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Thursday, June 22, 2023

Expedited by Covid, Cancer Vaccines Are Coming

A silver lining of the rush to create a COVID-19 vaccine is that vaccine technology will soon encompass a range of conditions, including cancer and heart disease.

The potential to save millions of lives depends on the final development of vaccines for cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, and other conditions that are expected to be ready by 2030. The use of mRNA-based therapies accelerated for use against COVID-19 is spreading to other areas.

Moderna Working on Multiple Vaccines

Pharmaceutical company Moderna, a leader in mRNA technology, will be instrumental in bringing these new treatments to market, says Dr. Paul Burton, the company’s chief medical officer. The company is currently working on cancer vaccines that target specific tumor types. 

“We will have that vaccine and it will be highly effective, and it will save many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of lives,” says Burton. “I think we will be able to offer personalized cancer vaccines against multiple different tumor types to people around the world.”

Already, the company has gotten permission to expedite development of a personalized cancer vaccine to treat melanoma based on recent results in clinical trials.

Respiratory Virus Vaccine Would Protect Seniors

Burton envisions a single injection to protect against common respiratory infections such as COVID-19, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). This could be of particular importance to vulnerable populations like senior adults. Moderna’s late-stage trial of an experimental mRNA vaccine for RSV, completed in January, showed it was 83.7% effective at preventing at least two symptoms, such as cough and fever, in adults 60 and over. Consequently, it received breakthrough therapy designation and is being fast-tracked by the FDA.

Another area that is seeing immense progress is mRNA-based therapies for rare diseases. “I think that 10 years from now, we will be approaching a world where you truly can identify the genetic cause of a disease and, with relative simplicity, go and edit that out and repair it using mRNA-based technology,” says Burton.

Pfizer is Developing Vaccines

Drug company Pfizer is also researching mRNA vaccines and is developing an influenza vaccine in late-stage clinical trials. Pfizer is collaborating with BioNTech on a shingles vaccine.

“The learnings from the Covid-19 vaccine development process have informed our overall approach to mRNA research and development, and how Pfizer conducts R&D (research and development) more broadly,” says a Pfizer spokesperson. “We gained a decade’s worth of scientific knowledge in just one year.”

An unexpected benefit of the pandemic is the expedited development of novel ways to protect against viruses. These vaccines can serve to protect us not only from future pandemics but from a wide variety of other diseases, including some with no current means of prevention.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

ABCs of Annuities

It’s the golden age of annuities, with more of them available in 401(k)s than ever before. But does one belong in your retirement plan?

An annuity is a contract to pay out funds in a fixed income stream in the future, either for a specified time period or for the remainder of the purchaser’s (the annuitant’s) life. They can be bought with a lump-sum payment or monthly premiums. Annuities are primarily a retirement product to help avoid the risk of outliving savings.

Annuities can provide stable, guaranteed income in retirement. However, the investment is subject to penalties for early withdrawal and is not a liquid investment. If you buy an annuity today and need the money to pay medical bills a year from now, you’ll regret your choice. 

Immediate or Deferred (Longevity) Annuities

Immediate annuities begin paying right away. They are often funded with a full payment, such as one gets from a settlement, inheritance, or lottery win. That cash is exchanged for monthly payments guaranteed to continue into the future. 

Deferred annuities grow tax-deferred and provide annuitants with payments that start on a specified date. Sometimes called a “longevity annuity,” contracts can defer payments until age 75 or 85, or whenever the purchaser wants guaranteed income at a point when savings may have run out or become substantially reduced. 

Fixed and Variable Annuities

A fixed annuity provides regular, certain payments to the annuitant regardless of how stock and bond markets may perform.

Variable annuities allow the purchaser to get bigger payments if investments in the annuity fund do well, but the returns will be smaller if those investments go down. The investments in a variable annuity carry market risk, and the principal can be lost. 

To alleviate this risk, annuitants can purchase riders and features that make the product function as a hybrid fixed-variable contract. These may guarantee a base payment regardless of how the market performs, or create a death benefit or accelerate payments if the annuitant has a terminal illness. Another popular rider adjusts payouts annually for inflation based on the consumer price index.


If your annuity is funded with untaxed money, such as money that is held in an IRA or 401(k), then it’s considered a qualified annuity. Payments from a qualified annuity are fully taxable at your ordinary income rate when they are received.

If your annuity was purchased with funds that have already been taxed, such as from a Roth or brokerage account, then it is considered non-qualified. The principal portion of payments won’t be taxed, but the earnings are taxed as ordinary income. 

Find out more about the ins and outs of annuity taxation here.

