7 Tips to Look for in Long-Term Care Insurance

Planning for long-term care requires financial savvy when choosing coverage

SAN MATEO, Calif., July 9, 2008 - Americans are living longer than ever before, reaching a new life expectancy of more than 78 years and making long-term care insurance a valuable investment, especially for those who heed Bills.com president Ethan Ewing's seven things to know before buying.

Long-term care (LTC) insurance pays benefits to insured individuals who no longer can manage some "activities of daily living," such as bathing, dressing, toileting or eating, without assistance. Benefits cover various types of care, from nursing home care (such as when recuperating from a chronic injury or illness) to in-home therapy services to assisted living and adult day care. Premiums take into account factors including benefit amount, benefit period (how long benefits are paid), cost-of-living or inflation adjustment, and elimination period or deductible (how long before benefits are paid). Many policies have tax benefits for the policy owner.

"Long-term care insurance can be a financial lifesaver at a critical stage of life," Ewing said. "But it's very important to understand what you're buying."

Ewing suggests consumers consider these seven elements before choosing LTC insurance:

  1. Know who needs coverage. LTC insurance has the most benefit for people who need to protect assets, such as savings accounts, from being depleted by care costs. Those who are too wealthy to qualify for Medicaid must pay costs out of pocket until they do qualify. It is especially important to protect a spouse -- who needs assets to cover daily living costs -- from having to spend all cash on care.
  2. Do not buy what you don't need. For low-income households without assets to protect, LTC insurance is unlikely to be a wise investment -- especially because premiums cost $1,000 to $6,000 per year. Those who have trouble paying bills or have very few assets probably do not need -- nor can afford -- LTC insurance.
  3. Age matters. The sooner you purchase long-term care insurance, the better. Younger people get the best premiums because they are less likely to use the insurance soon. Typical consumers do not need to buy LTC coverage until age 50 to 55. (The exception is if a younger worker's employer offers great coverage.)
  4. Know what pulls the trigger. "Triggers" are events that cause a policy to begin paying benefits. Understand the policy's triggers. Most policies require that the beneficiary no longer be able to accomplish two or three activities of daily living before they pay benefits. A doctor will need to certify that the condition is expected to last three months or longer.
  5. Plan for premium increases. Choose a policy that is guaranteed renewable. This means the policy will continue as long as premiums are paid. It does not mean the premium will not increase. Be prepared for the cost to go up with time, although some major companies have not increased premiums for policy holders.
  6. Non-forfeiture can help. If you are not 100 percent positive you can pay the premiums until you need the coverage, a non-forfeiture benefit can help protect some of your policy's value. But it will make the premiums higher throughout the life of the policy, so if you do not need it, avoid it.
  7. Look for a waiver of premium clause. The waiver of premium clause arranges for the beneficiary to not pay premiums when receiving benefits. A waiting period of 60 to 90 days is common.

"When LTC coverage is needed, it can bring real peace of mind," Ewing said. "If it is the right choice for you, do not delay. Plan your care before you need it."

About Bills.com

Based in San Mateo, Calif., Bills.com (www.bills.com) is a free one-stop portal where consumers can educate themselves about complex personal finance issues and comparison shop for products and services including credit cards, debt relief assistance, insurance, mortgages and other loans. As the online portal to Freedom Financial Network, LLC, the company has served more than 40,000 customers nationwide since 2002 while managing more than $1 billion in consumer debt. Its RSS feed is available at bills.com/news_releases.

In 2008, Entrepreneur Magazine ranked Bills.com as the No. 3 fastest-growing U.S. company on its Hot 100 list. Bills.com also was named a finalist as "most innovative company" in the American Business Awards in 2008. Company co-founders and co-CEOs Andrew Housser and Brad Stroh were named to the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal's "40 Under 40" list in 2008, and are recipients of the Northern California Ernst & Young 2008 Entrepreneur of the Year Award.