Monthly Archives: December 2015

6 Ways of Improving Your Lottery Odds

A retirement or savings plan based on winning the lottery isn’t actually a plan — it’s a wish. There are much smarter things to do with your hard earned cash. We all know this. Yet many of us still buy numbers and scratchers, for the thrill, for the dream. If you just can’t resist, take a moment to slightly improve your odds. Just promise that if you win with any of these lottery hacks, you’ll share your winnings with me. It’s only fair.

1. Pick your own numbers. Richard Lustig, seven-time lottery winner whose total earnings amount to more than $1 million, claims that one foolproof way to increase your chances of cashing in is to pick your own numbers rather than allowing the system do a quick pick for you. In an interview with CBS News a couple years ago, he said, “The lazy way out is to buy quick-picks. The computer picks out the numbers. Don’t play quick-picks. Quick-picks are the worst thing you can do, you are playing with the worst odds.”

Instead, choose your numbers, research them to make sure they’re a good set of numbers, and stick with them. But how do you know if they’re ‘good’ numbers? By buying his book, “Learn How to Increase Your Chance of Winning the Lottery,” of course. On second thought …

2. Stick to a regular set of numbers. Once you’ve found a set of ‘good’ numbers as determined by your research, stick to them — and then play consistently.

“Obviously playing regularly will boost your chances. There is no worse feeling than seeing your winning numbers on the week you forgot to buy your ticket!” suggests MSN Money.

3. Buy more tickets, even if you have to split it. Sometimes increasing the number of tickets you purchase is cost prohibitive. In those cases, especially when massive jackpots are at stake, it may make sense to go in on a large number of tickets with a group of people, like friends, family or co-workers. Office lottery pools are quite common when lotteries reach their peak jackpots, and it’s not unusual to hear about a group of coworkers winning the jackpot and thus splitting the windfall.

4. Check your numbers religiously. How’s this for a sobering statistic: About $2 billion in lottery prizes go unclaimed every year, according to CNN Money. This could be for several reasons, like players have lost their winning tickets, but most of the unclaimed money is a result of winners not checking their tickets or realizing they have a winning ticket. To avoid becoming a statistic, keep your tickets in a safe place and take them to your local lottery scanner regularly.

5. Use the Singleton Method to win more scratch-offs. According to WikiHow, a quirk in the production of scratch-off tickets can double your chances of winning, if exploited correctly. The Singleton Method, in short, is an exercise in probability by finding sets of single numbers that only appear once on a scratch card, particularly in “match style” or” tic-tac-toe” games, in which you need three numbers in row to win. By studying this method, you can essentially eliminate those that don’t fall under the winning category of the Singleton Method, and increase your chances of winning 60 to 90 percent.

6. Use your math skills to increase your chances at powerball games. WikiHow also details how to increase your odds of winning Powerball games, but you’ll need to tap into your math skills (or at least a calculator) to make a go of it. Steps include finding the expected value of the game, determining the probability of each possible “win,” multiplying that probability by the payout for that win, buying tickets that increase the expected value, and looking for progressive jackpots. There’s also a mention of considering the tax implications of a Powerball win, which, incidentally, can be applied to all lottery wins above $10,000.

How Much Will Your Medicare Part B Premiums Cost in 2016?

Q. How much will I have to pay each month for Medicare Part B in 2016? Will there be a huge jump in premiums, as originally predicted?

A. Medicare beneficiaries who have Part B premiums withheld from their Social Security checks — about 70 percent of beneficiaries — will continue to pay $104.90 a month for Part B. If you aren’t collecting Social Security yet or will enroll in Medicare in 2016, you will have to pay $121.80 a month in 2016. The $121.80 monthly premium also applies to people who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid and have their premiums paid for by their state. And if your income exceeds certain limits, you’ll pay more — from $170.50 to $389.80 a month (see the table below).