8 Questions to Ask Before You Buy an Annuity

Before you purchase an annuity, make sure you understand the contract and any riders that are attached to it. Find a comprehensive explanation for each question on the blog page.
  1. What is the rating of the insurance company selling me the product? If the insurance company fails, your annuity won’t be worth anything. This is one case where only the best will do. AM Best ranks superior companies as A+ or A++. Find out the AM Best rating of the insurance company backing your annuity, and make sure it is at the A level. Don’t be misled by assurances that the company is “strong” or “great.” Insist on knowing the AM Best rating.
  2. What is the total annual cost of the contract? Annuities will generally cost more than a mutual fund, sometimes much more. For example, a deferred annuity will typically charge an administrative fee (typically from 0.10 to 0.25%), mortality and expense fees (typically ranging from 1.0% - 1.5%), and fees for optional benefits (ranging between 0.5 – 1.5% per benefit). In addition, variable contracts will generally charge asset management fees, with total fees for a variable deferred contract generally ranging between 1.75% annually for a bare-bones contract, to over 3.25% annually for a contract with income and death benefit guarantees. 
  3. If I invest $100,000 now, what will the contract be worth in a year if the market goes up, stays flat, or falls? The answer is more complicated than it seems. How much will fees take out? Equity index annuities must take into account total market return. Walk away if you can’t answer this question.
  4. Would mutual funds be a better investment for me than an annuity? Mutual funds are cheaper, but they don’t come with any guarantees. Both products may have a place in your portfolio. Make sure you are talking to someone who doesn’t dismiss, or insist on including, either product.
  5. Is the annuity inflation adjusted? An annuity paying out $1,000 per month in 2003 would have to pay out $1,640 in today’s dollars to maintain the same buying power unless it adjusted for inflation.
  6. What are the guaranteed retirement income benefits of the annuity? Deferred annuities usually specify a minimum percentage that can be withdrawn, regardless of how the investments perform. This minimum provides a secure floor during retirement. 
  7. What is the surrender period? This is the amount of time an investor must keep the contract without paying punitive fees. Once you buy an annuity, there is no going back without losing the surrender fee, which is often in place for years. There may be a percentage value of the contract that can be withdrawn annually without incurring surrender fees. 
  8. Will I get a better deal buying an annuity directly from an insurance company or should I work with a financial professional? While you may find a good deal on your own, it’s likely you’ll be better off working with a financial professional such as a Chartered Life Underwriter, Chartered Financial Consultant, or Certified Financial Planner who can evaluate a wide variety of contracts. Be sure to ask how she or he is getting paid. A no-load contract means no commission is paid to the professional, while other contracts are sold on commission

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional financial advice from a qualified financial advisor.

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Free Brain Games to Keep Your Mind Strong

Putting your brain to work playing games has serious benefits. We’ve found sources for a wide array of challenges, and they’re all free.

Want to extend your ability to reason effectively or concentrate on one subject? Challenging your brain, such as by playing word games, for an hour daily is going to give you a leg up on those who spend only a half hour daily, or no time at all, on the task, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias. The same study reports that playing brain games for at least an hour daily might also offer protection against dementia as people age. 

Doctors agree that there is a trio of behaviors that lead to optimal aging: staying socially active, physically fit, and mentally engaged.

Other Free Games  

While there is nothing wrong with a virtual pack of cards and a game of solitaire, you can expand your repertoire by visiting a site full of various brain games. Part of the challenge is in learning new games such as Rumikub, Minesweeper, and Connect4. Complete instructions are given for each game, including helpful hints. You can find old favorites such as crossword puzzles and checkers, as well as games that might be new to you, like Euchre or Mahjong. 

The site sometimes offers multiple versions of a game so that play can be done alone or with a partner. There are challenges that test your math or geography skills and others that depend more on luck. Try a new one every day!

"Exercising your brain is just as important as exercising your muscles to maintain health. In addition to staying socially engaged and physically active, making a habit of doing brain puzzles has been shown to help maintain cognitive function and memory. This helps people remain more independent into their golden years,” says Kathleen Parks, MD, a neurologist in Vancouver, Washington.

Top Brain Games for Seniors

Here are some of the best free brain games we’ve found. Just remember to follow our link to the game page and be careful not to be misled by a similar-sounding site that exists to phish for information. Do not use a game site that requires you to install software. Make sure before you start that your computer is equipped with highly-rated antivirus software, no matter what you’re using it for.

