Health insurance options revisited

When I’m on half pay, I have to pay for part-time benefits instead of full-time benefits which means the university contributes a lot less and we need to revisit our insurance choices.  Previously we’d opted for the family plan from the university which was a bit less expensive than the other options from DH’s company (partly because DH’s company’s plan covers a lot more stuff even if it’s not any more generous with copays or coinsurance).

This year, just to make it difficult, DH’s company has added a second health insurance option.  We can do either their PPO or their HSA.  If this were a “we have lots of extra money” year, the HSA would be tempting on the basis of the way they act as additional tax-advantaged long-term savings.

Based on my calculations the cheapest monthly payments are:
1.  DH’s family HSA:  $494.06
2.  DH cover himself and the children with the HSA I take my insurance:  $584.41
3.  DH’s family PPO:  $611.88
4.  DH covers himself and the children with the PPO I take my insurance:  $660.87
5.  DH covers yourself with the HSA, I cover the children:  $701.09
6.  DH cover yourself with the PPO, I cover the children:  $742.43
7.  I cover the family:  $791.74

Of course, these plans all have different copays and different deductibles and different coinsurances. With only a fraction of the full-time subsidy, my plan is just flat out dominated by DH’s PPO, so we can throw that out. The HSA costs more every time it is used and has a higher out of pocket limit than DH’s PPO.  All three plans have exactly the same provider networks.

So, the difference in monthly payments between DH’s two family plan options is $1413.84 annually. If DC2 stuck a pony bead up hir nose, it would be $3000 + possibly another $170 for the emergency room trip under the HSA and $500 + possibly another $170 for the same trip under the PPO-500.

Do we want a sure savings of $1400 vs. a potential additional cost of $2500 for one emergency trip? That’s a potential out of pocket loss of $1100, not counting the unknown costs of doctors visits under the HSA.

The final piece of information is how office visits are treated.  From the literature they gave us, it is clear that preventative visits are free and office visits for sickness are $25 under the PPO.  With the HSA it wasn’t clear if we had to pay for the entire visit up to the deductible or if they were free without copay.  That could make a very big difference when you have two kids going into a new disease environment for a year.  After googling and looking on the plan’s webpage only produced information from 2009, we called up.  And were told to call again the next day during business hours.  After a lengthy discussion the next morning we determined that we would have to pay the entire negotiated rate for an office visit under the HSA and just the $25 copay under the PPO.  The numbers the lady on the phone threw around for predetermined office visit rates were something in the 100 range, though she wasn’t quoting anything.  (Online rates range from $65 to $380, but I’m guessing the negotiated rates are in the $100-$200 range.  Who knows!)  Because we have children, it’s likely that we will have to visit the doctor’s office for more than just the one annual allowed well-child check-up.

Assuming no emergency room trips and that an office visit is $150, then we would need to visit the doctors office 10 times while sick over the course of the year before we lost monetarily.  Assuming a $200 trip, that would be 7 visits.  Those assumptions put the HSA in as being more beneficial.  But, thinking about it another way, we will need to have at least two visits under the HSA because you always need doctors visits for school and preschool and DC2 won’t quite be three yet meaning ze won’t have tripped onto the allowed annual well-child check-up and DC1 has already has hirs for the year.  So that would really only be a savings of $1100 under the HSA or perhaps $1000, given higher office visit costs.

Really it comes down to risk.  Will DC2 need to use the emergency room?  Will we be way more sick?

We can afford the $3000 HSA max should the worst case scenario happen.  But a sure loss of ~$1000 also isn’t that big of a deal to us if it pays for peace of mind.  Having an HSA account would be nice, but it would also be a hassle given that we’ll only contribute to it for the one year (since my insurance will be more attractive once I’m full-time again).

After a long discussion with DH, we decided we’re risk averse and, more importantly, hassle averse.  We think chances are very high that we’ll be out $1000 for the year but we’d rather not have to think about how much the doctor costs in advance of a visit or what bank to use for an HSA that we will at most put $3000 in.  So, we’re going for the PPO, even though financially the HSA would make more sense.

How do you decide between insurance options?  Do you get any options?  (And are you like me and would prefer not to have options?  That ‘more options is always better’ part of microeconomics is such bunk.)

 

DH discusses cell phone plans

Overview:

I’ve assumed we want two smartphones with at least some 3G or 4G data.

Smartphones default to wifi, so when we have wifi access any data should not count towards plan limits.

[ed: With our flip phones and no data we currently spend $84/mo including fees and taxes because people keep texting us.  Without the texting it would be more like $78/mo.]

