Saturday, November 23, 2013

TCB (Taking Care of Business) After My Layoff

          Apologies to Elvis Presley for using TCB in the title. So what have I done so far since I became unemployed last October 29th? First things first: I applied for unemployment benefits online which was a pretty easy process as long as you know what your income was every quarter for the past year. That's because the Employment Development Department (EDD) bases your weekly benefits on the quarterly incomes. About a week later, I received EDD's approval in the mail including information on how much a week I can expect to receive. I was also required to sign up for CalJOBS (, upload my resume, and complete some information about my work history, supposedly so that employers can look for me.
          Next, I waited for Keenan Benefits company to send me my COBRA information which shows how much I have to pay to continue my medical, dental, and vision insurance. While working, I (and the other employees) only paid approximately one third of the total amount. With COBRA, I would have to pay for the whole thing plus a processing fee. Here is the breakdown per month: medical= $501.60, dental= 43.82, and vision= 8.02. That was a shocker and way beyond what I thought it would be. So I had to shop for medical insurance in the open insurance market and was able to sign up with Anthem Blue Cross whose monthly price, deductibles, and co-pays were more or less affordable even though they are much higher than my previous insurance at work. I have to pay a slightly higher premium (25% more) than the base price because I have preexisting conditions of high blood pressure and high cholesterol which I am taking medications for. I am supposed to pay for a full month plus a prorated fee for the few days left before January 1, 2014. And why is that date very important? It's when Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act takes effect. Then it was time to sign up for Obamacare which I already previously blogged about here: With the high cost of medical insurance, all the more reason to try your best to stay healthy.
Afterwards, I took care of my bank accounts which I also blogged about here: After sorting out how much money I had left, I decided to pay off my mortgage: I finally received the Payoff Letter of Satisfaction from the bank a few days ago and am still waiting for L.A. County Recorder's office to send me a copy of the Deed of Reconveyance which I guess acts like the title to my property. Yes folks, I paid off my mortgage which has been the biggest amount I've owed for more than a couple of decades.
          Needless to say, I have also been looking for a job in between what I've done so far that's mentioned above. All of my applications have been online and the original plan was to look for job openings in nearby hospitals with psych units. I've sent applications for every one of them that I know of. The next plan was to widen the search area and also apply for jobs not related to the psych field. That included searching in the CalJOBS listings which included companies where you can send your resume via CalJOBS or external company websites you are redirected to. I also set up a few job agents using keywords of what kind of job I am looking for. With all that effort you would think that I would get at least one call for an interview. Zip, nil, zilch, nada! Wow, I didn't realize finding a job would be so difficult especially with my experience. Well, that might pose a problem actually, because I've worked in the psych field for the last 32 years, I may be pigeon holed (I hope I'm using that term correctly) as being too experienced therefore inflexible, or just plain too old for the available positions. After all, 32 years is sometimes longer and older than the age of a lot of workers in the psych field. So three weeks after I was officially laid off and six weeks after I started looking for a job, I'm still unemployed.
          With all the paperwork from all of the above, things are starting to get confusing so I have to get more organized. I guess one way of sorting them all out is writing about it. I have paper files in different folders, digital files in the computer, and a dedicated browser bookmarks folder for websites I've applied to and/or planning to apply to. Some days I feel that I'm not catching up and some days are just plain boring if I didn't have any projects planned.
          Part of what I've done to prepare for long term unemployment was to make a projected monthly budget. If you think I've done well during the recession by cutting my spending, well you may be right, but now I have to cut it to the bone. I actually conducted a poll among my classmates in our Facebook group, whether it would be more feasible for me to live in the Philippines (I have dual citizenship) based on a certain budget. I asked for their input on how much I need each month based on what part of the country I may move to. Their opinions mattered a lot since we are of similar ages and have to deal with similar things like housing, food, utilities, and healthcare in our middle aged years. One question I asked myself is why I would want to go back and live there when Filipinos want to come to the U.S. to live here to improve their way of life? Well, that's where the matter of monthly expenses come in. If it costs pretty much the same living here as it would in the Philippines, I might as well stay here. Regardless of where I decide to live, the budget is going to be very, very tight.

          And this is where unemployment benefits are going to help. If I remain unemployed for the next six months and as long as I keep looking for a job, the money I get from the government is enough to sustain me without having to touch my nest egg. I still hope to qualify for Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California) so I don't have to pay for medical insurance starting January 1, 2014. And if I don't, I've factored that into my projected monthly budget. Unemployment benefits are going to save me from going bankrupt for now. So far I've received the benefits for two weeks. Boy, being unemployed sure is inconvenient! Even though I'm trying my best to TCB, it's looking more like HBH.

Public comments below, private comments: E-mail Me!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Paying Off The Mortgage - Good or Bad Decision?

