Ask the grumpies: how to find an HSA provider

FF asks:

Do you have any thoughts/advice on choosing an HSA provider?

I already have the ACA plan figured out. I first check whether my doctors are in-network. Next, I come up with a detailed list of what I expect to need based primarily on my expenses for the current year. I then calculate what I would pay for the entire year under each plan I’m considering, taking into account both premiums and OOP expenses (including before/after deductibles and copays). This can get very complicated. I also calculate the worst-case scenario (total premiums plus OOP max). This year, for the plans I was considering, the answer was the same for both the expected and maximum scenarios. Plus the HDHP + HSA will have further tax advantages.

What I’m concerned about now is the Health Savings Account, which is not offered via the ACA, but separately through financial institutions if you have a compatible health plan. So far, the most useful information I’ve found is from Consumer Reports: https://www.consumerreports.org/health-savings-accounts/how-to-choose-a-health-savings-account/

People who have high deductible health care plans (HDHP) are allowed to put money into a Health Savings Account (HSA) which functions basically as a super-charged IRA that can only be spent for medical purchases.  By supercharged, we mean the money isn’t taxed going in and the earnings aren’t taxed going out.  It’s pretty amazing.  (Note that these are different than Flexible Savings Plans, which are sometimes called Health Spending Accounts just to be really confusing– these have to be used up each year or the money goes back to the employer, just like a dependent daycare account.)  By IRA, we mean an individual retirement account that functions as a tax-advantaged bucket for retirement savings.  (FF already knows all this.)

Back when I last looked at HSA, there weren’t a whole lot of options– you basically went with what your employer offered you because that was what was available, and most employers offering HDHP also put money into the HSA themselves because that money came with tax benefits for them.  Having outside HSA didn’t make a lot of sense because there was no market for them.

Today there’s a market for HSA outside of individual employers, which means that there are a lot more options for HSA.  Many places that you can stash an IRA will also let you do an HSA.  What you should be looking for in an HSA is similar to what you should be looking for in an IRA provider, with a few additional wrinkles.

First off:  If your employer offers an HSA contribution, chances are that’s going to have to go into the HSA account that they have chosen.  According to that consumer reports article FF linked to, you can keep that HSA account open, let the employer money go into it, but then transfer to an outside HSA account if you want.  I have never found it easy to move money from work accounts to outside accounts, but depending on fees, this may eventually be worth it.

Second:  As the consumer reports article notes, you need to know if you’re going to need the money long-term or short term.  If you’re credit-constrained or have high medical expenses, then you will need to use the money right away.  That means you need an HSA account that has things like savings accounts or certificates of deposit for safe money.  If you’re not credit constrained, then it makes sense to just think about this as another retirement account, which means you want something that has access to low cost index funds in the stock market and maybe in the bond market too, depending on what’s available in your other retirement accounts for diversification purposes.  So, if you need short term then make sure the HSA has short term options.  If you need long term, make sure there are long term options.

Third:  Compare fees.  This part is just like with an IRA.  You want the lowest fee funds.  Watch for hidden fees.

So… that’s pretty much all of my thoughts on the topic.  The consumer reports article you linked to looks really good to me.  It’s not saying anything stupid AFAIK and covers everything I thought of.

Grumpeteers who have purchased HDHP for use with your HSA, what do you recommend?

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The year of the oxygen mask

My current goal is to make 2019 the year I finally find my oxygen mask.  You know, “make sure your own mask is on first before helping others”?

Background:

In October 2016 I was having a very stressful time and then election day hit.  It did not go well for feminists.  Fortunately I had recently started therapy again and was still on one psychiatric medication, but I got an additional one at the suggestion of an excellent psychiatrist who is unfortunately hard to get hold of and who doesn’t take my insurance.  At the time I was working with a group that researched (among other things) health in Latinx communities, and I am White.  I was chicken and called in sick to work the day after election day.  Then I pulled myself together.  You know how politics has gone since then.

A week later, my beloved father-in-law died unexpectedly.  Most of 2017 was spent in mourning.  In 2017, our cat almost died several times and then did die (we have new ones now!), and my beloved grandmother died just before Christmas (she was very old, and the heart of the family), and my other grandmother’s dementia got the best of her.  Her body is still walking around, but she’s away with the fairies.  There were a few months where our apartment seemed to have contagious depression.  My sister’s husband was laid off in a really dickish way in mid-December of 2017.  Friends were sad and anxious.  Far-away family struggled with finances, finding my grandmother a nursing home that would take her (achieved in 2018!), and my beloved aunt got very very sick in early to mid-2018 and perforated her bowel from the stress of it (surgery, months with an ostomy bag, weight down to less than 90 lbs.).  My cousin almost died and had to have emergency brain surgery the night of Christmas Eve 2017, causing his father my uncle to miss his own mother’s funeral.  In 2017 and 2018, my father got diagnosed with something potentially scary (he’s fine now, but has an occasional midnight panic attack), my sister struggled with infertility, my mother-in-law and her whole family grieved and mourned, I quit my job and got another (where I have a good boss), and so did my partner.

