Ask Lee Now: Answering Readers’ Questions

We love to hear from readers! Please email your question or comment to Independent Living editor Lee Bellinger ([email protected]). Please include your name and home state. You may also reach us via postal mail
(P.O. Box 1240; Clover, SC 29710-4240).

Managing Parkinson’s Under Obamacare

Stephen C. writes: I now have Parkinson’s. There are some new therapies which could help considerably. One special one is FMT (Fecal Microbiota Transplant), a procedure in which
fecal matter, or stool, is collected from a tested donor, mixed with saline or other solution, strained.

The sad part of Parkinson’s, I will need a care taker. Where do I find one?

Lee responds: Parkinson’s disease can be debilitating over time. However, there are some things you can do to fight back against the encroaching symptoms. Getting adequate exercise is key. A physical therapist who works with Parkinson’s patients can help implement an appropriate exercise regimen based on your age and current physical abilities. As for fecal transplants, they do show some promise – though they are not yet widely accepted as treatment for Parkinson’s disease. It’s a good idea to begin planning for your professional care needs before you reach a point when managing your condition becomes overwhelming. Look into in-home care services provided by registered nurses or therapists. Your doctor may be able to point you to some reputable local providers.

About Portable Emergency Housing

Jim Hensley writes: I read with interest your article on RVs as emergency housing. I’ve talked this up all along and even used my gas refrigerator in times when the power was off.

I’ve been associated with the RV industry for about 45 years. You mainly talked aboutmotorized RVs. The more practical RV is the travel trailer that cost a lot less to pur chase and maintain. You don’t have to take your house to the stor e. A lot of people already have a vehicle suitable for towing.

I invented a NO SWAY towing system for travel trailers. Google the Jim Hitch Stor y to check it out.

Lee responds: You are right in noting that a detached travel trailer RV (also known as a “fifth wheel”) has some practical advantages over a motorized coach. The main advantage of a fifth wheel is that it gives you more versatility. You can park it and go into town with just your pickup truck. Or you can hitch it up and take it along like a true motor home. The main disadvantage is that the driver (and any passenger in the hauling truck) is physically detached from the RV and any passengers inside of it. Also, if you’re looking for a super-large, super high-end RV, you’ll probably find that the best equipped ones are the fully integrated coaches.

Overcome These “Dumb” Ideas When Converting to a Roth IRA

Obed S. writes: In the August issue, Mr. Van Brocklin quoted Will Howard as saying that converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA is a dumb idea in most cases. This over simplified advice is a disservice to your readers. Over the years I have converted gradually my IRAs to Roths. Now that I am retired, I am very happy that I did. The conversions accomplished several goals.
1. I paid the taxes that I would eventually pay anyway, at a known rate. I limited each year’s conversions to ensure that the additional income would not kick me up to a higher bracket.
2. I avoid the RMDs on Traditional IRAs.
3. All gains in my accounts are now tax-free.
4. I have reduced the odious income taxes on my Social Security income, because so much of my investment income is tax-free, which lowers my “Provisional Income” calculation.

Mr. Howard’s “tip” is “dumb”, and you should know better than to print such misleading advice.

Seth Van Brocklin responds: I don’t deny that converting to a Roth could work out for the better. But there are potential downsides as well.

It’s not matter of an IRA conversion being objectively right or wrong. It’s a matter of making a prudent decision in the context of not being able to predict your future life circumstances, including your post-retirement tax bracket. The truth is, none of us can know with certainty what our financial situations will be like years down the road – let alone what tax rates will apply or what new rules Congress (or a future President who rules by executive order) may enact with respect to Roth IRAs.

Even assuming the government keeps its hands off Roth IRAs, converting to a Roth is still a roll of the dice. For many people, converting to a Roth (and taking an immediate tax hit) won’t work out for the better. They’ll never reap enough benefits from future tax-free withdrawals to outweigh the up-front tax cost. And frankly, most people won’t plan out their conversions and distributions as carefully as you have.

Everyone is free to have their own opinion. In mine, the decision to convert requires the burden of proof, because that’s the decision that will result in an immediate, unforced transfer of wealth to Uncle Sam. Remember that every dollar you pay in taxes today is money that could have been invested. So that lost opportunity for growth has to be factored in to your decision. I don’t second guess yours, as you’ve obviously put a great deal of thought into it. If your IRA conversion ultimately results in a lower overall tax drain from your retirement assets, then you will have made the right call.

Mirror, Mirror to Hide Your Buried Valuables

Charlene Q. writes: Some time ago, Lee mentioned in the newsletter that it might be helpful to use a mirror when burying something, but he did not elaborate. What is the benefit of doing so?

Lee responds: When you cache a stash of valuables (such as gold and silver coins) in the ground, they can potentially be located by anyone with a metal detector. The idea behind
burying a mirror in the ground on top of your contents is to deflect or confuse metal detectors. A mirror won’t make your buried treasure completely invisible to detection, but it might make it somewhat less visible.

