It’s that time again — annual enrollment, also known as open season or open enrollment. If you are lucky enough to be employed and receiving benefits from your employer, this is your opportunity to make changes to your elected benefit options. Even if you are happy with your current selections and don’t think any changes are warranted, it is a good idea to reassess your needs and stay informed about what is changing.
First things first: one of the biggest problems participants make during open enrollment is making last minute decisions. If you want to make informed decisions and manage your costs, the best thing to do is attend an open enrollment meeting. This is your opportunity to listen to a presentation by a broker consultant and/or the product vendors and, most importantly, ask questions. Here are some other important things to consider:
• Health Insurance. When choosing your health insurance option, remember this: health insurance is meant to be a financial safety net but is not meant to cover all costs. Look at your choices carefully including premiums, deductibles and co-pays. If you have frequent medical appointments or other needs and anticipate submitting numerous claims, consider selecting the option with the least out of pocket expenses such as a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) or a basic Preferred Provider Organization (PPO). If you travel a lot within the U.S., consider a PPO with open access on a national basis so you are not stuck spending on out of plan services.
On the other hand, if your claim history is low and you think you will continue to be a light user of the benefits, see if a Health Savings Account (HSA) is available. An HSA typically has higher deductibles but you use pre-tax dollars to pay for your out-of-pocket costs and any money not spent will carry over year to year. Another way to use pre-tax dollars to pay for medical expenses is a flexible spending account (FSA) in which you can set aside a portion of your earnings to pay for qualified medical expenses. Just remember, if you don’t spend what you put aside during a calendar year, you will lose the money. So plan carefully and remember you cannot claim over-the-counter medications for FSAs or HSAs beginning in 2011.
• Dental Insurance. Many employees do not opt for dental insurance because they think the premiums are too high. This may be true, but the premiums are a pre-tax expense and certain services are provided free, such as two cleanings a year. If you have access to a dental PPO, the services are provided at discounted PPO rates, so even if the plan does not pay for certain services like orthodontia, you may still get the benefit of a discount.
• Life Insurance. It is always a good idea to talk to a financial professional who can help you access your overall life insurance needs in relation to your long term goals, your current income and expenses, and what you want your legacy to be. Once you have determined your overall need, you can then determine whether a group policy, a private policy or a combination of the two is appropriate for you. Group life insurance can be a great opportunity to get life insurance coverage quickly and without going through the underwriting process which can be timely and lead to exclusions or denial of coverage. For some, group life insurance may not provide enough protection and particularly for those who are healthy, the cost of group benefits may be more than you can get privately.
• Disability Insurance. Many white-collar employers offer short- and long-term disability insurance. Disability insurance is important to consider as this will protect some of your income in the event you become disabled. Again, however, many factors go into a determination of how much and what type of disability coverage is appropriate. Often group coverage only protects up to 60 percent of your income (and sometimes even less) up to a limit. Additionally if your premiums are paid by your employer on a before-tax basis, you will be taxed on any benefits you receive. Private disability insurance on the other hand can be paid with after-tax dollars, which might allow you to receive benefits tax free.
This material is for informational purposes only and is not intended to act as specific advice. Please talk to a financial professional prior to investing and a tax advisor for tax advice. Benefit guarantees for insurance are subject to the claims paying ability of the insurer.
D.C. Restaurant Week returns
Celebrating a revitalized dining scene after COVID closures
After being confined to a to-go program for the last two iterations, Washington, D.C.’s Restaurant Week is back this summer to celebrate the revitalized dining scene in the city. Summer Restaurant Week 2021, run by Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), is scheduled to kick off Monday, Aug. 9, and last through Sunday, Aug. 15.
The signature summer dining event returns to a one-week promotion this year, though restaurants have the option of extending their promotions. Diners can enjoy three-course menus at a range of indoor/outdoor comfort levels at more than 200 restaurants, ranging from fast-casual eateries to fine-dining destinations. In addition, the to-go family-style options that were introduced last year are not gone, however, as many restaurants will also offer this off-premise option. Of course, many spots plan to include a cocktail pairing as well.
