In many ways, purchasing health insurance in the age of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is easier than ever. With an open marketplace, insurers are forced to compete with one another for your business. Still, it can be difficult to navigate a few key points: Are you choosing the right plan? When do you make your move? What is the best value for your specific health situation? Here are some resources and guidelines that are a great starting point when navigating the muddy insurance waters:

Step 1: Do your research!

The ACA allows many Americans to get subsidies for their monthly health insurance premiums. To see if you qualify for income-based savings in a Marketplace plan, use this tool:

https://www.healthcare.gov/lower-costs/

Step 2: Understand the offerings in your home state!

Each state has a unique marketplace. Here's a comprehensive guide to understanding yours: State-by-State ACA Guide. The website that produces the independent and comprehensive guide, Healthinsurance.org, has been up and running since 1994. Their website offers state-by-state information about the open-enrollment application windows, FAQ's about the qualifying events and circumstances that can help you bypass the enrollment period (for example, if you get married, lose your job, or have a child, for example), and much more.



Each state has different health insurance statutes... research yours! upload.wikimedia.org



Step 3: Understand your other options

Are you a full-time employee, or is your spouse or domestic partner? It's possible that opting into a ESI (employee-sponsored) plan will be cheaper than searching on the marketplace during the open enrollment period. If you've been laid-off, it's worth checking out the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) plan, which acts as a temporary bridge from your former employer sponsored health plan. It's important to understand that COBRA plans aren't necessarily the most affordable option, but they're great if you need quick access to the same doctors and treatments that you had under the ESI plans.

Step 4: Know the lingo

Choosing a health insurance plan can be complicated. Knowing just a few things before you compare plans can make it simpler. Here are some guidelines provided by Healthcare.gov:

The 4 "metal" categories: There are 4 categories of health insurance plans: Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. These categories show how you and your plan share costs. Plan categories have nothing to do with quality of care.

Your total costs for health care: You pay a monthly bill to your insurance company (a "premium"), even if you don't use medical services that month. You pay out-of-pocket costs, including a deductible, when you get care. It's important to think about both kinds of costs when shopping for a plan.

Plan and network typesHMO, PPO, POS, and EPO: Some plan types allow you to use almost any doctor or health care facility. Others limit your choices or charge you more if you use providers outside their network.

The HHS.gov (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) also has a great resource that explains, state by state, who is eligible for Medicaid and the recently adopted Medicaid Expansions.

Step 5: Understand the differences between Medicare and Medicaid

HHS.gov sums it up like this:

Medicare

Medicare is an insurance program. Medical bills are paid from trust funds which those covered have paid into. It serves people over 65 primarily, whatever their income; and serves younger disabled people and dialysis patients. Patients pay part of costs through deductibles for hospital and other costs. Small monthly premiums are required for non-hospital coverage. Medicare is a federal program. It is basically the same everywhere in the United States and is run by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, an agency of the federal government. For more information regarding Medicare and its components, please go to http://www.medicare.gov.

Medicaid

Medicaid is an assistance program. It serves low-income people of every age. Patients usually pay no part of costs for covered medical expenses. A small co-payment is sometimes required. Medicaid is a federal-state program. It varies from state to state. It is run by state and local governments within federal guidelines. To see if you qualify for your state's Medicaid (or Children's Health Insurance) program, see: https://www.healthcare.gov/medicaid-chip/eligibility/

Step 6: Know when to ask for help

There's no question that shopping for health insurance can be overwhelming. Fortunately, there are agents set up to help you across the nation that are free and knowledgeable. Use this website to type in your zip code and get access to your state's marketplace. Help is just a few clicks or a phone call away! https://localhelp.healthcare.gov/#/

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Developing further skills can boost your career at any stage.

Whether you are looking for a new job or trying to grow in your current one, getting a certification can be a great way to improve your skills.

Anyone can put that they are proficient in a computer program on their resume but having a certificate can help you stand out amongst the competition and give credence to the strength of your skills.

But what's the best way to invest in yourself without breaking the bank? Some certification programs can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars. We are going to walk through six of the best certifications you can get for $100 or less.

Tableau

Tableau's data visualization capabilities are comparable to Domo and Power BI.

Who is it best for: Those who work with analyzing and presenting data.

Cost: $100 for Tableau Desktop Specialist; additional certifications are available for a larger fee.

More companies than ever see themselves as data companies. Being able to understand data and use it to guide decisions at your company is often critical to taking on a leadership role. Not to mention, being able to present the data in a clean, attractive, and compelling way can help get buy-in from others in your organization or clients. That's why Tableau is a great tool to have in your toolbox.

Tableau allows you to create interactive visual analytics dashboards. In layman's terms, you can take data; create graphs, maps, or charts; and then allow end-users to interact with these graphics to better understand the information. It's a fantastic tool allowing non-technical users to gain insights for data-driven decision-making.

Tableau Desktop Specialist certification starts at $100 and has no expiration date. There are many videos on Tableau's site to prepare for your exam as well as Tableau Starter Kits allowing you to play around and learn the different capabilities of the program. Tableau offers a 14-day free trial as well as free license for one year for students.

Additional certifications after Desktop Specialist are Desktop Associate and Desktop Professional. Those working with a Tableau server may also be interested in a separate certification as a Server Associate or Server Professional.

The Federal Reserve sets the guardrails for the federal funds rate, and through that helps control the money supply for the nation.

When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.

A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.

One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.

The Federal Reserve The Federal Reserve


The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.

This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.

The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.

Getty Images/Maria Stavreva

Whether you're leaving a job involuntarily, departing for something new, or just want to prepare for the unknown, it is smart to understand all your options regarding your 401k.

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