          Just a couple of days after I learned I was going to get laid off, I began to weigh the pros and cons of paying off the remainder of my mortgage. It was something I already thought of months ago when we got hints that the hospital we worked for may be in trouble. The main consideration was the worst case scenario of - what if I never find a job again, and this is based on the dwindling numbers of psychiatric hospitals/units in the area and my age which has become unattractive to employers even though that fact is never mentioned.
          The main reason for not paying off a mortgage is one needs liquid assets to be used for everyday expenses. While paying it off significantly decreases one's monthly overhead. The mortgage being the largest expense in my case. Now for a lot of people, this may not work, especially those who can revert back to renting a home or apartment which may be substantially less than paying a mortgage. That argument no longer applies to me because renting a similarly sized apartment (1 bedroom and 1 bath - living within my means meant that was all I can afford. Believe me, I'm probably one of the poorer Filipinos in the U.S.) is going to cost more than what I pay the mortgage lender each month. So after crunching the numbers, it came out that I could save the interest of almost $3000 in the 5 years I had left in the mortgage. In separate columns, I also lined up my monthly expenses with and without the mortgage to see how much money I have left will last in case I remain unemployed. After weighing all that, I decided to take the leap and pay off the mortgage balance.
          I sent an inquiry to the bank and they sent me a statement showing how much I will have to send them to retire my debt. I then moved some of my savings from one bank to another to come up with the final amount, then mailed a cashier's check to the mortgage company. A few weeks later, I received an escrow check from them for the amount I overpaid. The check was for a bigger amount than I expected, and knowing that my L.A. County real estate taxes were due, I assumed that the mortgage company didn't send that payment to the county. I checked with the bank and the county to make sure and upon learning that the taxes were not paid, I immediately sent payment. Fortunately I made it before the cut-off date and didn't have to pay a late penalty.

          The next concern was - what's next? Do I receive the title to my property? A statement from the bank saying I paid my debt and it has been retired? The L.A. County Tax Assessor's Office told me that the Deed of Reconveyance ( was already sent by the bank to the L.A. County Registrar for recording. Am I to receive something similar to that from the bank or from the county?

          Those are questions which answers I still am not sure off, but it is certainly a great relief not to have to pay a mortgage next month, or next year, or forever, although I still have to pay the monthly homeowner's association dues. Now it's just a matter of surviving with whatever leftover savings I have plus the unemployment checks which only lasts for 26 weeks. If things still don't work out and for some reason Obamacare gets repealed, I may just have to sell the condo and move back to the Philippines. That would be another set of pros and cons that I have to consider.

Public comments below, private comments: E-mail Me!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Taking Care of Bank Business After Layoff

          Getting laid off is not just simply a matter of losing a job. There is collateral damage as well or at the very least some inconveniences that need to be dealt with. In case this layoff becomes a premature retirement, I had to take care of my bank accounts. For a long time while employed, I've taken for granted (perhaps you too) monthly maintenance bank fees that I have not had to pay because of my check being directly deposited by the payroll department to my checking account. It has been one of the bank's requirements to avoid their fees without requiring a minimum balance. Another way to avoid fees if you had more than one account is the combined balance service where the total from the accounts, if they don't fall under a certain required balance, you will not get charged any fees either. With the loss of a job, the direct deposit is gone and since there is no income and only withdrawals, you run the risk of falling below the balance requirements. What can one do to minimize this damage? In my case, I researched several bank's fees to find the least amount required and found out that most of them require at least $1500 each for a checking or savings account. I live near a credit union so I checked their website to see their membership and minimum balance requirements. To my surprise, it was much lesser than banks - $1 membership fee, $5 minimum in a savings account, and $300 minimum in a checking account, with all the conveniences that regular banks have. You know, ATM/Debit cards, direct deposit, online banking, online bill payment, etc. The only difference is that the credit union doesn't have as many branches as the major banks, but at least you can find a lot of fee-free ATM's in the credit union network.

          So I decided that's what I was going to do after I received my final paycheck from my former job. I deposited that paycheck at my bank and waited for it to clear, then the next day, I went to the neighborhood credit union and opened several accounts. Not only did I decide to move my savings and checking accounts there but to also rollover my work 401K to the credit union. Would you believe that it took almost 2 hours set up those accounts? The representative even had to rearrange her lunch break because of it. The complicated part was setting up the rollover to a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA from several financial institutions. That is what took the most time.

          Why was it complicated? During the process, we discovered that different investment companies had different policies on rollovers. One required the bank to send the request to them, another required me to call them so they could write me a rollover check to be sent to me so I can deposit it in the bank myself. The third company had me request the rollover online and they were going to send the check directly to the bank. I thought when I visited the credit union to open the rollover account, all they had to do was send the request to the three investment companies. It required more legwork, fingerwork, and telephone work on my part to consolidate three funds into one. Heck as of this writing, not all of the funds have been transferred yet.
I did learn something new though. The agent from one of those financial institutions told me about the over 55 rule regarding closing or rolling over a retirement account from a job if you are over 55 years old. Normally, there is a 10% penalty in addition to being taxed for withdrawing money from a retirement plan before you turn 59-1/2 years old. If you lose your job/resign/get laid off after you are 55 years old, the 10% penalty is waived by the government for the amount you wish to cash in, but you still have to pay the taxes. I chose not to avail of this waiver and just asked the financial institution to rollover the whole amount to the newly opened IRA at the credit union.