The premiums aren’t as high as they were expected to be. Because Medicare Part B premiums are designed to cover 25 percent of total Part B costs each year, the monthly premium would have been $120.70 across the board in 2016 if everyone were on the hook for the increase, according to the Medicare trustees’ report. But most Medicare beneficiaries are protected by the “hold-harmless provision,” a law that prohibits Social Security benefits from being reduced because of an increase in Medicare premiums. In most years, Medicare cost increases are covered by the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment. But there will be no Social Security COLA for 2016 because of low inflation, which means that the monthly premiums will be capped at $104.90 for Medicare beneficiaries who have their premiums withheld from their Social Security benefits.

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Under the rules, the remaining 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries must cover the rest of the cost of Part B, which would have boosted their premiums to $159.30 a month in 2016. But under pressure from retiree advocacy groups, the budget deal signed by President Obama on Nov. 2 reduced the increase for 2016. Anyone not protected by the hold-harmless provision will have Part B premiums capped at $121.80 a month.

To help pay for the shortfall, a $3 surcharge, which is included in the $121.80 premium, will be added to monthly Part B premiums for the next few years. Those protected by the hold-harmless provision won’t pay the extra $3 this year, but $3 may be added to their premiums in 2017 if there is a Social Security COLA next year.

Single filers with modified adjusted gross income of more than $85,000, or more than $170,000 if married filing jointly, have been subject to a high-income surcharge since 2007. In 2016, these people will have to pay the $121.80 base amount plus a high-income surcharge of $48.70 to $268 a month, depending on their income. “Modified adjusted gross income” includes all taxable income, whether from a job, interest, dividends, capital gains or a pension, plus it adds in tax-exempt interest.

Your income is usually based on your last tax return on file, which would be your 2014 return, for 2016 premiums. But you may be able to get the high-income surcharge reduced or eliminated if your income has decreased since then because of certain life-changing events, such as the death of a spouse, divorce, retirement or reduced work hours. In that case, you can ask Social Security to use your more recent income instead. Contact the Social Security Administration, estimate your 2015 income, and provide evidence of the change, such as a marriage or death certificate, a signed statement of retirement from your employer, or pay stubs showing your reduced income. See Medicare Premiums: Rules for Higher-Income Beneficiaries for more information.

How Much You’ll Pay for Medicare Part B in 2016
Single Filer Income Joint Filer Income 2016 Monthly Premium
Up to $85,000 Up to $170,000 $121.80 or $104.90*
85,001 – $107,000 $170,001 – $214,000 $170.50
$107,001 – $160,000 $214,001 – $320,000 $243.60
$160,001 – $214,000 $320,001 – $428,000 $316.70
More than $214,000 More than $428,000 $389.90

* If protected by the hold-harmless provision

3 Simple, Awesome Recipes for Thanksgiving Leftovers

Everyone looks forward to Thanksgiving and all the trimmings. And then, by Saturday, everybody is sick of Thanksgiving and all the trimmings. Gag me with a turkey sandwich, right?

The key to leftovers is making them feel like a different meal with a new texture and flavor profile for each.

Give leftover stuffing a crunchy panko crust — inside these yummy croquettes is a tender piece of turkey! Turn butter into a whole new condiment by adding a few spoonfuls of leftover cranberry sauce. And transform those mashed potatoes into potato pancakes.

Here is everything you need to know. Be sure to refer to the video to watch each one being made. None takes more than a few minutes.

Turkey Croquettes

Ingredients

  • Bite size pieces of turkey
  • Stuffing (If it’s dry, add some melted butter to it.)
  • Canola oil
  • Flour for dredging
  • 3 eggs whisked for egg wash
  • Panko
  • Leftover gravy

Directions

  • Heat canola oil — about 2 inches in depth — in a wide rimmed skillet or Dutch oven using medium-high heat.
  • Roll stuffing into golf-ball sized orbs.
  • Press a bite-sized piece of turkey into the middle of each stuffing ball.
  • Dredge balls in flour, then egg wash, then panko.
  • Put croquettes in the hot oil and brown on all sides.
  • Drain on paper towels.
  • Serve with hot gravy.

