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Your healthy checklist for turning 26

Turning 26 is a major milestone for more than one reason.

You’ve probably been in the workforce for a few years, may have moved to a new city, and have more than likely adopted a furry friend — millennials are far more likely to own a dog or cat than the rest of the population.

26 is also a milestone for a less exciting reason — it means you’re no longer eligible for coverage under your parents’ insurance plan.

Learning how to navigate the new challenges of taking ownership of your health (and footing the bills) for the first time isn’t always easy.

But finding a health and dental plan can make managing those bills a whole lot easier. 
Not to mention how health and dental coverage helps you get the preventative care you need to stay healthy.

Here’s a guide to help you take control of your own health and health coverage once you turn 26, so you’ll be adulting like a pro in no time.

Give back

Now that you’ve probably started earning some extra income, putting your money where your heart is can be a great way to give back.

Whether your main passion is environmental conservation, animal rights or international literacy, setting up a regular giving schedule can help you support the causes you care about. 

Not only that, but your charitable donations can be tax deductible, too. This means you can earn a little back every time you give back.

Qualifications for making your donations tax-deductible include keeping track of your donations through receipts, itemizing them on your tax form and making sure you’re donating to a qualified charity, to name a few.

And remember that donating to individuals doesn’t count for a tax-deduction, so don’t expect to get anything back on that loan to your broke roomie!

Work out and save money 

If the price of a gym membership has you sweating, consider looking into an insurance plan with gym benefits.

Some health insurance plans include gym credits to encourage you to stay healthy and ultimately keep your medical expenses down.

Along the same lines, if your doctor has told you that you’re at risk for diabetes or a similar condition, you may be able to deduct the cost of any expenses that can help you shed weight and improve your cholesterol — which could include a gym membership.

Keep all the receipts from your spin sessions and CrossFit classes and contact your insurance provider to see how much you could save.

Cook at home

Cooking at home may be one of the best ways to make sure your wallet grows and your waistline shrinks — and not the other way around.

The average millennial eats out five days a week — which is 14% more than baby boomers. These expenses can add up.

Not only that, but the food tends to be richer, portions tend to be larger, and you tend to eat more when you dine out. Those extra calories can make it harder to stick to your health goals. 

Planning your meals before the weekly grind can help you save money and calories as you rush from home to work or to have cocktails out with friends.

Plan on-the-go breakfasts, lunches you can bring to work, and easy meals that you can quickly prep after a long day at work to avoid the temptation of yet another carton of take-out dim-sum.

Stay on top of your appointments

Although your parents probably dragged you to the doctor for your annual checkup or dentist appointment when you were a kid, these appointments are still important. 

Though you may feel young and healthy now, prioritizing your annual exams will help you stay feeling great from now into the future. 

Here’s a quick list of the types of appointments you should be making (and following through with!) once you turn 26:

Annual physical

  • A yearly checkup will let your doctor monitor and treat any health concerns and answer any of your questions.
  • Doctors can check everything from your blood pressure to STD testing to screening for diabetes or depression.
  • Stay caught up with all your necessary adult vaccinations to keep you and everyone around you safe and healthy — the last thing you need to worry about this winter is missing work and skipping the gym thanks to the flu.

Dental appointment

  • Keep those pearly whites gleaming for selfies and interviews by getting your teeth cleaned and evaluated by a dentist at least once a year.
  • Grab cleaning coupons and samples you get from the dentist, and invest in a good electric toothbrush.
  • Remember to floss (nobody likes to do it, but nobody likes food between their teeth, either!).
  • An annual cleaning will help you curb cavities, which affects over 90% of adults in the US.

Learn more about how poor oral health can affect your chances at landing your dream job >

Dermatology appointment

  • Get a quick skin-cancer checkup once a year.
  • Most skin cancers aren’t life-threatening, but you don’t want to mess around with the ones that are — skin cancer is the most common type of cancer out there, and claims around 12,000 lives a year.
  • Be sure to wear sunscreen to keep your skin young and healthy well into the future.

For women 21 and up: annual pelvic and breast exam

  • Women between 21 and 65 should schedule an annual pelvic and breast exam with their doctor or gynecologist.
  • A Pap smear should be performed every three years.

Annual vet trips

  • If you do have a furry friend at home, you’ll want to prioritize preventative care to keep them healthy and happy.
  • If you’ve got a puppy or kitten, bring them to the vet for vaccines every 3 to 4 weeks until they’re 16 weeks old.
  • After that, your pets should get yearly checkups to update their vaccines and make sure all their vitals are strong and healthy.
  • Once your pets reach 7-10 years old, your vet may recommend bringing your cat or dog in twice a year to check their kidney and liver health, bone health, and more.

Pet insurance can help you manage your pet’s health costs, from checkups to surgery to medication.

Don’t forget health coverage

Turning 26 means being dropped from your parent’s health insurance plan and finding coverage on your own — probably for the first time.

But if you wait to start shopping for coverage until your birthday rolls around, you could rack up some tax penalties. 

Once you turn 26, you may owe a fee for any month you aren’t enrolled in a health insurance plan.

The penalty will either be 2.5% of your household income, or $695 (whichever is higher). You’ll pay this fee once you file your federal taxes in April.

If you enroll in a Marketplace plan before the 15th of the month, your coverage will start on the first of the following month.

So if you need coverage starting on August 1, make sure you are enrolled no later than July 15.

Moral of the story? Start shopping for your plan before you turn 26 so you can avoid any gap in coverage.

You may even qualify for special enrollment if your birthday falls outside of the open enrollment period for the year you turn 26.

Choose a health and dental plan that fits

When it comes to choosing a health and dental plan — whether through your job or on a private exchange — choosing the cheapest option isn’t always the best way to go.

Shop around and explore your options to find a plan that fits all your needs.

Understand your monthly costs (your monthly premiums), and what you’ll be paying out-of-pocket for doctor’s visits, tooth cleanings, medications and procedures.

Out-of-pocket costs can include your plan’s deductible, co-pays when you visit the doctor or dentist, any medical costs that go beyond your plan’s annual limit, and any services that aren’t covered by your plan.

You won’t be penalized for not enrolling in a dental insurance plan, at any age. But 67% of uninsured Americans have at least one major unmet dental need, and this same percentage of uninsured Americans delay dental care because it’s too expensive.

With some dental plans, you can get preventive dental care starting at $15 a month after your monthly premium, and they cover 100% of two preventive care visits a year. 

Regular trips to the dentist can curb small problems like cavities before they grow into serious and costly issues like periodontal disease.

Not to mention how a dazzling smile can help you stand out in the job search. 

Dental insurance makes trips to the dentist affordable so they can stay on the top of your to-do list. 

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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.

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