Swallowing pride, asking for help

Asking for helpIt took me most of the day, but by the end of Friday I mailed off a 100-page financial assistance questionnaire and supporting documentation to Memorial Sloan Kettering. It’s amazing how complicated my financial life is.

More importantly, mailing off the package made me come to grips with the fact that medical debt has made my life unmanageable and I need help.

One of the first questions Memorial Sloan Kettering asked me was do I needed financial assistance. “No,” I said defiantly. “I got this,” I said silently to myself.

Yeah, right. Here I am a few months later realizing that I’m in over my head. Asking for help doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve got to be in a world of pain to reach out.

I’m probably not alone.  I may have cancer, but that doesn’t mean I am not proud. Asking for help takes a certain courage. Admitting that I’m powerless over both this disease and what it’s costing me. Admitting that I need something bigger than me to overcome it. It’s the first step.

Swallowing pride and asking for help isn’t something anyone counsels you on in disease management. And I have to keep in mind that asking for a hand up is not the same as asking for a handout. Sometimes it even requires me educating the person on the other end of the phone at the doctor’s office or hospital or insurance company. Quite a few times I’ve found myself emotionally explaining how what I’m dealing with is a pretty big deal and that I could really use the phone answer’s compassion in helping me out.

It’s all part of viewing myself in a new light. I think they call it “acceptance.” Acceptance that my body betrays me despite her best efforts. Acceptance that I will be on medication the rest of my life, medication that can be at times toxic and debilitating. Acceptance that all of it comes at a high cost. Acceptance that it’s a fight every day to keep all of these balls in the air, juggling, rotating and under control. And acceptance that despite it all, I will survive.

This disease has changed me in more ways than I care to count, and it’s not done with me yet. Today, I learn to swallow my pride, a luxury I’ve gotten to keep until now because my disease is slow growing and I remain healthy otherwise. Not everyone is so lucky. Take Susan Hadl,  a Port Charlotte, Fla woman who’s been diagnosed with metaplastic carcinoma spindle cell, a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer. She doesn’t have the luxury of pride. She’s asking strangers like me to help her in her fight to stay alive by donating to a gofundme campaign. She’s one of 40 people with breast cancer with gofundme campaigns, including several men, who are pleading for funds to stay alive. They’ve learned how to ask. I admire them for that.

Tomorrow? Who knows what it will hold. For now, I live life one day at a time, helping those who ask and doing my best to ask the same.

 

 

 

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Resources for keeping your credit clean while paying off medical debt

Credit Karma – This is a pretty good Web site for anything credit. This links speaks exclusively to medical debt.

Bankrate.com – Best known for its updated rates for credit cards and mortgages, this site has some cool tools. This particular link has a few good tips on tackling medical debt and working with providers.

Bill Advocates– This site recommends many of the steps I’ve outlined, but it has a few good links and also is the first to caution NOT to use credit cards to pay the debt. Great advice!

MyFICO – This is the best site I’ve come across when it comes to explaining credit scores, what goes into them, how it’s weighed and ways to improve. The chat room is definitely worth it, as you’ll be with a group of people suffering the same way, some of whom have found a way out. You’ll need to sign up, but it’s worth it!

Credit.com – A fabulous explainer on ways your credit can be affected by medical debt along with links that can help you navigate, including samples of letters to write to providers, creditors or the credit reporting agencies.

5 ways to keep your credit clean while mired in medical debt

medical debt

  1. Prepare for escalating medical costs by taking a hard look at your current household budget and expenses and see if there’s any place that can be cut.
  2. Make friends with the billing people at the hospital and the doctors office. Let them know your circumstance and ask them to work with you on a discount and payment plan.
  3.  Ask the billing folks or a hospital social worker about financial assistance programs. Likewise, ask them if any of the drugs they’re prescribing have a pharmaceutical co-pay assistance program.
  4. Check your credit report to be sure medical debt isn’t showing up on it. Familiarize yourself with ways to get bad marks removed from your credit report by going into the chat room of www.myfico.com.
  5. If a bill does show up on your credit report and you can’t get the credit reporting agency to remove it, call the creditor and see if you can negotiate having the bad mark removed if you pay off the debt

Do you have any recommendations or resources? Please leave them in the comments section below.

