Category Archives: Mailbag

Should you retire early if you only have five years to live?

Every week I receive a handful of questions from Root of Good readers and I try to answer them all, even if it’s a brief response. Last week was no different.  The inquiry I received from “Eric” caught my eye immediately as I scanned through my emails.  Subject: “Scared”.  One word, vague, non-specific.  Hmmm – might be spam?

As it turns out it wasn’t spam at all.  I clicked to open and read further and was intrigued by the brevity of the question with what appeared to be a clear-cut easy answer on the surface but has a lot of layers that need to be peeled back to flesh out a complete response.

Here’s what Eric wrote:

“You’ll probably think I’m crazy but I’m 48 and have incurable cancer and even though I qualify for long term benefits income protection of 6 figures a year I am scared of retiring. I’m scared I’d decline and get depressed with no purpose.”

I provided a quick response to Eric with my thoughts on the issue and I asked if I could flesh out a more detailed response and post it on my blog.  He agreed and provided a bit more detail about his specific situation:

“My cancer is incurable, but not necessarily officially terminal (I think terminal definition is <1 year to live). Which leads to another issue. I don’t know if I have 2 years or 20 years left. It could well be either (although my survival duration is likely less than 10 years, statistically speaking. People who make 20 are rare). My cancer is Myeloma and is incredibly individual. The average survival is 5 years from diagnoses but some people beat the odds. I think, for my age group it’s 60% chance of 5 years survival and ~35% of 10 years.
“Continuing work as usual is not necessarily possible (I’m currently on leave as I had high dose chemo 4 months ago which takes 6 months recovery).  I’m an equities trader and I have to be in the office by 6 am and stay there for 11 hours. I’ll also be on maintenance chemo for life which will probably make me tired and not able to do those hours. So, physically and for my future health, returning to those hours is not necessarily possible. A different,  part time role at the bank is a possible solution I guess. But if I only have 5 years… I probably wouldn’t work at all and spend the next few years travelling.”
“On the basis I probably only have a finite number of “healthy” years ahead (I feel OK at the moment) it would seem like a no brainer to take the benefits and stop work. But as I’ve said, I’m scared that after 30 years of a very structured routine, I’ll fall apart when I don’t have one.”

To put Eric’s situation in perspective, the average 48 year old can expect to live to roughly age 80, thereby enjoying slightly more than three decades of life.  Eric, in contrast has only a one in three chance of making it 10 years.  That’s about the same life expectancy as an 85 year old.

The grains of time relentlessly draining to the bottom of life’s hourglass isn’t a problem unique to Eric, but he’s at a point where he has a whole lot less sand in the top half of the hourglass compared to most of us.  We all have a finite lifespan and must make plans to do all that we can while we are able to. The uniqueness in this case is that Eric faces a very compressed amount of time remaining, and the uncertainty of how many of those years will be “good” years.

As an aside, one lesson to take from Eric’s situation is to plan for the future and hope for the best, because life can be shortened for a myriad of reasons.  For those healthy during early stages of adulthood, focusing on early retirement and financial independence is a great way to better the odds of enjoying several decades of good quality of life (without the need to work) before health starts to decline.

One common criticism of the early retirement mindset is “What if you work hard, save and sacrifice then you don’t get to enjoy your early retirement for very long because of death or disability?”

To me the answer is obvious – better to retire in your 30’s or 40’s (while enjoying your wealth along the way) and have a great chance of making it to your 50’s or 60’s at least.  Odds are you’ll get in a good decade or two even if you find yourself in Eric’s shoes.  The alternative is truly daunting – follow the traditional path of working into your 60’s or later until you keel over at your desk (but you get to really live it up every weekend and during your three weeks of vacation each year!).

Ok, back to Eric’s dilemma.  He’s facing a much-contracted life span of five, maybe ten years. He’s financially set with a six figure income stream for life no matter what he does in terms of a job.  Working is optional from a strictly financial perspective but Eric is afraid that without work, he would “decline and get depressed with no purpose”.  What’s Eric to do?

Understand that today is the first day of the rest of your life

Eric, you will have many hundreds of days, possibly several thousand more days, but today is the first day of the rest of your life and you’ll never be able to re-live this day ever again.  The time to make a choice is now.