Dinner is the main event for participating restaurants, with the classic three-course dinner priced at $35 per person. Several restaurants with higher overall price points are also offering an elevated $55 dinner with exclusive items. Three-course lunches run $22, and weekend brunch is also $22.
Finally, many restaurants will also offer “RW-To-Go” dinner meals, available at two price points: $60 or $120 for two people and $100 or $200 for four people.
These RW-To-Go dinner meal packages are available for takeout or delivery, and diners can order RW-To-Go either directly from the participating restaurant or check their delivery app for the offer.
D.C. restaurants remain open at 100 percent capacity, but Mayor Bowser last week reinstated mask mandates for indoor spaces.
New restaurants participating in Summer Restaurant Week include Angolo, ANXO, Flower Child, Le Sel, GATSBY, Glover Park Grill, Gypsy Kitchen, and Truluck’s in D.C.; and Spice Kraft Indian Bistro in Virginia.
“This year’s Summer Restaurant Week is not only providing diners with great options at great prices for dining out, but is also the first time all restaurants across our region are able to accommodate diners at full capacity both indoors and outdoors,” says Kathy Hollinger, president and CEO of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington. “Being fully open is a step toward recovery for the industry and also toward a return to our dynamic local restaurants in their spaces which help to elevate the dining experience.”
RAMW is the regional association representing restaurants and the foodservice industry in the D.C. Metropolitan Area. RAWM also runs the RAMMYs, the awards for the food and beverage industry.
Restaurant operators themselves reinforced how important the promotion is to them. “Restaurant Week is an opportunity for us to showcase our resilience and commitment to serving our staff and community,” says Salwa Laaraichi of Station 4.
For Eric Heidenberger, a partner at The DC Restaurant Group, which owns spots like Shaw’s Tavern and 801 Restaurant, the past year has been a challenge. But RAMW, he says, “has been very supportive to the D.C. restaurant community and a key a resource in helping us navigate the challenges of the pandemic. We’re excited to participate in the first “normal” restaurant week in almost a year and a half. Restaurant week is a great opportunity for us reach new diners and showcase new dishes to our regular/repeat customers.”
All of gay-owned Knead Restaurant + Design’s locations are participating in Restaurant Week. Co-owners Jason Berry said that he hopes that Restaurant Week “offers a way for diners to begin dipping their toe by taking advantage of these well-priced promotions. Restaurant Week brings a much-needed lift to August revenue and is especially meaningful this year as so many restaurants have been hurting these last 16 months.”
As for what’s going to be offered at his restaurants, which include Gatsby, The Grill, Mi Casa, Mi Vida, and Succotash, most of which debuted just this year, “each of our restaurants takes a unique approach to offering seasonal additions, fun new items and crowd pleasers so that all guests have something for them during Restaurant Week.”
Trusting The Tech – Why technology is key for the LGBTQ community
The LGBTQ community is harnessing the power of technology in order to promote inclusion.
After another Pride month, we reflect on how far we’ve come – and how much work is still left to do. Changing perceptions and raising awareness is never easy but, in the modern world, the LGBTQ community is harnessing the power of technology in order to promote inclusion. In this article, we’re going to look at the ways in which our tech is taking things to new levels:
In 2021, we’re still seeing far too many headlines about attacks on members of the LGBTQ community, and its vital that individuals are vigilant about their safety – and that of others. Technology such as the GeoSure travel safety app can provide a valuable layer of protection. Additionally, new features such as the functionality introduced by Tinder to prevent LGBTQ identification being shown in the profile of users who may be travelling through intolerant nations are incredibly important. We’re all working toward a world without discrimination but, until that day comes, safety is of paramount importance. Similarly, technology comes into play when it comes to venues such as salons in areas where safety may be an issue. A lot of salons are now mindful of this and are using appointment booking software such as Booksy which allows them to manage appointments through an app to ensure that their environments are as safe and comfortable as possible.