Going into 2019, I have just recently, like in the past few months, started to feel like I can even take a breath.  2018 was something of a dumpster fire, but it was also the year of the gradual, eventual turnaround for people I care about.  We might be ok now; I just need like another 6 months of nobody dying and I’ll be able to brain again.  Come on, just make it six more months!

It’s been a struggle, folks.

Finally Finding the Oxygen Mask in 2019:

I’m against New Year’s resolutions.  I suck at them.  I decided to try doing small but good things for myself each month in 2019.  (I got the idea for the first one from Lifehacker.)  Doing a big thing, or even a couple medium things, is totally outside my capacity for now.  I hope that by doing these small things, I will be substantially less cranky by the end of 2019.  I will also stay on my meds and in therapy.

January:  Don’t spend money except on food (or toilet paper).  I thought this was going to be easy but it turns out I already messed up in the second week of Jan., and barely noticed!  The point of this challenge is mainly to *notice*.  I’ll keep working on it.

February:  Go on Patreon and sign up to support at least 2 creators whose work I appreciate.

March:  Eat down the pantry and freezer.  Defrost those noms.

April:  Clean up my damn room.  Put stuff away and keep it clean-ish.

May:  Information/news break.  Absolutely no clicking on twitter links or links that look like they might be irritating; use facebook only for the one (closed) group I’m in.  [#2 will keep you all in links :)]

June:  Moar blogging! [#2 WOOOOO!!!!]

July:  Eat more delicious fruit & local veg.

August:  Eat more delicious fruit & local veg.

September:  Deeply Rest.  Still figuring out what this will mean, but I came up with this phrase that sounds appealing.

October:  Focus on reading for enjoyment.

November:  Absolutely no news exposure from any source. [#2 will keep you all in links :)]

December:  Focus on reading for enjoyment.  Don’t go anywhere.

#2 notes:  Those of us with oxygen masks can help carry the load for those who are finding theirs.  There will be important actions to do in 2019!

Do you plan to improve self-care in 2019?  How?  Or do you have a routine that’s working for you?  

We were thoughtless this year

We thoughtlessly set our 2018 Christmas presents for DH’s family at $50/nibling/sibling and $100 each for Nana and Grandpa, give or take (the Braille book subscription we give a niece is actually $100 and we donated another $100 to help defray the costs).  I’m not sure why we did this, that’s just what seemed like the right amount of books when we started with the youngest cousins.  In terms of monetary expenses for us these days with both of us working and the house paid off, this is not a big deal.  Our December expenses are high, but our January expenses are usually lower than usual so it works out fine (also in the last paycheck this year we got a little boost from no longer having to pay SS tax).

But then DH’s brother’s family spent the same amount on us(!) which seems really excessive on the receiving end.  DH’s brother’s wife doesn’t have an income and both their kids are special needs.  But DH’s brother does have seniority in a union job so maybe it doesn’t put a crunch in their budget either?  They have a very nice house that is packed with toys and other stuff and an SUV and so on…  In terms of consumption, they seem to be doing well.  (They never opened up 529 plans for their kids and eventually we gave up nagging them about it, so we can’t stealth-give there.)

I’m embarrassed at how long it took me to figure this out.  Since we’ve started being able to afford stuff, most of my anxieties about gifts have just disappeared… I no longer care how much we spent or if I get crappy gifts (though I still do prefer things off my amazon wishlist).  DH’s sister’s family is much lower income than we are (though as she’s been gaining seniority and step-raises, they’re above median household income now) and I would have noticed if they’d started matching what we spend and felt bad right away, but she’s started giving etsy-level crafts (among other things, she’s got some kind of setup where she can make designs for t-shirts– one of DC2’s favorite presents last year was a shirt that you can color in with washable markers and then wash and re-color… she also made Disney-themed family vacation shirts for everyone last year) which I think makes everyone happy.

Anyhow, I told DH to bring up that they don’t need to match our spending with his brother sometime when they were alone over break and to let him know that they really don’t need to spend the same amount, or if they prefer we could cut back on them.  (The problem with that being that we actually enjoy getting stuff off their wishlists because DH wants his brother to play those games and I want SIL to read those books because she has good taste in books.) DH did and said that BIL basically brushed it off, so maybe it’s ok?

What do you do about spending on presents when there are income disparities in the family?  Do you feel like you have to match what the other person spends, or is it more about your constraints?

Ring in the Link Love

Happy 2019!  Here are some links.

