Everything You Need to Vote

Your Vote Counts!

November 3, 2020 is Election Day and it’s coming up on us quick.

We want to help you prepare. Here’s everything you need to do to make sure your vote counts this year.  

Make sure you’re registered

Don’t wait until late October to get ready to vote. In some states, the deadline to register to vote is 30 days before Election Day. 

Check your voter registration status today. 

To do that, you can head to the Can I Vote? webpage.

The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) runs this page, which helps you because each state’s voter registration process is different.

Head to their Voter Registration Page and choose your state. That will redirect you to your state’s voter registration check.

You’ll need to put in some personal information to check your status. Sometimes this includes your driver’s license number or the last four digits of your social security number.

If you find out you’re not registered to vote, don’t panic. As long as you’re 30 days out from the November 3 date, you can still register in every state. 

Check Your State’s Registration Date on This Calendar from When We All Vote

Figure Out How to Cast Your Vote

Once you’re registered, figure out if you’re going to vote in person or via mail-in ballot.

In-person voting

To vote in-person, you show up to a polling place on November 3. 

Pick your state on the NASS Find Your Polling Place. Then you’ll be sent to your state’s website.

Most states have tools that help you find polling places near you. 

On Election Day, you will probably need to bring some form of ID. Check your state’s laws on the National Conference of State Legislatures Voter ID Requirements page. 

You can also usually call your polling place and ask what you need to bring.

Types of documentation vary so make sure you read your state’s specific requirements. 

On November 3, show up to your polling place with your documents. 

The poll worker will guide you through the steps. That’s it.

Mail-in ballots

Most states also offer mail-in (also called absentee) ballots for people who don’t want to vote in-person.

Every state offers absentee ballots, but some states require a reason for needing to vote in this way.

Because of COVID-19, though, many states have loosened restrictions. Some states are even sending absentee ballots to all voters. 

In other states, you’ll need to request an absentee ballot if you want to vote by mail. 

NASS has more tools you can use here. Visit their Absentee & Early Voting page and choose your state.  

That should send you to your state’s webpage where you can access the application for an absentee ballot.

In most states, you need to request your absentee ballot a week or two before Election Day. 

Then, you need to send it in before November 3 in many cases.

To find out your state’s deadlines, you can use this chart from Vote.org.

Once you get your absentee ballot, make sure you fill it out accurately. 

Usually, you’ll need to sign the ballot in a couple of places, including on the outside of the envelope you send it back in. 

Educate yourself before you vote

There’s one more thing you need to do before you vote: research.

Even if you already know how you’re going to vote in the presidential election, remember there are many state and local issues on your ballot.

Ballotpedia has a helpful tool here. Use their Sample Ballot Lookup tool. 

Input your address to pull up your sample ballot.

Your sample ballot will show you what ballot measures you can vote on. 

Plus, you’ll see federal, state, and local government seats that are up for election so you can make your picks. 

Research the measures and people you’ll be voting on so you can make educated decisions on your ballot. 

Your vote counts.

by Kacie Goff Varo Bank

 

Is Taking a Gap Year This Fall a Good Idea?

The reality of COVID-19 has college students across the country planning to skip the upcoming school year, with some citing worry over personal finances and concern over online classes. Many students and their families lost income amid the pandemic, making it tougher to pay tuition and other educational expenses. And while college administrators are planning reboots that reduce the potential health risks of starting school this fall, students aren’t excited about the proposed instructional delivery options. Taking hybrid and online classes are unappealing to those who signed up for a traditional college experience.

But financial roadblocks and less-than-desirable learning environments may not justify putting your education on pause this fall, especially when considering some of the drawbacks. Let’s look at a few problems you might encounter if you take a gap year and skip college enrollment this coming semester.

Problem #1: No One Knows When or If We’ll Get Back to “Normal”

Lively student unions, packed dorm rooms, and full lecture halls are a thing of the past, at least for now. Whether we’ll return to a typical college experience anytime soon is seeming more unlikely. Even the possibility of having millions of students crisscrossing the U.S. to return to campus by spring isn’t guaranteed. Some would describe that scenario as an epidemiological nightmare in the making. But, waiting it out could mean unnecessarily delaying your education, especially when colleges and universities are bolstering their online instruction offerings for new and returning students.

Problem #2: The Typical Gap Year Benefits are Fewer

When students think of a typical gap year experience, it usually includes working a full-time job, traveling abroad, or exploring potential career interests. This year, those options might be off the table. Even though the unemployment rate declined to 11.1% in June 2020, finding full-time work may still be challenging. This is still nearly three times as high as it was in March 2020. Even then, unemployment rates were already creeping higher when compared to the prior year. Don’t forget that COVID-19 travel restrictions are still in place in many parts of the globe, and many in-person internships are being converted into virtual ones.

