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What to Expect from Obamacare Open Enrollment for 2018

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Open enrollment for Affordable Care Act coverage begins Nov. 1.

Although the future of the act and the health insurance marketplaces it created remains uncertain, that shouldn’t deter consumers from enrolling in coverage for 2018.

In fact, health care experts urge consumers who will be shopping for individual plans to act sooner rather than later. Not only is the window for shopping on the federal marketplace narrower this time around, but planned maintenance periods will further reduce the number of days that HealthCare.gov will be up and running.

Here is what you should expect from the coming open-enrollment period for coverage under the act, also known as Obamacare.

Key dates to mark on your calendar

The 2018 open-enrollment period extends from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15. The period is half as long as it was last year. Existing enrollees who miss the enrollment deadline will either be automatically enrolled in their existing health plans, or l be put into a comparable plan if their existing plan is no longer available.

Further reducing the amount of time consumers will have to enroll in plans, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced that HealthCare.gov will be taken offline for maintenance each Sunday during the enrollment period.

Consumers who live in states that run their own health care exchange websites might catch a break. Many of the 12 states, such as Colorado and Minnesota, have extended the enrollment window.

Plans purchased during open enrollment will become effective starting Jan.1, 2018.

Act early

If your insurer has exited the marketplace, you should have been notified by now, Karen Pollitz, senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said at an October news briefing. Pollitz urged consumers who will have to switch plans to go to the marketplace to check and compare other plans as soon as Obamacare open enrollment starts. If you don’t enroll by Dec.15 (or by your state marketplace’s deadline, if different), you will be automatically signed up for a similar plan.

“It is best act to early. Do not wait until the last minute,” Pollitz said.

Get help from a health care navigator

The Trump administration has cut federal funding for advertising to get people sign up for Obamacare during this fall’s open enrollment season by 90 percent, and slashed 41 percent of grants for navigator groups — those individuals who help consumers enroll.

The slashed budgets have led states to cut back on hiring health care navigators, which could lead to more confusion, experts say.

Some states like Ohio have shut down their navigator program completely.

Use this tool from HealthCare.gov to see if your state has navigators on staff to help you enroll. If not, you can:

  1. Contact the site’s Marketplace Call Center if you have questions. The center runs 24/7, but there may be a long wait.
  2. Reach out to trained and registered agents or brokers using the Find Local Help tool. A note from HealthCare.gov: Services are generally free to you — they’re paid by insurance companies whose plans they sell. (Some agents and brokers may sell only certain plans.)
  3. Use this calculator from the Kaiser Family Foundation to get an estimate of your plan premiums, and check how much financial help you might qualify for based on your age, where you live and the prices in your area. The calculator will soon be updated for 2018 coverage.
  4. Learn what you need to know from free, reliable resources. The Kaiser Family Foundation will hold web briefings for consumers in different states the week before enrollment starts. Check out the dates here.

Experts are concerned that the pullback on advertising grants, especially on TV promotions to get people signed up, will cause a drop in enrollment. This happened at the end of open enrollment this past January when marketing ads were canceled by the new administration, according to Pollitz.

“Consumers need to hear this information over and over and over again,” Pollitz said.

New Obamacare rules to watch out for

While the enrollment procedure remains largely unchanged this year, there are a few new rules experts say are worth your attention:

People who missed payments last year may not receive coverage for 2018.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ruled back in the summer that during the 2018 coverage year, insurers are allowed to deny enrollment for customers who missed payments in 2017. This change will affect those who signed up for health care after the new rule took effect on June 17 and then missed a payment.

Insurers have an option to not to adopt the policy, and states can also prohibit the practice. Pollitz said If you missed payment in that window, you can repay your premium debt to the insurer before the end of the coming open enrollment, or you can sign up for a coverage under a different company.

But if you need to make a dispute, Health and Human Services hasn’t established an appeal process for this insurance change. Pollitz said it’s important for those encouraging this barrier to contact their state’s insurance regulator and the marketplace, and to seek assistance from navigators.

People who haven’t filed a 2016 tax return with Form 8962 may be denied tax credits

Consumers who got premium tax credits in 2016 but have not yet filed a 2016 federal income tax return with Form 8962 (the form allows filers to calculate their tax credits and reconcile their credit amount this year) will be denied premium tax credits next year. However, those affected by the new rule won’t be given the specific reason why they will not be eligible for tax credits, Pollitz said. She advised that if you are denied tax credits, you have to figure out that this is the reason and then file an amended return with Form 8962 to receive premium subsidies in 2018.

Medicaid expansion

Consumers in 31 states and Washington D.C., with income at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level — that 138 percent means a little over $16,600 every year for a single person and nearly $34,000 for a family of four — are now eligible for Medicaid, which is open for enrollment throughout the year. You can apply through the marketplace to find out whether you are eligible for tax credits or Medicaid.

What’s unchanged from last year

Individual mandate remains

You still have to a penalty if you can afford health insurance but don’t buy it.

The penalty for not having coverage is the same as it is this year. The fee is calculated as a percentage of your household income or as a fixed amount per person. You’ll pay whichever is higher.

For 2018 …

  • 2.5% of household income (capped at the yearly premium for the national average price of a Bronze plan sold through the marketplace)

OR

  • $695 per adult
  • $347.50 per child under 18
  • Capped at a maximum of $2,085

Auto-renewal remains but is not recommended

If you don’t enroll in new coverage by Dec. 15, your plan will be auto-renewed. About one in every four consumers’ plans were renewed in this fashion in 2017, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And if your plan has changed, you will be automatically assigned a plan. But experts strongly recommend you not rely on auto-renewal this year because algorithms may not get you the best plan for 2018 with all the subsidies changes. What you should do is to log into your account, carefully review all the plan choices and costs and select a plan for 2018.

Premium increases and uncertainty

Unable to successfully repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Trump administration has begun peeling back some elements of the legislation in recent weeks. In mid-October, President Trump announced he would yank key federal subsidies offered to insurers that were used to offer copay and deductible discounts to low-income consumers. Soon after Trump moved to pull the insurance subsidies, two senators struck a bipartisan deal to fund the subsidies through 2019. Experts say if the deal is passed, that could stabilize the marketplace.

But experts say this back-and-forth on insurance subsidies likely won’t change anything for those shopping for coverage for 2018, as insurers are still required to offer cost-sharing help under ACA, and most of them had anticipated the loss of subsidies and had already increased premiums for 2018.

Most people still get tax subsidies that can help reduce their premiums — every eight in 10 people who enrolled in an Obamacare plan received premium tax credits that lowered their monthly insurance bills in 2017. Premium subsidy dollars increase as premiums go up. However, those who earn too much to qualify for tax credits will likely feel the effects of higher premiums.

More difficulty down the road

While it’s unclear how exactly individual accessibility to health care services will be affected in light of the changes to ACA, it will be disruptive when consumers have to switch plans with different providers and apply to new doctors due to the exit of their previous insurers from the marketplace, said Jennifer Tolbert, director of state health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

“We do know that simply having an insurance card doesn’t guarantee people access to people and doesn’t mean that they will be able to get the care that they need,” Tolbert said. “But it certainly helps.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Shen Lu
Shen Lu |

Shen Lu is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Shen Lu at [email protected]

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How to File Taxes as an Immigrant

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Two recurring themes have dominated the news cycle over the past few years: immigration and taxes. While these may seem like entirely separate issues at first glance, immigrants do pay federal income taxes — and face a variety of unique challenges in the process, including dealing with language barriers and learning to file for the first time.

To help make filing your taxes as an immigrant a little easier, here’s an overview of who needs to file, how to file for the first time and where you can turn for help.

Who files taxes?

Citizens aren’t the only ones who pay taxes in the U.S. Immigrants who are authorized to work in this country are required to pay the same federal and state income taxes that citizens do, and undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes each year — often for public benefit programs that they are unable to use.

Filing requirements depend on whether you are considered a nonresident alien or a resident alien.

Resident aliens

A resident alien must meet one of two tests:

  • Green card test. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued you an alien registration card, also known as a “green card,” which allows you to permanently live in the U.S. as an immigrant.
  • Substantial presence test. You must be physically present in the U.S. for at least:
    • 31 days during the current year, and
    • 183 days during the three-year period that includes the current year and the two years immediately before that. (You can read more about how days of presence are determined here.)

Resident aliens follow the same filing requirements as U.S. citizens.

Nonresident aliens

If you are not a U.S. citizen and don’t meet either of the tests to be considered a resident alien, you are considered a nonresident alien.

As a nonresident alien, you must file a tax return if you own a business in the U.S. or have U.S. income and did not have enough tax withheld by your employer. You may also want to file an income tax return to receive a refund of tax withheld.

What’s a W-4?

If you work in the U.S., your employer should ask you to complete Form W-4, which is used to determine the correct amount of tax to withhold from your pay.

Form W-4 includes worksheets to help you determine how many “allowances” you should claim. Each allowance reduces the amount held from your paycheck. You get one allowance for yourself, one for your spouse, and one for each dependent you claim on your tax return.

You can complete a new Form W-4 at any time, and it’s a good idea to submit a new one to your employer anytime your tax situation changes, such as if you get married or divorced or have a new baby. Adjusting your withholding can help prevent having too much or too little tax withheld.

Rather than relying on the worksheets included with Form W-4, you may want to use the IRS’s Withholding Calculator.

How to pay U.S. taxes

In some countries, the government withholds tax from your paycheck, and that’s the end of your tax filing requirements. In the U.S., it’s more complicated. Here’s an overview of what you’ll need to file a tax return.

SSN or ITIN

To pay taxes in the U.S., you will either need a Social Security number (SSN) or an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN).

Noncitizens authorized to work in the U.S. by the Department of Homeland Security can apply for a Social Security number in their home country before coming to the U.S. or by visiting a Social Security office in person. You will need to complete Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, and provide documentation to prove your identity, work-authorized immigration status and age. You can learn more about the acceptable documentation here.

If you are not eligible for an SSN, you can apply for an ITIN by filling out Form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number and submitting it to the IRS along with documentation proving your identity and foreign status. The Instructions for Form W-7 include a list of acceptable documents and instructions for submitting your application.

Which tax forms to file

The tax forms you’ll use to file your tax return depend on whether you are a resident alien or a nonresident alien.

Resident aliens use the same tax form as citizens: Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. Generally, Form 1040 is due on April 15 of the following year. However, if you are living and working outside of the U.S. on April 15, you are given an automatic extension to June 15. You can request a longer extension, until Oct. 15, by filing Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time to File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

Nonresident aliens file using Form 1040-NR, U.S. Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return. Form 1040-NR is also due on April 15 of the following year, but taxpayers who are not living and working in the U.S. on that date have until June 15 to file. You can request an extension to October 15 by submitting Form 4868 by the due date of your return.

Reporting income earned outside the US

Many resident aliens and nonresident aliens continue to receive income from outside of the U.S. even after they begin working in the country. Resident aliens are required to report income from all sources within and outside of the U.S. on their tax returns, whether they are living in the U.S. or abroad.

However, you may qualify to exclude a portion of your foreign earnings from your taxable income — the amount you can exclude changes each year. You can determine your eligibility and the exclusion amount using Form 2555, Foreign Earned Income. You can also use the IRS’s Interactive Tax Assistant Tool to help determine whether the income you earned in a foreign country can be excluded.

What to do if you’re undocumented?

According to the Pew Research Center, there were roughly 10.5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S in 2017, and 7.6 million of them are a part of the U.S. workforce.