  • Word Wipe. This word-building game requires you to swipe through piles of jumbled letter tiles to spell out words. It’s available only in a browser, so unfortunately you won’t be able to play on your phone.
  • Wordmeister. Similar to Scrabble, you’ll use a board and letter tiles to create words and score points. Your opponent is a computer, so keep a list of best words handy!
  • Word Zen. Connect and build words of increasing difficulty by using your fingers to tap on tiles. 
  • Jumble. Use a set of mixed-up letters to decipher a series of words, then use the circled letters to solve a puzzle using a jumbled word.
  • Sudoku. The goal is to fill in the blank squares with numbers from 1 to 9. Each 3 x 3 grid, each column, and each row will contain all the numbers from 1 to 9.
  • SpellTower. On Google Play and in the App store, this word search game is augmented by the rush to clear the board. You can choose to play at 11 levels, from super fast to untimed. 
  • Codeword. If you always wanted to be a codebreaker, this game is for you. Start with a crossword where each letter has a corresponding number. As you fill words, blanks with the same number will fill with that letter. Hints are available. Free on your desktop.
  • Wordle and Quordle. You have six tries to solve a five-letter word of the day. You’ll get feedback on correct and incorrect letter guesses and placement. Quordle is Wordle on steroids, with four puzzles to solve simultaneously. 
  • Braingle. Find logic problems, trivia, memory tests, and much more at this site where you’ll never get tired of having to play the same game.
  • Free Bee. This clone of the wildly popular New York Times Spelling Bee is played the same. Find words at least four letters long that include the middle letter. There’s always at least one that includes all the letters, and letters can be used more than once. 
  • Word Bird. Challenge and educate yourself at the same time by choosing from 65,000+ puzzles. Your vocabulary will expand as you see the definition of every word you try to guess.

Have fun, and if you’re unsure how to start playing a game, it can be useful to search for a YouTube video that explains the process. 

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Simple Solutions for Common Tech Problems

Tech problems plague all of us sooner or later, but you can quickly become a guru at defensive and offensive moves to make yourself, or those you love, less vulnerable.

If you’ve ever had your computer quit on you, been victimized by a scam, or had a device hacked, then you know how expensive these problems can be. But what if you knew how to prevent some problems, and fix others, with a little know-how and sometimes, some inexpensive equipment? You will thank yourself again and again for mitigating headache-inducing tech problems before they happen, or using simple fixes to make devices work, or work better.

  • Deter Hackers and Scammers. Bad actors may try to take over your Facebook account or ask for money over the phone. Don’t make it easy for them. Protect accounts with multi-factor authentication. Update passwords by changing any that have been reused or compromised and use a password manager to keep track of them. Read the Washington Post Scam 101 Guide to keep up with the latest fraud tactics. Share them with parents and children.

Try This First to Fix Your Computer

If your computer quits working or quits working well, you can feel panicked and desperate. You need it now, and you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars. Before you run to the nearest computer store, try these quick fixes to get your laptop operating smoothly.

First, turn it off and then on again. You’d be surprised how many times your problem will be gone. Here’s how to restart your computer the right way.

Try clearing the cache of your browser. This erases the record of the last pages you’ve visited that gets stored on your hard drive. 

Next, run a scan for viruses and malware. Your anti-viral software should have warned you about any problem, but check to be sure.

Delete the cookies in your browser. Cookies are tiny files that can inhibit optimal performance.

Finally, if the problem is related to a specific program, you can uninstall and reinstall the software on your Mac or PC

  • Help Seniors Avoid Future Problems. Make sure their devices are running the latest software, and that they update automatically. Check passwords like you did for your own hardware. Find a local store they can go to if they have problems. Set up screen sharing so you can troubleshoot no matter where you are. 
  • Increase Online Privacy. Read this online privacy guide to determine what settings you can change. Remove personal data from Google searches. Scrub your information from the internet wherever it makes sense. 

Quick and Cheap Device Fixes

Sometimes all you need is a little bit of tech or know-how to make what you have work better. Save a bundle of money with these four tech tips for common devices. 

Computer crashing? Do movies suddenly quit streaming? You don’t need a new router or extender, or even a better internet service plan. Get a cat 6 ethernet cable that plugs directly into your router on one end and your computer on the other. Even the longest 150’ cable is less than $31, a whole lot cheaper than other options.

Computer slowing down? You don’t need to buy a new laptop when you can solve the problem with a flash drive for about $10. Just transfer large files onto the flash drive, a removable storage device about the size of a pack of gum. 

Key fob not working after you replaced the battery? It’s likely the contacts have gotten dirty. Moisten a cotton swab with isopropyl alcohol, available for a few dollars at any drugstore, and gently rub the gold squares or circles that touch the battery. 

