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Money June 2015

Dollar Sense

Potpourri: Stuff You Need to Know About Your Social Security, Your Assets, and a Few Freebies

By Teresa Ambord

While we wait for the wheels of government to make a sensible change like removing the SSNs from our Medicare cards, you should know, you do not have to carry your card with you. And if you do feel you need to carry it, here’s an alternative that will protect your SSN.

Some Help to Protect Social Security Numbers May be on the Way

You may know that theft of Social Security numbers (SSN) among seniors often happens because thieves go after your Medicare cards. Experts say, never carry your Social Security card with you, to prevent theft of your SSN. But your SSN is printed on your Medicare card, which we are told we should carry.

Thieves know this.

For ages Americans have been asking our government to remove that critical number from the Medicare card, but to no avail. It looks like someone might finally be listening. With the rise of cyber-attacks involving medical records, federal investigators are beseeching the government to remove the numbers from Medicare cards. It’s not official yet, but it is backed by both sides in Congress and President Obama has requested funding to get it done.

Like everything else in life, it will cost money, but 4,500 people sign up for Medicare every day, and by 2025, Medicare enrollment could reach 74 million. The recent loss of data in the Anthem data breach exposed up to 80 million SSNs. By removing these critical numbers from Medicare cards, maybe we can stem the flow of information to thieves. It’s about time for a change.

In the meantime: While we wait for the wheels of government to make a sensible change like removing the SSNs from our Medicare cards, you should know, you do not have to carry your card with you. And if you do feel you need to carry it, here’s an alternative that will protect your SSN. Make a copy and put the original in a safe place at home. On the copy, black out or better yet, cut out the SSN. You could leave the last four digits visible if it makes you more comfortable to do that. Your regular doctors likely have your numbers on file already, and in an emergency, a hospital can locate your Medicare information.


Avoiding Probate: It’s Important!

If you’ve been included in someone’s will, you probably know how frustrating probate can be. The executor has to find the assets and the liabilities of the deceased, pay the debts and any income or estate tax that may be due, as well as bills for the funeral and the attorneys. If you own a business and your heirs have to wait out probate to pay certain business expenses, the results can be ugly. Plus, probate is a matter of public record, exposing your business to the world.

Clearly, avoiding probate is desirable. Is there a way around it? Actually there are several alternatives, but you’ll need to do some planning now. And if your assets are substantial, proper planning can help you avoid all or most of the dreaded estate tax, which is 40% for 2015.

  • By forming a living trust, you can move some of your assets into the trust, making the trust the owner of those assets. Unlike probate, a trust is private. If your assets exceed $5.43 million and you pass away in 2015, the amount that exceeds that threshold may be subject to estate tax (after allowable deductions). But by establishing the right kind of trust (probably irrevocable), you can shield whatever assets you put into the trust from estate tax. Be sure to get professional help with this, so you don’t make the mistakes that some immensely wealthy celebrities made in recent years.

If estate tax is not an issue, ask your professional adviser if a revocable trust would be better for you. This type of trust allows you to maintain control of your assets and avoid probate. When you pass away, the trust will distribute your assets according to your stated wishes.

  • Check your retirement accounts, IRAs, pensions, 401(k)s, to ensure you have assigned beneficiaries. If the stocks and bonds you own also allow you to assign beneficiaries, it’s a good idea to do that so the transfer of ownership is clean and easy. While you are at it, are you still happy with the beneficiaries you chose? People sometimes forget about beneficiary designations and end up accidently leaving money to someone they are estranged from, like a former spouse.
  • If you have designated beneficiaries, consider having your bank accounts established as “payable upon death” to those beneficiaries. Or ask your bank if you can name a beneficiary for the account. As with retirement accounts, check periodically to be sure you’re still happy with your choices.
  • You can also make gifts of cash or property while you’re still around. As an individual, in 2015 you can give up to $14,000 to any number of recipients, without incurring a gift tax. If you are married and your spouse agrees, you can double that, and give up to $28,000 to each recipient. That avoids probate and estate tax. And, the amount you give the lucky recipients is not taxable income to them.


Every month I post a few birthday freebies. But you can view the whole list here: Someone has gone to a lot of trouble to keep these freebies updated. But just to be sure you don’t waste a trip, you might want to check with the restaurant before you go to make sure the deal is still offered. Many of these require that you print a coupon. Just think… if you have a ton of friends or a slew of grandkids, you can treat each one to a freebie on his or her birthday.


Red Lobster Birthday Freebie: $5 off two adult entrees.


Romano’s Macaroni Grill Signup Freebie: $5 off your next visit. Birthday Freebie: Free dessert.


Ryan’s (also Country Buffet, Old Country Buffet, Hometown Buffet and Fire Mountain) Signup Freebie: $3 off a regular adult dinner with the purchase of a beverage. Birthday Freebie: Free BOGO entree coupon.


Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

Meet Teresa