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The fundamental flaw in the FIRE movement

Finding affordable health insurance is one of the biggest challenges of the FIRE lifestyle. Five early retirees share tips on getting coverage.

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The FIRE movement is continuing to spread across the United States, with more and more millennials asking themselves whether it’s possible to reach financial independence and retire early. I’m working towards the FIRE lifestyle myself — the math suggests I could be financially independent in under a decade, if I continue earning and saving money at my current rate.

But although I can deliberately keep my living expenses down by living in a mid-sized city, going car-free, and setting (and sticking to) a budget, there are some big-ticket costs that I just can’t avoid. Health insurance is the big one.

How to do health insurance after early retirement is a big challenge for some FIRE movement followers. Health insurance premiums can be as expensive as a rent or mortgage payment, not to mention the annual deductible — so people in the FIRE community are actively trying to figure out ways to bring down the costs. Here are a few FIRE movement tips on how early retirees are handling their health care expenses.

In this article:

Buying health insurance through the Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), which allows people to purchase qualified health insurance plans on their own, has been a boon for early retirees. Before the ACA, many people could only find good health insurance through their employer; although there were a handful of health insurance plans available for individuals, they tended to be significantly more expensive and/or provide much less coverage.

This isn’t to say that ACA health insurance plans are cheap, or even moderately priced. As a freelancer who uses the ACA to stay insured, my Bronze plan comes with a $442.83 monthly premium and a $6,200 deductible, though I’ve been able to get that premium reduced thanks to health insurance subsidies.

Sam Dogen, who retired at age 34 and blogs about early retirement at Financial Samurai, also gets health insurance through an ACA plan. “My family went through a broker and decided to go with a Platinum plan for the family of three. The cost of the plan is $1,760 a month, as we do not qualify for subsidies. We feel paying $21,120 a year in healthcare premiums is outrageous given we are a healthy family who never goes to the doctor, so far. However, we realize that it’s our duty as healthy Americans to help subsidize the less healthy and less wealthy, so we are fine with it.”

Many Affordable Care Act health insurance plans, including mine, are high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) that are paired with a health savings account (HSA). A HDHP/HSA plan lets you make pre-tax contributions into your health savings account. (Some HSAs offer different types of investment accounts, so you can invest your money based on your objectives and risk tolerance.) You can withdraw HSA contributions to pay for qualified medical expenses, and anything left in the account can be used for medical expenses during retirement.

Paula Pant of Afford Anything, like me, has a Bronze ACA plan — but hers is considerably less expensive than mine, even though we’re close to the same age. “I opted for the lowest-premium plan available in my state because I’m 35 and generally in good health. My plan costs approximately $235 per month.”

If you’re planning on early retirement  and getting your health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, it’s worth asking whether you’re in the best state for health insurance costs. (I live in Iowa, which is not a great place for competitive ACA premiums.) Of course, some FIRE movement followers take the next step and ask themselves whether they’re in the best country for health insurance costs — or whether they could get better and more affordable insurance elsewhere.

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Getting expat health insurance and going abroad

Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung are the authors of Quit Like a Millionaire: No Gimmicks, Luck, or Trust Fund Required. These two early retirees quit their jobs at 31 and now travel the world; they blog about their FIRE movement tips and travel at Millennial Revolution.

Shen and Leung also do health insurance a little differently than most people. Instead of taking out an ACA plan, they signed up for expat insurance. As Shen explains: “We chose IMGlobal for expat insurance because they have the best value for money. They have a flat insurance rate and there’s no penalty for picking a shorter time frame. This is great for us since we can flexibly choose to buy the insurance monthly or for the entire year.”

For the first two years of their travels, Shen and Leung combined their expat insurance plan with a travel insurance plan: “We used World Nomads for travel/medical insurance for the first two years. This is great for those who are doing a gap year and have insurance back home. They cover the cost of temporary medical care and repatriating you back to your home country.”

If you’re also interested in traveling after your FIRE journey, taking out an expat insurance plan could be a lot less expensive than trying to get insured through the ACA. Healthcare is often less expensive overseas, after all — so it makes sense that expat health insurance would be less expensive as well. Be aware that some plans limit the amount of time you’re able to spend in the United States; lose your expat status, and you lose your health insurance.

Finding other creative solutions to health care coverage

Some early retirees get even more creative with their health insurance plans. At Reddit, for example, one early retiree describes how he enrolled in a master’s program to take advantage of student health insurance — and is taking a deliberately low course load to maximize the time he can remain covered as a student.

Other financially independent individuals do what’s called “Barista FIRE,” in which they find an employer that offers health insurance to part-time workers — such as Starbucks, which is probably how this method got its name — and work the minimum number of hours required to remain both employed and insured.

Other early retirees might have a spouse with a job they enjoy. Although the family could be financially independent without the spouse’s income, the spouse keeps the job and the health insurance coverage.

People who FIRE often start their own businesses after they retire. Depending on the type of business they set up, they may be eligible to take advantage of the health insurance plans offered to small business owners. These health insurance plans are generally less expensive than individual or family ACA plans, and a few states even let freelancers or solopreneurs take advantage of small business group health insurance — another good reason to think carefully about where you’re going to live after you FIRE.

You should also think about any additional types of insurance you may need after you retire — and yes, that includes life insurance. As Tanja Hester, who retired at 38, told us in an interview on how to live a work-optional life: “You shouldn’t assume that, just because you’re financially independent and don’t need to work anymore, there’s no place for life insurance.” So get your health insurance taken care of, and then do the math on whether an affordable life insurance plan will fit into your FIRE budget as well.

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About Nicole Dieker

Nicole Dieker has been a full-time freelance writer since 2012, with a focus on personal finance and habit formation. In addition to Haven Life, her work regularly appears at Lifehacker, Bankrate, CreditCards.com, and Vox. Dieker spent five years as a writer and editor for The Billfold, a personal finance blog where people had honest conversations about money, and is the author of Frugal and the Beast: And Other Financial Fairy Tales.

Read more by Nicole Dieker

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Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

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