Solutions to keep the older adult's financial accounts secure and balanced include:
Documenting valuables and accounts
Securing access to accounts and financial information
Increasing account safeguards
Making bill payment easier
Documenting Valuables and Accounts
Ask if the older adult has a list of or can easily find details for all financial accounts and valuables. Having clear, up-to-date records will make it easier to uncover theft or other issues.
Financial accounts include savings, checking, and retirement and investment accounts, along with credit and debit cards. For each account, list the account holder, name of the financial institution, account number and contact information. Account statements include this information. Keep account information secure, in a locked drawer or encrypted computer file.
Valuables could include cars, electronics, jewelry, art, collectibles or unique items. Take pictures of valuables and list information such as make, model, serial number, year made, estimated value, and any records of purchase, ownership or appraisal.
Gathering additional information can help when making financial plans, filing insurance claims or getting help with financial tasks. Include:
Housing documents, such as leases, rental agreements, mortgages, deeds or home equity loans
Bills for utilities, credit cards, or vehicle or other loans
Payment agreements for long-terms care, alimony or other regular payments
Policies for home, vehicle, life or long-term care insurance
Income records, including government and retirement benefits
Legal documents such as wills, trusts or powers of attorney
Securing Access to Accounts and Financial Information
Ask if the older adult wants anyone else to have access to financial accounts. If so, ask if the older adult can give the person or people limited access, like view-only account statements. Check with the older adult's financial institutions to make sure that no other names are on the older adult's account.
Encourage the older adult to keep account statements, PINs, online passwords and other sensitive financial information safe, in a locked drawer or encrypted computer file. If the older adult, you or others have old documents with sensitive information, shred paper copies and securely trash computer files. (Copies of individual tax returns should be kept for at least 3 years and business returns for at least 7 years.)
Encourage the older adult to request free credit reports online at AnnualCreditReport.Com, to make sure accounts are secure. There are 3 credit reporting agencies and each offers a free credit report per year. Request a report from one of the agencies every 4 months for more frequent credit reviews.
If someone else is using the older adult's name or accounts, report it to local law enforcement or adult protective services, as well as the older adult's financial institutions and credit card companies. Contact the 3 credit reporting agencies to place a fraud alert on the older adult's credit file:
Equifax at 1-800-525-6285
Experian at 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion at 1-800-680-7289
Increasing Account Safeguards
Encourage the older adult to avoid high-risk transactions like wiring money or paying for major expenses with cash. Point out that paying with a check or credit or debit card creates a record that can help if there are disputes, warranty claims or returns.
If the older adult prefers to wire money or use cash, ask why. Ask the older adult's financial institution, accountant or advisor how to make these transactions more secure.
Ask the older adult's financial institution to send alerts if there are large withdrawals, or other unusual account activity. Ask how often the older adult checks account balances, activity or statements. Ask if the older adult would like you or someone else to be able to review account statements, to check for suspicious activity.
Making Bill Payment Easier
If the older adult isn't paying bills on time, ask why. Does the older adult have trouble keeping track of bills? Does the older adult need to wait for monthly checks or deposits, to have enough funds to pay bills?
If keeping track of bills is difficult, ask if the older adult would like help going through mail and making sure bills are paid on time. This can be part of regular visits. Or ask if the older adult would like to set up automatic bill payments online.
If the older adult is having trouble covering expenses, ask if this is new. Have the older adult's expenses grown beyond what the older adult can afford? Has the older adult lost money to theft, fraud or poor decisions? Is the older adult being pressured into giving someone money or gifts?
Report any evidence of financial exploitation. Contact local law enforcement, county adult protective services or the state's elder abuse hotline. You don't need proof of financial exploitation. The authorities will investigate.
If the older adult needs help with budgeting or meeting expenses, ask if the older adult has done financial planning. If not, ask if the older adult would like to talk with a financial advisor or accountant. If the older adult hasn't worked with financial professionals before, offer to look up options in the area. Ask if the older adult's financial institution offers planning or budgeting services.
To find resources and other ways to reduce expenses, contact the:
Local, county or tribal government to find out who can answer questions about Social Security, Medicare, health insurance and other public and private benefits
State Medicaid office for programs offering financial support to older adults and the people who help them
State Health Insurance Assistance Program for benefits counseling and enrollment assistance, if the older adult receives healthcare insurance through Medicare or Medicaid
Local Aging and Disability Resource Center or Aging Unit, Senior Center or Area Agency on Aging, for information about other resources in the older adult's area