9 Simple Solutions to Everyday Money Problems
Not every week or month holds a major financial issue you need to tackle. If you stick to a realistic budget, save for emergencies and retirement, and try to limit or erase your debts, your finances will likely be on the up and up. However, that doesn’t mean minor money problems don’t come up from time to time.
According to a 2016 Gallup poll, Americans are more stressed about money than in previous years, with respondents reporting increased worry among seven financial categories. While many of those stressors are about big-picture things like having enough money for retirement or being able to maintain their standard of living, it’s safe to say that everyday issues can pile on top of those larger worries, adding extra stress.
These small issues can be a blip on the radar, as long as you take care of them correctly — and quickly. In some cases, these issues might just be annoying, without major repercussions to our lives long term. But as experience and reality tell us, those molehills can become mountains if we simply ignore them or fail to adjust our habits.
In those cases, a small problem could signal a bigger issue down the road if you don’t take steps to fix it right away. Small overspending here and there, for example, might not seem like a big deal in a single month. But by the end of the year, you could find yourself hundreds of dollars off target from your savings goals.
Overspending can be curbed by paying close attention to your budget, and going over it at least once a month to make sure you’re in line with the bigger goals you’ve created for yourself or your family. But what about other issues that can come at a moment’s notice? We took a look at some common everyday money problems, along with some practical solutions for fixing them so these little issues don’t add to your overall financial stress.
1. You paid your credit card bill one day late
You might have a solid history of on-time payments with your credit card companies, since you know that late fees and compounded interest can be your worst financial enemies if you’re not careful. But a family illness, a vacation, or simply a busy week can mean that you’re hit with that sick-in-your-gut feeling as you realize your payment was due yesterday.
The solution: Pay the bill right away, then give the card issuer a call. Yes, this means that you have to deal with customer service. But Reddit users testify that calling and explaining what happened, along with a polite request to waive the late fee, will often get that penalty erased. A CreditCards.com survey backs that anecdote up: About 89% of people who called to request a late fee waiver were successful. Some card companies like Discover have a general policy that forgives one late fee per year, while other companies take into account factors like your payment history and how long you’ve been a cardholder. No matter what, it doesn’t hurt to call and ask.
2. Your boss keeps pressuring you to change your time card
Any conflict with your superior at work can be tricky, and the issue of getting paid for the hours you’ve worked is no exception. Wage theft is a serious issue, however, and that’s exactly what’s happening if your boss is changing your time card to get rid of your overtime hours. The company might have a strict no-overtime policy to keep costs down, but that’s not your problem if your boss had you come in anyway.
The solution: As one attorney site details, a boss pressuring an employee to change their time card to reflect fewer hours worked is a common issue. However, it’s also illegal. Your supervisor is allowed to alter your time card for accuracy, such as adjusting real hours worked. That’s because ultimately, your employer is legally responsible for making sure your time sheet is accurate, not you. But the Society for Human Resource Management also explains that an employer is not allowed to make changes that reflect fewer paid hours, or changing it so they don’t have to pay you overtime. Both of those instances qualify as wage theft.
You can file a complaint with the state or federal Department of Labor. If you have documentation of changed time cards, this will likely spur an investigation of some kind. However, as many Reddit commenters point out, this could cause subtle or outright retaliation from your company. That’s also technically illegal, but could make your workplace less than pleasant. Either way, you might want to start looking for new options if the wage theft is an ongoing problem.
3. You’re drowning in receipts
You know you’re supposed to keep certain records for taxes and you want to maintain solid records for your finances each month. But the result right now is that your home office is slowly becoming a landfill where old receipts from gas stations and restaurants come to die. That fireproof filing cabinet you bought to last your lifetime is now stuffed with receipt envelopes from 2002. You just want to clear the clutter — but what’s important, and what’s fodder for your shredder?
The solution: It’s time to clean out those filing drawers. As Debt Guru explains, you should hold on to any business-related receipts for tax purposes, along with any other potential write-offs from home improvements, transportation, or child care. Keep any medical bills in case there’s a billing error — and also for your general health records. In addition, keep receipts for any big-ticket purchases where you might need to claim a warranty at some point. GoBankingRates includes a few more instances where you might want to hold on to things, mostly related to tax advantages.
Keep all tax-related receipts for a minimum of 3 years and up to 7 years. Same goes for your medical records. When it comes to general purchase receipts for clothes, food, or other expenses, hold on to them for a few days to make sure they’re correct in your credit or banking statements. Then, toss or shred them. You don’t need that extra paper in your life.
4. A recent medical bill is full of errors
You open a letter from your doctor’s office or insurance company, only to find you’ve been charged for the wrong procedure, an extra test — or worse yet, you haven’t seen your doctor in the past six months at all despite the invoice claiming you did.
