Frequently asked questions about life events
Find your first job:
How do I apply for a Federal job?
Many Federal agencies fill their jobs like private industry by allowing applicants to contact the agency directly for job information and application processing. Previously the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) maintained large standing registers of eligibles and required applicants to take standardized written tests. In addition, applicants completed a standard application form, the SF-171 to apply for all jobs. Today OPM no longer maintains registers of eligibles and only a few positions require a written test. The SF-171 is obsolete and no longer accepted by most Federal agencies. The new Federal application form is Optional Application for Federal Employment, OF-612. In lieu of submitting an OF-612, applicants may submit a resume. Another change is that job seekers do not need a rating from OPM to enable them to apply for non-clerical vacancies. But, while the process is now very similar to that in private industry, there are still significant differences due to the many laws, executive orders, and regulations that govern Federal employment.
Can I post my resume online myself?
There are hundreds of sites where you can post your resume online. Some sites, like MonsterTrak, let you upload an existing resume with the click of a button. On other sites, you can cut and paste or use a resume building wizard. Since it's time consuming, start with the top sites (Headhunter, Monster, etc.). Also check out the web sites for your city, county and local radio and TV stations, many of which will have job search capabilities. Keep track of where you've posted and make a list of your login names and passwords. That will save some time if you need to edit or change your resume.
Renting a place:
What are the steps to finding and renting my first apartment?
Renting your first apartment might not be easy, but definitely will be a good learning experience. To make it easier and to give you an overview on what are you trying to do, there are four basic steps in the renting process. Of course, the first step should be to develop a budget so that you know what you can reasonably afford, given all of your new found bills and probably some debts.
Can bad credit affect your ability to rent?
Nowadays, bad credit affects everything you try and do in life, including rent an apartment. If you have bad credit, it's not impossible to find a place to rent, but it will be more difficult, and they will probably want a lot more information. Many of the rental agents may also ask for a "guarantor", basically a co-signer who will guarantee payment if you don't. And if you don't, you could potentially mess up their credit rating as well. The best bet if you are in this situation is to find a real estate agent who deals with apartment rentals to help you through this process.
Having a baby:
What is the cost of raising a child?
There are a lot of variables in determining the cost of having a child. Will you buy formula (very expensive), or will you breastfeed? Does junior have to wear expensive outfits, or can you do your shopping at a discount store? Do you have lots of family and friends who will help buy what's needed (for the baby shower, etc.), or are you on your own? It's estimated today that it will cost about $200,000 to raise a newborn to the age of 18, and this doesn't include any college savings. Bankrate.com has a calculator that you can use to estimate these costs, but in the end it's a very expensive proposition, and requires that you really focus on planning and preparing for this additional expense.
How are there any tax benefits to having a baby?
Not only do you now have a new baby who actually "depends" on you, you get to claim the new bundle of joy as a dependent on your tax return. An exemption means a reduction of income that would otherwise be taxed. For 2005, that dependent would save you taxes on $4,000 worth of income. If you are in the 15% tax bracket, that means a $600 refund. There are three tax credits that you also might qualify for as a new parent. Each credit would mean a reduction of tax liability for you.
- Child Tax Credit. You may be able to get as much as $1,000 credit per child. This credit is available regardless of your filing status. Generally, it can't reduce your tax below zero but may be refundable up to the total amount of the credit allowed if your taxable earned income exceeds $10,750. However, your credit is reduced if your modified adjusted income is $110,000 or above if married filing jointly, $75,000 if single, head of household, or qualifying widow(er) or $55,000-if married filing separately.
- Earned Income Credit. This earned income credit is a refundable credit available to lower-income workers. The amount of the credit varies with your income level and the number of qualifying children you have. You may qualify if you have one qualifying child and your earned income is less than $31,030 for single-filers, or $33,039 if married filing jointly. Or if you have two qualifying children, when your earned income is less than $35,263, or $37,263 if married filing jointly in 2005. There are stipulations, so you will need to check this one carefully.
- Child Care Credit. You may be entitled to a credit for what you paid someone to look after your baby while you (and your spouse) work or look for work. The credit is a percentage, based on your adjusted gross income, and can range from 20 to 35 percent of your qualifying expenses you paid a care provider. (up to $3,000 per child with a maximum of two), depending on your income level. To be eligible, you (and your husband, if married) must maintain a home that you live in with your baby. Generally, you (and your spouse, if you are filing jointly) must have some type of earned income during the year, such as wages or self-employment income. If filing jointly, you may still qualify for the credit if one spouse is disabled or is a full-time student.
How do I select the right mover?