Furnace acting up? A faulty thermostat can cause your furnace to shut off too early or not work at all. Before you call in the pros, try replacing the batteries in the thermostat. Even if the digital numbers are lighting up it can still be malfunctioning. If that doesn’t work, you can get a new thermostat for about $20 that is easy to install. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Are You Really Ready to Retire?

It’s easy to think that reaching retirement age will automatically usher you into a happier time of life. Not so – check out these considerations before you quit work.

Ah, retirement. You’ve been working your whole life to get here. What a relief not having to work! Well, it’s not quite as simple as that. Let’s talk about what you need to consider well ahead of this transition.

Look Ahead, Not Behind

We tend to think of retiring as leaving work behind. Instead, consider what you will be retiring to. Try and get specific to visualize what your days ahead will hold. 

Is travel a top priority? Which countries or areas are at the top of your list? How long do you want to be on the road for each trip? In a year? Do you want to travel in an RV, camp, stay at hotels or some combination of those? You can always change your mind, but it can be helpful to start with some ideas. Take an RV on a test run by renting one for a short trip before committing to a purchase. 

Will you spend more time with the grandkids? How much? Will you take Susie to dance lessons or watch the baby three days a week? Do you want to volunteer for single charity events, or become a regular volunteer where you might form friendships with others? Is gardening an interest? Do you want to landscape the front yard, or just plant some sunflowers on the south side of the house? 

Blocking Out Time

You don’t have to make a firm plan for anything; part of the joy of retirement is that you’re allowed to change – again and again – how you spend your days. But it is helpful to have some sort of structure, at least at the beginning, as you transition into your new life.

You may need, or want, to build your days around a part-time job. You could join a reading group that meets once a month or have a weekly golf game with your best friend. You might commit to exploring a new opportunity with MeetUp every couple of weeks until you see what sticks or attend a few meetings of a local history club or game night at your library. 

Having some scheduled outings can help you fill chunks of time, which may ease the transition from days filled with work projects to days that may be unnervingly open. Take an hour for coffee and scrolling through news every morning if it helps and spend a couple of hours walking or at the gym every afternoon. Bake a treat for the neighbors every Saturday. Whatever activities float your boat, early retirement is a time to schedule them in so you can continue to feel productive.

Social Security and Medicare

There can be severe penalties for failing to enroll on time or electing the wrong program/age to begin receiving payments. Go to an informational session at your local library or consult your finance professional about when to claim Social Security and Medicare benefits. They will not start automatically.

Although you will often see recommendations online to wait until age 70 to take Social Security, and that is often wise advice, there are a host of personal circumstances when starting Social Security at an earlier age may be best. Start by reading this guide to Social Security to determine how to optimize your own situation.

Medicare is wonderful to have, but it is a complicated healthcare system with outsize implications for missteps. Start by reading up on how to get started with Medicare. Read articles about the pros and cons of Original Medicare and Medicare Advantage and consult the State Health Insurance Assistance Program in your state for more information about Medicare in general and the plans available in your area.


Before you retire, it’s crucial to know how much you will spend every month to make sure your income will cover your needs, and hopefully, your wants. Your financial situation will largely dictate your retirement lifestyle. Work with a financial professional closely to make sure you don’t get hit by unpleasant surprises. 

Start by making a budget of current expenses, then remove items you will no longer need to spend on, such as a work wardrobe or a mortgage that will be paid off. Add in expenses that may increase, like traveling more or funding college for the grandkids.

Take a look at what income you can expect in retirement. You may have a pension, Social Security, a 401(k), IRA, and brokerage investments. Work with an advisor to ensure that your investments are properly diversified and understand how much you’ll be able to safely use without depleting your accounts. 

Plan on unexpected expenses. Have a fund available for the inevitable surprises, such as needing a new roof, car repairs, a health emergency, or helping family members through tough times. Many of us will need long-term care, which is not covered by Medicare. Do you have insurance to help cover the cost, or will you self-insure? 

Finally, clear up debts that may be depleting your budget. Credit card debt is particularly costly and pervasive. Get rid of it before you quit working. 

Like pretty much everything in life, easing into a happy retirement requires planning and some work on your part to get it right. To make the most of those years, you’ll need to prepare a framework for how you’ll pay for them, and how you may spend them. With that in place, they likely will be golden years. 

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional financial advice from a qualified financial advisor.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Famous & 65

Look who's turning 65 this month

Find out which celebrities are turning 65 this month!

