Here are 3 ways for retirees to trim costs, not lifestyle

  • By Debbie Carlson,
  • Barron's
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Retirement savings don’t have to end at the 401(k). There are many ways retirees can save real dollars by reviewing current costs and scoring tax credits, among other things.

Some of the savings are small but can add up over time–say, renegotiating a cellphone bill or lawn-care service. And some are big one-time discounts or rebates for big-ticket expenses like energy-related projects or purchases.

Financial advisors say savers should exert their influence as loyal customers to negotiate and score better rates. Often firms will knock off 5% or 10% when a longtime customer asks. If that doesn’t happen, sometimes calling to cancel might also bring up a fresher price.

Michael Kojonen, founder of Principal Preservation Services, says he does this at times with his TV and internet provider and has recommended it to his clients, who’ve also had success. “I haven’t heard anybody who hasn’t received a discount,” he says.

Here are some other ideas for cutting costs:

Property taxes. Municipalities issue new property tax assessments every few years, and homeowners who believe their property value assessments are too high should consider an appeal, says Kojonen.

Start by researching current market valuations. He says sometimes Realtors will run market assessments of nearby properties to give homeowners a sense of their home’s value. Homeowners can also check out real-estate websites such as Zillow (Z), Redfin (RDFN), and Eppraisal for estimates.

These estimates can be provided as evidence to the county assessor that the property is overvalued, or they may confirm that the property is indeed valued properly or even undervalued. In latter cases, the homeowner may not want to contest the original assessment.

When homeowners contest assessments, the county will rerun its analysis, which may result in a higher valuation and thus tax burden. “You don’t want it to backfire on you,” he says.

A successful appeal could shave off a few hundred bucks off property taxes, and that reduced assessment is in place until the county recalculates values. “It’s not just the initial savings, but it’s going to be long-term savings as well,” Kojonen says.

Home improvements. Retirees who are remodeling their homes or are ready to downsize to a smaller home can take advantage of energy-efficiency tax credits, says Susan Carlisle, an accountant at CDW CPAs.

Several federal and state-level tax credits exist for energy home improvements, she says. And not only do homeowners reap a tax credit, but buying more energy-efficient appliances or home systems may also cut down on future energy bills, she adds.

The federal Energy Star program continues through the end of the year and are tax credits are available to homeowners. Buyers receive a credit of 10% of the cost of the item, up to $500, or a specific amount from $50 to $300.

In late December, Congress extended and increased the federal personal tax credit to 2023 for homeowners who want to install renewable-energy systems in their homes, available for new construction or existing residences. Homeowners can nab a 26% tax credit for several types of renewable-energy systems like solar panels and geothermal systems, among other things.

All 50 states offer some sort of clean-energy policies and incentives for both residential and commercial users. The N.C. State University’s Clean Energy Technology Center maintains an up-to-date database and it can be searched by ZIP Code.

Retirees who need to remodel their homes for medical reasons can look into income tax deductions. The cost of modifying bathrooms, lowering cabinets, widening doors and other home improvements deemed medically necessary can sometimes be deducted from taxes, but there are rules to follow.

Insurance. Near-retirees and retirees should review all of their current insurance policies as it’s likely they can drop or change some to save money. Retirees who no longer work can eliminate disability insurance and pocket those savings. If retirees have no mortgage, few debts and plenty of retirement savings, Kojonen says often life-insurance policies can be canceled.

Take time to review home and auto insurance policies, too. Many people may bundle these two options together, but it pays to shop around, especially if the policy holder hasn’t switched in a while. Sometimes, loyalty to insurance companies can work against policy holders.

“Different brands count on having loyal consumers, but they don’t always reward them for that. They may feel that that’s a revenue source that they can count on without having to offer huge discounts or whatever,” says Penny Wang, deputy editor, money at Consumer Reports.

She noted that 22% of Consumer Reports members who responded to the magazine’s 2018 auto insurance survey said they switched insurers in the past five years, and 62% of them said they found a better price.

Additionally, consider other ways to cut costs with current carriers, such as rethinking comprehensive and collision coverage on a car that’s several years old, she says, and ask for untapped discounts, including ones for anti-theft features, affinity group membership (such as an alumni association or union), the taking a defensive-driving training course.

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