A reputable mover should have an established place of business, license and insurance. It is not wise to use a mover who is new to the business. They may not know what they're doing, or they may be a fly-by-night who were doing business under another name last month and will be doing business under yet another name next month, staying one step ahead of the law. You want a mover who has been in business for a while, and one who knows the business. This is even more important if you are making a major move, such as across the country. Talk to family and friends, and ask your local or distant real estate agent to recommend moving companies. Then, interview the local movers and ask them to supply you with references.
What should I do about my valuables?
Items of extraordinary value such as jewelry, money, antiques and stamp collections can be included in your shipment, but there is always a chance that they will disappear. Make sure your mover is aware of the valuables and their value, and make sure that the insurance will reimburse you if necessary. If the items are irreplaceable, then you should consider carrying them with you (don't leave them in your vehicle unattended) or pack and ship them to someone you trust.
Can I pack my own belongings to save money?
Packing your own boxes can save you lots of money, but make sure that you know what you are doing. Remember that the basic principles of good packing include double-wrapping the items individually, providing plenty of cushioning and making sure of a firm pack. Be sure to select a sturdy container with a lid, or purchase double corrugated packing boxes from a moving company. Place a 2-or 3-inch layer of crushed paper on the bottom of the carton as a cushion. Wrap each item individually with a soft material to provide a safe, protective "padded nest." Pack the heaviest items on the bottom, empty ones next, filling in empty spaces with crushed paper. Place plates on edge and glassware on rims for maximum protection. Mark the carton "Fragile" and list the contents on the outside. Be sure to seal the carton with tape.
Losing a job:
Can I keep my current insurance if I recently lost my job?
Under COBRA, you have the right to stay in the health plan you had with that job, if your employer had a least 20 workers. The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986 (COBRA) is a federal law allowing employees and their dependents to continue participation in an employer-sponsored group health plan for a limited period (generally 18 months) after employment ends. Participants pay the full premiums associated with the plan, plus 2 percent to cover administrative costs.
I just lost my job. What should I do?
The first place to start is your state unemployment office. They can help you arrange for temporary benefits (unemployment compensation), and also can assist you in job placement and training.
What is child support?
The law requires parents to support their children. It doesn't matter if the parents are married, or if they are living together. The responsibility of child support is that of the parents as individuals or as a unit. Indeed, it doesn't matter if the parents have not had no continued contact after the conception of the child. All parents are legally responsible for child support.
Where can I find child support guidelines?
Each state has its own version of child support guidelines. In some states the guidelines are spelled out in the body of state law called statutes, while in others they can be found in rules adopted by the courts. Your attorney can advise you on the guidelines and where they can be found or you can attempt to find them on the internet or at your local county court house library.
What determines the date of separation?
Exactly what determines the actual Date of Separation (DOS) varies among the states. In some, the DOS is the date you or your spouse actually physically relocates from the marital place of residence. Others define the DOS as the date in which the actual divorce papers are filed in a court of law. Still other states regard the DOS as the date on which one spouse officially informed the other that they INTEND to file for divorce. In some cases with regards to the last two situations, a couple may continue to live together even after the DOS, usually at the behest of financial reality. Therefore, no matter where you live, it is strongly recommended that you consult with your attorney as to exactly what laws are applicable to you and your circumstance.
For obvious reasons, each party will attempt to plead their case for the actual Date of Separation. For example, if you are to be held liable for debts incurred during the marriage, it is wise to establish the DOS before your spouse invades the mail with a pocket full of joint credit cards. Or, if a pension plan is due to receive a large payment in June, perhaps it would be wise to formally relocate from the place of marital residence in May. Again, there may be a great deal of money resting on the formal DOS.
What is a property settlement?
"Property settlement" is the term people use to describe the parties' agreed-to division and distribution of the property and possessions that they obtained during a marriage. This often includes the following, but is not limited to bank account, debts, the marital home, real estate, pensions, stock options, businesses, copyrights, trademarks, autos, boats, vacation homes/timeshare, jewelry, antiques, art, washer, dryer, refrigerator, stereo, furniture, and other substantial property that was acquired during the marriage.
How do military retirement accounts/pensions work?
In order for a former spouse to receive payments directly from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), the member and former spouse must have been married for 10 years during which the member was performing military service creditable towards his/her retirement. In other words, if the marriage did not last for 10 years which coincide with 10 years of military service on the part of the member, DFAS will not honor an order awarding benefits to the former spouse.
However, just because the 10 Year Rule is not met does not mean that a former spouse does not have a claim against retired pay. According to the laws of most states, retirement benefits accumulated during the period of marriage are deemed marital or community property. Therefore, it is possible for a former spouse to be awarded a portion of the member's retirement. However, the former spouse would have to receive his/her interest in the retirement benefits elsewhere (i.e. equity in the home, cash, payment made directly from the member, etc.).
Is there a place to learn more about divorce for my particular state?
Yes, you can visit DivorceHQ.com which has information on divorce for every state.
Who is entitled to Social Security disability benefit?