Burying old metal pipes or construction rubbish above and around your valuables is another way to thwart treasure hunters – in this strategy, by inundating them with false positives. Anyone who digs up an old piece of piping will be disappointed, assume all the hits in the area are from old construction debris, and move on. The deeper you bury your valuables in the ground, the less likely they are to be detected or dug up by a thief.

Take This Picture Before You Die

Tom W. writes: I keep records of where items are hidden so that, in my absence (dead), someone else can retrieve them before the house is sold. One way is to photograph the location (without indicating the contents) & add a paper print to a file of instructions for heirs, etc. It will serve as a reminder to them.

Lee responds: That’s a good idea. There are other reasons to obtain photographic (or video) evidence of your home’s features and the possessions you keep inside it. In the event that you need to file a police report for theft or an insurance claim for stolen or destroyed property, you may need to provide evidence to back up your claim. You may also need evidence of your home’s condition or the existence of something(s) inside your home in the event that you are initiating a lawsuit (against a remodeling contractor, for example) or defending yourself against one.

When Your Questions Get Scary!

Alex J. writes: Which of the presidential candidates come closest to advocating sound money policies?

Lee responds: Most of the candidates on the GOP side have criticized the Federal Reserve’s loose monetary policies. Donald Trump accused Fed chair Janet Yellen of playing politics with the money supply. She seems to have a vested interest in protecting Obama and the Democrats, at least until after next year’s election.

Ben Carson has talked about reintroducing gold into the monetary system. But Senator Ted Cruz has been most vocal about tying the dollar back to a gold basis. He and Senator Rand Paul are leading the fight in the Senate to audit the Fed. Paul and Cruz have the most credible track records when it comes to fighting for sound money policies. I am encouraged that other candidates are now also moving in that direction, at least rhetorically.

Your Problems Boil Down to This

Kim W. writes: Not being sarcastic when asking this question. But what happens if we’re in a crisis & don’t have access to boiling water?

Lee responds: It’s a question that deserves a sincere answer! There are many ways to ensure that you and your family have access to clean drinking water. Most water sources can be purified through filtering it and/or adding sterilizing chemicals.

Water purification tablets can be bought at stores that sell camping gear. You’ll probably see purification tablets based on chlorine compounds. Others are based on iodine (the iodine tablets don’t taste very good but do a fine job of killing parasites and germs). In a pinch you can use a few drops of liquid iodine or chlorine bleach to purify water.

Finally, a device called SteriPEN is useful to have around in case of an emergency. The SteriPEN employs ultra-violet light to kill any microbes in a small container of water.

Full Obamacare Implementation Looms – Watch Out for This

N. Sween writes: Lee, do you have any indication when the Obamacare employer mandate is likely to be implemented and what the results of such action might be? My recollection is that the White House postponed the implementation of the mandate in mid-2014, most likely for political reasons. At the time, some pundits were suggesting that the implementation would have caused 60 to 90 million policy holders to lose their coverage. Your thoughts please.

Lee responds: The mandate on employers to offer health insurance plans to workers is now being implemented. As of this year, businesses that employ more than 100 full-time workers must provide government-approved health coverage for 70% of their employees.

Starting next year, the mandate gets more stringent and more expansive. The government will require large businesses to cover 95% of their employees. And for the first time small businesses that employ between 50 and 99 people will also be subject to the mandate. They will be required to file new tax forms along with the names and Social Security numbers of all employees and their dependents detailing the coverage being provided.

This has the potential to be devastating to small businesses that lack the financial resources and bureaucratic staff needed to comply with Obamacare mandates.

Small businesses that are able to cope with the Obamacare mandate will pass the compliance costs onto customers. Some businesses are already implementing Obamacare surcharges.

Another Obamacare disaster that is coming down the pike is the collapse of the governmentsubsidized healthcare co-ops put into place by the Affordable Care Act. As of this writing, 12 of Obamacare’s 23 health cooperatives have shut down, with most of the ones that remain operating at losses. Taxpayers are now on the hook for a bill of at least $1.2 billion to bail them out.

If you’re in an existing insurance co-op, be prepared for double-digit premium increases in 2016. Similar increases will be seen in some conventional individual policies. Health insurers have so far managed to keep costs in check only by selling policies with deductibles so high that many people can’t even afford to use the insurance they’ve paid for.

Under Obamacare, the healthy and responsible pay inflated premiums to subsidize the sick and irresponsible. If you’re going to be stuck paying high premiums for a health plan that does you little good, you might consider dropping your coverage completely in 2016. Obviously, that’s a risky approach and one that could subject you to a tax penalty. But it may make financial sense for some people.

“Ask Lee Now” is presented for general educational purposes only. Because we don’t know enough about readers’ personal situations, the opinions expressed here should not be construed as a recommendation to buy or sell any financial instrument at any time. We will not be responsible for financial decisions that readers make, and they should be made in consultation with their own advisers.