Image Source: Wikipedia

June 14  Eric Heiden, speed skater 

Smashing record after record, Eric Heiden dominated speed skating at the 1980 Olympics, setting four Olympic records and a world record in the event. In fact, he won more gold medals (5) than any single nation except for the Soviet Union and East Germany. Heiden may be the best speed skater who ever lived, winning both sprint and long-distance events.

Along with his sister Beth, Heiden excelled at cycling and cross-country skiing as well as speed skating. When he retired from skating in 1980 with 15 world records to his credit, Heiden became a professional cyclist. He competed unsuccessfully in track cycling, then turned to road racing, becoming a member of the 7-Eleven Cycling Team. He won some American professional races and competed in the 1986 Tour de France, where he crashed and had to withdraw five days from the finish.

Like his father, Heiden became an orthopedic surgeon and was the team physician for the NBA Sacramento Kings and WNBA Sacramento Monarchs. He also served as physician for the US Olympic speed skating team for many years. He co-authored "Faster, Better, Stronger," a book about the science of exercise.

Heiden has been married since 1995 to hand surgeon Karen Drew. The couple has a daughter and resides in Utah. Although Heiden was offered a mountain of sponsorship opportunities after his Olympic wins, he declined the vast majority. His reasoning? He said he had enough money and he preferred the anonymity.

Image Source: Wikipedia

June 15  Wade Boggs, baseball player 

Third baseman Wade Boggs spent 18 seasons in professional baseball, playing for the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He’s only the 23rd player to reach 3,000 hits and was elected to the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005.

Boggs managed 12 straight All-Star appearances, and in 1997 he garnered the 95th spot in the Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players. Pretty impressive stuff for someone who was picked in the seventh round of the 1976 MLB draft and signed with the Red Sox for $7,500.

Many don’t know that Boggs played in the longest game in professional baseball as a member of the minor league Pawtucket Red Sox in 1981. You may recall the game lasted 33 innings, clocking in at eight hours and 25 minutes over April 18 to 19! 

Boggs hit over .350 in four straight seasons. In 1987, he had seven RBIs, a career high, at Fenway. Retired pitcher Tommy John wrote that "...for pure hitting, Boggs is the best I've ever seen. He's a phenomenon, a pure hitting machine. I've never seen anything like him. He lit me up."

Boggs was known for his superstitions, which included eating chicken before every game and practicing only at certain times, like running sprints at 7:17 pm. After retiring, he made several cameos on TV as himself.

Image Source: Wikipedia

June 20  Mark Milley, Army General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 

Mark Milley is the highest-ranking officer in the United States Armed Forces and the main military advisor to the president of the United States, the secretary of defense, the National Security Council, and the Homeland Security Council. Not only did Milley join the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) before graduating from Princeton, but Milley has a Master of Arts degree in international relations from Columbia University as well as a second Master of Arts degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College.

Milley began working in 2017 to speed up and modernize the system that delivers military weapons, vehicles, and aircraft. "If we adapt to the changing character of war, and we embrace the institutional changes that we need to implement, then we will continue to be the most lethal fighting force in the world for the next seven decades and beyond. If we do not, we will lose the next war," he said.

He also established Security Force Assistance Brigades, with training similar to Special Forces, to train foreign military units in conventional light infantry tactics. A combat veteran of many battlefields, Milley instigated a new Army Combat Fitness Test in 2018. "We want to make sure that our soldiers are ... in top physical shape to withstand the rigors of ground combat,” he said. “Combat is not for the faint of heart, it's not for the weak-kneed, it's not for those who are not psychologically resilient and tough and hardened to the brutality, to the viciousness of it."

In 2019, Milley commissioned a report by the US Army War College on how climate change would alter both society and military operations. With contributions by a plethora of government institutions, the report predicted increasing civil and military conflicts due to water scarcity and the failure of global food systems.

Image Source: Wikipedia

June 29  Rosa Mota, long-distance runner

The only woman to be the European, World, and Olympic champion marathoner at the same time, Rosa Mota from Portugal may be the greatest woman marathon runner ever. 

Mota ran cross-country in high school but did not enter her first marathon until 1982. It was the European Championships of 1982 held in Athens, Greece and the first marathon just for women. No one knew who this upstart was … until she beat the favorite to win gold. Over her 10-year career, Mota often triumphed. Running an average of just two marathons a year, she won 14 out of 21 races. 

What many people never knew is that Mota suffered from both sciatica (pain going down the leg from the lower back) and asthma (an inflammatory disease of the airways in the lungs). It was her indomitable spirit that allowed her to battle opponents to the finish line, giving it her all and, more often than not, winding up the winner.


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors