As your parents age, they will probably need more help from you. But it may be difficult to provide the help they need, especially if they're experiencing financial trouble.
Money can be a sensitive subject to discuss, but you'll need to talk to your parents about it in order to get to the root of their problems and come up with a solution. Before you start the conversation, consider the following four scenarios as signs that your parents might be experiencing financial challenges, and how you can make things easier for them.
1. They are dealing with debt
Perhaps your parents have fallen behind on their mortgage or credit card payments. Maybe they're dealing with the aftermath of a large, unexpected medical bill. Or it could be that years of generously supporting their children and grandchildren have left their finances in shambles.
Whatever the cause, debt among older Americans is a growing trend. In 2010, the average debt for a family in which the head of household was age 75 or older was $30,288. In 2016 (most recent data available), that number grew to $36,757.1
2. They are falling for fraud
According to a report by the Federal Trade Commission, older adults have been targeted or disproportionately affected by fraud. Moreover, older adults have reported much higher dollar losses to certain types of fraud than younger consumers.2
Why do scammers target older individuals? There are many explanations for this trend. Some older individuals lack an awareness about major financial issues. Others may be attractive targets for scammers because they have access to retirement account assets or have built up home equity. Additional factors that increase an older adult's vulnerability to scams include cognitive decline and isolation from family and friends.
3. They aren't used to managing finances
The loss of a spouse can create many challenges for the survivor, especially if the deceased spouse was in charge of finances. Many widows or widowers might find themselves keeping track of statements, paying bills, budgeting, and handling other financial matters for the first time, which can be a complicated reality to face.
4. They struggle with change
As financial institutions continue to innovate and increase online and mobile access to customer accounts, it can be difficult for older consumers to keep up. For example, some older adults may struggle with accessing their financial information online. Others might get frustrated or confused when financial institutions implement new policies and procedures, especially if they've had an account with an institution for decades.
One report described the most common issues that older consumers identified with bank accounts or services. The top three complaints involved account management (47%), deposits and withdrawals (27%), and problems caused by low funds (12%).3
Ways you can help
Regardless of the reasons why your parents might be having money problems, there are steps you can take to help them.
Set up a meeting with a financial professional. Encourage your parents to meet with a professional to evaluate their financial situation.
Help them reduce spending. Look for big and small ways that they can scale back on expenses, such as downsizing to a smaller home, cutting cable plans, or canceling unnecessary memberships/subscriptions.
Have them tested for dementia. If you've noticed behavioral or memory changes in one or both of your parents, share your concerns with a medical professional. Cognitive decline can result in difficulty managing finances.
Lend money (using caution). If you decide to help your parents monetarily, consider paying your parents' expenses directly rather than giving them cash so you can ensure that their bills are paid on time.
Help them apply for assistance. The National Council on Aging has a website, BenefitsCheckUp.org, that can help you determine your parents' eligibility for federal, state, and private benefit programs.
When retirees were asked about their overall expenses and spending in retirement, 37% said they were higher than expected, 52% said they were about what they expected, and just 8% said they were lower than expected.
1 Debt of the Elderly and Near Elderly, 1992-2016, Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2018
2 Protecting Older Consumers: 2017-2018, Federal Trade Commission, 2018
3 Monthly Complaint Report, Vol. 23, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, May 2017
Source: 2018 Retirement Confidence Survey, Employee Benefit Research Institute
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