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How to keep your credit clean when mired in medical debt

paying off medical debtWhenever I have questions about credit issues and how to best allocate money, I call my friend Joan Reading who heads the nonprofit Credit Counseling Center, which has a few locations in suburban Philadelphia.

CCC helps people dig out of credit card debt, plan for future purchases such as a house and raise their credit score so they can get the best deals out there, all for free.

What I love about Joan, is that no matter what I ask her, she always gets me to immediately focus on THE most important thing. So when I pitched this blog post to her, the first thing she said to me is: “Your biggest challenge is your health and staying focused on that.” Suddenly, I felt like a human being and not a hot, steamy mess.

And then Joan gets practical. “If you are incurring any debt, first thing to do is examine household expenses. Cut or eliminate other expenses to leave room for growing medical expenses,” she said. The idea of “growing” medical debt makes me shudder. But I know that’s a reality I have to brace for, as is so much about spending the rest of my life living with an unpredictable disease.

Then, she speaks to me as a writer: “Get creative,” she said. Whether it’s food costs or cutting back on things I don’t need to spend so much on such as cable or a data plan on my phone, I can look at is as a creative challenge and not as deprivation. She tells me to keep in mind, there’s nothing out there “more important than YOU.”

“Contact the medical provider and ask if there is a payment plan you may qualify for based on your current income.  Try to negotiate a lower repayment plan,” she advised. Check. Done that.

“Medical debt in and of itself is often not on your credit report. When the debt goes to collection for non- payment it shows up on the report with the collection agent,” she said. And that’s where I need to be wary, so start the conversation early, she said.

“It is best then to make even a small payment towards the debt. Many hospitals will take small payments,” she said.

Like my friend Tina Jordan who dug herself out of $1 million in medical debt, Joan tells me to examine medical bills critically. “There are often errors with coding the bill, which plan covered what item. Question the items on the bill for accuracy.  Humans make mistake all the time,” she said.

Yes, I’ve waged that battle and so far lost it, although I’m waiting to see how the financial aid end of things will play out.

“Bankruptcy is a remedy used by many when the debt exceed their ability to repay any debt (except student loans). It’s the last resort but usable for medical debt,” she said. Please, let’s not go down that road just yet, although millions of people do each year, according to NerdWallet Health.

“Reduce other expenses. Ask for help from family, medical providers, legislators, and drug companies if they have access to less expensive drugs,” she said, echoing Tina’s advice.

“The bottom line is your health, then planning,” she said. You can see why I like Joan so much.

 

 

 

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How one diagnosis can wipe out a lifetime of good choices

medical debtOne of the frustrating things about having a severe or life-threatening illness is that it can in one fell swoop annihilate all the goodwill you’ve earned from a lifetime of good decision making.

And it’s not just your health that’s impacted. It’s finances as well, as I’ve been writing about. One place it can have a tremendous impact is on your credit report.

Credit is a rather fickle thing. I opted to destroy mine by living in France for a year, back when computers weren’t so prolific and it would take overseas bills months to show up on my credit statement. After that, I laid low, spending only what I could afford and keeping only one credit card open. After a few years,  I decided to apply for a car loan, only to find that my credit had repaired itself over time. A few years after that, I found myself nearing 800 – which is an A+ rating – when I went to apply for a mortgage.

And then, something strange happened. Several bills went astray, leading to late payment notifications on my credit report, which penalized me harshly. When my score fell dramatically, I started to pay close attention to how my credit score was calculated and what I could do to improve it. I wrote letters to creditors, then the credit reporting agencies. I was able to get a few of the bad marks removed, but not all of them. Again, time was the great healer.

During that time, Congress passed the HIPAA privacy act which I learned prevented creditors from reporting medical debt, as it violated privacy laws. About that time, some obscure bill showed up on my credit report (which I don’t think was mine) claiming I owed a doctor $35. I cited the act in a letter to the credit reporting agency and had it removed.

