Low-Cost Assisted Living: Free & Affordable Elder Care

Key Takeaways

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states the average monthly cost of assisted living is around $3,600. This cost is projected to rise, potentially reaching $5,779 by 2030.
  • Assisted living costs are typically covered by the elder’s savings, pensions, insurance options, and financial assistance from family.
  • Various low-cost and no-cost housing options are available for seniors, including state-funded assisted living, Medicaid facilities, Medicare nursing homes, and shelters.
  • Elders can manage assisted living expenses through private health insurance, VA benefits, home equity loans, and senior benefits programs.

For elders who need help with activities of daily living (ADL), assisted living homes can provide an immense amount of comfort and security.

Unfortunately, paying for supportive services can be easier said than done, especially for low-income seniors or seniors with no income who depend solely on personal savings or financial assistance from loved ones.

Despite this barrier, affordable housing for older adults and seniors is available if you know how and where to look for it.

About the Cost of Assisted Living for Seniors

Many factors affect the cost of assisted living for seniors, and it is important to understand these factors when considering an assisted living home for your loved one.

Average Cost of Assisted Living

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the national average median for assisted living costs is around $3,600 a month, though other sources, such as Genworth Financial, would put this number even higher.

The costs of assisted living services can be broken down as follows:

  • Average daily cost of assisted living is $120
  • Average monthly cost of assisted living is $3,600
  • Average yearly cost of assisted living is $43,200

These numbers are only expected to climb according to Genworth, which predicts that the average monthly rate for assisted living could climb as high as $5,779 by 2030.

However you look at it, assisted living communities are not cheap, and a great number of elders and seniors are in no position to be paying such high costs, especially with no consistent income source.

Factors That Affect the Cost of Long-Term Care

The costs of long-term care will vary at each facility, and can depend on numerous factors.

Factors that affect the cost of long-term care include:

  • The state or specific area where you live
  • The level of care that you or your loved one requires
  • The type of facility
  • Amenities that the facility provides

Who Usually Pays for Assisted Living Costs?

The person who pays for the costs of assisted living is usually either the elder who is in attendance at the facility or their family members and loved ones.

Costs are usually paid with a combination of private funds and savings, private pensions, and retirement savings, although there are some insurance options as well.

Low-Cost Assisted Living FAQs

The cheapest way for a senior to live will vary heavily based on their location, level of care required, and individual situation with their family.

A few of the cheapest housing options for seniors can include:

  • House sharing with other seniors
  • Living with any adult children they have
  • Making modifications to their current home that allow them to stay and age in place

Most assisted living care facilities are paid for through a person or family’s private funds, which can include their own private savings or funds from their private pensions or retirement accounts.

You may also find assisted living homes that accept private insurance, state-funded insurance plans like Medicaid or Medicare, or long-term care insurance.

According to various data, the cheapest state in the U.S. to find assisted living is Missouri, followed by Alabama and Georgia.

The average cost of living at an assisted living home in Missouri is around $36,000 a year, or $3,000 a month.

Assisted living programs and residential care are not cheap, with the national average monthly cost for assisted living expected to reach between $4,500 and $5,000 by the end of 2023.

There are a few possible causes for this rate. The main culprit is believed to be a shortage of qualified caretakers and a rise in minimum wage around the country, leading to an increase in costs for assisted living centers as they strive to hire well-trained and high-quality employees.

Types of Low-Cost and No-Cost Assisted Living Facilities

There are many types of low-cost and no-cost housing options available to seniors with limited finances, including the following options.

State-Funded Assisted Living

State-funded assisted living facilities are those which are funded through state or federal grants. These programs operate differently from state to state, so it is a good idea to check what kind of eligibility requirements you may have to meet in your specific state.

For example, state-funded assisted living programs may have minimum age requirements or income limits for attendees, whereas private facilities may not have such requirements.

Medicaid Long-Term Facilities

Some assisted living facilities exclusively accept state-funded insurance plans for payment, including Medicaid, Medicare, and TRICARE, which is a state-funded military insurance.