Inform And Educate
Technology can be an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to breaking down barriers between the LGBTQ community and other members of society. The groundbreaking LGBTQ+ Experiment website has been created to do just that by allowing people to ask – and answer – questions in order to increase understanding. More importantly, innovations like this one are incredibly useful in eliminating some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding the LGBTQ community.
You may have read about a recent incident on Lake Moses, Washington, whereby a group of young boaters were recorded hurling abuse at fellow boaters who were displaying a Pride flag. During the incident, the abusers ran into trouble when their boat burst into flames…….and were rescued by the boaters with the Pride flag.
Following the incident, thousands of Washingtonians took to social media to praise the rescuers – with many describing the incident as ‘karma’. As unpleasant as this event was, through the use of social media, it brought together members of all communities, thereby connecting and uniting people against this kind of mindless abuse.
Putting LGBTQ In The Picture
Improving visual representation has always been important for different ethnic and gender groups; from the introduction of African American Barbie dolls to more inclusion in television and film. Tech giant, Apple, has highlighted its commitment to visual inclusivity by introducing gender neutral and same sex couple emojis – a move which can only help to improve inclusivity.
Connecting Through Content
Historically, media channels tended to ‘play it safe’ when it came to the representation of minorities – something which resulted in a widespread sense of isolation and alienation. The advent of the internet – and more significantly, social media – means that representation, and the publishing of content, is handed to the masses, rather than to a few media outlets who may or may not have their agenda. For the LGBTQ community, the ability to create and publish content which highlights issues and promotes inclusion is a huge step toward better understanding and awareness.
Technology is constantly evolving and can be an extremely valuable tool when it comes to connecting and uniting communities and improving understanding. In a world where it seems that anything is possible, this technology is key to breaking down barriers and creating a world where inclusion is the norm.
How to prepare yourself in this seller’s market
Millennials are putting down the avocado toast and picking up mortgages
For the first time, Millennials are cutting back on spending money on multiple streaming subscriptions, $10 drinks, and avocado toast. They are dipping their feet into purchasing their first home. The current market conditions can be tough for some buyers though, so being prepared is more important now than ever.
The first step in the home buying process is finding the right real estate agent. Your agent should be trustworthy and someone who is knowledgeable about the area, sales contract, and local programs that may be able to save you money. Once you find the perfect agent, ask them to refer you to their preferred local lenders. When talking with lenders, not only should you focus on interest rates, but also ask about their in-house processing and underwriting. This may be able to give you a competitive advantage against other offers.
Once you’ve decided on your lender, they will need several documents to help them determine your eligible purchase price. Now is the perfect time to get your documents in order, including 30 days of pay stubs, two years of tax returns and/or W2s and 1099s, and two consecutive bank statements. Providing these documents in a timely manner can help expedite the pre-approval process and prevent delays once you’re under contract. The lender will also look at your median credit score from the three major credit bureaus. Since your credit score has a direct effect on your interest rate, it’s important to pay close attention to your score. If your credit score needs a little help, talk to your Realtor and lender to see if they have recommendations on how to boost your score or programs that may be able to help.
After you’ve been pre-approved, it’s time to look at properties. With these current market conditions, properties typically don’t stay on the market for very long. Depending on the type of property, some may only be on the market for a few days. Doing your due diligence at the beginning of your home search can help save you time and focus on the properties that really fit your criteria. Now is the time to make that wish list, visit neighborhoods, research schools, and get a really good idea of what you’re looking for. In this market, it’s very important to see a property as soon as it hits the market. By fully understanding your search criteria in advance and making sure you’re available to see properties after work or on a lunch break, you will be better prepared to make an offer when “the one” hits the market.
The most common question I get now is, “should I wait?” In most cases, the cost of waiting can cost you. With historically low interest rates and housing prices continuing to increase, now is still a great time to purchase real estate. Being prepared, patient and having an informed Realtor and lender on your side will definitely help in this market.
Teddy Rojanadit is a licensed Realtor in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland with Bediz Group at Keller Williams Capital Properties. Follow him at @teddydcrealtor on Instagram, TikTok and Facebook. He can be reached at [email protected] or 202-664-3736.
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