Once you acknowledge this, ask yourself “What do I want to for the rest of my life?”.  Figure out what you enjoy in life and what you want to focus on in the next year or two.  Make a list on a sheet of paper if that helps organize your thoughts.  Did working at your current job or in a similar role make the list of what you want to do?

Frame the work/don’t work decision in terms of the pros and cons of (a) continuing to work / maintain the status quo or (b) the major life change of quitting work. Weigh the pros and cons for each option and see which is a better choice to make your remaining years as fulfilling as possible.

If work is a key part of what you want to do and it provides meaning, then by all means take the steps that are necessary to return to work in whatever capacity you can. Retirement itself is a major life change to deal with in addition to the stresses of coping with a serious incurable illness.  Consider some lesser form of quitting work completely. Can you work part time? Work in a different role that offers a more reasonable forty hour per week job?  Is telecommuting or remote work an option?  Since it sounds like you’re already taking a medical leave of absence during the recovery period following chemotherapy, perhaps you could extend it and turn it into a sabbatical of sorts to figure out what you want to do longer term.  While taking a break from work, you can leave the door open to returning to work and push off the decision of leaving work completely.

If, after examining the work/don’t work pros and cons you determine work isn’t as necessary a part of your identity as you thought it was, then proceed with your separation from full time employment.  Call it early retirement or medical leave or whatever you want (go stealth wealth?).  Have a going away/retirement party if that suits you or get your closest work friends together for a smaller, more private event.  Then move on to “the rest of your life”.

The first six months of retirement are usually an adjustment period where you won’t be used to having ultimate freedom and control over your daily schedule.  Give it time.  If having a routine helps, then take your list of activities you want to focus on and program them out on a calendar (here’s my “weekly schedule” from a few years ago, though it’s changed as my youngest is now at school during the day).  Program your weekly schedule with:

  • fun or meaningful activities you enjoy doing
  • challenging activities (part time or freelance work in a new field, intellectual stuff like writing/coding, creative arts or crafts, volunteering, civic participation)
  • and physical activities (enjoying the outdoors, swimming, biking, canoeing)

In addition to a fulfilling daily or weekly schedule, start making plans to travel the world if that also interests you. Your health won’t be with you forever, so do what you can while you can.


Closing thoughts

Eric, you are ultimately responsible for following the most fulfilling path whether that means attempting to return to work in whatever capacity you can, or whether it means calling it quits and moving on to other equally, and hopefully more fulfilling activities.  For those of us that don’t plan on working forever, it’s a fork in the road we all face: finding meaning outside of our professional lives.  It’s easy to avoid the question of finding meaning in life by simply filling the hours with the routine of a job; more difficult is facing the fact that today is the first day of the rest of our lives.

If this is too much to think about on your own, then don’t rule out speaking with a therapist about your health issues and those bigger life questions about fulfillment and purpose.  Having an outside perspective to help frame these issues and work through them can be invaluable.

I’ll also warn you that I’m approaching this from the perspective of a 37 year old writing a blog promoting the virtues of early retirement and the joys of not working, so take everything I say with a grain of salt.  I’m biased in that I never felt like the civil engineering projects I worked on professionally gave my life adequate meaning or purpose, and it’s doubtful I would have done any of it if they weren’t giving me a paycheck every month. When I was suddenly let go from my job in 2013, there was only a brief sense of sadness or loss (like 30 minutes tops 🙂 ) and I quickly realized that my termination of employment was a blessing in disguise because it made a difficult decision to leave work much easier for me.

On that note, I think I’ve said enough.  Eric, I wish you wisdom in making the decision that is right for you and the strength to thrive for as long as you can on whatever path you choose whether it lasts two years or twenty.



Any advice for Eric?  What would you do in his position?



Don’t Fall Off The Affordable Care Act Subsidy Cliffs

This week I’m dipping into the mailbag to answer some questions from a reader named Don about the Affordable Care Act subsidies and the income limits to watch out for if you don’t want to lose your subsidy or face an unexpected increase in health care costs.

In the past, I talked about the ACA (or “Obamacare”) making early retirement a lot easier where I went over two case studies.  One case study was for an older couple approaching traditional retirement age.  The second case study was my own situation of a family of five including three children.

On to today’s question!  Don from Ohio says:

I’ve been a long time reader and really appreciate your perspectives and analysis. I currently work for a large corporation and I’m working with my wife to plan a second career that allows me to spend a bit more time with our 3 boys (6, 4 and 1). As we’ve looked into health care it looks like we’ll have some good options with a government subsidy (assuming we only produce enough income to cover our $65,000 annual spending). I want to get your thoughts and perspective on a couple items related to health insurance.

Don goes on to explain that he wants to start his own business using the knowledge he’s gained in his main career, and that his wife already works as a freelancer.  The new business wouldn’t be full time at first, and would allow Don to spend more time with his family.  Don also has significant financial investments, but not quite enough to declare their family fully financial independent yet.

Some might call what Don wants to do “semi-retirement”.  Whatever you call it, it sounds like a great plan to cut back on work and still make enough to cover Don’s and his family’s needs.

Don’s first question:

Have you seen any good tables or charts that clearly shows what MAGI qualifies for what subsidies based on number of dependents? I’ve seen general summaries but I’m concerned I could report an extra couple of thousand in MAGI that causes thousands of extra dollars in health care cost. I’d love to have the right information to make effective cost/benefit decisions.

To answer the question, first let’s go over how the ACA subsidies work, then we’ll find that table you’re looking for.  It’s unfortunately a pretty complex calculation to determine what your individual subsidy will be.  Your household’s subsidy is determined by your MAGI (“modified adjusted gross income”), your household size, zip code and state you live in, and the price of the “second lowest cost silver plan” (SLCSP to borrow the IRS’s abbreviation).


Health Insurance Premium Subsidies

The ACA says you’ll only have to pay a certain amount of your income for health insurance, which can range from 2% of your MAGI up to 9.5% of your MAGI.  The exact percentage of your income that you’ll pay is determined by the ratio of your MAGI to the federal poverty level (FPL) for your household size (check out Table 2 from the IRS instructions for Form 8962, Premium Tax Credit).

This “percent of FPL” is a critical concept in the Affordable Care Act.  Too low or too high, and you won’t qualify for a subsidy.  The percent of FPL also determines whether you qualify for extra cost sharing which can drastically reduce your out of pocket medical costs.  As a result, you want to make sure your MAGI, and therefore your “percent of FPL” is high enough to qualify you for subsidies but not too high where your subsidy is tiny or gets eliminated completely.  You also want to make sure your percent of FPL qualifies you for cost sharing subsidies if you’re near the 100% to 250% of FPL range.

For those not familiar with the federal poverty level, here’s a table for the 2014 FPLs that the IRS will apparently use for 2015 ACA subsidy calculations (they used the 2013 FPL table for 2014 taxes):

  • Household size of 1: $11,670
  • Household size of 2: $15,730
  • Household size of 3: $19,790
  • Household size of 4: $23,850
  • Household size of 5: $27,910 ( <– that’s you, Don!)
  • Household size of 6: $31,970

So what is Don’s “percent of FPL”?  $65,000 MAGI income divided by $27,910 (FPL for a family of 5) equals 233% of FPL.

What’s Don going to pay for health insurance?  When I look up 233% of FPL in Form 8962 instruction’s Table 2, I see Don will pay 7.46% of his MAGI toward the “second lowest cost silver plan” if he chooses that plan.  That’s $4,849 on a $65,000 MAGI.

The subsidy that Don gets is the cost of the SLCSP minus the $4,849 he’s expected to pay for that SLCSP.  Taking a look at Don’s plans available to those in Ohio, I see the second lowest cost silver plan has a premium of $10,080 per year.  This means Don’s subsidy will be around $5,231 per year.  Oddly enough the site says Don’s subsidy will be $5,088.  That’s pretty close, but I’m not sure why there is any difference.  Ultimately, when you file taxes each year you might get a little extra credit back or have to pay a little more if you took too much credit during the year.

