Dear Liz: My husband lost his job and we are on COBRA continuation coverage for our health insurance. We won’t have to pay the premiums through Sept. 30, thanks to the American Rescue Plan, which passed in March. Is there anything we can take advantage of Oct. 1 if my husband is not back to work?
I understand that there’s a special enrollment period right now for Affordable Care Act coverage that ends Aug. 15. My husband’s 18 months of COBRA coverage ends in December but it’s very expensive and we’d like something cheaper.
Answer: The two of you should be allowed to switch to an Affordable Care Act policy once your free COBRA coverage ends.
COBRA allows people to extend their workplace health insurance for up to 18 months after losing their job, but as you’ve noted, the costs can be high. COBRA coverage requires paying the entire premium that was once subsidized by the employer, plus an administrative fee. ACA policies, by contrast, are typically subsidized with tax credits that make the coverage more affordable.
The American Rescue Plan requires employers to pay COBRA premiums for eligible former employees for April through September. The employers will be reimbursed through a tax credit. (The subsidy may last fewer than six months if someone’s COBRA eligibility ends before September, or if they become eligible for group coverage through their job or their spouse’s job.)When the premium-free coverage ends, your husband would be qualified for a special enrollment period that allows him to switch to an Affordable Care Act policy.
Not only that, but anyone who is unemployed at any point during 2021 will qualify for a premium-free comprehensive policy through the ACA for the rest of the year. HealthCare.gov will have details later this month.
Dear Liz: I have a 780 credit score but noted that one of my cards doesn’t count in the percent of credit used. I have had this card for 44 years and I could charge a couple hundred thousand dollars on a single purchase if I chose to, yet credit scoring formulas don’t figure in the “credit I have available” from Amex. Seems unfair?
Answer: As credit cards with six-figure limits are rare, what you’re describing is probably a charge card. Unlike credit cards, charge cards don’t have preset spending limits. They also don’t allow you to carry a balance from month to month, typically.
The “percent of credit used” you mention is called credit utilization, and it’s a large factor in credit scoring formulas. Credit utilization measures how much of your available credit you’re using, and the bigger the gap between your credit limits and your balances, the better.
But the credit utilization calculation can’t be made if one of the numbers — the credit limit — is missing. The only way the formulas would be able to calculate credit utilization in that case would be to assume that whatever amount you charged is equal to your credit limit, and that would be disastrous for your scores.
Liz Weston, Certified Financial Planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com.
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