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Money and HIV

Money Is the Number One Problem

November/December 2011

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Seventy five percent of those living with HIV have said that they have had more problems with finances than with medical matters. Too many HIV-positive people live on between $500 and $1,000 month. Those who work full time still say they need financial assistance. In addition, the fully employed need access to better health insurance and medicines. The deficits and dysfunction in our health care system are exposing people with HIV to financial hardship as well as a lack of adequate care at a time when it's needed the most.


Extra Expenses

When HIV hits, most people feel that they shouldn't talk about money. Unfortunately, a whole lot of what goes on when someone has HIV concerns finances. Expenses for everything go up. Expenses can include paying for the portions of your medical care that are not covered by medical insurance, such as your co-pays, deductible, or co-insurance. Sometimes there are experimental drug treatments you and your doctor may want to try, but your insurance company won't approve payment for treatments that aren't time proven or FDA approved.

Expenses increase for day to day living. You may need to hire people to do things you can no longer do for yourself, such as house cleaning or maintenance, walking the dog or shopping. You may need to move to a single story residence to avoid problems with stairs. If you become wheelchair-bound, living on the top floor of a three flat without an elevator can turn your apartment into a prison. The time to plan for a change in residence is while you are feeling good.

Also, you may want to donate money on a regular basis to your favorite charities, so that when you need their services those organizations will be there. Not to say that they charge for their services, but we all have a vested interest in ensuring that these organizations are supported financially so they're around when they're needed.

The final extra expense can be called "life goals." Whether it's to complete a college degree, make peace with hostile family members, learn a musical instrument, or travel around the world, it's the things that everyone wants to do in their life before they die.

What is painfully obvious is that with HIV, not only do the normal day to day living expenses continue, but there is a tremendous additional need for more money to meet all the extra demand on your finances.


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Waiting for Benefits

Financial planning is important to ensure sufficient money while waiting for the various time requirements for benefits to start. For example, disability insurance may contain a six-month elimination period requiring one to be disabled for six months before the monthly checks start. Likewise, federal Social Security disability benefits have an elimination period of five full calendar months.

It can be helpful to prepare a balance sheet and cash flow statement to help bring the financial future into the present with some financial planning. Plan to have sufficient cash on hand to cover three to six months of living expenses until the disability insurance payments begin.

In addition, you may want to apply for check overdraft privileges to cover unanticipated expenses or have an extra bank card set aside for such a rainy day. The yearly cost of keeping a line of credit open on a charge card can be a good method of insuring cash is available at a relatively low cost.


Check Your Credit Report

Credit is an important source of cash. A credit line, or pre-approved ability to borrow, can be as good as cash in the bank. For example, you may have a credit line with a bank, which can be activated by simply writing a check or through overdrawing a checking account which has overdraft protection. Or you may have a credit line associated with your credit card.

If you already have credit, it is worthwhile to maximize it so you have the cash resource when you need it most. Having credit, however, is not something you should take for granted, and with HIV, the stakes are much higher if you assume you have it and discover you don't. Instead of losing out on acquiring new furniture or a car, you could lose out on getting desperately needed medication or pulling through an emergency situation.

Do not assume credit lines are forever. Lenders regularly review credit profiles and even if you have a good payment history with your VISA card, it may be canceled if VISA sees from your credit profile that you have paid other lenders late or failed to make payments. Keeping credit is dependent on having a good profile.

The first step to maximizing your credit is to understand where you are right now by auditing your credit profile. Personal credit information is collected by credit bureaus which act as clearinghouses for lenders to make decisions on your ability to repay loans. There are hundreds of local and regional credit bureaus, but the most important ones are the three national credit bureaus -- Equifax, Trans-Union and TRW.

The Wall Street Journal reports that over one third of all people who request credit profiles take action to correct them, and nearly half of all credit profiles are inaccurate, with nearly one in five having major errors. Obviously it's important for you to find out just how accurate your own report is and whether you need to challenge the information it contains.

The way to do that is to order your credit report. Look in the phone book for the telephone number of one of the national credit bureaus in your area and call one to find out about the procedure to obtain your credit report. This will generally cost you from $15 to $30, though TRW will send you one per year for free.

If you find an error on the report, contact both the credit bureau and creditor and correct the mistake. The credit bureau and creditor must respond to your challenge; and although the process can be frustrating, you can eventually straighten the matter out if you have kept accurate records.

To be sure the matter is resolved, check your report again in 90 days. If the mistake is still there, repeat the correction process and exercise your right to make a 100-word consumer comment that, by law, must be included on all future reports.


Do Nothing

Many individuals who worry about debts are, in fact, judgment proof. If someone is unemployed and owns only personal property, such as household furnishings, a car with a low market value, and a small amount of money in the bank, they are probably judgment proof. Judgment proof means that even if a creditor sues you in court and obtains a judgment, the creditor will be unable to collect on the debt because your assets are exempt form seizure under state law. In Illinois, the following personal property is exempt from attachment or judgment (which means no one can take it no matter how many lawsuits or judgments there are):

  • Your clothing, schoolbooks and family pictures;
  • Equity in a car up to $2,400.
  • Equity in professional books or tools of the trade (for example craftsman tools etc.)
  • $4,000 in equity in any other personal property.
  • $15,000 equity in your home.

Although a creditor may turn your debt over to a collection agency, the agency will usually write off the debt if you are judgment proof. You will need to tell the collection agency of this fact and may need assistance from a lawyer who will so advise the collection agency and have them stop their intimidation tactics.

When advised of your health and financial situation, many collection agencies and creditors will simply write off the debts if it's less than $1,500, since the cost of collection by an attorney would cost at least that much.

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This article was provided by Positively Aware. It is a part of the publication Positively Aware. Visit Positively Aware's website to find out more about the publication.
 
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