The $5,231 subsidy can be used to pay for any plan including lower cost bronze plans.  I found a bronze plan for Don’s family that would be $2,000 per year cheaper than the second lowest cost silver plan (although with a much higher deductible and copays).


Cost Sharing Subsidies, or How to Get a cheap Gold Plated Silver Plan

For those with MAGI’s in the 100% to 250% of Federal Poverty Level range, there are “cost sharing subsidies” that reduce copays, deductibles, and out of pocket maximums.  These cost sharing subsidies only apply to silver level plans.

As MAGI increases, the cost sharing subsidies decrease.  I won’t get into the fine details of how the cost sharing subsidies work, but they basically rewrite the silver plans to make them cover a higher percentage of the average policyholder’s medical expenses.  A normal silver plan pays for 70% of the policyholder’s medical expenses.

With the cost sharing subsidy, silver plans will pay between 73% to 94% of medical expenses, depending on MAGI.  For MAGI’s between 100-150% of the FPL, the plan covers 94% of medical expenses.  For MAGI’s between 150-200% of the FPL, the plan covers 87% of medical expenses.  For MAGI’s between 200%-250% of the FPL, the plan covers 73% of medical expenses.

The sweet spot to get the most benefit out of the cost sharing subsidy is a MAGI of 100% to 200% of the FPL.  That translates to a MAGI of $27,910 to $55,820 for a household of five.  In the 200% to 250% range, the cost sharing subsidy covers 73% of medical expenses, which is only 3% more than the 70% coverage of expenses under regular (non-cost sharing subsidy) silver plans.

Let’s take a look at what the cost sharing subsidy covering 94% of medical expenses get you.  In my case, I can get a silver plan with $0 copays for primary care physician, $20 for specialty physician, $100 ER copay, $0 deductible, and $2,000 out of pocket maximum.  The same plan without the cost sharing subsidies comes with $10 copays for primary care physician, $60 for specialty physician, $250 ER copay, $7500 deductible, and $12,500 out of pocket maximum.

That’s why I call the silver plans available to those with low MAGI’s “Gold Plated Silver Plans“.  With heavy cost sharing subsidies that come with a MAGI of 100-150% of FPL, you end up paying almost nothing for frequent visits to the doctor’s office.  Suffering from a few major medical events in a year won’t cost more than a few thousand dollars once you hit the out of pocket max.


Other “Percent of FPL” considerations if you have kids

If your MAGI is below a certain level, children may end up on Medicaid or CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program).  That can be good or bad.  The good news is that Medicaid or CHIP means very cheap or free health insurance for children insured under those programs.  At our income level, we would pay $50 per kid per year up to $100 max for CHIP health insurance.  I’m not sure if it’s universal in all 50 states, but Medicaid and many CHIP plans cover dental care in addition to health care.

The bad news with Medicaid and CHIP is that some parents fear limited access to doctors and medical facilities and don’t want the stigma of having their kids on Medicaid or CHIP.

Since we will probably end up with CHIP insurance for our children, I checked the dental and medical provider databases to verify that we wouldn’t have to find new medical professionals.  Nope, we’re good.  Our family doctor (and the other 10 doctors in his practice) and dentist both accept Medicaid and CHIP.  So do 140 other medical providers in our county.

If we needed lots of medical care or specialists, then the limited network of Medicaid/CHIP doctors might be a problem.  But we rarely visit the doctor outside of annual physicals, so whatever limitations on provider networks and coverage isn’t a big deal.  That could change at any moment, and we can always change our insurance coverage once per year during annual enrollment if CHIP fails us and we need broader networks or more comprehensive coverage.

In North Carolina, children over age six qualify for CHIP at MAGI’s between 134-211% of the FPL, with Medicaid available for income levels below that range.  It’s not exactly a poverty level program since families of five earning up to $59,000 per year are eligible for CHIP benefits.

For Don in Ohio, kids are eligible for Medicaid at MAGI’s up to 206% of the FPL.  For Don’s family of five, that works out to a MAGI of $57,500.  So Don would have to reduce his income just a bit to get down to $57,500 if he wanted to qualify his children for Medicaid instead of regular health insurance.


Avoiding the Perilous Subsidy Cliffs

Don, here’s the chart you are looking for.  I made it myself.


