Need Help Managing Day-to-Day Finances?
A daily money manager might fit the bill
En español | Imagine having someone who makes sure your bills are paid on time, organizes your tax documents and hands them off to your accountant, and even follows up with your insurance company because you were supposed to be reimbursed for physical therapy.
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Sounds too good to be true?
It turns out, you don't have to be wealthy to hire a trusted professional to take care of these kitchen-table money issues for you.
Engaging a daily money manager (also known as a DMM) can be a cost-effective way of making sure your financial life is in order.
What is a daily money manager?
A DMM is a professional who helps people with their personal household finances.
"We are different from bookkeepers and accountants," says Alison Salisbury, a board member of the American Association of Daily Money Managers (AADMM) and the founder of Fiscally Fit, a daily-money-management company in Mountain View, Calif. "We manage a broad range of services for clients, such as bill pay, bookkeeping, account reconciliation, and we work with health insurance claim forms — everything that comes across your monthly mail that relates to your personal finances," she says.
DMMs have been around for decades. Early on, they worked for wealthy families who may not have had the time or skill to manage their day-to-day finances. But over the past 10 to 15 years, DMMs began working for other segments of the population.
Salisbury, who is certified and has been working as a DMM for eight years, says her clients range in age from 30 to 97. "Seniors are the fast-growing segment," she adds.
Why consider working with a DMM?
It's no secret that our cognitive ability to handle our finances diminishes as we age.
Older retirees may forget to pay bills, have difficulty grasping financial concepts or become overwhelmed by the paperwork associated with managing their accounts. Any of these issues can make them vulnerable to scammers who target seniors.
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Plus, when the spouse who handled the money dies, and the survivor is having trouble remaining independent and managing everyday financial matters, someone needs to step in. Very often family members may not be in a position to help because they are strapped for time or simply live too far away.
Clifton Herndon, 90, said that working with a daily money manager was a game changer. Herndon, of Palo Alto, Calif., hired Salisbury in 2010, after her husband died of Alzheimer's disease.
"I was going crazy figuring out who gets what and when," Herndon recalls. "And then Alison came on board and life smoothed out. It made a great deal of difference to me."
Getting help managing daily financial tasks doesn't mean giving up control. In fact, it's intended to be just the opposite and can help an aging person extend control. Many retired individuals who work with DMMs find that it helps them continue to live independently.
Herndon, who typically depends on Salisbury's services for one or two hours a week, agrees: "She keeps track of my bank account and other things I've asked her to do. It makes living independently possible."
"Most people appreciate just knowing there is another set of eyes," says Barbara Boustead, a DMM in Madison, Wis. "They say it's peace of mind that I'm coming and taking care of things."
Boustead, a former licensed clinical social worker with 40 years' experience, launched her DMM business, Mary's Daughter, at age 60, after meticulously organizing her mother's medical, legal and financial documents. "People started referring me by calling me Mary's daughter. So I asked my mom if I could use the name," she explains.
In addition to working with older individuals, Boustead provides services to veterans.
What can you expect to pay?
Depending on where you live and the type of services offered, a DMM could cost $75 to $150 an hour. Some charge a monthly retainer instead of an hourly fee.
These experts contend that they pay for themselves by saving their clients money and keeping an eye on their budget.
"A DMM may ask questions like, 'Why are you paying for cable and a phone you don't use?' " Boustead says. "I may call and cut the service or negotiate a rate reduction on their behalf. Double-billed for medication? I'll get on that right away."
There are also unexpected benefits. Along with helping clients get taxes paid on time, balancing their checkbooks or flagging a forgotten life insurance policy, DMMs like Boustead and Salisbury notice if something seems off.
"I am the eyes and ears," Boustead says. She says she can spot if "Mom hasn't been taking medication or she needs someone to come in and help out during the day."
Salisbury and Boustead both recount stories of protecting clients from financial fraud committed by caretakers and family members, who had stolen a credit card or checkbook to buy plane tickets or helped themselves to Grandma's cash.
"Working with a DMM means someone is looking out for you," Salisbury says.
How to find a trusted professional
Currently, there is no government oversight of daily money managers.
A good place to start is by contacting the American Association of Daily Money Managers, the national organization that sets standards of practice for its 700 members, who must abide by a code of ethics.
The association also offers a certification program, continuing education, webinars, and support to individuals and businesses providing daily money management services across the country. Not every member is certified. (Certified DMMs have earned the designation PDMM — professional daily money manager — by completing coursework on subjects such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, insurance, banking practices, security issues and analyzing investment statements. They also must undergo a background check and have at least 1,500 hours of experience working as a DMM.)
You can also seek referrals for DMMs from estate lawyers, accountants or agencies that assist older consumers. And before hiring one, check with your state attorney general's office and the Better Business Bureau to see if complaints have been filed against the practitioner.
"Not everyone is the right fit for every client," Salisbury cautions.
She recommends you meet several potential DMMs to get a sense of their personality and to find out key information, such as whether the person is a good fit for you or your parents. How is the manager paid and is there a minimum fee or hourly limit? Will the money manager come to your home? Is the manager flexible? Will the manager pay bills the same way as you so you can follow along?
Check out the American Association of Daily Money Managers website for more questions to ask before hiring a manager.
Lastly, get references. Ask a DMM for contact information for clients who are in a similar situation, and info to get in touch with a family member who is familiar with the arrangement.
Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, The Money Coach(R), is a personal finance expert, television and radio personality, and regular contributor to AARP. You can follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.