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    Switching to Medicare from the public health exchange: How to avoid costly mistakes

    Failing to enroll in Medicare at age 65 could result in late-enrollment penalties.
    You’d also be asked to repay any marketplace subsidies you receive after age 65.
    Here are key things to be aware of.

    RainStar | E+ | Getty Images

    For anyone nearing age 65 who gets health insurance through the public marketplace, it’s almost time to make the move to Medicare.
    Generally speaking, you must sign up when you reach that age unless you have qualifying coverage elsewhere. And health plans through the exchanges, whether federal or state, do not count. 

    “You need to be prepared to make that change,” said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow with the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Otherwise you can face [costs] for being late to enroll in Medicare and for being late getting out of the marketplace.”
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    Of the 12 million or so people who have health insurance coverage through the marketplace, roughly 3.4 million are ages 55 to 64 — meaning some of them are approaching Medicare eligibility and will need to sign up.
    “If you were getting a subsidy on the marketplace plan … Uncle Sam can bill you for all the subsidy dollars you’ve received since turning 65 and not leaving that plan,” said Danielle Roberts, co-founder of insurance firm Boomer Benefits.
    Individuals who are already receiving Social Security payments — i.e., they started those benefits before their full retirement age as defined by the government — generally will be automatically enrolled in Medicare but will still need to cancel their coverage through the marketplace, Pollitz said.

    Your initial Medicare enrollment period starts three months before the month of your 65th birthday and ends three months after it (seven months total).
    While most people pay no premium for Part A (hospital coverage), that’s not the case for Part B (outpatient care). For 2022, the projected standard amount is $158.50 monthly, up from $148.50 (although it has not yet been formally announced.
    In addition to Parts A and B — also called original Medicare — there is Part D, which provides prescription drug coverage. Both Part B and D premiums come with extra monthly charges for beneficiaries with higher income.

    Some people choose to stick with basic Medicare and pair it with a standalone Part D plan and, perhaps, a Medicare supplement plan (aka “Medigap”). Others choose an Advantage Plan (Part C), which includes your Parts A and B benefits, and typically Part D, as well as some extras like limited dental and vision benefits.
    There are late enrollment penalties associated with some aspects of Medicare.
    For Part B, if you don’t sign up when you’re supposed to, you could face a penalty that amounts to a 10% higher monthly base Part B premium for each 12-month period you should have been enrolled but were not. And those penalties generally are life-lasting.

    You can face [costs] for being late to enroll in Medicare and for being late getting out of the marketplace.

    Karen Pollitz
    Senior fellow with the Kaiser Family Foundation

    Although Part D is optional, you can face a penalty if you decide you want coverage after not signing up when you were first eligible. That late-enrollment fee is 1% of the monthly national base premium ($33.06 in 2021) for each full month that you should have had coverage but didn’t. Like the Part B penalty, this amount also generally lasts as long as you have the drug coverage.
    Whether you’ll pay more — or less — than your current marketplace plan depends on factors including how much financial help you’ve received.
    For 2021 and 2022, the subsidies available through the marketplace are expanded, which means many more people are qualifying for aid who previously would not have. Some are paying little to nothing for premiums and may be getting help with cost-sharing like deductibles or copays. If your income is low enough, you may qualify for programs that help with out-of-pocket costs under Medicare.

    Additionally, your coverage choices through Medicare also determine what you pay. Medigap plans come with a monthly premium that can range from less than $100 to about $400, depending at least partly on the specifics of the plan. These policies also generally cover much of the cost-sharing encountered in Medicare Parts A and B, including copays or coinsurance.
    Advantage Plans, which many Medicare beneficiaries join, may or may not have a premium in addition to what you pay for Part B. However, research from Pollitz’s organization shows that half of all Medicare Advantage enrollees would incur higher costs for a five-day hospital stay than beneficiaries in original Medicare due to the different cost structures. For a 10-day stay, 72% of Advantage enrollees would pay more.
    “When you’re healthy, Advantage Plans are cheaper than original Medicare, but if you get really sick, that could change,” Pollitz said.
    To compare your drug-coverage options or Advantage Plans, you can visit the Medicare plan finder.