Considering two extremes…
We can get as low as $50/month plus fees & taxes for 6GB data each using Republic Wireless on the Sprint network (i.e., same network we use now).

If we go for the best network, we’d be paying Verizon $90/month plus fees & taxes for 1GB data each per month.

Details:

This website has pretty good overviews.  Here’s some more info about coverage.  Also here.

Verizon has the best network in general.
AT&T seems to be second-best network in general.

If we bring our own phones, then Verizon has a 1GB “prepaid” plan for $45/month.
So that would run us $90/month plus taxes & fees for two lines.

Verizon’s contract plan (in which they subsidize the phone cost and we’re locked-in for 2 years) would run $120 / month for two lines and 2GB shared.

AT&T has a similar setup for Bring-Your-Own-Device of $90/month for two lines ($25/mo/phone plus $40/mo for 3GB), and it would be $120/month on a 2 year contract with subsidized phones.

T-mobile doesn’t have contracts, though one can pay off a device over 2 years like with a contract. They would be $80/mo for two lines with 1GB each. Interestingly, once you hit that limit you can still get data, it’s just really slow, whereas almost everyone else charges you an additional $15 for the overage or just cuts you off.

Sprint’s prepaid is $70/mo for two lines with 1GB each.

It’s unclear if Sprint’s family/contract plan has any options, but it looks like it would be $90/month for the first year, then $120/month after that.
Another factor is that Sprint has a discount on our account of 15% because of our university connection.

Then there are the MVNOs, which are services that use another company’s network.

Republic Wireless. Uses the Sprint network. No contracts. Extremely limited in phone selection. Calls automatically switch to wifi whenever possible. A flat rate depending on whether we want wifi + cellular talk & text ($10/mo per line), wifi + cellular talk & text + 3G data ($25/mo per line) or wifi + cellular talk & text + 4G data ($40/mo per line). So we could both switch to this now and pay $20 per month (plus tax & fees) instead of our current Sprint bill which would effectively give us smartphones around wifi and dumbphones away from wifi. The call quality might even be better since it’ll default to wifi instead of the poor reception we get indoors. The plans can be changed up to twice a month, and they prorate the bill.

Ting. Depending on the phones we use, Ting will use either the Sprint or T-mobile networks. It doesn’t offer unlimited talk or text, unlike everyone else, but charges each aspect based on buckets at the end of each month (and then an incremental cost past the last bucket). Ting has the potential to be the cheapest plan, but we would have to keep an eye on minutes, texts, and data, to make sure we didn’t bump up into the next bucket. For example, 500 minutes, 100 texts, and 0.5GB would be $36/mo, but add another minute and another 0.001GB and it’d be $52/mo. If we go over 2GB data the bill goes up quickly. Based on our history, we’d be paying $33 – 62 / month depending on data usage.

Cricket Wireless. Uses AT&T network. $70/month for two lines with 2.5GB of high-speed data, then throttled data after that.

Freedompop. I don’t trust them. Their website broke when I was trying to view their plans, and they required an email just to see their plans. Then, they prevented me from using a mailinator email account, which is ridiculous because the majority of people that use mailinator (to avoid exactly what Freedompop was attempting to force me to do) know that there are many domain names that forward directly to mailinator, so I just used the forwarding domain name that was prominently displayed on the mailinator webpage at the time.

Project Fi is invite only.

Review:
Republic Wireless is interesting in that it’s a low flat rate with the catch is that we can’t go over 6GB of data used away from wifi. I doubt we would since we spend the majority of our time with wifi access.

Ting is not as appealing, even though it could save us up to $17/mo over Republic Wireless, because I don’t want to have to keep a sharp eye on usage. I think we’d end up around $45/mo, but then be anxious about using data during trips.

Verizon’s network sounds great. The bill would not be so much more than we’re paying now for dumbphones. In the end, I think we just don’t use our phones enough to make the extra cost over Republic Wireless or Ting worthwhile. Maybe once we have smartphones that will change, but who knows.

Ed:  None of these are affiliate links.  #2 would like to put in a plug for Credo Mobile, because they have a social justice bent.

What will we do?  My best guess is nothing.  We will continue to put this decision off even as other plans that offer more than our current plan get less expensive.  My best guess is that eventually one or both of our phones will break and we’ll go through this process again and actually make the switch at that time.

What do you all use?

I encouraged my (heterosexual male) partner to have dinner with another woman

… even though we’re planning a wedding!

How’s that for a click-bait headline?  Clickkkk baaaaaiiiiiit.

Seriously though, this is another post on the importance of networking.

