November 2, 2020

Edited 11/05/20

Optimizing Your 2021 Benefits Enrollment to Set You Up for Retirement

Don’t let open enrollment season pass by without uncovering the 2021 benefits that will set you up for a happy and healthy retirement.

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Between the pandemic and the presidential election, there’s a lot going on this November even before you add open enrollment season to the list. But the time to reevaluate your benefits is indeed rapidly approaching—most states and employers have open enrollment between Nov 1 and Dec 15—and it’s never too early to figure out how to get the most out of your healthcare and retirement benefits for the year ahead.

If the thought of navigating your benefits package sounds like a chore, we get it. The process can be confusing and overwhelming. It’s no wonder that many people just sign along the dotted line without exploring every avenue for getting more out of their plans. 

But we don’t want you to settle for mediocre benefits. Each open enrollment period is a great opportunity to uncover new ways to plan and save for retirement, and we’re here to guide you through optimizing your plan so that you’re earning all the benefits you (and your future!) deserve.

Making the Most of Your 401(k) in 2021

The IRS frequently makes adjustments to the contribution limits for 401(k)s, so it’s important to check in each year to make sure you’re pumping as many savings as possible into your fund—and ensure that you’re getting as much as you can from your employer. 

For the calendar year of 2021, the 401(k) contribution limits are projected to be $19,500. If you’re 50 or older, you’re typically eligible to make catch-up contributions to your 401(k). For 2021, that could mean putting an additional $6,500 toward your 401(k). In addition to bulking up your nest egg, this can also help you save on taxes, since less of your income would be taxed. 

While $6,500 may not seem like an automatic game-changer, catch-up contributions can add up over time. If you’re getting an annual 6% return on your 401(k) investment, the added contributions starting at age 50 could yield around $140,000 extra by the time you hit 65. 

If you recently turned 50 or didn’t know about the catch-up contribution potential, be sure to check with your employer to see if it’s something you can start doing.

Optimizing Your Health Insurance for 2021

It may be an especially challenging but critical year to make sure you’re making the most of your healthcare plan. Large employers are expecting that healthcare costs will rise 5.3% from 2020, and thanks to the pandemic, you may be especially anxious about scoring great, affordable coverage. Typically, many seek in-person help from brokers or agents to make their selection. But due to the pandemic, insurance companies are transitioning towards online platforms that provide price comparisons, resources, and a hotline with agents to answer all your questions.

Still, whether you’re on an employee-sponsored healthcare plan, Medicare, or have shopped around for your own plan through eHealth, there are a few different ways that you can optimize your benefits package to combat rising healthcare costs. We’ve rounded up the great online platforms that can help you make the right selection and save you more money doing so.

Shop Around for Insurance Plans

Whether you’re planning short-term or long-term insurance options, you should use an online health insurance marketplace like eHealth so they can help you find the right insurance plan that works for you. eHealth lets you view many plans in one place with experienced professionals that you can connect with in real-time. Get unbiased comparisons and speak with a licensed insurance agent to understand your plan benefits, premiums, and any other questions. Your health insurance cost varies depending on your state and eHealth compares prices from all insurance companies so you can find the right plan that suits your needs.

Cheaper Prescription Drugs

Americans spend about $1,200 on prescription drugs each year, and that’s if they’re lucky enough not to have to fork over thousands more for specialized medication to treat conditions like cancer or diabetes. Thankfully, there are programs like Hippo that are working to bring those costs way down outside of insurance plans. Signing up for a free Hippo card can slash your drug prices by as much as 97% at any pharmacy.

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More Virtual Care

Telehealth was already on the rise before COVID-19 hit, but now that we’re in a pandemic, virtual care is rapidly emerging as an important part of our healthcare system. This year, some employee-sponsored plans are offering benefit plans that incentivize or encourage telehealth appointments. Check in with your provider to see if your network has expanded to include several virtual care options, or if they’re offering perks or lower copays for making telehealth appointments. Along with avoiding unnecessary travel and in-person interactions, having a telehealth care option may encourage you to access more routine check-ups and other preventive care measures, helping to save big in the long run.

Companies like Hims and Hers are making primary care accessible through their telehealth program so you can get answers fast and treat surprise medical issues without waiting at the doctors. You’ll virtually connect with a medical professional licensed in your state and you can immediately discuss your symptoms and treatment options. A consultation with a provider is only $39 and if a prescription is appropriate, a health care provider will write one into your local pharmacy where the cost may be covered by your insurance.  

In addition, Hims and Hers offers affordable prescription products ranging from sexual wellness (Sildenafil) to hair loss (Finasteride). You can consult with a professional on your sensitive issues and get your personal prescriptions shipped directly to your home—all with the privacy you deserve.