Because these facilities exclusively accept state insurance plans, they are often limited in the amount of seniors that they can accept and may have waiting lists in place.

Medicare Nursing Homes

Medicare does not typically cover long-term assisted living stays but will cover short-term stays under certain circumstances.

Circumstances under which Medicare will provide short-term coverage are those in which a person needs highly skilled nursing care or rehabilitation services. The elder’s doctor must certify in writing that this is the case.

An example of a condition that requires skilled nursing care is Alzheimer’s, which can require 24/7 supervision, memory care, and medical care depending on the severity.

Shelters That Combat Homelessness

Elders may be able to find assistance through local shelters that combat homelessness, though it is important to remember these are only temporary solutions.

As a temporary solution, shelters that combat homelessness may impose limits on a senior’s length of stay or the amount of times they can visit within a certain time frame, though many do help with placement referrals.

During their stay at one of these shelters, the elder should be looking for and gathering funds toward a more permanent and comfortable option.

What to Look for in a Low-Cost Assisted Living Facility

Facilities which possess certain marks of quality care will likely cost more, as they tend to offer the highest level of quality care available.

Here are some marks of quality care to look for in an assisted living facility:

  • Licensure in the state of location
  • Accreditation with national organizations such as The Joint Committee or the National Assisted Living Quality Review (NALQR)
  • Designation as a non-profit organization
  • Positive reviews and testimonials
  • Awards and accolades, such as the Excellence in Action Award by the National Research Corporation
  • Certifications, such as Green House Project Certification and Eden Alternative Certification

9 Ways to Keep Elder Care Costs Low

While assisted living homes and other senior living options can definitely be pricey, there are ways in which elders and their loved ones can work to keep costs low.

1. Use Private Health Insurance

Elders who have access to private insurance can use it to cover assisted living. They may find a good portion of their assisted living expenses covered, depending on the type of individual health care plan the elder has.

Some plans may only cover the medical portion of assisted living costs and not personal care or living expenses, so always check in advance with the senior’s specific provider.

2. Cover Elder Care With Life Insurance

Elders and their loved ones may not be aware that they can use life insurance to help pay for assisted living, but this can be a useful option.

Ways that elders can utilize life insurance to pay for assisted living include:

  1. Sell the life insurance policy to a 3rd party for cash value.
  2. Surrender the life insurance policy directly back to the insurance provider for cash value.
  3. Set up a living benefit program that allows you to use up to 50% of your life insurance policy benefits while still alive.

3. Use VA Benefits

Elders who are also United States veterans may be able to use their VA Aid and Attendance benefits, Housebound benefits, or disability benefits towards their care.

In order to qualify for veterans benefits, the veteran must meet certain eligibility requirements in terms of their military service, finances, and disability or medical situation.

4. Apply for Federal Long Term Care Insurance (FLTCIP)

The Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program (FLTCIP) is a special type of health care insurance that is available to federal and postal employees.

The program was established in 2002 by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and is supported by the John Hancock Life and Health Insurance Company.

5. Tap Into Home Equity

If the senior is a current homeowner, they may be able to apply for a home equity loan to help cover the costs of care.

Some examples of this are bridge loans and reverse mortgages, the latter of which is a type of home equity loan exclusive to people 62 years of age and older who need help paying for living expenses but no longer have a source of income.

6. Consider Selling or Renting the Elder’s Home

Elders who are homeowners may also want to consider selling or renting out their homes temporarily during their assisted living stay.

This can be a difficult decision to make — especially if the elder is a longtime homeowner who has years, or decades, worth of memories associated with their home.

Pros of selling an elder’s home include:

  • No mortgage payments
  • No home repairs or maintenance to worry about
  • Extra funds available to pay for assisted living

Cons of selling an elder’s home include:

  • Extra cash won’t be immediately available
  • The senior may have strong emotional ties to their home
  • Once the home is sold, it is gone
  • If the home is rented, tenants may damage the property and potentially add to costs

Despite the cons associated with an elder selling or renting out their home, the benefits still outweigh the costs for the majority of seniors.

