Paying your utility bill seems like an easy enough process. ConEd sends your bill. You write a check or pay online with your bank account or credit card. Your bill is paid in full and on time. No problem!
Not so fast. Imagine you have the task of paying that ConEd bill, along with a myriad of other bills, for someone else – a family member or a friend – whom we’ll call Corey.
Here come the questions and challenges.
- If the ConEd bill is “paperless” and sent via email, do you have access to Corey’s email account?
- Has Corey already set up automatic payment (autopay) or does the bill need to be paid?
- What is Corey’s system for handling bills that are not on autopay?
– Online bill payment from the bank? If so, do you have access to Corey’s online bank account?
– Online at the vendor’s website?
– By calling the vendor and providing credit card or checking account information?
– By writing checks? If so, do you have the authority to sign Corey’s checks?
- Do you have the user names and passwords to access Corey’s online vendor accounts?
– If you try to recover Corey’s passwords, do you have access to the email account or phone where recovery assistance or two-factor authentication codes will be sent?
- Do you know how Corey’s payments have been funded?
– Is there sufficient monthly income to cover that ConEd bill, as well as others that need to be paid?
– If not, what are Corey’s assets, and what can be transferred into the checking account to cover expenses?
You get the idea.
ConEd may be just the tip of the iceberg.
- Figure out what bills need to be paid, when, and how.
- Think through which bills require prompt payment and which can be delayed in case funds are not currently available.
- Attempt to negotiate discounts and obtain refunds where possible.
Medical bills can require a few extra steps:
- Medical bills may not show the current amount due, so call the provider to get the actual balance.
- If there is a balance, make sure that all insurance companies have been billed by the provider and claims paid.
- The Medicare B deductible is not covered by secondary insurance plans, so that needs to be paid out of pocket.
The key to paying another person’s bills.
At Eddy & Schein Group, what we have learned from experience with hundreds of clients over several decades is that bill paying is usually more complicated than it seems.
The key is ensuring there’s adequate funding in the checking account for the payments.
- What are Corey’s sources of income (pension, Social Security, annuity, retirement distributions) and where are they deposited?
- Is the income sufficient to cover the expenses that you have identified?
- Is there a need to tap assets?
- Be in touch with Corey’s trusted advisor to inform him/her of a need to generate a steady stream of tax-efficient income into checking and to see if there are the funds to do so.
If funds are limited.
- Are there opportunities to cut expenses both large (e.g., reducing carrying costs by selling a secondary property) and small (e.g., eliminating subscriptions and services)?
- Does Corey have valuables that can be sold to generate needed cash quickly?
The best course of action.
Plan ahead for the possibility of Corey needing your help because of incapacity or hospitalization:
- Find out if Corey has designated an agent under Power of Attorney and whether Corey’s bank has been informed. If not, encourage Corey to do so right away.
- If Corey’s assets are in a trust, find out who is the trustee and encourage the addition of a secondary party if Corey is the sole trustee.
- Ask Corey to organize and share information ahead of time about bills, checking, and funding, as well as online accounts.