Despite that little known loophole, a recent study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that medical expenses comprise more than half of debt on credit reports and roughly 21 million people with medical debt (which account for nearly half) showed no other signs of financial distress – meaning that up until being diagnosed with something, they’d been making really good choices.

And yet, despite those good choices, in 2013, nearly 2 million people filed for bankruptcy because of medical debt. It was the No. 1 reason for filing, despite many of them having health insurance, according to NerdWallet Health.

The CFPB found that confusing medical bills caused the biggest headache for consumers, leading to credit reporting problems. Specifically, the authors said that it often is difficult to tell from insurance and hospital statements how much is owed, the payment deadlines, and which organization to pay.

Tell me about it. I get a bill from the hospital, another from a doctor that shows she’s discounting a portion of the hospital bill and none of the figures of either bill seem to correspond to what shows up on my health insurance statement. Nor do the amounts owed or paid.

My friend Joan Redding of the Credit Counseling Center – whom I’ll talk about tomorrow – offers some good advice, including negotiating with the hospital before it goes to a collections company, which is where credit problems begin.

That’s where I’m at, at the moment, working with my medical providers to find a solution and doing my best to stay away from tapping my retirement funds.

And I’m hoping a pattern of good decisions will pay off in the end.

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Resources for how to sell online

how to sell onlineYou don’t need to win the lottery to become a millionaire. Below are a few Web sites, people, courses and blogs I follow or that have been shared with me by people like my mentor Patricia Jones in our millionaires-in-the-making quest.

SEVEN-FIGURE AMAZON EARNERS

Dan Hollings offers Webinars on how to find products

Stefan James offers a free seven-part class on selling online

Adrian Morrison offers lots of tips and advice. Patricia said she finds his Facebook group useful

Anthony Morrison, Adrian’s brother, likewise offers good advice. He also runs a Facebook group

Jason O’Neil does drop shipping via Amazon. He hosts several YouTube videos explaining how it’s done.

HOW TO ARTICLES/WEBINARS/PODCASTS

8 steps to launching an ecommerce business  – Obviously there’s more to it, but this article is a great place to start and has some good links.

Pat Flynn hosts a podcast series on passive income definitely worth listening to. This one links to an episode about selling on Amazon

The Selling Family is the featured guests on Pat’s podcast. Here’s a link to the resource page on their Web site, which is worth browsing

Webretailer.com hosts several free Webinars about all aspects of online selling, especially Amazon

Tips for beginners – from several Amazon successful sellers

Are there any resources you recommend? Please leave them in the comment section below.

6 steps to selling online

Ecommerce is growing 23% year-over-year (2)Amazon does have some strict selling requirements and some products categories, such as beauty, are “gated” meaning you have to pay some hefty fees to sell in them. Still, follow these five steps and you’ll be well on your way to opening an Amazon store (or even just selling online).

  1. Find and follow people who are already successful selling on Amazon and willing to share their secrets, people like Adrian and Anthony Morrison or Chris Record or Jason O’Neil.
  2. Join Facebook groups of Amazon sellers, leave comments and make friends. These people will help cheer you on and avoid pitfalls by sharing their mistakes.
  3. Watch YouTube videos on Amazon selling or drop shipping on Amazon. Vow to watch one a day until you feel comfortable opening a store.
  4. Go to Amazon seller’s university and learn from the pros.
  5. See what’s trending on Google or what items people are talking about buying on their Facebook page and keep notes. Search Alibaba or Aliexpress to see if you can source those products at a discount and make a profit selling them on Amazon.
  6. If Amazon sounds too complicated, start with eBay. Try eBay’s laundry basket approach. After signing up for an account, walk around your house with a laundry basket and fill it with items you no longer use. Do a search for them on eBay and see what they’re selling for. Then take a photo of it, write a description and list it.

 

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How to make $20,000 selling on Amazon (or just online)

51% of Americans prefer to shop online

Patricia Jones launched her Amazon store just after retiring. Here’s her thoughts about what worked  and what she recommends for people just starting out – particularly those of us undergoing cancer treatment who might not be feeling quite up to par:

Q: What made you decide to get into selling online?

