Personal Finance: How the health-care overhaul impacts you and your wallet

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, March 25, 2010; 9:04 AM

Like it or not, it's here -- a major health-care law with all its moving parts, some that become effective immediately and others not until 2014.

The March Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found that 46 percent of Americans back the health reform proposals while 42 percent opposed them. The remaining 12 percent said they weren't sure what to think.

So what now? Now that all the screaming, yelling and name-calling is hopefully behind us, what does it really mean for you and me?

Signed into law this week, health-care reform will eventually provide coverage for more than 32 million people who are currently uninsured. Among many other provisions, insurers will be prohibited from denying coverage to people with preexisting medical conditions. People will be eligible for tax credits to help pay premiums, and a dependent child will now be allowed to stay on his or her parent's health insurance until age 26.

The Post has created a very useful interactive tool to help you figure out how the new law will apply to your own health care situation. It looks at what your health coverage and taxes will be based on your income, family size and current insurance status. So for example, let's say you are married, have income of $50,000 a year and you don't have any health insurance. You are a family of four. If you plug that information in, here's what you get back:

-- Beginning in 2014, you will receive tax credits to help afford insurance premiums in the new exchanges as well as assistance with deductibles and co-payments.

-- According to your income and family size, the tax credits will ensure you do not spend more than $3,150 to $4,025 on premiums.

-- Your maximum out-of-pocket costs for deductibles and co-payments would be capped at 27 percent of the total cost.

-- You are required to have health insurance. If you don't, you will pay a tax penalty of the greater of $695 per year up to a maximum of three times that amount ($2,085) per family or 2.5 percent of your household income.

To plug in your own information, click here.

There has been more than enough debate on this historical measure. Here are some of the leading ads -- pro and con -- for health-care reform. And here's some help separating fact from fiction.

Live Discussion Today

I will be live online today with four dynamic women to talk about money and their new books, which were selected as part of this month's Color of Money Book Club. So join me today an hour later than my usual chat time. I'll be online at 1 p.m. ET.

Participating in the chat are:

Deborah Owens, author of "Purse of Your Own."

Marianna Olszewski, author of "Live It, Love It, Earn It: A Woman's Guide to Financial Freedom."

Elisabeth Leamy, author of "Save Big."

Carla Harris, author of "Expect to Win."

If you can't be there live, send your questions early or read the transcript.

Also, I get many questions from e-letter readers wanting to know how to listen to the chat or watch it. However, this is a text-only chat, much like instant messaging. To read it in real time, simply refresh your browser every few minutes.

Living Together But Not Loving It

Johnnie Taylor sang it's "Cheaper to Keep Her," but in this economy, that applies to both spouses. With the recent economic mudslide affecting everything from employment to home values, many estranged couples have postponed divorce because they simply can't afford it.

"In the Great Recession, breaking up is hard to do," reports Donna St. George in Estranged spouses increasingly waiting out downturn to divorce.

W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, says some families are pulling together amid the economic turmoil, and others that want to split up are postponing until they see a rebound in the economy and in home values.

Why is it cheaper to stay? A divorce that ends up in court can cost $10,000 to $20,000 or more, St. George reports. Maybe some of the couples delaying divorce will find ways to reconcile, saving not just their marriage but also a lot of dough.

Speaking of marriage, I was interested to hear what you thought about pricey weddings after reading Judith Martin's (Miss Manners) online chat last week.

I asked, "What is the most ridiculous and/or rude wedding and money situation you've personally come across?"

Here's what some of you had to say:

Marissa Rollen of Guadalajara, Mexico was shocked when guests were upset because she wouldn't serve alcohol, which, of course, costs extra.

"People rolled their eyes at us," she wrote. "One of my friends was angry with us for not inviting more acquaintances that mentioned they wanted to come to the reception ($40/person). Mind you, we hadn't spoken to some of those folks for years. I was amazed at the expectations people had for our wedding when they weren't spending a dime."

"My personal gripe is about including wedding registry information in invitations. I think it's quite rude to include wedding registry information in wedding and bridal shower invitations," wrote Cameron Lawracy of Panama City, Fla. "It makes me feel like the bride-to-be or wedding couple want a gift more than my presence at the event."

Adele Broaden of Brownstown, Mich. says, "I had a friend who is over 50 years old who rented a trolley to take her from her house to the church on her wedding day. She was already living with her fiancé and the wedding took place less the 2 miles from their home. Why have a gift registry and a wishing well for cards? It was strange to say the least."

Jennifer Morrill of Silver Spring, Md. said her assistant brought in an engraved wedding invitation with the following on the main card: "Black tie. In lieu of gifts, the couple prefers cash."

Morrill added: "Enough said. My response card would most certainly read, 'no thanks.'"

June Rascoe of Upper Marlboro, Md. says, "The most ridiculous and/or rude wedding and money situation I've personally come across is someone who was getting married and asked their wedding guests to put money in their bank account to purchase a house. Albeit practical, but I think it was tacky."

Kenna Giffin of Denton Tex. says, "I guess my chief gripe is people who don't bother to send thank you notes to those of us who bother to provide gifts."

Tax Tip

Looking for a way to save or invest your tax refund? This year, for the first time, you can request a portion of your refund be used to buy up to $5,000 in Treasury I Bonds, which earn interest and protect owners against inflation.

To use this option, you need to designate an account to deposit the balance of your refund. For example, if your refund is $280, you can request that $250 be used to purchase I Bonds and that the remaining $30 be deposited into a checking, savings or investment account.

Learn more about the new option.

On Saturday, March 27th, the IRS will have open houses at various locations around the country to assist taxpayers having financial difficulties.

IRS Taxpayer Assistance Centers will be open this Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time to offer taxpayers an opportunity to work directly with IRS employees to resolve issues. Some personnel will be in person while others will be accessible by telephone at the centers.

"We are holding these special open houses to give taxpayers who are struggling in these difficult economic times more opportunity to work directly with IRS employees to resolve their tax issues," said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman.

Here's a list of the participating locations for this special open house. You can also read my column today about this new initiative.

Upcoming Events

I have two more free events this month:

March 27, 1 p.m.: Book signing at Barnes & Noble located at 7851 L. Tyson's Corner Center, McLean, Va. 22102. 703-506-2937 (This is a rescheduled event canceled because of inclement weather).

March 29, 7 p.m.: Celebration of Ideas Lecture Series, Fairmont State College, Turley Center Ballroom, 1201 Locust Avenue, Fairmont, W.Va. 304-367-4215.

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.

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