Whether undocumented immigrants work legally under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections or work illegally with falsified or nonexistent documentation, they are required to pay taxes on any income earned in the U.S.

Many undocumented immigrants face barriers to complying with U.S. tax laws due to language barriers, difficulty understanding complex tax laws or fears that the IRS will pass their information along to immigration enforcement.

Later, this article will cover resources where immigrants can find help with tax filing. As for immigration enforcement fears, you generally do not have to fear that the IRS will share your application for an ITIN or tax information with immigration enforcement officials. The IRS is not allowed to release taxpayer information to other government agencies, except for providing information to the Treasury Department for tax compliance investigations or under a court order related to a non-tax criminal investigation.

Benefits of paying taxes

Filing a tax return and paying taxes to the U.S. does not entitle nonresident aliens or undocumented workers to claim Social Security benefits, but there are other benefits to filing tax returns. According to the National Immigration Law Center, paying taxes:

  • Demonstrates compliance with federal tax laws
  • Gives immigrants who want to legalize their immigration status and become a citizen an opportunity to prove they have “good moral character”
  • Document work history and physical presence in the U.S.
  • Claim certain tax benefits, such as the Child Tax Credit
  • Claim insurance premium tax credits for children who are U.S. citizens

Where to find help

The IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program helps taxpayers who cannot afford traditional tax preparation service, need translation assistance or need help applying for an ITIN. The IRS trains and certifies volunteers to provide free basic tax return assistance to individuals.

You can locate a VITA site by visiting http://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/ and entering your ZIP code. Before visiting a VITA site, you may want to review Publication 3676-B (available in English and Spanish) to verify the services provided by VITA and check out the IRS’s What to Bring page to ensure you have all of the required documents and information volunteers will need to help prepare your return and apply for an ITIN, if necessary.

If you prefer to handle tax filing on your own, check out our recommendations for tax filing software.

The bottom line

Working through the forms required to apply for an ITIN and prepare a tax return can be daunting, but seeking help and overcoming the barriers to complying with U.S. tax law is important. If you plan to seek citizenship down the road or someday appear in front of an immigration judge, the fact that you’ve dutifully filed income tax returns while you lived and worked in the country can help make a stronger case for you to remain in the country.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Janet Berry-Johnson
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Janet Berry-Johnson is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Janet here

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Financial Therapy: What It Is and How to Know if You Need It

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Whether you’re stressing over paying bills or spending money to make yourself feel better, anxiety and money often go hand in hand. Still, financial advice tends to emphasize numbers and strategies, not the root cause of money concerns.

Financial therapy is a holistic process that enlists both therapeutic and financial methods to help you transform your relationship with money. Here’s how to tell whether or not it might be the right move for you.

What is financial therapy?

The Financial Therapy Association was born out of the 2008 financial crisis, which left many Americans feeling totally hopeless and out of control with their money — a kind of trauma that went deeper than traditional financial counseling could heal. Researchers and practitioners from both the mental health and business fields teamed up shortly after the crash to create a unique, new practice that combines the best aspects of both disciplines.

By late 2009, the Financial Therapy Association, or FTA, was officially recognized as a nonprofit corporation, and the group held its first annual conference in September of 2010. Today, the association offers a variety of tools for both consumers and professionals looking to participate in this unique practice, and also offers a searchable database for finding financial therapists by state.

The association defines financial therapy as “a process informed by both therapeutic and financial competencies that helps people think, feel and behave differently with money to improve overall wellbeing through evidence-based practices and interventions.”

In short, just like regular therapy, it helps you get your head on straight — except in this case, it’s particularly concerned with financial matters. Many financial therapists are also licensed family or marriage counselors, so you can take it on solo or with a partner.

5 signs you need a financial therapist

So, how can you tell if financial therapy is right for you?

Chances are, almost anyone could benefit from professional coaching… but if these scenarios sound familiar, you might want to take finding professional help more seriously.

