Avoid Costly Mistakes in Your Senior Living Search

The cost of senior living care continues to rise each year, but many costs can be significantly lessened if you do your homework ahead of time.Avoid Costly Mistakes in Your Senior Living Search

As baby boomers reach retirement age and start needing long-term care, both costs and demand for various kinds of senior living are expected to rise. The average monthly cost in 2018 for assisted living was $3,750, according to A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Price Index. The good news is, many unnecessary expenditures can be mitigated with proper planning and research into a senior living search.

The Cost of Senior Care

Though Medicare and Medicaid cover the largest proportion of senior care expenses, the amount of Americans who pay out of pocket for senior living is still staggering.

According to a MetLife Market Survey of Long-Term Care Costs, nursing care cost over $90,000 annually; assisted living cost over $42,000 and home health aide services cost about $21,000.

The numbers are daunting, but don’t let them scare you away. There are a number of ways caregivers can cut senior care costs, from medical-expense tax deductions to pricing incentives.

Tips to Avoid Costly Mistakes in Your Senior Living Search

By taking enough time in your senior living search to find the right place for a senior’s specific care needs and using these tips, you can avoid overpaying for senior living:

1. Ask About Incentives and Specials

“You should always ask if there are incentives or specials,” says Rick Westermann, VP of Partner Services at A Place for Mom. “There are different incentives that marketing directors offer, and a lot of them aren’t advertised.” For instance, they may waive the entrance fee or community fee, offer a month’s rent for free or pay for moving or downsize costs. Also, some assisted living communities have a limited number of Medicaid apartments available for those residents who outlast their funds or who have limited financial resources to begin with. “Go talk to people and find out what it does take to qualify for Medicaid, or in California, MediCal. Find out what those limits are because it’s going to help you understand what you need to do,” advises Terry Swehla, CFP, CLTC, Managing Director at United Capital Private Wealth Counseling in Modesto, California.

2. Find Out About Additional Fees

Many communities charge a community fee, deposit or an entrance fee. This is a one-time fee that varies according to the market and is usually non-refundable. Make sure you read the small print and understand what these fees are and whether or not they are refundable.

3. Get Help From an Advisor

Whether it’s someone you know who has looked for senior care before or a professional senior advisor like those at A Place for Mom or Senior Advisor, getting advice from someone with recent experience in looking for senior living can be invaluable, especially if they’re familiar with the various options in your area and can explain them to you. A financial advisor can also be a great help in planning ahead for the cost of senior care. “The planning process starts way back. I talk to all my clients about the prospect of assisted living care in the future, once they turn 50,” says Swehla.

4. Plan Ahead

Don’t wait until you’re desperate and have limited options. Compare communities and get on waiting lists if they are available. Read online reviews and talk to as many people as possible. Another great option: “Try it before you buy it — ask to do a trial stay in a community,” Westermann recommends. “Talk to residents and staff during the visit to see what they’re like. You can learn a lot about the community that way.”

5. Understand the Cost of Care

“Understand the proper level of care your loved one needs,” says Westermann. Instead of assisted living, “It might be less expensive to live in an independent retirement community and hire a home health aide to help with day-to-day needs.” If a senior is seeking assisted living, he recommends getting an assessment done by the nurse of each community you’re looking at, because they will put together a specific price plan for the level of care you need.

6. Understand the Monthly Price of a Community

Compare costs for different communities and what is included in the monthly price for each one. “The amenities are different with each one, so understand what you get for that monthly rate,” Westermann says. Some may include amenities like laundry services, meals and weekly housekeeping, while other communities charge extra for services like these. Be sure to ask about the base rate and what it includes, and what the costs are for different levels of service.

Also, ask about the cost of different sizes of apartments if they are available. “Think about the size of apartment you really need,” Westermann suggests. “You might not need a 2-bedroom apartment. If you can downsize to a 1-bedroom or studio apartment the savings will be significant on a month-to-month basis.” He encourages prospective residents to use the many common areas available in the community instead of paying extra for a larger apartment.

Caitlin Burm is the Manager of Web Content at A Place for Mom and oversees content at APFM and its affiliate websites, a position she's held since 2014. She began writing about senior care after her grandparents’ progression through dementia and has written extensively about education, health and travel. When she's not strategizing or writing content, she's at the airport out exploring the U.S. with her daughter and husband. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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