Financial Help for Everyday Money Worries
“I’m Enrolled in a Flexible-Spending Account, But I’m Feeling Overwhelmed by the Paperwork”
Sure, filling out these claims takes time, but doing so can net you hundreds of dollars each year by allowing you to pay for health-related expenses with pretax dollars, says Kelley Long, a Chicago-based personal-finance coach and certified public accountant. Even if you spend just $300 on copays a year, filing them through a flexible-spending program may save you up to $100 on taxes. To streamline the paperwork, print out a claim form from either your company’s website or the website of your program’s administrator. Then make 12 copies—one for each month—and place them in a folder where you will save all your health-care receipts. Once a month (mark your calendar), fill in the expenses you have accrued and fax it to the administrator.
“A Collection Agency Won’t Stop Robo-Calling My House, Even Though We Pay All Our Bills on Time”
“Return the call, because they aren’t going to stop ringing you,” says Gerri Detweiler, a personal-finance adviser for Credit.com, an independent education site. If you believe that the bill collector has mistaken you for someone else or called in error, ask it to remove your number from its list. “Believe it or not, most will comply,” says Detweiler. If the agency still claims you owe a debt and won’t take you off its call list, ask it to send you something in writing. (It is required to do so by law.) After all that, if you’re still receiving calls during dinner hour, ask for the agency’s address and send it a certified letter telling it to stop contacting you. Additionally, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (consumerfinance.gov). Also worth knowing: If you’re being contacted about a family member who is in debt, you are not legally required to provide any information about that relative to the debt collectors.
“I Need to Do a Home Repair But Don’t Want to Put Money Into My House, Since Its Value Has Declined”
You’ll obviously need to call in a professional if the situation is urgent (rainwater is pouring through the ceiling, say) or you’re in the process of moving and the sale of your home is contingent upon making the repairs. It also pays to take action if you’re planning on staying in your house for five years or longer, since home values may rebound by then, or if the problem is currently small and relatively cheap to fix but could snowball into something bigger and badder if left unaddressed (a leaky toilet, a furnace pilot light that won’t stay lit). That said, in today’s weak housing market, you should avoid spending more than is absolutely necessary on fixes if you’re going to move prior to 2016. “Be careful not to over-improve your house—for example, by installing a new, $45,000 slate roof on a modest home,” says David Crook, the author of The Wall Street Journal Complete Real-Estate Investing Guidebook ($15, amazon.com). “In most cases, you won’t be able to recoup the costs.”
“I Can’t Cover My Bills Until I Have My Paycheck in Hand”
Most credit-card and many utility companies actually allow you to choose your due dates, so call each one and request that your deadline be switched to a day or two after the day you are typically paid. (And try to keep a small cushion in your checking account in case a bill is unexpectedly high one month.)
“The Purchase I Made With My Debit Card Was Less Than My Bank Seems to Think”
Since funds are immediately taken out of your account when you use a debit card, any error on the bank’s or merchant’s part could ding you considerably. You could overdraw, incurring a fee that averages almost $30, and not be able to use your card for additional purchases. So take action. As soon as you notice a discrepancy, contact the financial institution with your receipt in hand, since it should accurately reflect how much money should have been debited from your account, says Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst for Bankrate.com. Already tossed the receipt? No matter. The bank will probably still initiate an investigation.
“Receipts Are Taking Over My House”
Throw most of them away—yes, even those debit-card receipts, once you’ve verified their accuracy with your bank. The only receipts you should definitely keep are those for purchases that you’re planning to write off on your taxes—for example, job-search expenses, home-business costs, and medical expenses. (Hang on to these for seven years.) You may also want to keep receipts for pricey items, like electronics and appliances, in case you need to return them or make a warranty claim. Everything else is grist for the shredder.
“I’m Getting Charged for a Costly Medical Procedure I Never Had”
Nearly 20 percent of medical claims have a processing error, according to the American Medical Association. If you find a mistake on a statement from your insurer, the first step is to call your insurance plan’s member-services department and clearly explain the mistake to the representative. That should resolve the issue. If it doesn’t, file a formal appeal with the insurer. (Find instructions on the company’s website, or ask your employer’s human-resources manager.) Federal law and many state laws require insurers to have a relatively straightforward appeals process; it involves submitting a written statement of your complaint along with any documentation, such as bills or letters from your health-care provider, and a log of phone calls you made to your insurer. “Keep your physician in the loop and let her know that you’re working with your health plan to fix the problem. Most will be patient until the billing dispute is resolved,” says Larry Gelb, the president and CEO of CareCounsel, a health-advocacy firm. “And if your employer offers a health-care advocacy program, enlist its help to provide hands-on support with your claim issue.”
“I Sent in a Rebate Offer But Never Received the Money”
It shouldn’t take more than six weeks or so for a check to arrive. If you’ve been waiting longer than that, call the company’s customer-service number for the rebate department, which is usually printed on the offer form. Mention the terms of the agreement and the date you mailed the rebate. If you no longer have a copy of the form, try Googling the brand name and “rebate” to find a phone number, suggests Kelley Long. It’s a bit of a long shot, but you may be able to receive your money simply by providing the purchase date and the product’s model name and serial number to the customer-service agent. With future rebates, take these preemptive measures: Make copies of all the required documents, use certified mail to submit it, and read the fine print carefully to make sure you really qualify for that cash-back offer.
“I’m Being Buried In Credit-Card Solicitations”
“Banks are always looking for ways to raise revenue, so they’re competing for your business,” says Tim Chen, the CEO of NerdWallet.com, a credit-card resource site. Shrink your junk-mail pile by taking these steps: First fill out a form at OptOutPrescreen.com, a joint venture of the consumer credit-reporting agencies. Then enroll in the Direct Marketing Association’s delete list (dmachoice.org). These two services will block offers for five years.