An individual who is determined by the Social Security Administration to be "disabled" receives a Certificate of Award. This Certificate explains how much the disability benefit will be and when payments start. It also tells you when you can expect your condition to be reviewed to see if there has been any improvement. If family members are eligible, they will receive a separate notice and a booklet about things they need to know.
Generally, a worker is entitled to disability if he or she is insured for disability, under age 65, been disabled or expected to be disabled for at least 12 months, has filed an application for benefits, and completed a five month waiting period.
Disability is generally defined as the inability to perform substantial gainful activity due to a medical or mental impairment. Meeting this definition under Social Security is difficult. Insured means that you have accumulated sufficient credits in the Social Security system. You can apply for an estimate of your credits and benefits on the Social Security's Internet site at: http://www.ssa.gov .
When do Social Security disability benefits begin?
If you are getting disability benefits on your own work record, or if you are a widow or widower getting benefits on a spouse's record, your payments cannot begin before the sixth full month of disability. If the sixth month has passed, your first payment may include some back benefits.
Your check should arrive on the third day of every month. If the third falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, you will receive your check on the last banking day before then. The check you receive is the benefit for the previous month. For example, the check you receive dated July 3 is for June. Your benefit can either be mailed to you or be deposited directly into your bank account.
How long do Social Security disability benefit payments continue?
Your disability benefits generally continue for as long as your impairment has not medically improved and you cannot work. They will not necessarily continue indefinitely, however.
Because of advances in medical science and rehabilitation techniques, an increasing number of people with disabilities recover from serious accidents and illnesses. Also, many individuals, through determination and effort, overcome serious conditions and return to work in spite of them.
What happens to Social Security disability benefits when I reach retirement age?
If you are still getting disability benefits when you turn 65, your benefits will be automatically changed to retirement benefits, generally in the same amount. You will then receive a new booklet explaining your rights and responsibilities as a retired person.
If you are a disabled widow or widower, your benefits will be changed to regular widow or widower benefits (at the same rate) at 60, and you will receive a new instruction booklet that explains the rights and responsibilities for people who get survivors benefits.
Should I purchase my own disability insurance policy?
Many of us have life insurance, however very few of us have long-term disability coverage. Yet according to statistics, workers are more likely to sustain a long-term disability (one lasting longer than 90 days) than die at an early age.
Long-term disability insurance is fairly expensive, and people tend to think that they will be protected by workers' compensation or other sources. However, Social Security, workers' compensation, and employer-offered long-term coverage are often inadequate.
How much disability insurance should I have?
A disability insurance company will usually not cover you for more than 60% of your income. Look for a policy that provides coverage for this level. When you shop for a disability policy, be ready to prove your income level. If you purchase the policy and pay the premiums yourself, the income received will not be taxable. Therefore 60% should come close to replacing your after tax income?
What does workers compensation insurance cover?
Worker's compensation covers injuries that happen on the job. Benefits vary widely from state to state, since benefit amounts depend on state provisions. The average weekly maximum is about $450, while the average weekly minimum (where there is a minimum) is $90. Most states pay benefits for the employee's lifetime in cases of permanent total disability.
How is disability defined?
The definition of disability in a policy is extremely important. It tells you under what circumstances you will qualify to receive benefits.
Own-occupation coverage pays benefits if you can't work at your chosen field-e.g., attorney or teacher. Own-occupation policies are the most expensive type of disability coverage because they provide the broadest coverage. (If you cannot perform the duties of your own occupation, you can take a job in a related field, make a decent income, and still collect the benefits.)
Any-occupation coverage pays benefits if you can't work at any occupation for which your education level and training has prepared you. Thus, if you can no longer perform the duties of a nuclear physicist, but you can teach physics at college level, you will not receive benefits.
Death of a spouse:
What papers will I need if a family member dies?
Here is a list of the papers that you will probably need:
How can I avoid overpaying for the funeral of a family member?
- Certified copies of the death certificate (at least 10). You can purchase them through the funeral director or directly from the county Health Department.
- Copies of all insurance policies -- which may be in the deceased's safe deposit box or among his or her personal belongings.
- Social Security numbers of the deceased, the spouse, and any dependent children.
- Military discharge -- if the deceased was a veteran. If you cannot find a copy, write to The Department of Defense, National Personnel Record Center, 9700 Page Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63132.
- Marriage Certificate -- if the spouse of the deceased will be applying for benefits, Copies are available at the Office of the County Clerk where the marriage license was issued.
- Birth Certificates of dependent children. Copies are available at either the State or the County Public Health offices where the child was born.
- Will -- which may be with the deceased's lawyer.
- Complete list of all property -- including real estate, stocks, bonds, savings accounts and personal property of the deceased.
