Difficulty paying bills is one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Someone with Alzheimer’s, dementia or even mild cognitive impairment (MCI) might pay a bill more than once, or miss payments and be charged late fees. They are even at risk of having services like electricity or water shut off. As judgement becomes impaired, someone with dementia or MCI is also more vulnerable to scams.
A caretaker, usually the spouse or a grown child, can informally manage their loved one’s bills or they can assume Power of Attorney, which gives them the ability to make financial decisions and handle money-related issues like paying bills on time. However, POAs bring their own difficulties, and in some cases a better option might be to retain a bill paying service that specializes in helping people who are elderly or have a debilitating chronic illness like Alzheimer’s. On this page, we will explain how bill paying services work, and when they might become necessary.
Bill paying services are professional assistants, account managers, or money managers who can be hired to take over all or some of these money-centric tasks:
– Receive and review all your loved one’s bills
– Pay bills on time
– Check to make sure charges are legitimate
– File financial documents for easy access later (to prevent document hunting)
– Balance checkbooks
– Negotiate with creditors
Also called “concierge bill management,” a bill paying service for people who are elderly or have dementia will guarantee security, so you don’t have to worry about an important document getting into the wrong hands. They eliminate the chance of a missed payment or late fee. And, broadly, account managers keep an eye on your loved one’s finances so no one needs to worry about problems related to paying bills. This service essentially takes money management off the table as a problem you need to deal with while your loved one advances through the stages of dementia.
Bill paying service work as follows. After finding a bill paying service with which you are comfortable (see below), they’ll ask for these documents:
– A stack of bills from the last year
– A voided check from your loved one’s bank account
You can hire someone at a bill paying service to manage just one bill, or several.
A customer representative with the service will contact the billing companies and arrange to receive bills themselves. Your loved one doesn’t need to even see them anymore. They will also connect with your bank and make a relationship there. Usually, an electronic payment plan is set up, either directly out of your loved one’s bank account or from an escrow fund that you’ll establish (and need to replenish) so that bills may be paid without any bank account access at all.
The service will review all bills before paying, looking for errors or fraud. Then the bills are scanned and saved, typically in a secure online portal that authorized family members can access when necessary. A bill paying service will be smart about maintaining records, because one of the benefits is easy access to documents later (no more digging through stacks of paper come tax time).
Are Bill Paying Services Secure?
Of course, you want to be certain a service is secure and trustworthy before handing over financial information. Bill paying services are not regulated by federal or state authorities, so finding peace-of-mind will take some research on your part.
Ask about protection—a bill paying service should be partnered with financial security companies that ensure their clients’ information can’t reach the wrong hands. Firewalls and encryption are part of keeping financial details safe, and while online security can be hard to understand, you’ll want to at least confirm that adequate safeguards are in place before signing a contract. Also, ask about insurance coverage—what type of insurance is offered, and are they bonded (meaning money has been set aside to pay out to anyone who files a claim)? Another important step is to ask for references from at least two clients who have used the service before, and contact those references to ask about their experience with the company.
One of the key symptoms of mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease (and related dementias) is the loss of instrumental activities of daily living. IADLs are the things we do over the course of a normal week that keep us independent. Shopping, cooking, and handling medications are IADLs, and managing finances is an IADL as well. If you see your loved one struggling with IADLs, consider having them evaluated by a medical professional.
Someone in the early stages of dementia might try to hide their difficulty managing money because of embarrassment, or because they are worried about losing independence. You can tell when there are problems with making payments by watching for these signs:
– Fear or worry when talking about money
– Difficulty counting bills and change
– Cannot understand bank statements
– Leaves bills unopened
– Makes strange purchases
– Loses money without explanation
The cost for bill paying services for someone with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia is usually between $50 and $100 per month. Someone on Medicaid may be able to get more affordable help with bill services than someone who does not receive state benefits, because some of these companies who help pay bills for people with dementia offer a discount to clients who are lower-income.
Bill paying services are not the same as financial planners or daily money managers, who can charge much more (sometimes up to $100 per hour). The difference between a bill paying service and a daily money manager is that bill paying services are not staffed by accountants and do not advise on financial matters including investments; they are more like assistants who handle tasks your loved one needs help with, especially paying bills and balancing checkbooks, and this makes them ideal for people with dementia.
There are several options for bill paying services for your loved one with dementia, including the national company SilverBills, which links clients with trained account managers who pay bills and provide a monthly budget statement. (SilverBills says it has been insured since 2014 without a single claim made.) Plumb is another firm offering multiple levels of bill paying, including services especially for family members who are older or have a disability.
Privately hired Care Managers will sometimes take on the task of paying bills for a client, although not all of them will do so. Find a care manager here.
There may also be local options available to your loved one. A good idea to find a bill paying service in your area is to contact your local Area Agency on Aging (by clicking here). AAAs help seniors, especially those with dementia, find resources including help with finances.