          In other business, I closed my bank savings account which was earning a paltry .10%, and moved the funds to the same bank's checking account so I can meet the minimum balance without being charged the monthly maintenance fee, moved some of the funds to the credit union to meet their minimum requirements, and set up online bill pay accounts with the credit union so I can start paying my bills from there. And as soon as everything clears at the credit union, I plan on closing my bank account and moving everything to the credit union so minimize the fee requirements. How's that for taking care of business? Then there's the matter of paying off the mortgage...
          Interesting article I found days after I posted this entry:
Public comments below, private comments: E-mail Me!

Monday, November 4, 2013

My Experience With Obamacare Sign Up in California

          Since I became unemployed, medical insurance coverage has become a major concern. I can apply for COBRA from my previous job but it's very expensive. Private insurance although slightly less costly, is still high and the co-pays and deductibles are high as well, meaning more out of pocket expense. I may be able to cover COBRA or private insurance up to the end of this year, but what about if I become long term unemployed? This where the advantage of Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act kicks in. So the day after I got laid off, I immediately applied at California's health insurance exchange - We've all already heard about the problems the federal site ( was having so I'm not even going to say anything about that. I've previously researched this issue several months ago which I wrote about here: An Obamacare Loophole for Early Retirees?

          So I explored the website and clicked on the Individuals and Families link, then Start Here, which took me to another site - This where you can create an account and put in all your information. You can also Preview Plans so you can estimate how much you can expect to pay for your premiums depending on your income. I entered all the information as prompted by the website and when I arrived at the part where it asked to verify my citizenship, I hit a wall. Each time I clicked Continue , an error message appeared. I tried several times and it showed a different error message number each time. I gave up and contacted a customer service agent via Online Chat (you have that option or call them at the toll free number). I told them my problem and was informed that they were having some glitches and they don't know when it was going to be fixed, and for me to try again later. I tried again but encountered the same problem and this is when I noticed that from about 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., the website was down for maintenance. So I tried the next day and the day after with the same results. Finally after the third day of trying, the website suddenly accepted my citizenship data. By the way, just to let you know, I'm a naturalized citizen. So with the website finally cooperating, I was able to finish my application. Next was to find out what kind of insurance coverage I qualified for based on my income. I'm going to spare you the explanation of Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum plans. They are all based on how much federal subsidies you qualify for and how much you are willing to pay out of pocket. Anyway the best one I could find to fit my limited budget was the Silver 73 plan with co-pays of $40 for a doctor's visit and lab tests, $50 for x-ray, $250 for CT, PET, or MRI's, $19 for generic drugs, $250 after deductible for ER visits, etc. Well you get the idea. The most affordable I saw was with Healthnet at $137 per month.
          Next was to check if the primary care physician I've been seeing for years was part of that insurance plan. So you click on a link called Find your doctor and type in your doctor's name and zip code. Well my doctor was in the system but did not accept Healthnet. He accepted Anthem Blue Cross, but  my monthly cost would go up to $196 for the same coverage as Healthnet. I wanted to continue seeing my doctor so I signed up for Anthem Blue Cross. I could have picked another doctor I knew who accepted Healthnet but that would have meant establishing a new relationship and history with that doctor, whereas my current doctor already knows my history.
          This brings me to the matter of my unemployment. Since I'm jobless, I no longer have an income and from my research, I knew I could possibly qualify for Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California). I contacted customer service again via online chat and was informed that since I had a major life event change, I could either call in that information or click Report a Change after I log in on the website. Since that happened on a Friday, I waited until the weekend was over before trying it. On Monday (November 4), I reported the change in my income. The website asked me for my income but it would not accept $0.00 as a value, so I ended up putting in $0.01 as my hourly income. The website accepted that value and it proceeded to ask me for identification to prove that I live in California and qualifying papers to prove my new income. I was able to scan my California driver's license, WARN Act Notice, and Notice of Termination and uploaded it to the site. The only thing I have to do now is wait for the California Health Exchange to review and verify those papers and notify me if I qualify for Medicaid.

          So other than that initial 3 day glitch in the system and at times having to log off and back in to get back to where I wanted to be in the website, it worked pretty well. No doubt much better than the federal website. I can now only hope and pray that I qualify for Medicaid because that's going to help a lot in reducing my monthly bills in case I don't find work for the long term.
Public comments below, private comments: E-mail Me!