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    Paul Tudor Jones says crypto is his preferred inflation hedge over gold right now

    Billionaire investor Paul Tudor Jones told CNBC on Wednesday he views cryptocurrencies right now as a better hedge against inflation than gold.
    “Clearly, there’s a place for crypto. Clearly, it’s winning the race against gold at the moment,” he said.
    “I’ve got crypto single digits in my portfolio,” Jones said, referring to the percentage of his holdings in cryptocurrencies.

    Paul Tudor Jones
    Leanne Miller | CNBC

    Billionaire investor Paul Tudor Jones told CNBC on Wednesday he views cryptocurrencies right now as a better hedge against inflation than gold.
    “It would be my preferred one over gold at the moment,” Jones said in a “Squawk Box” interview. He added, “Clearly, there’s a place for crypto. Clearly, it’s winning the race against gold at the moment.”

    Jones, a bitcoin and crypto bull, also told CNBC he’s very worried about rising inflation, saying it’s posing a major threat to the U.S. financial markets and the recovering Covid-hit economy.
    “I’ve got crypto single digits in my portfolio,” Jones said, referring to the percentage of his holdings in cryptocurrencies.
    Back in June, Jones told CNBC that bitcoin is a great way to protect his wealth over the long run, calling the world’s biggest crypto a store of wealth like gold.
    Bitcoin, often referred to as digital gold, was also designed as a payment system. Though adoption as money to pay for things has been slow due to the volatile nature of the digital coin.

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    Coinbase will offer customers a 'get paid in crypto' direct deposit option

    Coinbase signage in New York’s Times Square during the company’s initial public offering on the Nasdaq on April 14, 2021.
    Robert Nickelsberg | Getty Images

    Investing consistently in cryptocurrency just got a lot easier.
    In September, Coinbase announced that its users will soon be able to set up direct deposit with any percentage of their paychecks and can choose for the money to be deposited as U.S. dollars or any of the more than 100 cryptocurrencies available at the exchange, with no fees.

    The company said that the idea for the direct deposit came from users who said that making frequent transfers was inconvenient and time-consuming.
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    “With direct deposit, customers can more easily access our crypto-first financial services and be ready for any trade or purchase,” said Max Branzburg, vice president of product at Coinbase, in a Sept. 27 blog post. 
    Direct deposit will start to roll out at the end of the month and continue through the end of the year, according to the company.
    Benefit of direct deposits
    Essentially being paid in cryptocurrency — or receiving a portion of pay in the asset — makes sense for some people.

    “We’re entering the phase of cryptocurrency where there’s a demand for people who want to be paid in digital assets,” said Douglas Boneparth, certified financial planner and president of Bone Fide Wealth in New York. “This will obviously allow people to put more of their money more easily into cryptocurrencies, and right or wrong is really determined by user and their preferences when it comes to money.”

    The direct deposit feature will help some investors treat cryptocurrency like a 401(k) plan, something that they’re consistently putting money into for a long-term investment. It especially makes sense for those looking to dollar-cost average, an investing strategy that puts smaller chunks of money into an asset over a longer period of time instead of all at once.
    On the flipside, it will also be helpful for people who actively transact in cryptocurrencies, as they won’t have to make the extra step of depositing their money into their Coinbase accounts to make purchases or pay bills with the coins.
    Where to be cautious