This chart shows what you’ll pay for health insurance at different income levels.  It also shows the income levels where the various subsidies weaken or disappear.

  • Below 100% of FPL: you won’t qualify for any subsidies
  • Between 100% and 138% of FPL: you won’t qualify for any subsidies if your state is in the two-thirds of all states that extended Medicaid
  • 138-150% of FPL: You’re getting huge premium subsidies and qualify for large cost sharing subsidies with 94% of medical expenses paid on Gold Plated Silver Plans
  • 150%-200% of FPL: You’re getting significant premium subsidies and qualify for moderately large cost sharing subsidies with 87% of medical expenses paid on Gold Plated Silver Plans
  • 200-250% of FPL: You’re getting significant premium subsidies and qualify for slight cost sharing subsidies with 73% of medical expenses paid on Gold Plated Silver Plans
  • 250%-400% of FPL: You will probably still get health insurance premium subsidies though they may be small for young people at the upper end of the income range.  You’ll never pay more than 8.05% to 9.5% of your MAGI for health insurance.
  • 400%+ of FPL: No subsidies for you, Mr. Deep Pockets!

At $65,000 income, Don’s MAGI is 233% of the Federal Poverty Level for a household of five.  Since Don is over 200% of FPL, he won’t get the juiciest cost sharing subsidies (87% of expenses paid just below 200% of FPL vs. 73% of expenses paid at 233% of FPL).  But Don will still get a significant subsidy toward his health insurance premium (over half of the premium will be covered by the subsidy).

If Don wanted to get his MAGI below 200% of the FPL to $55,820, he could get access to the cost sharing subsidy and pick up one of the Gold Plated Silver Plans with an 87% medical expense coverage.  However, it would also likely put his children on Ohio’s Medicaid program for children.

Don, It really boils down to how hard you want to tweak your income to save some health care dollars, and are you okay with your kids being on Medicaid.  If either of the adults in your household have major medical issues (or they arise later), that 87% Gold Plated Silver Plan could come in handy.  However you should definitely verify that you’ll have access to your preferred doctors and hospitals if your kids end up on Medicaid for kids.

For my other readers who don’t have kids or whose kids are already out of the house, here’s the same chart adjusted for households of one or two people.


On to Part 2 of Don’s question:

2. Given we only really need $65K (I know, that’s a high number for you!) in income to live off of my plan has been to funnel any extra income to a solo-401K. This keeps MAGI lower and continues very affordable health care. Of course if we are fortunate to produce a significant amount more we might just have to deal with the higher health care costs. Am I missing anything here? Seems straightforward to me.

You pretty much have it figured out, Don! If you need to live off of $65k per year and manage to earn that from a combination of your and your wife’s self employment income, then you are set.  If you don’t need any extra income above that level to fund your lifestyle, then a solo 401k is a great way to shelter extra income from taxation and to keep that income out of your MAGI that goes into the ACA subsidy calculations.

I started a solo 401k for Root of Good (it seriously says “Root of Good 401k Plan” on my Vanguard documents) for exactly this reason.  I don’t necessarily need the income today since I have taxable investments to fund my living expenses, so I put everything I earn from the blog and other side hustles into the solo 401k.  Contribution limits are pretty high at $18,000 per year plus 25% of your business income up to $53,000 total.

If you earn $65,000 per year and wanted to hit a lower income target in order to increase your premium subsidy or get below 200% of FPL to snag one of those 87% or 94% Gold Plated Silver Plans, the solo 401k or traditional deductible IRAs are great ways to shrink your MAGI.




I’d like to thank Don for his great questions.  It was a good opportunity to go over the details of the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies and the impact of changes in AGI on those subsidies.  If you’re able to control your AGI to some extent, you can save a lot of money by being mindful of the AGI breakpoints.  Don’t fall off the cliff!



Where do the Affordable Care Act exchange and subsidies fit in your early retirement plans?  Are you benefiting from the ACA right now?



photo credit: flickr user Bernt Rostad

Sabbatical, Mid Career Break, or Retired?

If you are a normal human being, you dream of taking a break from the drudgery of work.  More free time.  More sun filled vacations.  More sleeping in on rainy mornings.  More lounging on the back porch buried in a book.