7. Work With a Senior Move Manager

A senior move manager is someone who helps an elder move and also assists them and their loved ones as they adjust to the new living arrangements.

While senior move managers can charge up to $80 per hour, they can also help to lower costs for the elder in the long-term.

This is done by helping the elder to manage their estate sale, find the least expensive time of year or location to move, and help them to identify and sell possessions that can help cover their assisted living or nursing home care costs.

8. File for Medical or Caregiver Tax Deductions

Seniors who are chronically ill or terminally ill may be eligible to receive a medical tax deduction that can help cut down on the costs of their needed care.

This is also the case for caregivers or relatives of elders who are terminally ill, as they may be eligible to receive a caregiver tax credit as long as they are paying for more than 50% of their loved one’s care.

9. Seek Help from Senior Benefits Programs

Senior benefits programs provide assistance to adults over the age of 65 who need assistance in the areas of medical care, nutrition, finances, and more.

Examples of programs that provide benefits to seniors include:

  • Social Security
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
  • Extra Help
  • Medicare Savings Program
  • Medicaid Programs
  • Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs)
  • Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy (LIS)

Further benefits can be explored by checking with your local Area Agency on Aging and at both Benefits.gov and BenefitsCheckUp.org, a database of benefits programs provided by the National Council on Aging (NCO).

Seniors and their loved ones may also want to look into public housing programs through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

What to Know About Assisted Living Facility Costs

After making the difficult decision to enter an assisted living home, elders have a few options for making their stays in senior housing more affordable and cost-effective.

Shared Rooms May Cost Less

Depending on the individual facility, you or your loved one may have an option between a single room or a shared room with another resident at the facility.

While shared rooms may lack the privacy that comes with a single room, sharing a room is usually a more affordable option.

Some Facilities Offer Seasonal/Timely Discounts

It is possible to find facilities that offer discounts based on the time of year or based on their current level of occupancy.

For example, if an assisted living home has numerous vacancies that they need to fill, they may offer a discounted rate to new residents in an attempt to fill those vacancies.

Further, these vacancies often occur on a seasonal basis. For instance, assisted living homes in Florida may be more popular during the winter months, and thus much cheaper during the summer months.

Assisted Living Facilities May Offer Various Price Packages

In order to make services more affordable and more accessible, some assisted living facilities offer price packages, or tiers, for the services that they provide.

For example, an assisted living facility might offer a lower tier package for independent living that only covers room and board, with higher tier packages that allow for additional services like medical care, laundry, transportation, or certain recreational activities or therapies.

It is important to note, however, that many assisted living centers charge a single fee that covers all services, even if elders do not utilize all the services provided during their stay.

Alternatives to Assisted Living for Low-Income Elders

Assisted living or nursing facilities are not always possible or practical for every senior. Fortunately, there are other options to accommodate the multitude of circumstances that seniors experience.

Adult Day Care

Adult day care programs provide structure and supervision to elders who may need more care and medical attention during the day. These programs may offer care for elders in their own home or at the home of a loved one.

Adult day care can also provide much-needed socialization with other people and seniors for elders who may be experiencing isolation or loneliness in their day-to-day lives.

In-Home Care

Seniors also have the option for in-home care services, where they stay at their own residence or the residence of a loved one and have a nurse or caregiver visit them in their own home.

Depending on the level of care required, elders may even have the option to have an in-home caregiver who lives with them at their residence and cares for them full-time.

Find Low-Cost Assisted Living Options Near You

Finding an affordable assisted living home for your elderly loved one may seem like a daunting task. But low-cost options are available, with multiple ways to lower the costs further.

No matter where your loved one is located, there are options available to them — and we can help you find them.

Simply browse our directory of assisted living facilities throughout the United States, and you are guaranteed to find a type of housing that will suit your loved one’s needs.

Written by: Aging with Care Editorial Staff

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