    Owaki – Kulla | The Image Bank | Getty Images

    Of course, converting your entire paycheck and being paid only in cryptocurrency could be risky, according to Boneparth.
    “Obviously being paid in something that’s volatile … may be a dangerous thing,” he said.
    For example, if you get paid $2,000 in bitcoin and then the cryptocurrency loses 20%, your paycheck is now worth $1,600.
    In addition, if you’re new to investing in cryptocurrency, you should take the time to do research on the asset and decide if it makes sense for you before signing up for direct deposit, he said.
    “This is super-exciting,” he said. “But despite all the excitement, you have to be vigilant and knowledgeable.”
    How much of each paycheck should you deposit?
    If you’re interested in signing up for the direct deposit feature when it’s available, there are a few things to consider before you decide what percentage of your paycheck you will send to crypto.
    First, financial experts generally recommend that people have reached a few other financial milestones before putting money into volatile assets such as cryptocurrencies.
    That includes things such as having solid retirement savings in either a 401(k) plan or individual retirement account. You should also have emergency savings on hand — experts recommend three to six months of expenses.

    Then, financial experts generally advise investors interested in crypto to start with small amounts.
    “Invest what you’re willing to lose — it’s almost like going to Vegas,” said Daniel Rodriguez, chief operating officer of Hill Wealth Strategies in Richmond, Virginia, adding that he’d recommend a small portion of one’s paycheck.
    But people who believe in cryptocurrency and have a higher risk tolerance may want to put in larger portions.
    For some, that might be 5% to 10% of their investible assets, according to Boneparth. Others may want to invest even more, depending on their convictions and overall financial situation.
    “It’s not whether they’re taking the higher percentage; it’s do they understand the risk associated with that and can they tolerate what will happen if it’s volatile on the downside?” he said.
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    As bitcoin soars in value again, here's what to think about before you buy

    As bitcoin nears an all-time high, you may be tempted to buy some of the cryptocurrency.
    Before you do, though, here are some helpful things to consider.

    damircudic | E+ | Getty Images

    It’s been a good week for bitcoin, and it may get better.
    With the first bitcoin futures exchange-traded fund debuting on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday, the cryptocurrency is trading at more than $64,000.

    And a record may be near: The highest the digital coin has ever gone for was in April, at $64,899.
    As a result, temptations to buy bitcoin may be growing, too.
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    Before you do, though, here are some useful things to consider, according to experts.

    1. FOMO typically backfires

    Stories of bitcoin millionaires. The fact that the digital coin’s value went from essentially nothing to top $64,000 in under a decade.

    Hearing this, of course many people a fear of missing out, or “FOMO.”
    Investors often fall prey to the social bias of “herding,” said Kent Baker, a finance professor at American University. In other words: They do what the crowd does, believing that everyone else must know more than they do and that there’s safety in numbers.
    “Generally, such investors are wrong on both counts,” Baker said.
    In reality, the other people in the crowd are putting the same blind faith in everyone else, with just as little to back it up.

    2. We can’t know its real value … or much else

    Trying to understand a digital asset’s fundamental valuation is “very tricky,” said Bruce Mizrach, an economics professor at Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences.
    With most stocks, he said, you can at least get a price-to-earnings ratio, which tells you what investors are willing to pay for a company for every dollar of its earnings. That figure can help you determine if a company is over- or undervalued.
    You’re more in the dark with bitcoin.

    By the time most individual investors get into a rising investment, it’s often too late.

    Kent Baker
    finance professor at American University

    “The rise in the cryptocurrencies is reminiscent of the early stages of the internet bubble, with investors trying to evaluate stocks without earnings,” Mizrach said.

    3. Even suspecting it’s a bubble won’t help you

    Most investors can explain what a bubble is: It’s what happens when a good’s price far exceeds its real value. And many of those considering buying bitcoin probably suspect that it’s largely speculation and hype that’s driven the price so high.
    But people buy assets even when they know they’re overvalued, “because they expect prices to go even higher,” Mizrach said.
    And, he said, “they all believe that they can exit before the bubble crashes.”
    Just remember: That’s what everyone else is thinking.

