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Ask Kim


The Best of Ask Kim 2012

Kimberly Lankford

Kimberly Lankford shares her most popular advice of the year.



Thank you for another great year of questions -- more than 5,000 from readers in 2012. Hearing from you gives me great insights into the key issues to cover in the column, and I pass many of your questions along to my colleagues to help us stay on top of the topics that you care about the most.

When going through the columns I wrote in 2012, I discovered common themes. Here are some of the issues that you were most interested in during the year and links to columns that remain timely.

At the end of the year, readers were very concerned about how to protect their homes and finances from natural disasters -- especially after seeing the devastation from Hurricane Sandy. As snowstorms start to hit, readers want to know what to do to get ready. Some of the advice I wrote about before Hurricane Sandy can help people prepare for other types of natural disasters, too. After the summer and fall storms, readers also wanted help getting their homeowners insurance claims paid smoothly, and they asked how to find assistance if they didn’t have coverage. People who didn’t have flood insurance had some of the biggest problems collecting on claims after the storms.

Readers also continue to have a lot of questions about what will happen to health insurance over the next few years, now that the Supreme Court has upheld the health care law. See Your Health Care: What’s Next? for an explanation of changes that have already taken place and those that will be coming soon. Also see Take Advantage of Expanded Preventive Health Care Coverage and Why Some Health Insurers Don’t Cover Preventive Care for more information about changes that have already taken effect. The column Make the Most of Health Insurance Changes in 2013 provides strategies for getting the most out of your health insurance coverage at work this year. And this column tells you how to keep health coverage if you change jobs before 2014, when insurers will no longer be allowed to reject people because of preexisting conditions.

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People older than 65 always have a lot of questions during fall open enrollment about strategies for filling the gaps in Medicare. And as the year begins and they start to pay their new premiums for Medicare Part B and Part D, they want to know whether they can contest the high-income surcharge. Some have asked about the rules for changing to a five-star Medicare Advantage plan in their area, even though open enrollment is over -- see Some Can Switch Medicare Advantage Plans Midyear for details.

A lot of people who are continue to work after age 65 and have high-deductible health insurance policies through their employers want to know whether they can forgo signing up for Medicare so that they can continue contributing to a health savings account -- see How to Make HSA Contributions After Age 65. And, if they must sign up for Medicare, they ask whether they can still make tax-free withdrawals from their HSAs for out-of-pocket medical expenses -- see Health Savings Accounts After Medicare.

I get questions throughout the year about IRA required minimum distribution strategies for people age 70½ and older -- see Answers to Questions About Required IRA Distributions and Easy Ways to Calculate Required Minimum Distributions. Readers are also very interested in strategies for making the most of their Social Security benefits -- see How to Qualify for the Maximum Social Security Benefit, How to Check Your Social Security Statement Online and Understanding the Social Security Earnings Test for Early Retirees.

I also fielded a lot of questions from readers last year about saving for college -- for their kids, grandkids and other relatives -- and about making the most of education tax breaks. See Rules for Deducting 529 Plan Contributions and What Grandparents Need to Know About Opening 529 Accounts. Also see Tax-Free Money for College about the documentation needed for 529 withdrawals and Using 529 Plan Funds to Pay Rent. Some readers asked whether their savings would affect student financial aid -- see How Roth IRAs Affect Financial-Aid Eligibility. And they were interested in learning how to help their children or grandchildren open their own brokerage accounts, with low investing minimums and no fees -- see How to Buy Stocks for Children and Open Low-Minimum Roth IRAs for Kids.

As always, saving on taxes was a big topic. See Don’t Forget These 5 Tax Breaks for frequently overlooked deductions, Claim a Tax Credit for Summer Camp Costs about the child-care credit and Take Advantage of Education Tax Breaks for information about the American Opportunity and Lifetime Learning tax credits for college expenses -- some of the breaks readers ask about the most. Also see Tax Tips for Freelancers and the Self-Employed and Which Tax Records to Keep and Toss. If you discover tax breaks you’ve forgotten to take in the past, see How to File an Amended Tax Return to take advantage of them now.

Making the most of tax breaks for retirement savings was another hot topic in 2012. See 2013 Retirement Account Contribution Limits, How the Self-Employed Can Save for Retirement, Rules for Making IRA, 401(k) Catch-up Contributions and Making Roth IRA Contributions in Retirement. Readers also wanted to know how to make the most of their accounts when they leave their jobs (see Rolling a 401(k) Over to a Roth) and how to access their accounts when they need the money (see Roth IRA Withdrawal Rules and Borrowing From a 401(k) to Make a Down Payment).

It’s always great to hear from other military families with questions about their special personal finance needs and benefits. I wrote 10 Financial Tips for Military Families on Veterans Day with advice for making the most of those special benefits. Also see Best College-Savings Options for Military Families and Financial Resources for Military Families. And readers asked about the key financial issues to consider when deciding to leave the military. See Leave the Military for a Civilian Job? about the decision and about the value of the benefits you’d need to replace.

Finally, readers continue to have a lot of questions about protecting themselves from ID theft and the next generation of scams. See Protect Yourself From New Phishing Schemes, Protect Yourself From ID Theft on Vacation, and Protect Your College Student From ID Theft. For advice that is timely right now, see Protect Yourself From New Year’s Scams.

I look forward to continuing to hear from you in 2013. You can always reach me at askkim@kiplinger.com. Happy New Year!



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