Problem #3: Re-Admission May Be an Issue

Whether you’re considering taking a semester off or the entire academic year, understand that each college has its policy for approving leaves of absence and re-admission. Some may be more lenient than others due to the coronavirus crisis, but that doesn’t mean returning to school will be easy. With an approved leave of absence, you can stop attending school for a maximum of 180 days within a 12-month time frame. But withdrawing from school or failing to return from your leave could have unwelcome consequences.

Colleges and universities are not required to re-admit students, even if they meet the requirements for re-admission. Each school and program is different, but know that some colleges may require you to:

  • Apply for re-admission and pay a fee
  • Meet updated re-admission requirements
  • Comply with revised graduation requirements due to changes within the program of study
  • Complete additional coursework based on changes to a program’s graduation requirements, thereby increasing the total cost of your education.

Contact your school for details on their specific re-admission requirements.

Problem #4: You Could Be Forced to Start Student Loan Repayments

Most student loan programs allow students a six month grace period before borrowers must make their first principal and interest payment. However, federal and private student loan grace periods differ by loan type and lender. Some student loans have shorter or no grace periods before you must begin repayment. Speak with your loan servicer or school’s financial aid office to confirm how this would apply to your specific situation. The length of time you stay withdrawn or are enrolled less than half-time will influence which loans you must start repaying and when.

Did You Know?

The cost of borrowing money for college is at an all-time low. Federal student loan interest rates for the 2020-21 academic year have dropped to 2.75% for undergraduate borrowers. This historically low-interest rate applies to Federal Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized student loans. Graduate student borrowers can secure Direct Unsubsidized Loans at 4.3%. Parents of undergraduates and graduate students can obtain Direct PLUS Loans at 5.3%.

Add the automatic administrative forbearance that has put student loans at 0% interest and pauses payments thru September 30, 2020, and it seems like taking a gap year right now would be less than ideal from a financial perspective. Even private student loans are setting record lows of 2.99% variable APR or 4.99% fixed APR.

Pausing your education because you feel COVID-19 is undermining your college experience can create more problems than it might solve. However, the emotional and mental health benefits of taking a break from everything might be the best choice for some individuals. Carefully weigh your options and potential consequences before making a final decision. Only you know if taking a gap year is the right thing to do in your particular situation.


Please note that the information provided on this website is provided on a general basis and may not apply to your own specific individual needs, goals, financial position, experience, etc. LendKey does not guarantee that the information provided on any third-party website that LendKey offers a hyperlink to is up-to-date and accurate at the time you access it, and LendKey does not guarantee that information provided on such external websites (and this website) is best-suited for your particular circumstances. Therefore, you may want to consult with an expert (financial adviser, school financial aid office, etc.) before making financial decisions that may be discussed on this website.

How Your Pet Can Help Your Mental Health

My young daughter struggles with anxiety. During a recent episode of panic I was struggling to help her calm her racing mind when my sixty-five-pound Pit Bull mix came to check on her, and it brought me a moment of clarity.

“You know,” I said to her, “scientists found that petting your dog can help you calm down when you’re upset.” She didn’t hesitate to put her hand on his neck and stroke him. In a few moments, the tears slowed and her breathing improved. She sat there petting him slowly, and in a matter of minutes it was almost as if nothing had happened. Since her worries tend to pop back up at bedtime, I asked if we could move the dog’s bed into her room. He’s slept by her side every night, and we’ve had no bedtime struggles since.

Our pets provide us with so many avenues to improve our mental health beyond just a comforting presence. Yes, it’s true that petting a dog can release oxytocin and lower your blood pressure (even more than talking to another human according to this study). You might be surprised at some of the other science-supported ways your pet helps your well being.

Walking Your Dog

Multiple studies have shown that dog owners are less depressed than those without dogs. Most dog parents, a whopping 87%, exercise the recommended 150 minutes per week. Mental health benefits, including reduced anxiety and depression, as well as physical health benefits follow with each step.

You don’t need to make dog walking an epic journey. Just a quick 10 minutes around the block, stopping at a few trees or fire hydrants along the way, can make huge improvements and get the ball rolling for increased endurance later on.

If walking a dog isn’t an option, just playing with a pet in the home releases serotonin and dopamine to help your mood. If pet ownership isn’t a reality for you right now, consider volunteering to groom cats or walk dogs at your local shelter where you’ll get these benefits, help adoptable animals, and even build a routine for yourself.

