Resources for Seniors in a Financial Crunch

Many seniors avoid seeking help for their money problems, citing reasons such as not wanting to bother people, not knowing who to trust, and feeling ashamed. Yet trying to deal with debt issues alone is often not the best approach. While money problems may be uncomfortable to talk about, there are resources where you can find valuable assistance.

Friends and family
If you are in financial straits, reach out to caring friends and family members; they are often more forgiving and willing to help than you may think. Try not to let pride get in the way of getting what you need. If the situation was turned around and those you love needed help, would you give it? The answer is probably a resounding yes. Everybody needs a hand at some point in his or her life—this may be your time. Before debt spirals out of control, or you are living so sparingly that your basic needs are not being met, discuss what is going on with a loved one. Catching a financial problem in its early stages is best for everyone.

Before you approach someone with your financial dilemma, know what you are going to say and what you will ask for. If you are looking for a personal loan, be clear about the terms. Propose a repayment time frame, payment amounts and, if you want, interest. On the other hand, if you know you will not be able to pay the money back, be clear about that.

Credit-counseling
If you want professional and objective financial support, contact a reputable credit-counseling agency. These nonprofit organizations provide comprehensive, educational, and goal-oriented services at no or low cost, and their counselors are experienced with helping a wide spectrum of people, including older Americans. They offer budget and debt counseling to assist with money management, and debt management plans for help with outstanding bills.

For some seniors, a Debt Management Plan (DMP) is an ideal way to deal with such financial obligations as credit card debt, unsecured loans, and medical bills. The agency will perform much of the communication with creditors, and your interest rates and penalty fees may be reduced or even eliminated.

That said, not all credit-counseling agencies are created equal. When choosing, look for an organization that has been in business for a long time, is accredited by a neutral third party, and is certified by HUD to provide housing counseling. It should be education-orientated, and provide full financial coaching (including goal establishment, spending plan review, and establishing savings) by well-trained coaches.

Avoid any organization that aggressively solicits you for business, makes “too good to be true” offers and ridiculous promises and is vague about interest rates and fees, charges the first month payment as a DMP set-up fee, or high monthly administration fees. If you will be using their DMP, consult the Better Business Bureau to check for past client complaints. Read the contract carefully before signing.

There is no reason a senior citizen should have to deal with debt problems alone. Help does exist. Reach out and get the assistance you deserve from trustworthy people and organizations.

Revised January 2016.

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