Cheesy, Savory Potato Pancakes Ingredients

  • 3 cups leftover mashed potatoes
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese
  • Handful of chives or scallions
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • Sour cream for garnish

Directions

  • Fold egg, cheese and chives into the leftover mashed potatoes and mix to combine evenly.
  • Heat canola oil and butter in a skillet.
  • Form potato and cheese mixture into pancakes.
  • Put into the hot skillet and fry until browned on both sides.
  • Serve with sour cream.

Cranberry Butter Ingredients

  • 1 stick softened butter
  • 2-3 tablespoons of leftover cranberry sauce

Directions

  • Whip cranberry sauce into butter until smooth.

Why Millennials, Gen-Xers Should Worry About Estate Planning

Failing to plan wisely for your own death or disability can create serious consequences for your loved ones.

If you don’t have a valid will in place, the state will decide how your possessions and assets are distributed. That could tie up your estate in a complicated process that leaves less in the end for your survivors. Or, if you are rendered mentally disabled, who will be responsible for your care? If you go into a coma, who would pay for your medical care? All these decisions will dictated by the court if you don’t plan in advance. By failing to create a will, you are leaving the fate and financial security of your family at the mercy of strangers.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that estate planning is only for the elderly and the rich. Nobody likes to think about the prospect of being old, disabled, incapacitated, or about dying, especially when you’re still young and healthy. But this is actually the right time to pause and think about your finances, your possessions and your family. Regardless of your age or financial status, It is important to have an estate plan if you wish to protect your family against every adversity even when you aren’t around. Don’t make your busy schedule an excuse and put off the plan until you’re richer or older, because this can create unintended consequences for your family.
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The biggest mistake millennials make is that they associate estate planning with the elderly and the affluent. They feel that they have enough time to plan such serious stuff. Millennials rarely know what an estate plan is and why it is necessary for families with children. This is why young professionals often don’t have their financial affairs in order. An estate plan protects your spouse and children from financial difficulties and provides you with complete peace of mind. It plays a crucial role in deciding how your assets are distributed upon your death. It allows you to decide who will receive your property and financial assets if you die an unnatural death. If you think singles can escape the hassle of estate planning, you are mistaken! Everybody has assets and belongings that should be designated in advance.

Drafting the will is important, but it’s only half the battle. It is definitely a good start but not enough to safeguard your family. If you don’t want to subject your family to potentially drawn-out probate court proceedings, you need to plan your estate. Probate can be financially draining and mentally taxing for your family. Once you have a will, you need to have it reviewed every year by a legal professional to ensure that it complies with the changing life situations and ever-evolving laws. Set up a consultation with an experienced and certified financial adviser and know what’s best for you.

People typically start planning with their first child, but the right time to start is as soon as you start earning. If you are single, you need to protect your earnings. If you are married, the financial security of your spouse is your responsibility. If you have children, you need to create an estate plan to protect their future in case you die an unexpected death. The rules governing inheritance are strict, and if you don’t take them seriously, you could be inviting some serious trouble for your surviving family members.

Now that you’re convinced that estate planning is essential for every age, the next rational move you should be making is to schedule a consultation with a certified and credible financial planning professional or a lawyer who specializes in estate planning and probate, such as Blossom Wealth Management. (The author is the co-founder of this firm; it’s one of many that can help.) Downloading a standard format from a legal site and drafting your own will will probably leave you with a document that doesn’t fully address the complexity of your own situation. Laws vary by state and only an experienced lawyer can recommend the right course of action.

Estate planning will ensure that your assets are inherited by your family and not handled by the court in the event of your death. Make an estate plan today and save your family from the costly and time-consuming court procedures, and give them the gift of a secure future.