Building Routine & Building Relationships

Routine is important. Some pet parents report that their walking routine helped their overall well being, while others said the walk helped them feel more connected to their neighbors. The sense of purpose that comes with routinely feeding, grooming, and attending to your pet can help you find meaning and joy in life when it can otherwise be a struggle.

If you aren’t up to taking care of yourself, now might not be the right time for pet ownership. But if you think you might have an easier time getting out of bed in the morning if a pet needed cared for regularly, a pet might help you. Fostering could be a good short-term stepping stone into pet ownership. The companionship that comes with a pet has been well-documented to decrease the symptoms of depression and loneliness and increase the quality and length of life.

Pets Provide Reassurance

I feel safer and calmer when my dog is around. On those rare days when I’m home alone without him, I’m more aware of every noise I hear. When our pets are home and sleeping quietly, we can’t help but feel more secure and at ease. This sense of reassurance is not limited to watchdogs. Experiencing the love of a pet helps children and adults build their self-confidence. Whether a child is reading to a dog, snuggling with them, or teaching them tricks, the dog-human bond is free of any judgement, criticism, or negativity, and can even lead to increased social skills with other people.

One last bit of uplifting news: Most studies on the mental health benefits of companion animals find that animals also benefit from the same increased levels of oxytocin and dopamine that we do when we spend time with them. Your dog doesn’t just look at you like they love you. They really do love you. Knowing that the mental health benefits of pet ownership are reciprocal makes me happier just thinking about it.

The Latest Twitter Hack Shows that No One is Immune

Twitter Hack – Account Takeovers that IDShield Will Warn You About

The latest Twitter hack is being called one of the most audacious cybersecurity hacks of all time. If you don’t know what happened, here’s the high-level: On or about July 15, 2020, hackers hijacked the Twitter accounts of some of the world’s most famous people, including Joseph R. Biden Jr., Barack Obama, Kanye West, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and more. The incident also impacted some of the world’s biggest companies including Apple and Uber.

Star-studded issues aside, we at IDShield want to remind everyone, even if they are not publicly recognizable, of the importance of social media protection. 

What happened?

In the worst cyber incident in the company’s 14-year history, hackers infiltrated 130 high-profile, verified accounts and tweeted messages with a false promise: Send Bitcoin cash, and these prominent figures would send you back double the amount. The accounts were confirmed to have been compromised in what Twitter believes to be a social engineering attack.  

What’s a verified account? 

The blue verified badge on Twitter lets people know that an account of public interest is authentic.

The badge appears next to the name on an account’s profile and next to the account name in search results. It is always the same color and placed in the same location, regardless of profile or theme color customizations. 

What is a social-engineering attack?

 Social-engineering is when a cybercriminal manipulates and tricks users into making security mistakes or giving away sensitive information. Such a plot often involves tactics of phishing, pretexting, baiting, quid pro quo and tailgating. This is one of the most common cyber schemes, and what makes it so dangerous is that it relies 100% on human error. Content from a verified account from your favorite politician or tech giant has got to be real, right? Spoiler alert: It may not be.

It has been reported that the scammers received hundreds of payments, totaling thousands of dollars. It was an unprecedented attack on privacy, trust and security, but what’s even scarier: some experts say the hackers could have caused far more damage.

Another learning experience for the books

Unnerving, right? How many more attacks will it take for everyone to realize that online privacy and reputation management is not a light-hearted recommendation? In the age of digital warfare, everyone must understand how scammers operate, and how to utilize defense tools and resources.

How would someone with IDShield have been alerted?

The statement “…payments sent to my BTC address!” and the link/web/email address ‘bc1qxy2kgdygjrsqtzq2n0yrf2493p8…” would have triggered these reports:  

  • Account Takeover
  • Malware / Phishing / Scam

Upon receiving the reports, the messages could have been caught and deleted faster, saving thousands of people a boatload of money and regret.

Here are more details on what IDShield scans and reports on specifically within Twitter: 

  • Potentially inappropriate self-tweets, self-re-tweets
  • Potentially inappropriate mentions or direct messages from other users
  • Any username or profile changes (potential account takeover)

Protecting yourself is more critical than ever before 

We cannot stress this enough: help yourself, your family and your company. If you see suspicious messages, trust your gut and know it’s most likely a scam. Be proactive and use your resources.

IDShield is a product of Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. d/b/a LegalShield (“LegalShield”). LegalShield provides access to identity theft protection and restoration services. For complete terms, coverage and conditions, please see an identity theft plan.  All Licensed Private Investigators are licensed in the state of Oklahoma. This is meant to provide general information and is not intended to provide legal advice, render an opinion, or provide any specific recommendations.

