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9 Money Headaches and How to Cure Them

Here's how experts solve everyday hassles

pattern of money bags
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What money questions and challenges are vexing you most these days?  AARP editors gathered a list of common issues and asked top financial industry pros for their best advice and viable solutions.

1. Credit card hell

"I was late one time — one time! — on my credit card bill, and the interest and late charge was $100."

Most issuers will waive an occasional late fee — and possibly the interest associated with paying late — especially if you’re a good customer. It’s usually as simple as calling and asking nicely. You can offer a brief, truthful explanation and offer to set up automatic payments so this doesn’t happen again. In fact, according to a 2020 Bankrate poll, 82 percent of credit card holders who asked for a late fee waiver got at least some of the charges erased.

—Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst, Bankrate.com

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2. Taxman troubles

"Suddenly, my property taxes are $150 a month more than they were."

Either your property’s assessed value has increased (perhaps due to the recent run-up in home prices) or the tax rate in your area has gone up. In the first case, you can appeal the value increase with your local assessor’s office. (Some put a time limit on appealing, so check that first.) There will be a form to fill out, and a hearing. If there is a mistake on your property record, such as an incorrect number of rooms, or you can prove the assessed value is not supported by sales of homes like yours, you can get your value lowered. If your tax rate has increased, find out whether your state provides tax abatements or exemptions for older residents. Many do. Check the website of your state’s department of revenue to learn how to apply for any such an abatement.

—Larry Clark, director of strategic initiatives, International Association of Assessing Officers, Kansas City, Missouri

… If you learn about the extra fee when checking in, pull up a screenshot or email of your booking showing the lower advertised total and request that the fee be canceled.
extra payment of cash while checking into a hotel
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3. Paying for what?

"My hotel bill had all these extra fees they never mentioned when I booked the room online."

The most common is a resort fee, also called a destination fee, amenities fee or resort charge. Each hotel determines what that covers — perhaps a pool, gym or Wi-Fi. If you learn about the extra fee when checking in, pull up a screenshot or email of your booking showing the lower advertised total and request that the fee be canceled. If you don’t do that, and during your stay you don’t use the amenities, politely ask at checkout to have it removed. They might agree.

—Palo Cvik, CEO, SmarterTravel, Cambridge, Massachusetts

4. Launch already, kids

"I want to get my 20-something kids off my health and car insurance and family phone plans, but not estrange them."

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First, inform your children of your intent. Let them know that you need them to take responsibility for their own expenses now that they’re adults. Step two is to create a specific plan with your kids to reduce your support over a specific time frame that you both agree on — ideally three to 12 months. Step three: Give them the tools they need to make smart financial decisions. Teach them how to shop for the best value on health insurance, car insurance and cellphone service.

—Amy Fontinelle, longtime personal finance journalist

…To help prevent check washing, use black gel ink, which is harder to wash out.
signing a check with a gel pen
DigitalVision / Getty Images

5. I was robbed!

"Somebody cashed a check that I mailed ... but not the intended recipient and for a different amount."

This sounds like check washing, a fraud in which a thief dissolves the ink to change the payee’s name and even the dollar amount. You’re generally protected by state law in this situation. Immediately let your bank or credit union know the check was fraudulently cashed. If your money isn’t reinstated, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB will send the grievance to your financial institution. Typically, businesses respond to complaints within 15 days. To help prevent check washing, use black gel ink, which is harder to wash out.

—Lisa Weintraub Schifferle, senior policy analyst, CFPB

6. Authorization denied

"The pharmacist says my insurance won’t cover the medicine my doctor prescribed an hour ago."

See if the pharmacist will ask your health insurance company if it has a different preferred medication for that condition; the pharmacist can then work with your doctor or provider to change the prescription to an effective but less expensive medication. Doctors are usually receptive to this because the patient will be more likely to take the medication if he or she can afford it. Note that your doctor’s office can often submit prior authorization forms online to get a medication covered. That would prevent situations like this.

—Brigid Groves, senior director, American Pharmacists Association

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7. Stop my streaming service!

"I want to cancel a few streaming services but they make it so hard to do."

First, there is no tool or method to cancel several streaming services at once — it’s very much an individual process. In most cases, go to the account management page, click on Subscriptions or Membership, and look for a button to cancel or pause your subscription. Be aware that you may need to go through several pages or pop-ups urging you not to cancel or to settle for a less expensive version of the service. Be persistent; it really shouldn’t take but a few minutes per service.

Use a price tracking app or browser extension like Honey, SlickDeals or RetailMeNot that automate the price-comparison process and provide promo codes...
a mobile phone with semi-transparent icons of shopping apps floating above the screen
iStock / Getty Images

—Barbara Krasnoff, reviews editor, The Verge

8. Checkout blues

"I sense I’m paying too much for stuff online."

Step one is to improve your price research skills. Use a price tracking app or browser extension like Honey, SlickDeals or RetailMeNot that automate the price-comparison process and provide promo codes. Some of these apps also provide price histories and price-drop alerts in case you want to wait for a lower price. Step two is to wait for sales. Many stores roll out deals on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and annual holidays (think Memorial Day and Labor Day, for example, not just December holidays) are always full of sales.

—George Kamel, personal finance expert and cohost, The Ramsey Show

9. The cost of paradise

"My home insurance rates just jumped because they say my area’s weather risks have increased."

You’re not alone: More frequent natural disasters, inflation and rising reconstruction costs are all putting pressure on home insurers. You can potentially earn a discount by adapting your home to better withstand natural disasters — for example, by creating a noncombustible zone around your property and installing ember-resistant materials on a home in wildfire areas. Also see if installing safety devices such as leak-detection sensors, security systems or cameras will get you a discount. Finally, review your home insurance policy at least annually; you may want to increase coverage and seek new insurance quotes from competitors.

—Karen Collins, assistant vice president, American Property Casualty Insurance Association, Sacramento, California

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