1. Your relationships are strained, and money’s always the reason. If you’re constantly fighting with your spouse (or other relatives or family members) about money matters, a financial therapist can help you find productive ways to navigate your relationships.

2. You’re depressed or anxious about your money in a way that’s impacting your wellbeing. While money can be a stressful topic for anyone from time to time, if it’s ruling your life, a therapist can help you find new behavioral patterns. Whether it’s the emotional toll of debt or the stress of saving a workable nest egg, a financial therapist can offer both mental and monetary tactics to help you tackle the problem.

3. You know the steps you need to take, but can’t quite seem to make them happen. Whether it’s balancing your budget or paying down debt, if you can’t make your behavior match your financial plan, a financial therapist could have the answer.

4. You find yourself lying about money and hiding your excessive or emotional spending. These kinds of behaviors can wreak havoc on your wallet, not to mention your relationships, and may be based in compulsion. A financial therapist can help you develop alternative relaxation tactics so you can overcome your emotional splurges without doing damage to your nest egg.

5. Thinking about your financial future is leading to unexpected emotions or creating family tension. As important as estate planning may be, it can also be a difficult and emotional experience. After all, it means thinking seriously about the reality of your own death. And divvying up your stuff can lead to difficult conversations, particularly if you have a blended family or strained relationships. A financial therapist can help you work through all that emotional baggage and offer helpful communication tactics.

Do you need a financial therapist and a financial advisor?

There’s no specific set of certifications or degrees a professional must have to be a member of the Financial Therapy Association — so each individual counselor is just that: an individual. He or she may lean more heavily toward one side of the professional aisle or the other, and finding the right fit could take some trial and error.

For instance, if you’re mostly concerned with the how-to part of financial advisement, like figuring out the difference between a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA or the best way to tackle credit card debt, a plain-old financial advisor can probably help you, but so could a financial therapist who works primarily as an advisor or wealth management professional.

On the other hand, if you’re really digging into the emotional side of your financial landscape, finding a financial therapist who is a mental health professional first can help you tackle those struggles, while also laying the framework for solid monetary planning and behavior down the line. A financial therapist who identifies more strongly with the clinical counselling part of their job title may also be able to help you in other aspects of your mental health, if you’re struggling with matters beyond your money.

The bottom line is, there’s no one approach that’s right for everyone — and, just like dating, you’ll definitely want to shop around. Whether you hire a financial therapist, a financial advisor or both, when you’re talking about people who are going to advise you on matters as important as your financial future, getting along well is key. It’s worth making several calls and sitting through a few introductory interviews to make sure you’ve found a good fit.

How to find a financial therapist

If financial therapy sounds like it might be a fit for you, there are some wonderful resources available from the Financial Therapy Association to help you find and hire a professional. For instance, it offers a great database of financial therapists that’s searchable by both name and state.

Of course, since it’s such a new field, financial therapists are relatively few and far between — and you may find there’s not one in your area. Several states on the list have zero names listed beneath them (so far, anyway).

Fortunately, the internet makes it possible to do financial therapy work at a distance, and many professionals do just that. If you find someone whose credentials, focus and basic methodologies you like, you can reach out to them directly to see if they’d be able to perform therapy via Skype or phone call. You can also check out the specific “at a distance” list available via the FTA database. The association also offers monthly online webinars and other educational tools to start the process on your own if you’re not quite ready to hire a professional.

The bottom line

Financial therapy can be a great way to help alleviate your anxieties and fears about financial matters, or to help you find ways to break money-related habits you just can’t seem to knock out on your own. And as with any type of therapy, seeking out professional help is anything but a sign of weakness. Money touches all of our lives and has a huge impact on our lifestyles, so it makes sense that it’s a wildly emotional topic. So if financial therapy sounds like it might be a fit for you, don’t be afraid or ashamed to reach out. If anything, recognizing you need help makes you that much stronger — and both your brain and your bank account will thank you for it.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Jamie Cattanach
Jamie Cattanach |

Jamie Cattanach is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Jamie here