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Finding Silver Linings for Golden-Agers?

April 23, 2009
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The downturn in the economy has taken a toll on everyone, but retired senior citizens are often hardest hit by a recession because they generally live on fixed incomes.

Earnings on retirement-plan investments may have declined sharply due to drops in stock prices and interest rates. How to help your retired parents or other relatives weather a recession? Here are a number tips from the Pennsylvania Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

The first step is to be aware of the effects that the economy has had on an older person's finances. You may already know that their retirement savings could have been hurt by market plunges, but other consequences may not be quite as clear.

A home may have fallen in value due to drops in real estate prices. That could make it harder to take a home-equity loan, if it's needed, or could limit the benefits of a reverse mortgage.

If your parent was hoping to downsize or to move into an assisted-living facility, those plans may have to wait if his or her home can't be sold.

Once you've considered some of the general problems, get specific information about your elder relatives' situation. A visit to their home is a good first step. You may be able to detect signs that they are scrimping on necessities, such as heat, food or medicine.

It's also a good idea to ask if you can review their financial information, such as checking and savings account statements, retirement account statements and credit-card bills. That way you can find out if changes in the stock market or in interest rates have lowered their monthly income and determine whether they still have enough to cover their costs. As you look over their paperwork, be alert for notices that they're behind on payments or for demand letters from collection agencies.

If your parents or an older relative are having financial problems, there are ways you can help, even if you're unable to pay their outstanding bills yourself. For example, offer to contact creditors and try to negotiate new terms on their accounts. Many creditors, including mortgage and credit-card companies, are willing to lower monthly payments temporarily to prevent an account from going into default.

You can also research programs that offer financial support for senior citizens and enroll them into the ones for which they qualify.

More information is available from a Web site sponsored by the National Council on Aging (check out: www.benefitscheckup.org), which offers details on federal, state and local programs that help seniors pay for meals, medications, utility bills, taxes, health care and more.

If your parents' monthly income has declined because of market declines or other factors, they may be eligible for more aid programs than they were in the past.


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