Episode 1: Life and Work During COVID-19

Get To Know Sally Kuhlman

In this episode I interview my long-time friend and a client of Curtis Financial Planning, Sally Kuhlman. Sally is the Director of National Programs for Beyond Differences, a non-profit organization that works to inspire students at all middle schools nationwide to end social isolation and create a culture of belonging for everyone. She is also the author of the blog Sally Around the Bay, where she shares her unique insights on a range of topics. 

Sally and I discuss adjusting to life during a pandemic and how we are finding balance while sheltering in place. Interestingly, writing has been therapeutic for both of us as we try to make sense of these strange and unprecedented times. We also discuss Sally’s book project Other Mothers, which shares the stories of women who became mothers through nontraditional routes. And of course, our conversation wouldn’t be complete without a good wine tip, which Sally delivers on early in the episode. 

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Photo by Ani Kolleshi on Unsplash

One of the objectives of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) is to help people get the care they need with fewer obstacles and less-in-person contact. It adds to the health provisions in a bill passed in March – the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).

The CARES ACT health provisions will be most beneficial to families with High Deductible Health Insurance plans (HDHPs) and health savings accounts (HSAs) or flexible spending accounts (FSAs), which are pre-tax savings accounts for healthcare expenses. However, Medicare Part D participants and anyone who gets a test for COVID-19 will benefit too.

Temporary provision:
-Telehealth services used to be subject a deductible, now they are covered before a patient has met the plan deductible. Usual cost-sharing, such a co-pay, is still allowed. This provision will sunset in December 2020.

Permanent and retroactive to January 1, 2020 provisions:
-It’s now ok to buy over-the-counter medical products, such as OTC drugs and surgical masks, without a prescription and get reimbursed by an HSA. With the prior rules, effective since January 2011, a prescription was necessary for reimbursement.
-Certain menstrual care products such as tampons and pads are now reimbursable medical expenses.

PLANNING TIP: For individuals and families experiencing cash flow issues some of the existing HSA rules can help. For example, there are no time restrictions or deadlines for when you can reimburse yourself from your HSA. You can claim reimbursement for eligible items if you have proof of purchase as far back as when you first opened the account.

PLANNING TIP: While HSA can’t be used to cover your share of employer-provided medical insurance, they can be used by unemployed people to pay premiums on an independent policy or coverage through COBRA.

The FFCRA mandates that private insurance companies and Medicare cover COVID-19 testing and a vaccine for free. The CARES Act extends free testing to any services or items provided during a medical visit that results in coronavirus testing. Medical visits can be in-person, a telehealth visit, an urgent care or emergency room visit. This benefit remains in effect only while there is a declared public health emergency. It’s not certain if self-administered tests (if and when available) will be covered.

The CARES ACT also clarifies that Medicaid must cover such tests regardless of whether they are authorized for emergency use by the FDA.


Medicare PART D recipients can order up to a 90 day supply of medications. Prior to the CARES Act passing, a PART D insurance plan had the option to relax their “refill too soon” restrictions but now they are required to do so. The change is designed so that all Part D enrollees can get an extended supply of medications during the COVID-19 public health emergency.

PLANNING TIP: Place orders of your medications for 90-day supplies to save trips to the pharmacy and the hassle of having to reorder in less time.

-Reauthorization of programs to strengthen rural community health, the Healthy Start program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
-Dollars to support domestic food assistance programs (breakfast and school lunch, SNAP, emergency food assistance.
-Funding for the Defense Production Act, Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, Disaster Relief Fund, FEMA, Indian Health Service, CDC, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, CMS, Public Health and Social Social Services Emergency Fund and others.

If you missed Part IV: Review of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) go here.
And, for a comprehensive article about HSAs, go here.

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The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act: Stimulus Payments

The CARE Act signed into law on March 27, 2020, is a 2 trillion package of aid to individuals and businesses to ease financial distress due to COVID-19.  It’s an over eight hundred page bill, so there are lots of details. Over a series of blog posts, I’m going to describe the provisions that will have the most impact on individuals and small businesses.

To start, I’ll describe the stimulus payments to individuals provision.


In general, individuals will be entitled to $1200, while joint filers will receive $2400 and taxpayers will receive $500 for each child under the age of 17. The payments are not taxable. Limitations and  phase-outs depend on income (AGI- adjusted gross income) as follows:

The rebate will be reduced for taxpayers whose AGI exceeds:

$75,000 for individuals
$150,000 for joint filers
$112,500 for Head of Household

For each $100 over the applicable threshold, you lose $5 of the rebate until it goes to zero, which means that once you hit the following AGI, you don’t get a rebate:

$99,000 for individuals
$198,000 for joint filers
$136,500 for Head of Household

The above numbers are based on the AGI from your 2019 tax return, or if that return hasn’t been filed yet, your 2018 return. If your income was higher in 2018 or 2019 than you anticipate in 2020, when you file 2020 taxes, you will get the rebate.

PLANNING TIP: If your income is lower in 2019 than in 2018 and you haven’t filed 2019 taxes yet, it would be a good idea to do so as soon as you can. It’s not clear how soon the rebates will go out. 

You don’t have to apply for payment. If the IRS already has your bank account information because you have a direct deposit of your social security check or tax refunds, the money will go there. Otherwise, the IRS will mail a check. If your payment gets misdirected somehow, you will get a paper notice in the mail letting you know where the payment went and in what form. If that doesn’t work, you will have to contact the IRS using the information in the notice.

PLANNING TIP: If you know the IRS doesn’t have your most current address and you expect a rebate, you can file Form 8822 to have your address updated. 

Next up on the blog: CARE Act Retirement Account provisions.

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Thoughts on the Covid-19 Induced Stock Market Volatility

It’s hard not to think back to the financial crisis and resulting recession of 2007-2009 when watching the stock market volatility today. That was a painful period for many, especially those who were laid-off, small business owners, retirees, or those planning to retire soon. Actually, it was a pretty tough time for everyone for one reason or another. Afterward, it took years to fix the damage to the financial system and the economy, but the economy did recover.

The Current Market

The current market volatility is unprecedented, but we know the cause. Markets (meaning investors who buy stocks) hate uncertainty and uncertainty exists on many fronts right now. We don’t yet know the answers to questions such as:

When will the rate of infection slow down?
How long will it take to develop a vaccine?
How long will we have to shelter in place?
How long will restaurants, bars, retail stores, and other businesses stay closed?
How will reduced sales affect the profits of companies and their stock prices?
And many more.

It is logical that the volatility will subside once we have answers to these questions. And, our new reality of elbow bumping, hand-washing, social distancing, shelter-in-place, work-at-home practices will undoubtedly help to slow the spread and give experts time to develop a vaccine.

Unfortunately, the wait and this new way of life will come at a cost. The decline in economic activity of all types will most likely lead to a recession if we aren’t in one already. Recessions are painful but they do end and so will this one.

The below chart illustrates past world epidemics and global stock market performance. The MSCI World Index includes the U.S. and worldwide stock markets. You can see that recoveries from bear markets are swift in most cases:

You might wonder whether it makes sense to sell now and get back into the market later. But stock market history has shown that missing out on even a few days of positive market returns can derail this strategy as illustrated in the chart below.

The best course of action right now is to take a deep breath and wait this out. Better times are surely ahead.
Chart from VanguardFurther reading:  Freaked Out by the Stock Market? Take a Deep Breath

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