    “By the time most individual investors get into a rising investment, it’s often too late,” Baker said.
    All that being said, investors would be mistaken to ignore the rise of cryptocurrencies, explained Douglas Boneparth, certified financial planner and president of Bone Fide Wealth in New York.
    “It’s definitely a bad idea to stick your head in the sand and assume this is nothing,” Boneparth said. “The reality here is you’re watching an entire decentralized financial system being built before your eyes.”
    He recommends people educate themselves as much as possible on the technology, and then they can determine if they should be invested in digital currencies and if so, how much.
    For many, the standard advice from financial experts is not to put more than 1% to 5% of your money into the assets will hold true. Meanwhile, others may find their conviction in the innovation and tolerance for risk allows for more.
    Have you recently bought bitcoin for the first time? If you’d be willing to share your experience getting into cryptocurrencies for an upcoming story, please email me at annie.nova@nbcuni.com

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    These are the top 10 retirement spots in the U.S.

    Anya Berkut | Getty Images

    The Covid-19 pandemic has changed how many Americans view their retirement, whether it is pushing it back or starting it earlier than planned.
    Yet one thing hasn’t changed — Florida is still the top destination thanks to its sunshine, beaches and taxpayer-friendly policies, a new U.S. News & World Report report found. The Sunshine State is home to 8 of the 10 best places in the country for retirees.

    U.S. News looked at housing affordability, health care, taxes, the job market and overall happiness in the 150 most populated U.S. metro areas to come up with its rankings of the top places for retirement in 2021 and 2022. It used data from sources such as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau and the Tax Foundation.

    Sarasota, Florida, took the top spot, edging out first runner-up Naples, also in the Sunshine State, largely because it had more affordable housing, explained Emily Brandon, U.S. News’ senior retirement editor.
    “Sarasota and Naples residents both report a high sense of well-being and both cities scored high marks for desirability,” she said.
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    While Pennsylvania has just one spot on the top 10, it has several cities that have climbed in the rankings this year. The accessibility of high-quality health-care facilities was often the reason, Brandon said.

    The pandemic also had an impact. For 23% of those at or near retirement, the pandemic has changed their preference for where they would like to retire, according to U.S. News.
    “The cost of a potential retirement spot is a top concern for many retirees, but they are also looking for a high quality of life,” Brandon noted.
    Here are the top 10 places for retirees, according to U.S. News & World Report.

    Sarasota, Florida
    Sean Pavone | iStock | Getty Images

    1. Sarasota, FloridaMetro population: 803,709Median home price: $387,630Median monthly rent: $1,209Unemployment rate: 6.8%
    2. Naples, FloridaMetro population: 371,453Median home price: $345,000Median monthly rent: $1,317Unemployment rate: 7%
    3. Daytona Beach, FloridaMetro population: 646,288Median home price: $278,897Median monthly rent: $1,076Unemployment rate: 7.7%
    4. Melbourne, FloridaMetro population: 585,507Median home price: $217,400Median monthly rent: $1,068Unemployment rate: 6.7%
    5. Lancaster, PennsylvaniaMetro population: 540,999Median home price: $226,550Median monthly rent: $1,009Unemployment rate: 7.5%

    6. Tampa, FloridaMetro population: 3,097,859Median home price: $301,963Median monthly rent: $1,115Unemployment rate: 7.2%
    7. Fort Myers, FloridaMetro population: 737,468Median home price: $277,900Median monthly rent: $1,154Unemployment rate: 7.4%
    8. Port St. Lucie, FloridaMetro population: 472,012Median home price: $233,133Median monthly rent: $1,162Unemployment rate: 7.3%
    9. Ann Arbor, MichiganMetro population: 367,000Median home price: $270,567Median monthly rent: $1,114Unemployment rate: 6.5%
    10. Pensacola, FloridaMetro population: 488,246Median home price: $200,800Median monthly rent: $1,015Unemployment rate: 6.2%
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    A drop in wages prompted worries some people's Social Security benefits could be reduced. The recovery helped change that

    The Covid-19 pandemic prompted fears that a drop in wages could negatively affect Social Security benefit calculations for certain beneficiaries.
    But the measurement on which those calculations are made, the average wage index, was able to bounce back.
    Still, lawmakers may consider making a change to prevent any future declines in that measurement from impacting how much money beneficiaries receive.