Get the latest information on the coronavirus tax impact from your trusted partners at Block. Tax Time Is Almost Here and this Year is Challenging!

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has presented us all with some very unique challenges. We understand you may have questions regarding how the coronavirus impacts your taxes. H&R Block is here for you with up-to-date news and facts regarding any changes to tax filing deadlines and coronavirus tax extensions. And, as always, our tax experts are here to answer questions and provide guidance when you need it.
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https://www.hrblock.com/tax-center/irs/deadlines-and-extensions/coronavirus-tax-extension/

March 25, 2020 : H&R Block

You might have heard about the 90-day tax payment extension due to the coronavirus pandemic but aren’t certain about what it covers. What does the extension mean for most Americans? Do taxes still need to be filed and paid by April 15, 2020?

Tax Day is now July 15, 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic. This change includes the filing and payment deadline. The IRS is still accepting returns and processing refunds, and we are ready to help you get your important refunds now (see options at the bottom of this article).
Want to find out more? Read on as H&R Block’s experts at The Tax Institute are here to help you understand the changes to the tax deadline due to the coronavirus.

Covid-19 tax deadline: What you need to know

As of March 20, 2020, the Treasury Department announced the following covid-19 tax deadline guidelines, giving certain taxpayers and businesses an additional 90 days to file and pay their 2019 tax liability. Here are the key dates.

Tax return deadline – July 15, 2020. Your tax filing is now due on this date. If you need more time, you can request an extension to October 15, 2020. Read the FAQs below for details.
Tax payment deadline – July 15, 2020. If you owe income taxes for 2019, you can delay your IRS payment until this time. You will not owe interest or penalties if you pay before this deadline.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus tax deadline changes
Q. Who is eligible for the tax filing and payment deferral?
A. The following types of filers are eligible to use the special coronavirus tax extension.

  • Individual Form 1040 filers
  • Corporations filing Form 1120
  • Trusts and states filing Form 1041
  • Fiscal year partnerships, associations and companies with due dates on April 15, 2020 (uncommon)

Q. What do I need to do to delay my filing and tax payment?
A. You must file your tax return or extension by July 15 as you normally would. The 90-day tax payment deferral itself is automatic when you file, which means interest and penalties are automatically waived for 90 days and won’t accrue for qualifying taxpayers and businesses until after July 15.
Q. What if I need more time to prepare my return?
A. You must file Form 4868 to request an extension by July 15, 2020. This extension would give you until October 15 to file your return, but your payment would still be due by the extended payment deadline, July 15, 2020.
Q. What if I’m getting a refund? Does this news affect me at all?
A.  It should not affect you if you’re receiving a refund. The Treasury Department says you should still expect to receive your refund within the normal time period (9 out of 10 are received within 21 days of electronic filing).
Q. What types of payments does this deferral cover?
A. It covers income tax payments, as well as any normally associated interest and penalties, such as the failure-to-pay penalty. It also covers estimated tax payments (included payments of tax on self-employment income) due on April 15, 2020, for the 2020 tax year.
Q. How much can I defer?
A. There is no limit on the amount of tax payment you can defer.
Q. Does this deferral apply to 2020 estimated tax payments (including estimated self-employment taxes)?
A. It depends on the payment date.

  • First quarter 2020 estimated tax payment – The deferral includes this estimated tax payment otherwise due on April 15, 2020.
  • Second quarter 2020 estimated tax payment – The deferral does not apply to this tax payment due on June 15, 2020. In addition, the penalty for failure to make estimated tax payments for 2019 is not waived or deferred.

Q. Does this deferral apply to my state tax return also?
A. States are issuing their own guidance about deadlines. For more information, see State income tax returns impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Q. Does this announcement mean I don’t owe taxes for 2019?
A. No, the deferral only extends the due date of when your tax liability is due. Interest and penalties will again accrue on outstanding tax liabilities starting July 16, 2020. The deferral does not exclude or exempt taxpayers from filing if they are already required to file.
H&R Block is here to help during the coronavirus tax extension
During the extension period, H&R Block will be standing ready to help—no matter how you choose to file. We understand how important your refund is to your financial wellbeing. And now more than ever, we’re ready to get you the most money back.
Drop off your documents
You can bring your documents to any of our offices and we’ll do the work without you having to wait. Our tax pros will call you with any questions and can send your completed return electronically for you to review and approve.
Tax Pro Go
Use your mobile device to upload your tax documents and a tax pro will prepare your return virtually.
Online or desktop software
If you prefer to do your own taxes, you can prepare your taxes using H&R Block Online or H&R Block Software. If you have questions, there are options for unlimited help and even a final review of your tax filing.
At H&R Block, we’re committed to providing information you can trust that you can use to help navigate the changing tax landscape. If you’d like to stay informed about the tax impact of the coronavirus pandemic, visit our Coronavirus Tax Impact page for the latest information.


