Five Steps for Making Sure a Health Crisis Doesn’t Mean Financial Ruin
Allsup poll finds most people rely on family, friends for financial support while awaiting disability benefits
Belleville, Ill. - June 9, 2010 - A serious long-term illness or disability can have devastating, often irreversible, effects on a family's financial well-being, according to Allsup, a nationwide provider of Social Security disability representation and Medicare plan selection services. In fact, the support of friends and family members are the most relied on financial support resources, according to a recently completed poll Allsup conducted among people with disabilities.
Specifically, the Allsup Disability Finance poll found that during the time people were awaiting their Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, they relied on the following resources for support:
|Friends or family providing support||42%|
|Government assistance such as Supplemental Security Income or food assistance||33%|
|Sale of personal items||26%|
|401(k), IRA or other retirement savings||15%|
|Private charitable assistance||10%|
|Home equity line of credit||7%|
The low reliance on personal savings may be in part because most people are not financially prepared to have their employment interrupted, even briefly. For example, studies have found that more than 60 percent of workers live paycheck to paycheck, and the U.S. Department of Commerce reports that the personal savings rate in March was just 2.7 percent of after-tax income.
So, what can someone do to ease the financial risks if they are one of the millions of people who must stop working each year because of a serious health condition?
"First, have hope because there are things you can do to take control," said Paul Gada, personal finance director for the Allsup Disability Life Planning Center.
According to Gada, seeking help is essential. "Many people are afraid and overwhelmed. Asking for help is a sign of strength and being your own best advocate can help you feel more in control."
Among the first steps people with serious health conditions or their caregivers should take quickly are:
- Create a financial plan. The plan should focus on establishing a budget and making certain you are spending down your assets in the least harmful way. Generally, this means using your savings or other resources before withdrawing from retirement accounts that could trigger a penalty or using high interest rate credit, which will have you paying off interest for years.
"Sometimes it is unavoidable to use these higher cost resources, but before doing so people should actively pursue other types of public or private assistance that may be available to them," said Gada.
- Contact your mortgage company or landlord. As part of this, identify housing assistance programs. For example, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has programs to assist with mortgage modifications, as well as rental assistance that can lower housing costs drastically. However, there are waiting lists, so it's important to sign up as soon as possible.
"People are often reluctant to reach out to their mortgage company or their landlord, they start missing payments, and the foreclosure or eviction process starts before they finally explain the situation," says Gada. "By that time, it may be too late."
- Seek assistance with utilities, food and other necessities. Conserve your resources by finding assistance to help you cope. There are hundreds of federal, local and private resources available in most communities. These can range from neighborhood food pantries to federally funded programs, such as Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Local phone companies provide reduced-rate support for home phone service. Associations such as the American Cancer Society and the National Family Caregiver Association also offer guidance.
Many more people indicate they are considering assistance than are actually securing this assistance, according to the Allsup Disability Finance poll. Specifically, respondents reported that they had considered or attempted to get assistance from many types of programs, including:
|Prescription drug assistance||44%|
|Free health clinics||25%|
|Free meals for children (school, etc.)||12%|
|Local property tax exemptions||6%|
|Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition||5%|
|Emergency aid (United Way, etc.)||5%|
"These findings indicate that people may not understand the various programs that are available and how to apply, or they may not meet the income thresholds initially for programs with these requirements, but could later on as they spend down their assets," said Gada. "It can be overwhelming and people too often give up. Unfortunately, this can take an even greater toll on their finances as they turn to credit cards or retirement savings because they don't understand what programs are available to assist them."
Allsup offers information and links to many of these resources on its website.
- Secure healthcare coverage. Continuing medical treatment is vital. Among the options are COBRA through your former employer, a spouse's plan or other private coverage, such as through the health insurance exchanges being established as part of the healthcare legislation enacted earlier this year. Compare plans closely to make sure you are getting the coverage needed and that you understand the costs. Additionally, if you must take expensive prescription drugs, check if the pharmaceutical company offers a prescription-drug assistance program.
- Pursue income sources, including SSDI. If you have paid into the Social Security Disability Insurance program, you may be eligible for benefits. If you are eligible, it's essential to apply quickly as it can take up to two years or more to be approved. Gada advises seeking help with your SSDI application to speed the process. For example, people with disabilities represented by Allsup are significantly more likely to receive SSDI benefits at the initial level.
"It's heartbreaking to hear of people with serious illnesses and disabilities unable to work and struggling month after month to pay for food or medical costs until they're financially wiped out," Gada said. "It shouldn't be that way. There are steps people can take, but they need to ask for help and know how to get it."
The Allsup Disability Finance poll was conducted online on the Allsup website. Responses came from 138 individuals. The survey was completed in May 2010.
More information on financial assistance is available from Allsup at www.Allsup.com or (800) 279-4357. Additional details on findings from the Allsup Disability Finance poll are available at
Allsup is a nationwide provider of Social Security disability, Medicare and Medicare Secondary Payer compliance services for individuals, employers and insurance carriers. Founded in 1984, Allsup employs nearly 700 professionals who deliver specialized services supporting people with disabilities and seniors so they may lead lives that are as financially secure and as healthy as possible. The company is based in Belleville, Ill., near St. Louis. For more information, visit www.Allsup.com.
The information provided is not intended as a substitute for legal or other professional services. Legal or other expert assistance should be sought before making any decision that may affect your situation.