you retire, but you’ll still need to withdraw the required amount from your IRA every year.

There are no distribution requirements for owners of tax-free Roth IRAs. But owners of inherited traditional and Roth IRA accounts (other than spouses) who don’t withdraw the IRA in the first five years after the original owner’s death must take annual distributions.

When is the deadline?   You generally must take your distribution by December 31 each year, but you get an extension for your first withdrawal -- until April 1st of the year after you turn 70½. However, if you delay your first distribution, you will face a larger tax bill that year because you must take your next distribution by December 31 of the same year.

How much do I need to withdraw?   IRA withdrawals are based on the balance in all of your traditional IRAs combined on December 31 of the previous year, divided by your life expectancy. Once you calculate the RMD based on that total, you can withdraw the money from any one or combination of those accounts. With 401(k)s and other company plans, you must calculate the RMD for each plan and withdraw the appropriate amount from each account.

You can find the life-expectancy divisor for your age in IRS Publication 590 (www.irs.gov).  A special rule applies if your spouse is the beneficiary and is more than ten years younger than you.

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Saving Money on Gas & Electric Bills

 

The savings for electrical is easy to calculate when a switch is made to the "time of day" rates the Electric Company offers.  The savings were $282.14 for the first ten months of the changes.  The natural gas was computed based on the average therms per degree-day for the winter months.  This shows a reduction of about 20% to 24%.  For the six-month heating period this is a savings of over $100.00.  The cost to accomplish this was $100.00 for a thermostat and five timers.  (Thermostat was a 5 day / 2 day and was on sale)

 

To accomplish these savings the following was implemented:

 

Electric – Change to the "time of day rate" billing with the Electric Company.  The normal rate is about $0.075 / KWH (Kilowatt Hour).  Time of day rates are about: off-peak = $0.025 / KWH, and on peak = $0.14 / KWH.  In this case, the husband, wife and student were all at work or school during the day.  The family leaves the house around 7:00 am.  Therefore they chose to have the rates change to on-peak at 7:00 am and back to off-peak at 7:00 pm.  You can choose 8:00 to 8:00, or 9:00 to 9:00, or 10:00 to 10:00.  During the day you pay the on-peak rate of $0.14 / KWH and at night, weekends and holidays you are billed at the off-peak rate of $0.025 / KWH.  If you go on this program and decide to get off you cannot go back on for a year.

 

To break-even you need to get to over 60% of your usage to be at off-peak.  This is easier than you may think.  The items in your house that use the most energy are anything that heats or cools or dehumidifies.  This family bought timers for the two waterbeds, the refrigerator for soda and beer, and the two dehumidifiers in the basement.  You do not want to put a timer on your refrigerator that stores food.  The loss of food or potential for illness will offset any potential saving in energy costs.  The timers are set to go on at 7:00 pm and off at 7:00 am on the items discussed earlier.  Note to watch for the daylight savings time switch and if you lose power for any extended time.  You will need to reset your timers.  In addition to using timers, this family does not wash clothes or run the dishwasher until after 7:00 pm on weekdays.  They save clothes washing for the weekends or after 7:00 pm on weekdays.  The drying elements are heaters and will draw a lot of energy.

 

For heating and cooling the house, the family bought a time of day thermostat.  For summer cooling they have it set to cool the house, starting at 7:00 pm, to 68 degrees.  During the day the air conditioning is set to go on at 82 degrees.  Because they are gone, the house is closed with no one going in and out.  They reported that the temperature had not gone above 80 degrees this past summer.  On weekends it was set at 72 degrees for the summer.

 

During the heating season they have the furnace set to heat to 70 degrees starting 40 minutes before they awake and to allow the house to cool down to 64 degrees until 30 minutes before they get home.  They hold this until they go to bed and again allow the house to go down to 64 degrees while they sleep.  If you get up in the middle of the night and sit with a good book for a while to "wind down" you will need a blanket.  Again, on weekends and holidays they set the temperature to a point that they found comfortable, 70 degrees.

 

The thermostat is easily overridden should your schedule change for a period of time.

 

I hope you find this informative.


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Wireless phone bill scam makes its way through cyberspace
By Rick Barrett of the Journal Sentinel
Sept. 5, 2012
Consumer protection officials are warning people to beware of fake emails claiming to be from Verizon Wireless that say you owe money and should click on a link to "View and pay your bill."
The email is very similar to a legitimate Verizon message, but it's a scam that could lead to your identity being stolen and your bank account being emptied.
An indication the email is a fake is the large amount due, sometimes several thousand dollars.
Also, by hovering your cursor over the link, you can check whether the URL leads to Verizon's website or, in a scam email, to a third-party site.
If you see anything out of the ordinary, don't click on the link, said Sandy Chalmers, administrator of the consumer protection division of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Instead, forward the suspicious email to phishing@verizonwireless.com.
If in doubt, contact Verizon, said company spokeswoman Andrea Meyer.
Don't touch the suspicious email, she said.
Clicking on the "View and pay your bill" link could install malware or spyware on your computer that monitor your keystrokes and steal login information to websites such as bank accounts.
The fake Verizon notice is a little unusual in that it's been sent to businesses and individuals.
State government employees also have received it and have been warned not to click on the link.
Scam emails often are rife with grammatical errors, but the fake Verizon notice is notable for its painstaking replication of a legitimate email from the company.
"These crooks are getting better and better at impersonating businesses," Chalmers said.
Often the scams come from Eastern Europe, and U.S. authorities have few ways of tracking them.
If one Internet provider shuts down a scam, often it starts up again with another website or email address.
The best scams copy each other, further complicating efforts to endthe practice. Often, the scams pose as banks.
Should malware get installed on your computer, there are ways to remove it.
But even bankers get scammed. Last year, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, three officials at an unnamed bank clicked on a PDF attachment that arrived in emails purportedly from the FDIC.
It infected their computers and sent the electronic key to the bank's money transfer system to hackers in
Romania. The bank lost millions.
If your online account is hacked by a scam, it could result in theloss of money you won't get back.
"The consumer is in a very difficult position, to put it mildly," Chalmers said.

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