Visit your CBAPlan Benefits page to register for free tax return!

Coronovirus – COVID-19 Telemedicine is Here for You 24/7

Healthiest You is partnering with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), state and local health officials, and our health system partners to provide our communities with the support, information, and the care they need.

Getting care and guidance from the comfort of your own home can put your mind at ease and help you avoid heavily public areas such as doctors’ offices and the ER, which can carry many germs. Our providers can evaluate your risk and advise you on next steps.

While there is no treatment for COVID-19, people who are mildly ill may be able to isolate and care for themselves at home.

For cases where in‐person care is needed, we will navigate patients to appropriate resources and encourage patients to “let them know before you go” so that the in-person care facility can direct them appropriately and minimize potential exposure for others.
As the COVID-19 outbreak unfolds, our commitment to providing high-quality care has never been more important. Virtual care is recommended by the CDC as the way to get care and advice and help avoid exposure and spread of potentially contagious viruses.

When should I use your services? What are wait times like?

The need for our care has never been greater and providing care in your moment of need is our highest priority. As a result, you may experience extended wait times.

If you have a fever or feel feverish, have cold-like symptoms or flu-like symptoms, or feel run-down, you should contact us. If you are experiencing shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, then you should call your local doctor’s office to request an in-person visit. Shortness of breath–having trouble breathing–is a more severe symptom that requires an in-person evaluation.

The fastest way to receive care is to request a visit on the mobile app or online. If you’re a new member, set up your account and complete a brief health history.

Teladoc does not write lab orders for COVID‐19 testing. When our doctors identify a COVID‐19 suspected case, we advise individuals to call their local doctor or their state’s public health hotline to verify test availability and to “let them know before you go” so that the in-person care facility can direct them appropriately and minimize potential exposure for others.

Testing availability varies by community and many health departments and health systems are prioritizing testing for patients with the greatest risk of COVID‐19 complications or greatest risk of spreading to others.

Individuals vulnerable to COVID-19 are patients older than 50 years or patients with chronic diseases such as heart, lung, kidney, and diabetes, or who are immunocompromised.

Children do experience the same symptoms as adults do with COVID-19. However, at this time, we are seeing that children’s symptoms seem to be milder. Children with chronic diseases such as heart, lung, kidney, diabetes, or who are immunocompromised, are at higher risk for complications due to COVID-19.

Teladoc works with many Medicare Advantage and Medicaid managed care plans but is not a provider for Medicare fee for service or Medicaid fee for service. Contact your health insurance provider to learn more about your benefits and to see if you have access to Teladoc.

We’re here to support you

If you think you have coronavirus:

  1. Contact us. We will advise you on what to do next. See our frequently asked questions below for how we handle COVID-19 evaluations.
  2. Call ahead before going in person to any doctor’s office.
  3. Don’t go to your local emergency room for COVID-19 testing. The ER is only for those who need the most critical care.

Register for HealthiestYou with CBA Plan today!

Stimulus Bill

In a continuing effort to alleviate taxpayer stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, another piece of federal legislation will provide relief in several categories. The Stimulus Bill, also called The Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act or H.R. 748, was passed by the House and signed on Friday, March 27, 2020. Below are some of the most pertinent sections for financial professionals and their clients (not intended as legal advice):


Temporary Waiver of Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) Rules
The CARES Act waives RMDs for calendar year 2020 for Defined Contribution (DC) plans, including 401(k), 403(b), 457(b) and IRA plans, allowing individuals to keep funds in their retirement plans. Under current law, individuals generally at age 72, or those that turned 70 ½ in 2019 or before, must take an RMD from their DC plans and IRAs. 

If a client has taken an RMD within the past 60 days, the RMD would be eligible to roll back into the plan. Typically, RMDs are not eligible to be rolled over in a year in which an RMD is required. However, since no 2020 RMD is required, a 60 day rollover is an option. We do not yet know what this means for individuals who took 2020 RMDs outside of the 60 day window, but expect to receive additional guidance from the IRS and will pass this along when we know more. In addition, as we hear more from our clearing firm partners on how this will affect Pershing and FCCS accounts, we will post that information on our COVID-19 Clearing Firm Updates Page.

