Early acceptance isn’t just for college anymore! It is common for some 55 plus retirement communities to offer use of certain campus amenities to future residents who are on the waiting list. Some communities, particularly continuing care retirement communities (CCRC or life plan communities), which often provide a wider array of amenities, are taking this concept to the next level by creating early acceptance programs. These unique programs enable future residents to remain in their current home while enjoying the amenities, as well as the healthcare-related services, provided by the CCRC.

Getting on the waitlist at a 55 plus community

Once you identify the retirement community to which you would like to eventually move, you will likely need to get your name on the community’s waiting list. This step typically will entail making a small deposit, which may be a few hundred dollars up to a few thousand dollars, depending on the 55 plus community. This fee may or may not be refundable; each community will have its own policy on this, and some may offer a refundable and a non-refundable wait list.

Once your name comes to the top of the waiting list, you can officially submit your application for move in, or you can defer, allowing the next person on the waiting list to go to the front of the line instead. Some people will defer if they simply aren’t yet ready to make their senior living move. Others may defer if their preferred type or location of residence is not currently available — for instance, if they want a two-bedroom unit with a study/den, but there are no vacancies for that particular floor plan.

Keep in mind, when it comes to CCRCs in particular, many require residents to pass a health evaluation and be able to live independently at move-in, so timing your move is important. You don’t want to wait too long or it might be too late if you have begun to have disqualifying health issues.

>> Related: Fit for Move-In?: The CCRC Health Evaluation Requirement

55 plus community waiting list perks

Generally speaking in life, being on a waiting list isn’t particularly appealing. Picture the hours-long wait at your favorite restaurant as an example! But the fact that many 55 plus retirement communities have a waiting list is actually a positive in some respects. First, a waitlist indicates that the community is in demand. Knowing that people are eager to move in and willing to wait for a spot speaks to the desirability of the community. They must be doing something right!

Secondly, the financial viability of a retirement community is an important consideration. This is particularly important when choosing a CCRC; you want to be sure the community will be able to afford to keep the commitments they have made to care for residents for the rest of their lives. Having a waitlist suggests that the community will be able to maintain its cash flow and a good financial standing into the future.

Putting your name on the waiting list of a CCRC or other type of 55 plus community also can benefit the future resident. Many retirement communities will allow future residents to take advantage of some or all of the campus’s amenities. This might include things like use of the fitness center and pool, and/or participation in on-campus speakers and events.

Being on the 55 plus community waitlist is a way for future residents to begin to dip their toe in the water, so to speak — to get a better feel for what life will be like once they move into the community. It is a way to get familiar with the campus and even begin to make new friends. And on the flip side, if a person determines the community is not a good fit for them for whatever reason, they will only be out the cost of the waiting list fee.

>> Related: When to Get On the Wait List at a Retirement Community

CCRC early acceptance programs

Some CCRCs have developed an enhanced waiting list concept, which is gaining popularity. Sometimes referred to as an “early acceptance program,” the idea is that future residents of the CCRC get on the waiting list and go ahead and complete the application and health evaluation process, but they continue to live in their current home.

The biggest difference with a CCRC early acceptance program versus a traditional CCRC waiting list, however, is that those approved for the early acceptance program go ahead and pay some or all of their CCRC entry fee. Depending on the community, that fee can range from a few thousand dollars to over $100,000. (Based on the terms of the CCRC contract, some portion of that entry fee may be refundable if the resident moves out of the CCRC or as a payment to their heirs. Learn more about how refundable entry fees work.)

Benefits of CCRC early acceptance vs. traditional 55 plus community waitlist

Why would someone choose a CCRC early acceptance program instead of just paying the relatively nominal fee to get on a traditional 55 plus community waiting list? Well, for those who feel that an early acceptance program makes sense for them, there are some potential advantages.

First, let’s talk dollars and cents: The cost of nearly everything is only going up, and this includes the cost of CCRCs’ entry fees. In some cases (depending on the terms of the specific community’s contract), taking part in a CCRC’s early acceptance program allows you to lock into today’s entry fee prices, even if you don’t plan to move into the CCRC for some time.

Second, in most cases, getting approved for a CCRC’s early acceptance program gives you access to nearly all of the community’s amenities and services. This is a key distinction from a traditional waiting list at a CCRC or other type of 55 plus community, which will likely only grant you access to certain amenities like the fitness center/pool and/or campus events.

To expound on this point: Unlike a regular CCRC waiting list, with early acceptance approval (depending on the contract terms), you may be able to utilize the CCRC’s on-site healthcare services — things like primary care or even some specialized care like physical/occupational therapy services. You may even be given access to the on-site assisted living and/or skilled nursing care facilities, if needed, just like a CCRC resident — even though you are still living in your own home outside of the community.

But arguably one of the biggest advantages of opting to take part in early acceptance at a CCRC is that these programs often will allow approved participants to move in even if their health status has declined since the time of their approval and they are no longer able to live independently at move in. This is another key distinction from the traditional CCRC waiting list, which typically requires a new resident to be healthy enough to safely live independently at move in.

>> Related: A New Case for the Continuing Care at Home Model?

Which waiting list option is right for you?

Getting your name on the 55 plus community waiting list is a key step in your senior living decision. And if you opt for a CCRC, an early acceptance program might be worth considering.

One of the key reasons that many people decide they want to eventually move to a CCRC is the peace of mind that comes with knowing you will have access to a continuum of care services, should you ever need them. But for those who want some added sense of security, taking part in a CCRC’s early acceptance program allows you to continue to live in your own home until you are ready to move to the CCRC while still having the benefit of ready-access to any care services on the CCRC’s campus that you may need. Additionally, the stress of timing your CCRC move so that you are still healthy enough to get approved for move-in is removed as a variable.

It is important to note that opting to apply for early acceptance is more of a financial commitment than the traditional CCRC waitlist, however. While some portion of the entry fee that must be paid to take part in early acceptance may be refundable, it is still financially wise to feel confident that you have chosen the community that is the best fit for you.

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