We are excited that delagar (Kelly Jennings) got a Patreon!  We love her writing.  Speaking of whom, read this blog post and don’t be a dick about gender and sexuality.

Let’s not be real.  Especially not at work.

People should read more Shirley Jackson, I guess.

If you turn up the sound real high on this kitty, you can hear a purr.

It me:

Yeah.

I love this:

and this:

(mainly for the book Craig’s dad is reading)

and I love this, just because:

 

Get rid of unwanted mail.

One good thing about Texas.  Speaking of which, this piece has been getting spread far and wide this week, as it should be.

 

What’s good in 2019, Grumpeteers?

 

Moar questions from Google (and answers from us)

Q: why do greek jews call the grandmothers nonna

A:  we donna, do they?

Q:  how can i describe my cousin’s punjabi wedding in brief?

A:  Carefully and with correct grammar and sentence structure.  Definitely not by copying it off the internet.

Q:  know googly questions

A:  Not as many as we used to!  Now it’s mostly just people looking for essays on weddings they’d attended.

Q:  is not napping an early sign of giftedness

A:  It can be.

Q: give me an example of a narrative composition eg how was your aunt’s wedding

A:  No.

Q:  are mechanical engineers become good husband?

A:  or wives!

Q:  do more intelligent toddlers need more sleep

A:  It probably depends on how they spend the rest of their time.

Q:  which is better; tiaa or vanguard?

A:  If you need your hand held a little bit, TIAA.  Otherwise, Vanguard.

Q:  describe my cousin’s wedding

A:  But… I wasn’t there!

Q:  can parents force you to do something

A:  Not anymore!  Being an adult is AWESOME.

 

People continue to search for weird things.  What is the weirdest google search you’ve done recently, Grumpeteers?

RBOC

  • One of DC2’s extracurricular activities got bought by a creepy 20-something mega-Christian.  We didn’t find out until one of their events in which the new owner started by talking about how Jesus was more important than [extracurricular activity] and how they incorporate Jesus in every class and then we were asked to pray.  We asked DC2 and zie confirmed that zie had been asked to pray in class.  The place’s website has also been modernized since we signed DC2 up and talks about Jesus on a little text thing that comes and goes.  I was already pretty pissed off at this place because of the unannounced mommy participation day.  And it was fairly obvious from the older kids’ that this studio really isn’t focused on [extra-curricular activity] at all– I have been to so many of these events in my life and this one was easily the worst.  As soon as we got back home from said event we withdrew DC2 and looked for a studio that focuses on [extracurricular activity].  I really hate stealth proselytizing.  (I am also not a fan of [extracurricular activity] but DC2 is, so what can you do?)
  • The kids’ piano teacher also starts recitals with some musings about Christian religion, particularly the Christmas recital, but for some reason that doesn’t bother us as much.  It could be that since she was DC1’s music teacher when zie was at a religious school we were forewarned, but we think it’s more that she makes it clear that she’s talking about her personal faith and she doesn’t make everybody pray.  (The quote on the program this time was Isiah, “The people who walk in darkness shall see a great light,” and she talked about how every morning there is a sunrise and it seems like we’re living in dark times, but there will be light again, and the Christmas season reminds us of that… which I dunno, seems pretty accurate and not something that the person in the previous bullet is even aware of.) It is a Christmas recital, but non-Christians also play non-Christmas music (both of the holiday and non-holiday varieties).  So it seems more inclusive.
  • Some academic self-proclaimed feminists sound really transphobic on their twitter accounts these days.  I strongly suspect that this “problem” they talk about of people forcing kids to change their gender is not really a thing, but acting like it is probably does actual harm.  I don’t see how the existence of trans women who are attracted to women hurts other lesbians in any way. (And definitely not in any way that wouldn’t disappear if the patriarchy were dismantled!) These “feminists” seem to think that being trans is an act or a lie or something that people are tricking other people into doing. I will admit that I do not “get” gender identity at all– with respect to me, I only see gender as a way that the rest of the world categorizes and interacts with me, not the way I see myself (except as is reflected by the rest of the world). It is really easy for me to take the path of least resistance. Sure I’d rather be a guy just because the patriarchy means that guys have it easier, but being a trans guy, and being a trans guy who is attracted to my husband, that seems really hard. But I also understand that many people do have strong gender identities, and that gender identity doesn’t always match up with the sex they were assigned at birth and those people don’t need people like [insert “feminist” tweeter here] telling them that they’re being duped by society and hurting other LGB people… as if someone can be convinced by society to become trans in this culture. Really? Trans people are real people who are fully dimensional and have life stories and opinions and thoughts and histories and feelings just like everybody else. Excluding them, telling them they’re wrong… that is not what feminism should be about. That’s a pretty piss-poor feminism.
  • Speaking of the above bullet– I think it is easier to imagine people complexly (to paraphrase John Green) if you know a lot of different people and read/watch a lot of media in which people tell their stories and fictional people are drawn complexly.  Deirdre McCloskey was the first trans person that I ever really listened to on the topic (there were some trans folks at my high school, but they weren’t really in my social circle, though they may have been in #2’s)– I’d spent two semesters reading and loving her work published under the Donald name (economic history) and had heard stories about how horribly she’d been treated by her family from other professors whose own advisors had been involved in the march to get her out of the mental institution her relatives had committed her to (in IL you only needed 2 people to commit you!).  Then she gave a talk about being a woman in economics, “notes from a novice” and answered any and all questions we had (my question was, “should we cite your pre-transition work as Donald or Deirdre?”– she said Deirdre and that she hoped to get it all changed).  Deirdre McCloskey is a trans lesbian and a truly wonderful person.  Well loved and known to be a fantastic mentor.  She’s not harming anybody.  I also love the contrast of Claire in Questionable Content compared to Carla on Dumbing of Age.  (Claire is neurotic and wonderful and so much with the terrible puns, while Carla is kind of a jerk, but a jerk who generally does the right thing.  Completely different people.)  The trans students I’ve had in class have been, to my knowledge, trans men or trans gender neutral.  I don’t know much about their lives other than the standard student stuff because they’re also just people trying to learn statistics and economics like everybody else.  But they’re the reason I’ve spent so much time on the phone with legislative aides pleading and arguing about various bathroom bills over the past several years.  Bathroom bills are a genuine threat to people’s lives.  Not this fake garbage that creates some kind of LGBTQ hierarchy.  That’s BS.
  • Ok, maybe I do know a little bit more about my students than their statistics knowledge:  I recently learned a valuable lesson from one: never impulse buy flying squirrels on a road trip in an overcrowded car, even if they’re for sale at an open market you stop at.  One of my colleagues and I agree that they should sell the story to National Lampoon as a Christmas family road trip.
  • You can create new regency romance titles by switching out “Squirrel” with “Earl” in Squirrel Girl volume titles.  “Earl, You Really Got Me Now”
  • … thank you, Mint, I guess, for sending me an email the other week telling me I’d lost $30K in the previous week’s stock market crash.  I’m not sure how to feel about that.  Good, I guess?  I mean, that’s a lot of money.  (I didn’t check to see if that was actually accurate– sometimes Mint double counts one or more of my retirement accounts.)
  • I’m seeing a lot of New Years posts with people talking about how they’re going to ignore the news in 2019.  I hope that you all don’t do that– I know I’ve been feeling a lot of political fatigue especially since the last election, but we can’t give up now.  I don’t have time right now to do a super long pep-talk, but we have to keep pushing forward with activism.  We have to keep fighting.  Children’s lives are at stake… the environment, women’s rights, minority rights… so many things.  Rest and relax, but don’t stop moving forward.

