Helping Your Aging Parents With Money is a new series highlighting financial topics you may need to discuss with an aging parent or relative. It was inspired by recent events in our own lives and Cameron Huddleston’s new book, MOM and DAD, We Need to Talk. (We are big fans of Cameron’s book; you can read our review here.)
If you’ve always discussed important issues openly with your parents, bringing up financial topics probably won’t come as a surprise. But if money talk’s been taboo through the years, you’ll need to tread lightly. There are a lot of emotions around money, and aging parents may be very concerned about sharing details of their financial lives.
In this series, we’ll talk about money conversations we’ve had with our parents and close relatives. Feel free to add to the discussion by adding comments or asking questions.
I feel lucky to have grown up in a family where we openly talked about money, wants vs. needs, saving, spending, and investing. According to my mom, my parents never had “money dates” like you hear about now. They each had their roles when it came to family finances and carried them out quite well.
Luckily, my 80-year old mom is still able to manage their money by herself because my 89-year-old dad resides in an assisted living facility due to Alzheimer’s. But my two older brothers and I do look out for the financial health of my parents.
Handling finances gets more difficult each year for my mom – mainly because of everything being online. She has a basic smartphone for calls and an occasional text, but she isn’t interested in computers or the internet.
She manages their rental property financials in the same book she’s used for more than 30 years. Her bank, credit card, and investment statements come in the mail. She doesn’t check anything online. She reads the newspaper and watches TV, and that’s the only way she gets information.
That’s where we come in.
She’s heard about data breaches, identity theft, and there’s been fraudulent activity on a few of her credit cards in the past. And we’ve talked about all of that with her. But it was time to move past just talking and hoping their financial lives haven’t been affected.
Consider Reviewing Your Credit Report
The last time I visited, I suggested she review their credit reports – both to check for accuracy and to make sure no one has opened up accounts in either of their names.
With more health issues and medical appointments, it was also a smart idea to ensure bills from any doctor or hospital visits haven’t been missed and sent to collections.
She agreed but seemed overwhelmed before we even got started.
- How do I get it?
- Who do I call?
- Will they mail it?
- How much does it cost?
- What do I do if I find something I don’t recognize?
I missed my chance to prevent some initial anxiety by explaining the process before she could start worrying.
Right after suggesting it, I should have said:
“I’ve done this before, Mom. I’ll explain how you can order, read it, and understand your credit reports. They’re free, and you can get a copy every year. I can order it for you on my computer, and it’s yours to keep. If you want help reading it, I’m happy to do that. And if there are problems, we’ll figure it out together. You’ll feel so much better knowing no one is opening accounts in your name and that you don’t have any accounts not up to date.”
Relieving Anxiety & Empowering My Parent
Seeing her anxiety building, I quickly explained the process and her options.
We went online together and got each of their reports from AnnualCreditReport.com – which is the official site run by the three credit bureaus – Equifax, Transunion, and Experian. *Note: there are many sites with similar names that will give you a free report but require a monthly fee to monitor your credit. Only use AnnualCreditReport.com to get free copies of your credit report.
I showed her how to scroll through the reports on my computer, explained what to look for in the reports, and gave her time alone to review them. She smiled and announced that they looked accurate and she didn’t see any accounts she didn’t recognize.
Mom then stated she was happy we did it because she was worried about their credit but didn’t really know what to do. And that she didn’t want to bother us (kids) about it.
I reminded her we were never too busy to answer questions and help. She also saw how quickly we were able to get the information and relieve her concerns. Hopefully, she won’t hesitate to ask for help in the future.
Before I closed out and deleted the reports, I asked her if she wanted me to print them or double-check anything on them. I wanted her to make the decision about showing me the reports. She said she would be happy for me to double-check them but didn’t think we needed more paperwork laying around. I went through both of my parent’s reports and agreed everything seemed fine.
If my mom had hesitated about showing me her reports, I would have respected her desire for privacy. Because of our open communication about our finances, it would have been a red flag that something was wrong though.
If your parent isn’t interested in reviewing their report or if they are – but show any concern about your involvement (“OK, I’ll do it later”), leave the information on how to get a report.
- If they use a computer, write down the website for them to access later.
- If you think they might call to get one, leave the phone number 1-877-322-8228.
- Remind them that is a free service and if they are ever asked to pay for anything, stop what they are doing and call you.
You can also print out the Annual Credit Report Request form, which they can fill out and mail to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
Monitoring Credit Scores
We then took it a step further and added a layer of protection by setting up credit monitoring with Credit Sesame. I showed her my Credit Sesame account and explained why I use it and how easy it was to monitor activity on our credit.
Since she doesn’t use a computer, I am going to monitor any changes to her account. My brother also monitors her FICO credit score she gets as a benefit on one of her credit cards. (Mom still gets paper statements and pays her bills by check. Although he has access to the accounts online, at this point – he just uses it to monitor her score for any changes.)
With her permission, we are trying to be as proactive as possible to prevent credit issues for her or my father. We know any type of identity theft would be very stressful for her and for us – because we would be the ones who would have to handle most of it.
Freezing (Securing) Credit
The final step in doing what we can to protect our parents was freezing their credit.
It took some explaining and reassurance that we weren’t blocking her access to her credit cards. But she was totally on board when she understood it was an important step in trying to prevent criminals (who may have their personal data) from opening new accounts in their names.
I told her we’ve had our credit “frozen” for a few years, and that we should have done it sooner with their files. They have no need to take out loans or open new credit accounts, so there was no reason not to secure their accounts. (Especially since it is free easy to unfreeze them as long as you have access to the account PIN numbers.)
After showing her how we could do it online, I also told her she had the option to do it on the phone. She was happy for me to take the lead and do it online.
We had no trouble securing their accounts with two bureaus but got rejected from doing it online at the third. While this caused her some initial stress, it was my fault because I accidentally entered my own email address – not one I had created for her. The system flagged it and required us to mail in paperwork.
Final Thoughts On Helping Protect Your Parent’s Credit
We’ve decided to set up a “money date” after our morning coffee once each year. I’ll pull up their credit reports, and mom can review them.
My brother will continue to take the lead on monitoring my parent’s finances and I’ll watch for emails and alerts on Credit Sesame.
While working through this process took a few hours, it could save us weeks of work and a lot of stress if either of my parents starts having credit issues from identity theft.
As a member of the “sandwich generation” – I’ve helped my kids with setting up credit protection too. I am also open with my kids about the support we’re giving my parents when it comes to protecting their finances. My hope is that modeling how to do it will make it easier when it comes time to help me in the future.