    VALERIE MACON | AFP | Getty Images

    When the Covid-19 pandemic prompted a dramatic drop in wages, that also sparked concerns that one particular cohort would see lower Social Security benefits as a result.
    Those concerns, however, have abated, according to new data from the Social Security Administration.

    The reason comes down to the national average wage index, or AWI, which is used to calculate Social Security benefits.
    In 2020, signs emerged that the AWI had dropped dramatically from 2019. At one point, Social Security Administration Chief Actuary Stephen Goss said it could be 5.9% lower from the previous year.
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    That year’s AWI is used to calculate benefits for people who will turn 62 in 2022 or who will claim disability benefits that year. Consequently, there were concerns that those people’s benefit checks would be reduced.
    About 5 million people were estimated to be potentially affected by this expected drop, which inspired a Congressional bill proposal to fix the issue.

    However, new data from the Social Security administration shows that the national average wage index for 2020 was 2.83% higher over 2019.
    “That’s significant because individuals becoming newly eligible for benefits in 2022 will have their benefit formula adjusted by that average wage index,” Goss said during a recent webinar hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

    That is good news considering that about a year ago many were not expecting the AWI to go up at all this year, he said.
    The AWI has increased every year from 1951 to 2008. However, in 2009 the AWI declined by 1.5% due to the financial crisis that began the year before, which lowered benefits for those who became eligible in 2011.
    The fact that the AWI recovered last year is a sign of strength for the U.S economy, according to Jason Fichtner, vice president and chief economist at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
    “This wasn’t the financial collapse that we had in 2008 and ’09,” Fichtner said.

    “It is amazing to think about how quickly the economy has bounced back,” he added, though there are persistent supply and labor shortages that still need to be resolved.
    While the AWI did not decline, it is still possible that lawmakers will still consider making it so that such a drop would not negatively impact beneficiaries, Fichtner said.
    One way of doing that would be to base benefit calculations on the previous year’s wage base instead, thus making it so affected beneficiaries are held harmless.
    “That’s something that might go into any sort of major Social Security reform bill going forward, just to make sure that one cohort of beneficiaries isn’t at a disadvantage over another,” Fichtner said.

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    Is college really worth it? Here are the schools with the best return on investment

    With college costs climbing, more students and their families are looking for schools that offer the best value.
    However, determining the return on your investment is somewhat subjective, one expert says.

    Even before the pandemic, families were starting to question the value of a college degree.
    Now, high schoolers are putting more emphasis on schools that will offer the best returns.

    “What is going to be the return on investment?,” said Robert Franek, editor in chief of The Princeton Review. “It is the question that students and their parents are asking more now, certainly over the last year and a half.”
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    To that end, The Princeton Review analyzed more than 650 colleges and universities to determine the schools with the most value, considering cost, including tuition and room and board, as well as financial aid, academic offerings, career placement services, graduation rates, alumni salary and overall student debt.
    The University of California, Berkeley earned the top spot among public colleges, while Princeton University ranked No. 1 for private colleges.  
    Both schools are standouts for their academics, career services and financial aid, the report found.

    Top 5 Public & Private Colleges for Value

    The Princeton Review analyzed data points from more than 650 colleges and universities to determine the schools offering the highest return on investment in terms of tuition and other costs. Here are the top five public and top five private institutions.
    PUBLIC SCHOOLS

    University of California, Berkeley
    University of Virginia — Charlottesville, Virginia
    Georgia Institute of Technology — Atlanta
    University of California, San Diego — La Jolla, California
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    PRIVATE SCHOOLS

    Princeton University — Princeton, New Jersey
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology — Cambridge, Massachusetts
    Stanford University — Stanford, California
    California Institute of Technology — Pasadena, California
    Harvey Mudd College — Claremont, California

    Source: The Princeton Review

    At Berkeley, the average scholarship or grant awarded to undergrads with need last year was $23,700, lowering the cost to just $7,700 from the sticker price of $31,400. Berkeley graduates with a B.A. also go on to earn $72,600, on average, early in their careers.
    At Princeton, the average grant was $53,500 last year, bringing the cost of attendance down to $12,300 from its $65,800 sticker price. Graduates with a B.A. earn $77,300 early on.
    However, “it’s not 100% dollars and cents,” said Eric Greenberg, president of Greenberg Educational Group, a New York-based consulting firm.