Then you wake up from the dream and realize it’s nowhere near 5:00 p.m. and you still have a pile of TPS reports to review TODAY.

But you can still ponder an extended break from work.  One question that will come up is “how do you explain extended breaks from working in a job interview or on a resume?”.

Today’s Mailbag response provides a few tips:

Hi.  I am a lawyer too, in the Midwestern US. I worked as a government attorney for about 15 years and currently serve as in house counsel for a Fortune 500 company.


There is a great likelihood I will not be employed by my current employer sometime within the next year. The company is relocating a major part of its business. I am not interested in relocating and there is no guarantee that the employer would be interested in keeping me. The relocation would result in about a 15 percent pay reduction.


I wanted get your advice. I have thought about “taking a break” from employment after this job ends. I would like to be able to reenter the work force at a future date if necessary. How do I explain something like this on a resume or in an interview? Do I just describe myself as a solo practitioner? I appreciate your insight.

Let me preface my comments by saying I haven’t worked as a full time attorney ever (except law school summer clerkships and internships).  I was an engineer my whole career.  All nine years of it!  But I think my advice holds true for most careers or professions.

First off, “congrats!”.  Reading between the lines, it sounds like you are financially set to “take a break” for at least a while, and possibly forever.  However there is that bit of uncertainty nagging at you (maybe it’s the lawyer?) that says, “what if things go horribly wrong and I run out of money, or I get really bored, or I miss working with others, or…?”.  Those are totally rational thoughts, and you would have to be lobotomized to not have concerns run through your head when contemplating a major change in lifestyle like saying goodbye to your career.

Your question boils down to “how do I explain my break from employment if I want to re-enter the workforce?”.  The answer involves short term and long term planning.


Short Term


Lay the foundation.  When it is obvious your job is about to move and you won’t be moving with the job, you can explain to your coworkers, contacts, and social acquaintances that you are taking some time off after the job ends.  Call it a sabbatical if you want.  The timing just worked out, you say.  Explain your company is moving its operations and you will be out of a job.  You can say you had carefully planned for this contingency and are in a position to take some time off and pursue some personal interests for a while.

You don’t have to explain yourself in full to everyone, and you don’t have to have all the answers about what your future holds.  No one does.  You can be ambivalent about your eventual return to work and say you are focusing on the next couple of years and plan to focus on personal development and growth – things that may have been overlooked during a hectic career.

Don’t cut off relations to your professional connections or organizations at first.  Keep in touch while you contemplate whether you want (or financially need) to jump back into the working world.  Focus your networking energies on people you are genuinely interested in keeping as social acquaintances or friends.

After a year or two of not working, you may find you are bored or feeling isolated and decide going back to work is the answer.  Keeping in touch with your network during your time out of work will be key to getting you back into work.9 After 6pm 1

As for professional licenses, how long to maintain these is a personal choice.  If you really don’t intend to return to practice any time soon, you might want to consider filing a petition to become an inactive member of the State Bar.  Do your due diligence to determine how hard it might be to reinstate your license once you go inactive.

Going inactive wasn’t particularly arduous in North Carolina I found out, so I went inactive a few years ago.  For my professional engineer’s license, I intend to keep it active for at least a year in case some incredible opportunity pops up that I can’t turn down.


Long Term

As you sail further away from the sheltered harbor of employment, you may get comfortable navigating the sometimes calm, sometimes choppy seas of “the rest of your life”.  There is always a chance you never get your sea legs, or your boat springs a leak, and you want to row back to the safety of shore and land a job in a hurry.Safe Harbor

How do you explain the extended time off from work in an interview and on your resume?  Be honest.  Be positive.  Make it sound interesting and significant.  Don’t make it sound like you had a job for the five or ten years you take off from your profession (unless you did!).  Show prospective employers you are engaged in your interests and haven’t been at home vegging on the couch and watching Jerry Springer for a decade.

Recall all the awesome things you have done during your career break:

  • Travel – around the world year long odyssey?  All the continents?
  • Reading?
  • Writing – America’s next great novel?  Some freelance work?
  • Learning new skills – cooking, programming, sailing, investing?
  • Learning new languages?
  • Continuing your education?