An unexpectedly high bill

The other week DH’s relative called DH at 10pm on a weeknight in a bit of a panic because kid #4 had signed up for community college next semester unbeknownst to him (she’s graduating a semester early and we are impressed with her initiative!) and the bill was due. Was our offer to pay it still valid? DH said sure, no problem, and we went back to sleep.

The bill turned out to be for $1,800!

So we said, we can pay this, BUT we think it’s really unlikely that you actually have to pay this much given that daughter #1 was free and #2 was something like $300/semester after financial aid. (This is more like the bill we would expect should one of them go to a 4 year school.)

Looking closer, it appeared that financial aid had not been included in the bill, even though they had done the FAFSA and everything else. Kid #4 also said two of her friends had gotten similarly scary bills. So something was messed up. (Also it turned out the deadline posted on the bill was a month earlier than the actual deadline!)

After several days of phone tag, DH’s relative finally got someone on the phone, but they said that they couldn’t talk financial aid with him, only with his daughter, even though she’s 17 and still a minor. She needed to come into the office to sign a bunch of forms.

So she went into the office, and instead of giving her forms, they emailed her forms. But they don’t have a printer, so she had to go back to the office (but the office’s printer cuts off the bottom of every page…). There was a lot more back and forth and in the end, the relative and his daughter both went into the office together. And a month later, everything got sorted out. All we have to pay for is books. Whew.

Our hope is that this daughter will get her SAT score up at least 10 points so she’s state school eligible and then go to a 4 year school (neither of her sisters finished their associates degrees because they dropped out after having babies and the oldest son didn’t start because he couldn’t drive himself… our hope is that maybe the 4-year college environment will be more appealing than dropping out… but we have learned we can only do so much nudging and we never truly know what the right thing to do is).  She’s interested in an education degree, but might change her mind.

So… I guess the moral is … if you get a bill that is way larger than expected, chances are something went wrong?