A: The reason I wanted and begin selling online is because I wanted a continuous residual income that would coincide with my salary and sustain me when I retired from my corporate job as a Human Resources professional. I enjoy helping others and wanted to sell products that people needed, wanted and appreciated, and selling online was the perfect gateway for me to earn a residual income.

As far as retirement, I had put a plan in place several years before making a decision to retire in 2015 at the age of 58. Three years prior, I had met with my financial advisor and had a financial/personal discussion whereas I was going to retire no matter what! The stress of working in a fast past corporate environment and supporting more than 800 people in different locations with very little support was draining and stretching me mentally and physically. Enough was enough! After flying back from Las Vegas after a much needed vacation on a Sunday afternoon I went into work Monday morning and made the announcement to my manager. It felt like the world was just lifted off of my shoulders. I was moving forward and had just answered my “WHY.” Freedom from my job of more than 25 years. Moreover, more time to enjoy my family, travel and work my online business serving others.

Lastly but not least, living life on my own terms.

Q: What platforms are you using? Why?

A: Currently, I’m using Amazon as my platform to sell products that I purchase from various suppliers; little capital is required. I started with $500. I opened my Amazon store on January 4, 2017 and on January 9th, I had 13 sales come in. I was stoked and excited at the same time. I got started because of my mentor who recommended Amazon, an online business that requires little capital to get started. He’s a 7-figure earner like Andrian Morrison and Anthony Morrison. They both provide live webinars every week to teach their students from all over the world how to make money online for free.  I have also found help from other guru’s on YouTube who teach about getting started selling on Amazon. When it comes to learning about Amazon, I like to diversity my learning skills to see what others are teaching and do a comparison.

Q: What success have you had so far?

A: Below is a customize report that I ran today just letting you see the potential of what you can do if you have a willing mindset. This report is from March 1, 2017 – April 30, 2017.

 

Amazon FBA

 

 

Q: Is this something you think someone who might not have the energy to work full time can do? (specifically, I’m thinking about people undergoing chemo, which usually leaves one tired and sometimes with flu-like symptoms for a day or two. They also might have trouble lifting.) How much time and effort does it take?

A: Yes, I believe a person with some limitations can do this business. My recommendations would be to start off with a written plan in place on what you want to accomplish each day and how many hours you know you can commit to. For me, since I’m retired and thanks be to God have no limitations, I am able to spend the time I need to learn the business and take massive action as I learn. In the beginning, I spent about 8–10 hours learning and taking action on what I learned. Roughly from January and February and then things began to come together, where I understood the process of a Fulfilled by Merchant (FBM) Seller on Amazon. In retrospective, that’s why I attended the 3-day workshop Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA). I did not know the process and wanted more about having my products shipped to Amazon to handle all the things I am doing now as a Merchant seller.

Q: What pitfalls are there that people should be aware of?

A: The pitfalls that I have seen since selling on Amazon is not doing enough research on products to know which ones sell and which products does not sell. This is very important because if sells aren’t coming in due to products with higher Sellers Best Ranking (SBRs), or products that are not trending you are wasting your time. In addition, you must continue learning because Amazon is always changing the game of this business.

Q: What first steps do you recommend?

  • Don’t jump into this business without researching what it is about.
  • Don’t focus on the money you will make; just because someone else made a certain amount that’s not necessarily what you will make.
  • Don’t do the business as a hobby; this is a real business that you need to understand. As with any business, it takes capital to run; therefore, don’t complain about tools you will need to help your business become profitable and sustainable. Note: Some of these tools are not cheap; they can cost low end of $50.00 per month to high end of $hundreds of dollars per month. Something to think about later.
  • Start off sourcing for lower cost quality products that people want. Remember, you don’t have to like the product, it’s for the customer who you are serving.
  • Invest your profits back into the business so that you can buy more products; FYI, high end products will bring in higher profit margins. Just something to keep in mind.
  • Never stop learning and do not give up!