Be succinct and focus on the most substantial accomplishments.

You may also have more mundane but important activities that explain your absence from the full time paid labor market:

  • Caring for your kids
  • Caring for elderly parents or other sick family members
  • Pitching in with the family business 

When you are in an interview and you get the inevitable question that asks why you have been out of your profession for so long, remember that your interviewer is typically a human being with feelings, emotions, interests, and aspirations of their own.  Instead of treating your absence as a weakness, turn it into a strength by piquing the interest of the interviewer.

Be descriptive in how you spent your time off and show how rewarding it was.  Show how you live life in 3D.  You will stand out in the interviewer’s mind, and you might make the interviewer more interested in working with you.Autumn

Put yourself in your interviewer’s shoes.  After the fourth or fifth interview of the day, all the applicants look and sound the same.  Bland, politically correct, reserved, professional.  Be politically correct, professional, and humble, but add a little color to shake up the interview.  Explaining your mid career break is the perfect way to show your interesting side.

Occasionally you might get an interviewer that is a stone faced corporate warrior who worships at the altar of long hours and zero personal life.  Figure this out quickly and change your presentation.  This type person may not appreciate your freewheeling spirit.  Focus the conversation on any professional interests you may have developed during your time off, and any preparations you have made to re-enter the workforce (continuing education, reinstating licenses, or training courses, for example).

Your goal in an interview is to make the interviewer completely comfortable that your career break hasn’t diminished your value in your profession.


Other Possibilities

You may decide after an extended period away from your former career that you don’t want to return to the same field.  If so, explore options in other fields, and get yourself out there!

Parlay your life experiences, interests, and former career into a new career.  Make sure your tech skills are up to date.  Be prepared to start over near the bottom and work your way up. A new career can be interesting and rewarding, and with some level of wealth accumulated, taking a pay cut compared to your old career may be okay from a financial standpoint.


Pro Tips

– If you are considering taking a break from employment, think about what your company can offer.  Consider volunteering for the next layoff, or taking a buy out package if your employer moves operations to a different city.  Severance pay and other incentives can make this strategic planning worth your while.

– When you leave your job and depart on the journey of “the rest of your life”, update your resume!  If you try to get back in the job market after a number of years, you won’t remember with any specific detail what you used to do on a routine basis.  Take the time to jot down on your resume, perhaps with a supplemental “note to self”, all your responsibilities and accomplishments at the job you are about to leave.  Update your skills and software knowledge.  Make sure to save your resume materials in a safe place, email it to yourself, and put it in cloud storage (Google Drive, for example).  Hopefully you can remember where you put it years later!

Readers: Are any of you contemplating a long career break or extended sabbatical?  I would love to hear about it!



Obamacare Makes Early Retirement Easier and More Secure

Today, I am answering an email from a reader about health insurance as an early retiree:

Dear Root of Good,


What about health insurance as we get older and won’t have company subsidized health insurance and we won’t be old enough for Medicare benefits?


Good question, as access to health insurance is something that all potential early retirees should be concerned with.  Over the last decade or two, health insurance and health care costs have spiraled out of control.  Insurance premiums would increase 10% or more per year, and access to health insurance could be limited if you suffered from a pre-existing condition.

Light at end of tunnel


Asthma, cancer, or heart disease, even years in the past, meant that your insurance premiums could be hundreds of dollars or even a thousand dollars per month.  Insurance plans could deny coverage altogether, forcing you to rely on a much more expensive State High Risk Pool for coverage.

Since most people of working age are employed or have family that are employed, they are eligible for group insurance provided by their or their spouse’s employer.  Pre-existing conditions don’t affect your rates as an individual in this case.



You have probably heard about Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”).  The health insurance landscape is changing big time under the ACA. 

Health insurance exchanges are about to open up for enrollment on October 1, 2013 to provide coverage starting January 1, 2014.  New plans issued under Obamacare cannot exclude you for pre-existing conditions.  The premiums are uniform for everyone who applies and only vary based on age, geographic location within a state, and smoker status.  How ugly your health history has been is irrelevant.

