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Retiree health costs nearing critical condition

While the funding of corporate pension plans is improving, other retiree benefits such as medical coverage are significantly underfed, says Standard & Poor's.Of 295 S&P 500 companies offering "other post-employment benefits," which largely consist of health insurance, the programs were underfunded by an aggregate of $321 billion in 2005. That's 129 percent greater than the amount by which corporate pension plans were underfunded. Moreover, non-pension, post-employment benefit programs have enough money to pay roughly 22 percent of obligations, while pension plans can meet more than 90 percent. S&P 500 defined-benefit plans as a group were $140 billion underfunded for 2005, a slight improvement from the $164 billion deficit a year earlier.

Skip the hotel on your next vacation

Interested in spending part of the winter in a four-bedroom villa in Martinique with a private pool, sauna, and outdoor kitchen with an ocean view? It won't cost you anything, as long as you have a home you'd be willing to let the owners in Martinique visit in a house swap, and you're a member of ExchangeHomes.com. The home exchange service has properties in dozens of countries, including the US. A one-year membership costs $39. Other home exchange services and their annual costs include Homelink.org ($80; $125 with two printed directories), HomeExchange.com ($60), and Intervac.org ($50).

Helping your parents stay at home

Are your elderly parents forgetting to pay their bills on time? Do you live too far away to help much on a regular basis? The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers can help you find a certified care manager to help with healthcare, finances, and self-care. For more information, go to www.findacaremanager.org.