Caregivers May Need to Help Older Parents Manage Credit Issues

Caregivers for older parents may eventually (sometimes immediately) confront the potentially touchy subject of the best way to handle money matters of the parent. Jae Bratton of NerdWallet states that a specific component of a parent’s finances involves the use and condition of his or her credit. For this Bratton suggests a careful review to cover the following items:

1) Review the credit reports from the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Log on to www.annualcreditreport.com. Look for any signs of identity theft or fraud (e.g., credit cards you don’t recognize, discrepancies in loan balances, misspelled names, unfamiliar addresses, strange attempts to open a new account, etc. If you see evidence of identity theft, remove fraudulent information from the report by submitting proper information to the credit bureaus and reporting the theft to www.IdentityTheft.gov.

2) Consider freezing credit, especially if identity theft has occurred. When one’s credit is frozen, it becomes inaccessible to fraudsters who may want to open lines of credit in your parent’s name. For maximum protection, freeze credit with all three credit bureaus.

3) Check the credit score. Because, says Bratton, “Good credit scores can create opportunities and unlock lower interest rates, and they still matter even as we age.” Ways to lift credit scores include paying loan and account balances on time and using less than 30% of available credit. Older parents with limited credit can open a secured credit card to help them build a credit history.

4) Parent’s own credit card. “Older parents should have a credit account in their own name,” Bratton advises, “and women may need to be especially mindful on this point.” Older women sometimes do not have their own credit history because they’ve been only a joint owner or an authorized user of a card in the husband’s name.

5) Have a payoff plan. For any credit balances owed, develop an effective plan to pay them off.

6) Seek help if needed. In Colorado, visit https://cdhs.colorado.gov/benefits-assistance/cash-assistance/adult-financial-programs. Also, the online database at https://benefitscheckup.org/ helps older adults find and apply for financial assistance programs.

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