    “With tuition going up a lot faster than inflation, parents are very likely to partially think about the money a student may earn but also how happy the student will be.”
    “There are certain things that can’t be measured,” Greenberg added.
    Emotional wellbeing should also factor into considerations about the return on the investment along with the cost, academic offerings, job placement and other preprofessional services, he said.   
    “There’s no doubt that a person’s happiness will have a huge impact on their personal and professional life.”
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    NASA spacecraft launches toward Jupiter asteroids on an intricate path charted by Excel

    NASA’s latest exploration spacecraft launched over the weekend, beginning a 12-year journey to visit Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids.
    The mission’s intricate path was charted using a tool familiar to Wall Street – Microsoft Excel.
    Lockheed Martin mission architect Brian Sutter explained to CNBC how he used Excel to find which asteroids would be worth visiting, saying he aimed to try “to try to look at as many of these Trojans as we can in a single mission.”

    An animated trajectory map shows the path of the Lucy mission, with the spacecraft (blue) launching from the Earth (green) out to the asteroids around Jupiter (orange).

    NASA’s latest exploration spacecraft launched over the weekend, beginning a 12-year journey to visit Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids.
    A tool familiar to Wall Street was used to craft the mission’s intricate path: Microsoft Excel.

    The Lucy spacecraft, which Lockheed Martin built and United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket launched for NASA on Saturday, is expected to travel 4 billion miles through space to fly by and study eight asteroids.

    Years before Lucy took off, Lockheed Martin mission architect Brian Sutter used Excel to chart the mission’s path and choose which of the about 5,000 Trojan asteroids the spacecraft should visit.
    “Part of the science of this mission was to try to look at as many of these Trojans as we can in a single mission,” Sutter told CNBC.

    While Lockheed Martin has a “high fidelity” tool to run individual trajectories, Sutter said that would have taken “forever.” He instead turned to an Excel macro, which is “perfectly suited for sorting through large quantities of data.”
    “I had already found a trajectory that connected two of the asteroids to a trajectory that also connected to Earth,” Sutter said.

    Orbit propagation – or modeling the future location of objects in space – “is what I do,” Sutter explained. While his macro consists of “different equations than you’d normally put into Excel,” he emphasized that “at the end of the day it’s all math.”

    NASA’s Lucy spacecraft is prepared for launch, with its solar arrays folded.
    Glenn Benson / NASA

    Sutter took a broad list of 750,000 asteroids and entered them into Excel to “see if they ever accidentally kind of come close to each other.”
    “I think this thing took about 12 hours to cycle through all 750,000 of them,” Sutter said. After he ran the macro, he had “a little list of 10 to 20 asteroids that the spacecraft was going to be flying close to.”
    His use of Excel to help chart Lucy’s trajectory became famous within Lockheed Martin. He recalled that a colleague once described to others that Sutter “built the most ridiculously complicated Excel spreadsheet I’ve ever seen in my life.”

    A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with the Lucy spacecraft aboard launches from Space Launch Complex 41, on Oct. 16, 2021.
    Bill Ingalls / NASA

    The Lucy mission, which has a total cost of $981 million, is expected to visit its first asteroid in 2024. Further flybys are set to take place until 2033.
    While the launch was successful and the spacecraft is stable, NASA said on Sunday that one of the spacecraft’s two solar arrays “may not be fully latched.”
    “Lucy can continue to operate with no threat to its health and safety,” NASA said. “The team is analyzing spacecraft data to understand the situation and determine next steps to achieve full deployment of the solar array.”

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