When Vicki Polin traveled 400 miles to get treatment for a heart defect, she had only $200 to her name. She ultimately needed heart surgery but had no idea how she'd afford her copay. Then a friend started a page for her on YouCaring.com. By the time she was discharged, her loved ones, and even strangers, had donated more than $1,000. In addition, she raised about $6,000 in the next couple of months to help cover more than $7,000 in related health expenses. "It literally helped save my life and was almost as important as the surgeon who performed [my] open-heart surgery," says the 52-year-old resident of Greater Chicago.
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YouCaring, like other crowdfunding sites such as GiveForward.com and Fundly.com, helps users pay bills, allowing givers to securely donate money (from $1 on up). Many sites connect user accounts to Twitter and Facebook, to solicit donations instantly. About 23 percent of GiveForward's users are 50-plus, along with 35 percent of YouCaring's beneficiaries.
Before you start a campaign, first research each site's fees and how quickly funds transfer. (Polin learned that some sites take up to 7 percent of donations as a fee, and others transfer funds only when your goal has been met.) Also talk with a professional tax adviser or attorney to confirm how donations can affect your filing status or public-assistance standing. After you start, be open with contributors, advises Fundly CEO Dave Boyce. And — regardless of how much you receive — always say thanks.