For example, a 60 year old world class triathlete in Charlotte, North Carolina will pay the same premiums as his neighbor, a 60 year old triple bypass recipient currently undergoing chemo for advanced stage cancer.  Assuming they both don’t smoke!


Health Insurance Premiums and Subsidies

In addition to the prohibition against denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, Obamacare will be a huge benefit to middle class America.  A key part of Obamacare is the subsidy to help you buy health insurance.

The formula to calculate how much you will pay for health insurance is a little complicated.  The amount you will pay for health insurance is based on your income.  The more you make, the more you pay.  The Kaiser Family Foundation has a nifty calculator that lets you plug in your income, household size, and a few other details and it spits out what you will pay in premiums and what your subsidy will be.

Let’s look at a 60 year old couple’s situation first.

Scenario 1:

Assumptions: A couple of 60 year old non-smokers with a relatively generous income of $60,000.

Results:$5,700 annual premiums or $475 per month.  This is for the “silver” plan.  A slightly worse plan (the “bronze” plan) that covers a little less will run $2,896 per year.  These are the premiums the insured will pay under Obamacare with the subsidy already factored in.  For reference, the government subsidy would be $10,682, and without the subsidy this couple would pay $16,382!  Good thing for that subsidy.


Pro tip:  Be careful to keep your incomes below 400% of Federal Poverty Level! Subsidies go away for anyone making more than 400% FPL.  For a family size of 2, if you make more than $60,520, your subsidy goes to zero and you will pay the full unsubsidized amount of $16,382.  


Scenario 2:

Assumptions: A family of 2 adults age 35 and 3 children.  Non-smokers.  Annual income of $37,000.  These details are based on the Root of Good family in a few years.

Results:$1,136 annual premiums or $95 per month.  This is for the “silver” plan.  A slightly worse plan that covers a little less will be free of charge to the Root of Good family.  These are the premiums the insured will pay under Obamacare with the subsidy already factored in.  For reference, the government subsidy would be $11,989, and without the subsidy this family would pay $13,126!  Once again, the Obamacare subsidy makes the insurance premium very affordable.

Early Retirement

Obamacare’s Impact on Early Retirement

For the 60 year old couple and the young family of five, health insurance premiums will be very affordable with the subsidies available for most people under Obamacare.  Add the affordability of the premiums to the guaranteed issuance without looking at pre-existing conditions, and as an early retiree you can expect to have much more certainty in 2014 over your health insurance costs.

For example, our family can reliably budget somewhere around $1200 per year for health insurance premiums.  There is also another cost control provision in Obamacare that limits your annual out of pocket expense for health care spending.  In Scenario 2 above, the annual out of pocket maximum for health care expenses would be $4,500.  Although we would be unlikely to spend this amount every year, it would be prudent to budget some portion of that expense annually, such as $2,000.


Why it Pays to Keep Your Income Low

You may have noticed in Scenario 2, which is based on the Root of Good family’s retirement income and ages, that I listed an income of only $37,000.  When possible, we intend to manage our income (actually the fancy IRS term is Modified Adjusted Gross Income or MAGI) to come close to $37,000 each year in order to keep our health insurance premiums relatively small.

We may actually spend more than $37,000 in a given year, but our “income” for Obamacare and tax purposes could still come in around $37,000.  This is where the clever finances come into play.  Some of our living expenses will be from the sale of mutual funds and investments that have appreciated over the years.  When sold, only the gains on an investment are “income”

I might sell $40,000 of an investment that has doubled in value since I bought it.  $20,000 of that sale would be included in income, the other $20,000 is not income, but return of my original investment.  In this manner, we could spend $50,000 or more and still have a taxable income of only $37,000 by carefully managing which accounts we pull money out of.

Check out all the options available under Obamacare and see how it will impact your finances and access to health insurance.  For many people with low to moderately high incomes, it could save you a lot of money and provide more certainty in budgeting.

For a more detailed analysis of the impact of a rising Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) on health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, check out this more recent article.



Readers, go check out the Kaiser Family Foundation calculator and input your ages and expected retirement income and report back what your premiums and subsidies will be.  Surprised?  Shocked?  Ecstatic?