What upsets most about turning 65, or those first receiving Medicare coverage, is the hours they will inevitably spend researching their supplemental health coverage online. I admit, deciphering the advertisements from the objective information can be difficult, as well as finding a knowledgeable, unbiased agent to discuss your concerns and questions. If I were to guide a newly enrolled Medicare beneficiary, these are the steps I would tell them to take.

Let me back up, first. Before you turn your computer on, take a moment to admit one thing to yourself: You will need to spend time researching and learning if you want to come out the winner in this situation. My article will help you prepare for purchasing Medicare supplemental insurance most efficiently, as well as most responsibly. There is no quick-fix here. Alright, now that we have faced the music, let’s begin.

Step One: Read, take notes, and educate yourself on Medicare. I speak with people who have never touched the Medicare.gov website, and rely on agents to give them objective, accurate information instead. This is a big no, no! You should never rely on just one person, especially a person working independently of Medicare. There is a “Publications” section on the Medicare website, and this should be your first stop… before you ever speak with an agent. The better informed you are, the easier it will be to recognize a good agent from a lousy one, as well as understanding Original Medicare and what it covers, which will better assist you in evaluating what you need to supplement. Covering this base will ultimately give you a keener eye once you begin to shop for coverage.

Step Two: After perusing the Medicare.gov site, take a minute to look at your health and financial situation. What do you need, and how much are you willing to spend for it each month? You may have to do a little financial planning– in fact, meeting with a financial planner about your concerns is a smart thing to do. The reason I urge you to contemplate these two questions before speaking with an agent is simple: you need to know what you want/need before you sign up for something an agent is selling. Here’s an interesting analogy: If I go into a clothing store without planning, I leave having purchased more than I should. The sales associate will tell me those heels look fabulous, and I will leave the mall $50 poorer, and none the less richer. If I had carefully inspected my needs and financial situation, I would have known a pack of socks from Walmart would suffice my needs. The agent plays the sales associate in this scenario, and I play the Medicare beneficiary– not knowing how my decision at the mall will affect the next month’s budget.

Step Three: Let’s say you have done your planning, and you are ready to purchase a Medicare Supplement or sign up for Medicare Advantage (Part C). The next piece of information I give you is to research agencies. You can also refer back to an older article I wrote, “How to Catch a Medicare Supplement Agent: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” for a more detailed analysis on finding the perfect agent/agency.

Step Four: Alright, you are informed, you know what you want, and you have done some research on finding a good agent; in my professional opinion, you are ready to speak with an agent one-on-one. But, wait, why is this even necessary? Two things, most agents do know what they are talking about, and secondly, they can assist you in shopping around by looking at different policies available in your area. That’s why finding the right agent matters.

These four easy steps will help you in securing the right coverage for your situation. Some Medicare beneficiaries make the mistake of simply Googling “Medicare Advantage,” “Medicare Supplements” or even just “Medicare coverage” before ever completing any research/evaluation. This blunder can lead you down a rabbit hole filled with confusing, biased, and unsupported findings. Do the smart thing, as I stress in every one of my articles, utilize the power of the consumer! Shop around and stay informed.