From the Philadelphia Gay News

February 18, 2016

By Megan McCoy

How do I stretch my resources? What is a reverse mortgage and is it right for me? How am I going to pay for care if I need it?

As we age, we are faced with a barrage of questions related to finances and housing. Financial decision-making becomes increasingly complex due to the realities of living on a fixed income. According to the National Council on Aging, one in three older adults is economically insecure. Additionally, many seniors enter retirement with significant debt. Our ability to manage these challenges can be complicated by chronic health conditions and physical or cognitive limitations.

While dementia and cognitive impairment can impact an older adult’s ability to manage finances, just as often a lack of financial literacy or awareness can lead to bad financial decisions. Many older adults are without a reliable support system or do not have the luxury of access to financial planners to help them make informed decisions. Fortunately, there are resources available to empower older adults to educate themselves.

The National Council on Aging’s website (www.ncoa.org) has a wealth (pun intended) of financial information for older adults. Here you can read about strategies for money management and how to avoid financial scams, as well as tips for saving money and reducing debt. You can use NCOA’s online Economic Check-Up to learn how to find work opportunities, reduce spending and use home equity.

Additionally, many older adults may be eligible for benefits and entitlements beyond Medicaid and Medicare. Programs that reduce energy costs, provide savings on Medicare premiums and offer annual property-tax and rent rebates can significantly help reduce monthly expenses for older adults. Through NCOA’s website, you can even find out what benefits and entitlements you might be eligible to receive by using Benefits Check-Up.

Of course, not everyone has access to online resources. Many of us prefer to hear our information straight from the metaphorical horse’s mouth. Locally, community organizations are also working to make sure older adults have access to the information they need to make informed financial and housing decisions. On April 15, the LGBT Elder Initiative, Center in the Park and Mount Airy USA, all local organizations, are collaborating to present Balancing Dollars and $en$e, a free full-day housing and financial-education event designed to provide individuals age 55 and over, and their caregivers, with resources and tools critical to maintaining finances and housing in later life.

By becoming better informed, you can avoid placing yourself at risk for financial crisis and financial abuse. As the supervisor for Center in the Park’s housing-counseling program for older adults, I unfortunately witness the struggles many elders face in managing finances and the costs of housing on a regular basis. Often, older adults come to us when they are at a point of crisis, such as facing foreclosure or utility service shut-off. In many cases, if the individual had sought help sooner, we could have potentially worked with him or her to prevent the situation from reaching a crisis point.

However, many older adults feel embarrassed or are ashamed to seek help when experiencing financial hardships or challenges. This is especially true in cases in which the older adults are being financially exploited by someone close to them or on whom they depend for care. Within our own families of choice and within the LGBT community, we can help elders we know or who we are caring for by being aware of the signs of financial abuse.

Signs of financial abuse include things like unusual changes in a person’s bank or credit card accounts, including unexplained withdrawals or charges on ATM or credit cards. Another warning sign is unpaid utility bills, or missing rent or mortgage payments despite the person appearing to have enough income to cover key monthly expenses. Changes in mood and personality, such as appearing fearful or confused, can also be signs of financial abuse.

The earlier we begin to educate ourselves and plan for the future, the better positioned we are to make informed choices to protect our interests and those of others in our lives. When it comes to balancing dollars and sense, it is never too late to learn.

If you suspect an elder is a victim of financial abuse, make a report to Older Adult Protective Services at 215-765-9040.

If you would like more information about the April 15 Balancing Dollars and $en$e event, call the LGBT Elder Initiative at 215-720-9415.

Megan C. McCoy, MSS, MLSP, is the director of grant research and development at Center in the Park and is the co-chair of the LGBT Elder Initiative’s Program Committee.