Hardship Distributions
H.R. 748 also waives the 10% early withdrawal penalty tax under Internal Revenue Code Section 72(t) on early withdrawals up to $100,000 from a retirement plan or IRA for an individual:

  • who is diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • whose spouse or dependent is diagnosed with COVID-19; 
  • who experiences adverse financial consequences as a result of being quarantined, furloughed, laid off, having work hours reduced, being unable to work due to lack of child care due to COVID-19, closing or reducing hours of a business owned or operated by the individual due to COVID-19; or
  • other factors as determined by the Treasury Secretary.

Plan Loans
The Act doubles the current retirement plan loan limits to the lesser of $100,000 or 100% of the participant’s vested account balance in the plan. Individuals with an outstanding loan from their plan with a repayment due from the date of enactment of the CARES Act through Dec. 31, 2020, can delay their loan repayment(s) for up to one year. The legislation allows retirement plans to adopt these rules immediately, even if the plan does not currently allow for hardship distributions or loans. This provision requires that the plan be amended on or before the last day of the first plan year beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2020.

The American Retirement Association (ARA) has put together FAQs outlining the above changes, available here.

Other Provisions
The CARES Act provides the Department of Labor (DOL) with expanded authority to postpone certain deadlines under ERISA. This means that the DOL could delay such timelines as Form 5500 filing, plan restatement deadlines, etc. We will continue to update you as additional changes occur.

Small Business Relief
The Act also provides relief to your small business clients provided they meet certain requirements. The program, which is available to businesses with less than 500 employees that do not lay off employees during the crisis, is in the form of $350 billion in partially forgivable loans. Provisions of the program include a 50% refundable payroll tax credit on worker wages to retain workers, a delay in employer-side payroll taxes for Social Security until 2021 and 2022, looser net operating loss-reduction rules, and an expansion of rules that allows sole proprietors and other self-employed workers to be eligible for the expanded unemployment-insurance benefits the bill provides. Loans under the program will be up to $10 million per employer depending on payroll, and will carry an interest rate of up to 4%. If the business uses the loan funds for the approved purposes and maintains the average size of its full-time workforce based on when it received the loan, the principal of the loan will be forgiven, meaning the company will only need to pay back the interest accrued.

By: Ryan Nietert, CFP, ChFC, CLU. Oakcrest Capital March 30th, 2020

“Virtual first”: A new strategy for how people access healthcare.

By: Mark D. Smith, MBA

Just as the definition of “virtual” has evolved—years ago, virtual meant “not quite real,” while now it’s recognized as a service provided by computer over a network—so has the concept of “virtual care.”

No longer is virtual care regarded as “almost-real care” or an adjunct to face-to-face encounters. Increasingly, patients, providers, and health plans recognize that virtual care represents a viable and valuable approach to care delivery.

Healthcare, however, remains one of two industries late to arrive at the “virtual first” party (education is the other), where consumers have needed to be physically present to receive information. Most industries embraced virtual services years, if not decades, ago. Consider travel: When was the last time any of us drove to a travel agency to book a flight or accommodations? Or banking: How long ago did any of us appear at a teller’s window to withdraw cash for the weekend?

Like these other service industries, virtual care is progressing through what some have called the four stages of natural history for a new idea:1 Crazy, Crazy, Crazy, Obvious.

Stage 1: This new idea is simply wacko. Deliver care without seeing the patient? Crazy.

Stage 2: This idea is odd and unproven—and, therefore, probably dangerous.

Stage 3: OK, it’s true there might be potential with this idea—but its value is trivial. We need much more proof before we can seriously consider making a change.

Stage 4: The benefits are obvious! I can’t believe we ever did it any other way!

Virtual care currently falls somewhere between stages 2 and 3. We’ve moved past “wacko,” but haven’t arrived at “obvious” yet.

Among the factors accelerating this transformation is the drive toward value-based payments, a movement with clear momentum. As co-chair of the Health Care Payment Learning and Action Network (HCPLAN), I have watched this model mature and, in recent days, overtake the fee-for-service tradition. Various risk models are now de rigueur—such as bundled or annual payments, payments based on downside risk, or even full capitation—and there is every indication the direction will continue to grow and mature. Ninety percent of payers, in fact, say they expect alternative payment models to only increase. (More information is available in the October 2018 HCPLAN study, “Measuring Progress: Adoption of Alternative Payment Models in Commercial, Medicaid, Medicare Advantage, and Fee-for-Service Medicare Programs.”)

In short, it has become clear the volume-based approach does not serve the industry or patients well. To protect their income, for instance, providers must treat more and more patients in a day—a hamster-wheel model that has led to quality concerns and unprecedented levels of physician burnout. Altering this paradigm clears the path for more efficient, patient-centric care—and fuels adoption of innovations like virtual care.