The solution: Almost 20% of medical claims for insurance contain some sort of processing error, Real Simple reports. In most cases, the error will be coming from the insurance company, so give them a call first. Contact the member services department and politely explain the issue to the representative. In most cases, this will solve the problem. If it doesn’t, file a formal appeal. (Often, that process is outlined on the company’s website. If your employer has a health care advocacy program, they can also help.)
Unfortunately, it’s also likely we’ll catch more errors and overcharges from medical offices themselves. “Before, patients weren’t paying too much attention because they knew they had insurance,” Sharon Hollander, author of Medical Billing Horror Stories, told Forbes. Forbes outlines the process for challenging those mistakes, which include everything from asking for a line-item receipt to mailing and faxing a written request for review. At the very least, your patient but persistent action should be able to prompt some sort of payment plan you can agree to, if the charges are valid.
5. A collection agency won’t stop calling you — but you pay your bills on time
As we’ve seen evidenced time and again, collections agencies can be extremely shady. Literally nothing is worse than a teleprompted call over dinnertime, and yet that’s the prime window for collections agencies to make their calls. We’ve also seen that collections agencies may have the wrong information, meaning they’re calling about a debt you already paid, or never owed in the first place.
The solution: “Return the call, because they aren’t going to stop ringing you,” Gerri Detweiler, a personal-finance adviser, told Real Simple. If you think you’ve been called in error or you already paid the debt, ask them to remove you from their list. As Detweiler explained, most will actually comply with that request. If they don’t stop, ask them to send a record of your so-called debt to you via mail. (They’re required by law to do so.) Also ask for their mailing address: You can at least send them a certified letter asking them to stop calling you over dinner.
If the harassment continues, you can also file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. You won’t be the first: The CFPB receives the most complaints from consumers who say they’ve either paid the debt already or never owed it in the first place.
6. You’re getting too many junk mail credit card offers
Getting mail would be fun — if it didn’t mean sifting through six daily “pre-approved” credit card offers before finding that letter from your grandma. Maybe you don’t want to tempt yourself with any more plastic in your wallet, or perhaps you simply don’t want all that paper going to waste. Whatever the reason, you can free up your mailbox for the letters you actually want to receive.
The solution: Just like you can opt out of telemarketing calls, you can also opt out of most junk mail — including those pre-approved credit offers. The three major credit reporting agencies all use one site, OptOutPreScreen.com, to allow consumers to opt-out of these offers. You can choose to opt out of those offers for five years, or opt out permanently with a separate process. In either case, you also have the chance to opt back in for those offers using the same site. If you want to further pare down your mailbox offerings, head to DMAChoice.org.
7. All of your bills are due at once
Cash flow problems are fairly common for many households, especially if your paychecks don’t line up with when your bills are due. Building up a budget will help with this, but it might not solve all of your problems. In that case, it’s best to find a way to spread out a few of your larger bills.
The solution: If you don’t already have one, make a budget. That will do wonders for tracking your expenses so you’re not surprised every time a new bills shows up in your inbox. With practice, you should have enough saved to pay those bills without a problem. For a quick fix, call a few of your service providers and ask to change the due dates. In most cases, you’ll be able to do so without a problem. Utility and credit card companies in particular are known for due date flexibility, Real Simple reports.
8. You sent in a rebate, but never received the money
You might not have bought the item in question, were it not for the $25 rebate that came with it. You went to the trouble of clipping the UPC code and mailing it to the right address; now where is your money?
The solution: According to Real Simple, you should get your rebate check within six weeks of mailing in the offer. If it doesn’t appear by then, call the company’s customer service number for the rebate department — often listed on the offer form. Mention the terms of the offer and when you mailed the rebate, along with the serial number of the product you bought. In the future, make copies of the forms, send it via certified mail, and read the fine print to make sure you really do qualify. To make sure you have the best chance of getting that check back, The Balance goes over the finer details for you.
9. You over-drafted your checking account by $10
Over-drafting fees are some of the easiest ways banks can gouge you. Fees often range from $10 to $38, with the median at $27, according to a Bankrate report. Once is enough to hurt, but multiple times means you’re simply giving a portion of your paycheck to the bank each month.
The solution: If this is a one-time problem, the solution is easy enough: Pay closer attention to your checking account balance. If it’s a recurring issue, it’s time to take a closer look at your spending and record-keeping habits. A comprehensive budget will likely help with this — as can downloading your bank’s app to make sure you have enough funds at a moment’s notice.
According to law, you now have to opt in to the overdraft protection that’s charging those fees. If you don’t, your card will simply be declined at the register. While that might be momentarily embarrassing, it can also save you tons of money if you routinely find yourself paying those overdraft fees.