My partner’s company was imploding and it was time to get out.  So he tapped a network, went out to dinner, and came back with a referral to a new job that included a raise, a better commute, and three weeks off for the wedding and honeymoon.

Wooo networks!

(And boo patriarchy for allowing the headline of this post to sound even the least bit interesting.)

May Mortgage Update: And I might get a month of summer salary(!)

This month (May):
Balance:$24,703.22
Years left: 1.833333333
P =$1,112.22, I =$102.19, Escrow =$809.48

Last month (April):
Balance:$25,815.43
Years left: 1.9166666666666666667
P =$1,107.83, I =$106.57, Escrow =$788.73

One month’s prepayment savings: $0

I’m not holding my breath yet, but since I’m too lazy to dig up before/after pictures of our bathroom and the whole fixing the house up for potential renters is seriously depressing me (as is house hunting for a rental), I thought it would be nice to do a little financial planning based on potential new information.

So, last week I was informed that this service thing that I’ve been doing has a little extra money and that little extra money might translate into a month of summer salary.  Count me in for summer salary!

With me going to half pay next year and our housing expenses potentially going way up we’ve cut back on our savings in order to afford housing (and to keep us from having to worry about what happens if nobody rents our house… also all those additional expenses that come with a temporary move).

Here are the assumptions we made when we figured out what we could afford for housing

1.  stop contributing to my retirement next year other than the required 6% plus match (not counting the changes I made to max out the 2015 403(b)), and 2. stop contributing to 529s, 3. get someone to cat-sit for the cost of utilities rather than rent our house, 4. don’t cut back our frivolous spending, and 5.  stop pre-paying the mortgage

So what should we put that one month summer salary towards?  Well, I assume that I will be able to fill the 2016 403(b) in another year when I go back to regular salary, so not that.  I will still have plenty of room in my 457, so that is probably what should come next.  It is tempting to just continue to fund the 529s because they happily auto-deduct every month, but with DH having crappy retirement options, it makes more sense to max out mine to make up for what he’s not contributing (since we’re no longer IRA eligible).  Retirement is more important than college savings, especially given that DC1 has 80K in hir 529 as of this writing.  (DC2 has 20K.)  If we do rent out our house, then finishing out the 457 for the year will be the next priority, followed by restarting 529 savings.  I guess these priorities are the same if we rent out our place or pay less for rent but don’t get that summer salary!

I don’t think we should spend more than 5K/mo for housing.  If we were going to do that, we should have grabbed that perfect furnished 6K/mo house several months ago.  Yes, I know that’s a sunk cost but loss aversion is real, as is that bias you have to make your current actions cause your previous actions to have been the optimal actions.  But in reality, spending 60K/year on housing already makes me feel a little ill– 72K is just completely implausible, especially when we could get an imperfect place for more like 36-42K/year.  I do hope we find a closer to perfect place in our price range.  But we’ll see what happens a little later this summer.

What are your priorities when you get an unexpected temporary income boost?

Two years after leaving academia: DH is flourishing

DH just got back from his second business week-long trip this month.  It was an important trip and really clarified some things for both of us.  I was considering turning this into my annual anniversary post, but I’ve already written one with a little bit more me-centered-ness.

Anyhow…

When he was trying to figure out what he wanted in a job, he realized he wanted to work in teams.  He wanted regular feedback.  He wanted to feel as if he was doing something productive and valuable that would really help people.  He wants to feel valued.  He wanted to do programming but not just programming.

With his new job that he’s been working at for well over a year, he works on teams.  He gets regular (weekly) feedback.  He’s producing something valuable that will be literally saving lives within the next two years, should all go well.  (Engineering ROCKS.)  He’s doing computer programming, but not just programming, and he’s managing a project and a programmer.  He’s written as many successful grants in the past year than he did during his entire time as a professor.  Telecommuting and a bigger salary also haven’t hurt.

DH is happier than he has ever been before.  And I’m so very proud of him.  He is truly amazing.  Talking to him on the phone after a particularly successful meeting I felt my uterus twinge and had to remind it that I have already reproduced (twice) with this amazing man.

I feel a little bit guilty that he wasted all those years teaching undergraduates who didn’t realize the value they were squandering by not paying attention to their studies.  Truly we should have been less risk-averse and maybe he should have left academia earlier.  But things have worked out.  Being able to live together has definitely been a bonus and it isn’t clear that he would have been able to find such a great job 10 years ago.  Spouses of some of my colleagues haven’t been so lucky and either house-husband or live apart.  It’s hard to say what the counterfactual would have been.

Academia is still working well for me, but leaving academia is working extremely well for DH.  We are truly blessed.

Are there any costs to fostering kittens?