The “virtual first” approach delivers critical value to address three of the most significant concerns challenging healthcare today:

  1. Access. Rural areas of this country are experiencing a healthcare crisis. (Many urban areas are also woefully underserved.) Too few doctors—especially highly paid specialists—choose to establish their practices outside of urban or suburban areas, leaving many people without the care they need. Virtual care overcomes the barriers of geography, meeting the needs both of individuals who live in remote areas and providers in populated areas.
  2. Quality. Not only does virtual care provide a much-needed channel for care delivery, but it also facilitates the ability for providers and health plans to monitor and improve quality—according to both clinical and service metrics. Platforms like Teledoc Health, which support a virtual-care infrastructure, enable the highly scalable collection, analysis, and reporting of quality data to promote best practices in a myriad of areas such as prescribing patterns around antibiotics and opioids among providers in the network.
  3. Cost. With healthcare representing 20 percent of U.S. GDP, strategies to address spiraling cost concerns are critical. Virtual care offers a solution in ways both obvious and less apparent.
    1. Unit cost. It’s long been established that “seeing” a patient over a virtual network, compared to hospitalization, an emergency visit, or even an office appointment, is less expensive.
    2. Cost to the patient, in terms of their economics, time, and convenience. One estimate noted that, when looking at the investment patients make in a face-to-face encounter (commuting, waiting room, exam room, etc.), only 16 percent of the total time is spent with the provider—an appalling (and disrespectful) lack of efficiency by any standard.

It is clear that current models of care delivery have priced themselves out of reach of families, companies, and even government, and are unable to deliver the value, quality, or convenience healthcare consumers have a right to expect. A “virtual first” approach provides a much-needed alternative to alleviate the pressure on the current healthcare ecosystem and offers value that all constituents—patient, provider, and health plan—can embrace.

Easy ways to save over $500 per month.

By: The Zebit Team

We write a lot about budgeting and gaining control over your finances. We know that a lot of this is easier said than done, especially when it comes to cutting back on your spending to make your budget work. Becoming financial stable can require a bit of sacrifice, so we’re here to help guide you in some decisions that might make cutting back a little easier for you.

Necessary or Unnecessary Expenses?

First, classify your expenses into one category:  Necessary or Unnecessary.

This involves a little honesty on your part.  We both know that you don’t need that subscription box full of trinkets, over priced clothing, and knick-knacks no matter how much joy it brings you. Food, insurance, mortgages, car payments, utilities, etc. are necessary expenses. While items like daily Starbucks coffees, Netflix subscriptions, eating out, season tickets to your favorite sports team, etc. all fall into the unnecessary category.

6 Ways to Save

Okay, so we’ve covered the basics. Now it’s time to dig deep to see how you can adjust your spending to start saving money each month. A large portion of the typical American budget goes to unnecessary costs, but without any of them them, life would be a little dull.

1. Subscriptions Boxes (Save $15-$50/ month)

  • We touched on this a little earlier in the blog, but while subscription boxes may seem like a fun and a convenient way to acquire new things, it also adds up. Ask yourself, “Would I be willing to pay just as much for these items if I was shopping at the store?” Chances are you’re saying “no” to a majority of the items.

2. Gym Memberships (Save $20-$150/ month)

  • First, if you have a gym membership that you aren’t using, stop kidding yourself and cancel it. While your intentions were good, an unused gym membership is throwing money away every month. On the flip side, exercise is a great investment in your health. If you do go to the gym, consider whether you need to spend that much to reach your fitness goals. Could you replace it by running with friends, biking around town, or using a cheaper exercise app to work out at home? If you’re only using a treadmill at the gym, you’d be much better off running outside and saving on that monthly expense. You should also try Groupon or new gyms in the area to take advantage of lower-priced intro options. Trying new exercises will also be great cross training for your body! Try yoga one month, bootcamp the next, barre, spin classes, boxing, swimming, and more!

3. Avoid Brand Names   (Save $30+ per month)

  • This one is pretty straightforward. Avoid brand name products if a comparable generic version is available. While packaging, marketing, and celebrity endorsements are flashy on brand name products, the the product may not be contributing its value than if there is a generic brand counterpart. Look at last month’s brand name purchases in your closet, pantry, and home. What could you have replaced and been just as happy, while saving a few extra bucks?  I’m guessing some of those cleaning supplies and paper goods could be swapped for something cheaper.