Take Care of Your Mental Health

Health insurance providers like Blue Cross Blue Shield reported a giant surge in the demand for telehealth mental care to help people cope with the stress of 2020. Many providers are taking extra steps to accommodate that demand in the upcoming year, since investing in mental health care can help to keep consumers healthy and cut costs in the long run. Ask your provider if there are new options for staying on top of your mental health, either in person or virtually, to help make sure your whole body is as healthy as possible throughout the upcoming year.

Get More Out of Your HSA

Millions of Americans have a Health Savings Account (HSA) designed to help people pay for out-of-pocket healthcare costs with untaxed money. In 2021, you’ll be able to contribute as much as $3,600 for individuals and $7,200 for families toward an HSA. The biggest problem with HSAs? Too few Americans are getting everything they can out of theirs. Here’s a few ways to get more:

Do Your Catch-Up

If you’re 55 or older, you’re also able to add a $1,000 catch-up contribution per year to your HSA. Just like with your 401(k), these contributions have the potential to help pad your spending as well as decrease your tax bill.

Buy More

Some people don’t realize all the different ways they can use their HSA funds. You can typically use it for small ticket items like sunscreen, bandages, or drugstore eyeglasses. With the sign-off of your medical professional, you can also often use your HSA on bigger ticket items like gym memberships, massage therapy, acupuncture, or home renovations that make life easier on you, such as shower railings or stair ramps. Check in with your provider to get a better picture of the different items your HSA can cover.

Invest

You may be spending all your HSA on medical-related costs, which is perfectly fine. That’s exactly what it’s there for! But if you have HSA money you don’t feel you’ll spend at the drugstore or the doc, you can invest it in many different stocks or bonds. And there’s a good reason to use this cash for investment as opposed to other savings: it’s tax-efficient. You’re generally not paying income tax on your contributions, and you typically won’t be taxed on the earnings it brings.

Keep It for the Future

You can contribute to your HSA all the way up until you enroll in Medicare at 65. But unlike some other savings or investment funds, you don’t have to withdraw it or use it all at that point. You can keep it for as long as you want, withdrawing it tax-free when needed to pay for the medical expenses during your retired years.

If you don’t have an HSA, it’s not too late to start one. Consider looking into the free and flexible Lively HSA. You’re able to save, spend, invest (or do all three!) with one, and it can be a stress-free way to make healthy improvements to your life.

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Figure Out the Best Medicare Plan for You

While you don’t need to wait for the fall open enrollment period to enroll in Medicare coverage options for the first time (you can typically just do that when you turn 65, no matter the time of year), you can use this period to make sure that your current Medicare coverage is the right one for you. This year, if you’re already on Medicare you can start enrolling in new plans as early as October 15, and you have until December 7 to start, change, or drop a plan.

What You Can Do During Annual Election Period

For instance, you might look into changing from Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) into a Medicare Advantage plan, or vice versa. You can get Medicare Advantage plans through private insurers, and they can sometimes come with coverage that Original Medicare doesn’t offer, such as dental, hearing, and vision. If you’re anticipating expenses in these areas in the year ahead, or know you want to see a specialist who doesn’t accept Part A and Part B, you might look into switching to a Medicare Advantage plan. 

Since Medicare Advantage plans are offered by private insurers, there’s a great deal of variety between these plans. The Annual Election Period is a great time to shop around and switch to Medicare Advantage plan if you’re not happy with your current one. Luckily, eHealth offers solutions for Medicare plan options for you to compare plans instantly and find an average potential savings of $782 a year

If you’re currently on a Medicare prescription drug plan (Medicare Part D) or anticipate that 2021 will bring a change to your medication regimen, this can also be a great time to switch, drop, or start a Medicare plan with prescription drug coverage. You could shop around for a prescription drug plan that better suits your current medication needs like enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan that includes prescription drug coverage if you know you’ll need more prescriptions in the coming year, or drop Part D altogether and find a separate prescription drug plan.

There are tons of options out there. Resources like eHealth’s Medicare plan comparison tool can be a great way to compare all the plans that are available to you, complete with estimated costs for things like drugs and potential out-of-pocket expenses. If you do decide to make a switch or enroll in a new program, the site or licensed agents can walk you through that process, too.

Once you’ve gotten the most out of your 2021 benefits package, don’t forget to enter those adjustments with Silvur so you can recalculate your Retirement Score. This personalized score will let you know all the smart new ways you’re preparing for retirement, and give you even more tips on the different ways you can save for a happy and healthy future.