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How to Pay for Nursing Home Care


Nursing home care can be extremely expensive. According to Genworth’s 2021 Cost of Care Survey, the median monthly cost of a private room is a nursing home is $9,034. That’s over $100,000 a year! And most people will need nursing home care or something similar in their old age: A study from the Urban Institute and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 70% of Americans who reach the age of 65 need some long-term care during their remaining years.

But there are ways to get some of these costs covered, as well as strategies that can help cover any out-of-pocket expenses. We’ll examine four ways to pay for nursing home care, some of which you can implement early in your life to ensure a financially secure retirement. Consider working with a financial advisor if you want more personalized retirement and savings advice.

What Government Programs Will Cover

There are three government programs intended to insure and help cover medical costs for Americans ages 65 and older. Let’s take a look at how each of these may be able to help you pay for nursing home care.

  • Medicare: Medicare typically doesn’t pay for nursing home stays because it doesn’t cover custodial care. Custodial care is defined as “non-skilled personal care, like help with activities of daily living like bathing, dressing, eating, getting in or out of a bed or chair, moving around, and using the bathroom.” Medicare will only cover nursing home care when you need more advanced medical care — like regular injections that can only be administered by a medical professional. Medicare has additional restrictions and limits, and shouldn’t be counted on as a way to pay for long-term care in a nursing home.
  • Medicaid: Medicaid will cover 100% of your nursing home care so long as you meet the program’s financial eligibility requirements, according to the American Council on Aging. Individuals typically must have a low enough income and few financial resources to qualify for Medicaid. States limit the amount of income you can earn while qualifying for Medicaid and also typically put a $2,000 cap on the amount of cash and other assets you can have (beyond your home’s value). Additionally, the services must be deemed medically necessary by a physician.
  • PACE: Some states offer a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), which is a joint Medicare-Medicaid program that can help those who need nursing home care. If you’re eligible and there’s a PACE program in your area, you can apply for care. 

What Specialized Insurance Will Cover

How to Pay for Nursing Home Care

Long-term care insurance is a fantastic option that can help you pay for nursing home care if you don’t qualify for government programs. This product is intended to cover the exact kind of care that isn’t often covered by Medicare — custodial care — as well as any specialized care or rehabilitation therapy you need.

Long-term care insurance isn’t cheap, but it can be a lot cheaper than paying out of pocket. The American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance found in its 2023 analysis that a 55-year-old man purchasing long-term care insurance with $165,000 in immediate benefits can expect to pay $900 a year. A woman in the same situation can expect to pay between $1,500 and $3,600.

How Tax Deductions Can Help

How to Pay for Nursing Home Care

According to the IRS, you can deduct some or all of your nursing home expenses on your tax return. A tax deduction is a provision that allows some of your income to go untaxed. For instance, if you make $40,000 in income and qualify for a $5,000 tax deduction, you’ll only pay taxes on $35,000 of your income. While these tax provisions won’t necessarily help you pay for nursing home care up front, they can save you money after the fact.

The IRS specifies that if you’re in nursing home care primarily for medical reasons rather than custodial care, you can deduct the total cost. If you’re in nursing home care primarily for non-medical reasons, you can deduct the cost of any medical care, but not the cost of services such as lodging and meals. To figure out your tax deduction amount, most taxpayers will simply need to total up all of their qualifying medical costs, then subtract 7.5% of their adjusted gross income.

How to Cover Out-of-Pocket Costs

Even if you have long-term care insurance or another plan for covering your nursing home care, you will still want to have some money on hand to finance any uncovered expenses or surprise costs. Plan ahead for these out-of-pocket expenses by setting up a tax-advantaged retirement account.

A good option is to open a Roth IRA to use for these costs. Since you fund a Roth IRA with after-tax money, you won’t be taxed when you withdraw the money as long as you have reached age 59 ½ and the account has been open for five years. And unlike a traditional IRA, you won’t be subject to required minimum distributions (RMDs) at a certain age, so that money can remain invested until you need it.

An annuity is another smart way to cover out-of-pocket expenses or anything insurance won’t cover. An annuity is an insurance product where you pay a certain amount in exchange for receiving payments at a later date. You can specify when you want the payments to start, what schedule you want them to follow and how much you want them to be. You can also purchase an annuity with a long-term care rider to help cover some specified conditions requiring medical care.

Bottom Line

Nursing home care is expensive, but there are ways to plan for it and programs that can help you cover the costs. See how much government programs can help you, look into insurance options and make sure to take advantage of medical expense tax deductions. Lastly, set aside some savings for the costs that won’t be covered by government programs or insurance.

Retirement Planning Tips

  • Consider talking to a financial advisor about your options for preparing for long-term care costs. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three qualified financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • A related concern is how much life insurance you may need. SmartAsset’s life insurance calculator will give you an estimate of how much life insurance you should have.

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