4. Eating Out & Drinks    (Save $100-$300/month)

  • Eating out is one of the biggest money pits to fall into. On average, Americans spend $250 a month on food outside the home. That’s over $3,000 per year! Although it’s fast, easy, and you don’t have to do the dishes, it is also much more expensive compared to eating at home. Set an eating out budget for the month and stick to it. Or try setting a rule for yourself, such as “I will only go out to eat with a friend” or “weekends only” or “max $10 per meal.” Can you cut your current eating out budget in half? It can be hard when a friend invites you to a birthday dinner. Instead, eat dinner at home before the event and attend by just ordering an appetizer, drink, or dessert and ask for a separate check, to help save on the expense. Ordering drinks is also an easy way to quickly exceed your meal budget. Instead, buy your favorite cocktail supplies, invite a few friends over, and start practicing your at-home bartender skills. If you want to get out and about, take full advantage of happy hour specials.

5. Decide on One Streaming Service (Save $10-50/month)

  • Cutting the cord is a great way to save money, but thanks to all of the new streaming services popping up, you may be spending more than regular cable these days! Take a look at what services you can live without. If you haven’t opened your Hulu app in a week, maybe you don’t need it. Since most subscriptions are month-to-month, we suggest canceling the subscription during the season your favorite show isn’t airing new episodes and reactive when it comes back. This goes for sports channels as well!

6. Pay Over Time with No Interest (Save hundreds!)

  • The great thing about Zebit is being able to purchase the items you want and pay over time. This allows you to pick up that new TV without blowing your monthly budget or grab an eCertificate to your favorite restaurant without going over your Eating Out allowance. Zebit is a great way to keep you within your budget while enjoying some of the costly expenses in life. Register and start shopping today!

While cutting back on these unnecessary expenses can be a sacrifice, always remember your financial goals. While skipping that delicious latte in the morning is rough in the moment, remembering that you just contributed to your savings goal helps ease the pain. There isn’t an easy road to financial stability; otherwise, everyone would be there. But there are ways to make the journey a bit more enjoyable along the way.

Owning Your Digital Profile by Setting Up LastPass

October is the perfect time to take stock of your cyber security. Every year, worldwide efforts like NCSAM in the USECSM in the EU, and Stay Smart Online in Australia aim to raise awareness of important cybersecurity topics. Throughout the month, there are many resources available to help you better protect yourself online. 

Whether you’re new to LastPass or a long-time user, this month is also an ideal time to review your LastPass account. The first step to staying safe online is understanding the devices and applications you use every day. When it comes to LastPass, that means understanding how best to use the service and the security features that are available to you, to both protect your account and to use LastPass to its full potential in keeping you safe online. 

Start Using a Password Manager 

If you aren’t using a password manager yet, you can sign up for LastPass here. Getting started only takes a few steps, and you’ll be on your way to protecting your passwords and replacing every account with a strong, generated password.  

With LastPass, your passwords and other vault data is encrypted with a key that only you know. It’s more secure and accessible than your browser password manager and gives you on safe place to store not only your account logins, but all other important pieces of information you want to keep protected but convenient. 

Use the LastPass Browser Extension 

The LastPass browser extension is key to using LastPass to its full potential. The browser extension is what allows LastPass to securely detect whether to save a new password or fill one you’ve already stored. If you’re signing up for a new account, LastPass can offer to generate a new password (and then remember it for you, of course). 

If you haven’t already, be sure to download the extension to all browsers that you use on a regular basis, including Firefox, Chrome, Safari, or Edge. The extension will give you quick access to all LastPass features, including your vault, and puts your password manager to work for you. 

Create a Strong Master Password 

Your master password is not only required to access your LastPass account, it also forms part of your encryption key. Your encryption key is used to encrypt the sensitive data in your LastPass vault, before it’s synced to LastPass servers. Of course, that means that keeping your data secure partially depends on choosing a strong master password.  

Be sure to follow good habits when it comes to your master password – never reuse your master password, or share it with others, or use something easily guessable. If you think your current master password could be stronger, simply update it in your account settings. It’s a good idea to update it regularly anyway, such as once a year. 

Download the Mobile App(s) 

LastPass isn’t just for your desktop or laptop. Our apps for iOS and Android ensure you always have your passwords and other stored data with you, no matter where you are or when you need them. You might be surprised how often you might need to use LastPass when you’re on the go. The apps are free – and sync your data for free – so there’s no reason not to go download them from the app stores today! 

Investigate LastPass Features 

Of course, the tips we’ve provided above are just the beginning. LastPass has a lot of features and settings to help you better protect your data online, and to better secure your LastPass account. Be sure to familiarize yourself with how the main features work. Take a few moments to explore the menus and settings available in your browser extension, mobile apps, and the vault.  

As you become more familiar with LastPass, you’ll feel more confident in using it! And with that confidence will come the peace of mind of knowing you’re following the advice of top cybersecurity experts and better protecting yourself – your data, your money, your identity – with a password manager. 

By: Amber Steel, LastPass Blogs

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