If you foster a cat for a verified nonprofit shelter, you can claim it on your taxes.

We know that #2 had extensive experience with taking in stray cats & kittens and getting them to good homes.  Good on ya!  #2’s experience was very expensive and someday she’ll post pictures of the kitten-destroyed master-bathroom that cost ~$600 repair (on top of vet and food bills).

#1 has started a slightly lower-stakes fostering experience with a no-kill cat shelter that ultimately has responsibility for the kittens.  Yes… kittens!

They are mostly-black, which makes it hard to take good photos…. here they are in their crate…

a pile of kittens

and little faces…

4 little kitten faces

There is another one, but she is sick and so she is with the foster coordinator right now, getting extra meds and care.  These ones are on antibiotics, which are supplied by the shelter.  The shelter also supplied some chicken baby food to mix the antibiotics into, although I will have to buy some more.  They supplied me with several weeks’ worth of crunchy kibbles and about a week’s worth of kitten-safe litter (I have already bought more).  I have to bring them back to the shelter periodically for free check-ups and vet care.  They are actually 2 litters that were put together.  I think they may be around 6 weeks old.  Don’t know what happened to their mommies.  They weigh, on average, about 1 pound and 4 ounces each.

They come in this big crate (it folds up) where they sleep and play.  The shelter provided the bed, blankets, litter box, and water dish.  They also sent a scale to weigh them and a thermometer for taking kitten temps, along with an extra litter box and a handbook of what to do.  They also have a carrying cage.

I let them out to roam the bathroom and play, and they have supervised time in the living room when we can watch them.  We are getting lots of mileage out of a toilet paper tube, cardboard boxes, and a plastic Easter egg.  They also have a couple balls to chase, and each other to wrestle.  I bought them a cardboard scratching post for around $7, and I trim their claws for my own comfort when they climb on me.

We are doing a fair bit of laundry because they occasionally have potty accidents (they are just babies).  And running through quite a bit of hand sanitizer.  That’s it so far, though!

Your local shelter needs you.  Donate today.

Renting out our house is a PITA

We’re in a seller’s market right now, so the realtor says he could sell our house in a month, which is probably true.  But then when we came back in a year we’d have to *buy* a house and I seriously doubt it will be a buyers market at that point.   So yes, we could take this opportunity to downsize and to move into a better elementary district, but all the time spent buying and selling and buying (or renting and buying) sounds like a nightmare to me.  So we’re just going to try to rent out the house.

The real estate agent thinks we can get $2,800/mo for our house but I seriously doubt that’s the case.  The comps he was showing are in better elementary school zones and the houses probably aren’t falling apart quite to the extent that ours currently is.  They have nicer lawns too. And it’s unlikely they’re one year rentals, which is always bad for people who want, you know, longer than a year.  Also we’re not supposed to rent to students, though we’re fairly sure someone on our block is now doing just that (6 cars in front is generally a hint).

Covering our costs if we put things in storage will be $2,200 + management fees.  Of course, about $1000 of our mortgage goes to principal these days so really we’d be covering costs with more like $1,200 + management fees.

Craigslist is no help on pricing because nobody with a house as nice as ours posts on Craigslist in our town, so Craigslist rentals tend to top out at $1650 or occasionally $2000 for houses that have the same number of bedrooms as ours but are more in the 2000 sq ft range vs 3000.  Houses like ours are all listed via MLS.

Fortunately, so long as we keep under $5K/mo in Paradise City, we don’t need to actually rent out the house at all and could even hire someone to house-sit for us.  So we’re not desperate for rentals to go through.  But still, I’d rather ask $2,200 and have the house get rented than ask $2,800 and have to keep in on the market until September or forever.

We are listed on sabbatical homes and on the university housing available webpage, but no pictures yet (other than an old one of the outside) because our house is a mess and we haven’t had a chance to take pictures.  Nobody has contacted us to ask any questions.

I’m tempted just to wait until the summer and we’ve figured out where we’re going in Paradise City.  Then ship what we’re going to ship and store what we’re going to store, and then list the place.  I suppose in the worst case scenario, the management company can keep it furnished and then rent it out for huge amounts of money on gameday weekends.

On top of that, DH or I are traveling all month and we’re only seeing each other a few days.  And I’m behind on a ton of work.  So in reality, nothing is going to happen until May because nothing can happen until May.  I suppose that will save us money and aggravation on trying to keep the house “show-ready” which is nearly impossible with a 2 year old in residence, even if we do hire a regular house cleaner.  (We couldn’t even keep the house clean for the most recent in-laws visit!)

Have you ever tried to rent out a home?  Any tips for short term rentals?

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