The best way to avoid overpaying for a funeral is to plan ahead. Further, it pays to know about the "Funeral Rule," the regulation of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) concerning funeral industry practices. The Funeral Rule provides that:
- The funeral provider must give you, over the phone, price and other readily available information that reasonably answers your questions.
- The funeral provider must give you (1) a general price list, (2) a disclosure of your important legal rights and (3) information about embalming, caskets for cremation, and required purchases.
- The funeral provider must disclose in writing any service fees for paying for goods or services on your behalf (such as flowers, obituary notices, pallbearers, and clergy honoraria). While some funeral providers charge you only their cost for these items, others add a service fee to their cost. The funeral provider must also inform you of any refunds, discounts, or rebates from the supplier of any such item.
- The funeral provider must disclose in writing your right to buy, and make available to you, an unfinished wood box (a type of casket) or an alternative container for a direct cremation.
- You do not have to purchase unwanted goods or services or pay any fees as a condition to obtaining those products and services you do want. In addition to the fee for the services of the funeral director and staff, you need pay only for those goods and services selected by you or required by state law.
- The funeral provider must give you an itemized statement of the total cost of the funeral goods and services you selected; this statement must disclose any legal, cemetery, or crematory requirements for you to purchase any specific funeral goods or services.
- The funeral provider is prohibited from telling you that a particular funeral item or service can indefinitely preserve the body of the deceased in the grave or claiming that funeral goods, such as caskets or vaults, will keep out water, dirt, or other gravesite substances.
What Social Security benefits are surviving family members
The deceased is considered covered by Social Security if he or she paid in to Social Security for at least 40 quarters. Check with your local Social Security office or call 800-772-1213 to determine if the deceased was eligible. If the deceased was eligible, there are two types of possible benefits.
- One-Time Death Benefit. Social Security pays a death benefit toward burial expenses. Complete the necessary form at your local Social Security office, or ask the funeral director to complete the application and apply the payment directly to the funeral bill. This payment is made only to eligible spouses or to a child entitled to survivor's benefits.
- Survivor's Benefits for a Spouse or Children. If the spouse is age 60 or older, he or she will be eligible for benefits. The amount of the benefit received before age 65 will be less than the benefit due at age 65 or over. Disabled widows age 50 or older are eligible for benefits. The spouse of the deceased who is under 60 but who cares for dependent children under 16 or cares for disabled children may be eligible for benefits. The children of the deceased who are under the age 18 or are disabled may also be entitled to benefits.
Must I pay taxes on the proceeds of a life insurance policy
payable to me?
Generally, no. Proceeds of life insurance policies are not taxable income unless the recipient paid for the right to receive them. For example, if you purchased a policy as an investment.
How will my spouse's assets be distributed if he/she died
without a will?
Assets held jointly with right of survivorship will transfer by law to the joint holder. Insurance policies or retirement accounts with a designated beneficiary will go to that beneficiary. Assets owned solely by the decedent will transfer according to state law. This is known as intestacy. These laws vary by state, but generally give preference to the spouse and children.
Caring for another family member:
Are there any online resources to help me learn about caring for my elderly parents?
As your parents age and you step in to help them, you may find yourself wrestling with a variety of unfamiliar and difficult issues. You may have to find transportation for a parent who can no longer drive, locate public resources to help pay for a nursing home stay or try to demystify complicated legal issues. AARP has some wonderful information on various aspects of caring for your parents:
My parents don't have long-term care insurance, and I wonder if the state will take their assets to cover the cost of their care?
To answer your question, it's important to understand both Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare, which begins at age 65 for retirees, has two parts. Part A covers hospitalizations, while Part B covers doctors visits and other medical services. Part A is free for most Medicare recipients. Part B charges a monthly premium of $88.50 (for 2006). Part A provides for long-term care associated with hospital stays, home health care, hospice care, and skilled nursing care, but only medically-necessary services provided by skilled medical personnel as directed by a physician.
- Medicare pays for almost all of the cost of hospice care for terminally-ill patients.
- For nursing home care, Medicare only pays for skilled nursing care at a Medicare-approved facility. Medicare covers the cost of a semi-private room, meals, skilled nursing and rehabilitative services, plus necessary supplies and services. These costs are fully covered for the first 20 days. After that, the patient (or family) must pay $114 a day through the 100 th day of the stay. After that, all costs (average $176 per day) are borne by the patient or family, or Medicaid.
Medicaid is a medical welfare program funded jointly by the federal and state governments and administered solely by each state. It is designed for those without assets or income sufficient to pay for the needed services.
- Medicaid selects the nursing home, not the family.
- Generally, the person may retain a very modest amount of personal assets (less than $2,000) and about $30 per month for personal needs. Certain assets, such as a home, its contents, and one car are exempt. Everything else goes to the state to pay for the provided care, and this includes any pension or Social Security income.