Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pay Your Bills on Time

Lots of people have the money to pay their bills, but they are lazy and sloppy. They figure no one is calling demanding the cash, so what's the hurry? I hope that's not you. If it's a loan from a friend, you're likely to lose that friend. If it's a loan from a relative, you're storing up long-term resentment that can bite you in the future. And if it's a credit card bill or utility bill, you're looking for trouble when attempting to get more credit to buy a house or a car, or obtain any kind of loan on low-interest terms.

My latest credit card bill devoted two pages to what it called "Useful Tips." Here they are:

1. Pay on time.
2. Pay at least the monthly minimum.
3.When you can, pay in full.

Pay on time? What's that? If your attitude about paying promptly is lax, do not be surprised when your credit scores go down, and the cost of credit to you goes up. Entities that loan money take regular on-time payments as a mark of your financial responsibility. The credit card companies do not need to know how much money you have in a bank account or the stock market. The companies want to know if you will pay on time. If you do pay on time, you will always get better treatment from your creditors than if you don't.

If you are too disorganized to pay your bills on time, simplify them. Many bills can be put on autopay, or you can set an alarm on your phone or computer to remind you to pay them all the day you receive your paycheck. You also can charge only to one credit card each month (rotate through them to keep them active). You don't need to use store charge accounts when they accept major credit cards, another way of reducing the number of bills you receive. If you want to take advantage of a store card benefit such as a discount, use the card, but then walk over to the store's service desk and write a check then and there to pay the amount you just charged. Done.

Pay at least the monthly minimum. This is another no-brainer, since your creditors will tell you exactly what the minimum is. If you really want to pay their exorbitant finance charges, go right ahead, but at least avoid late payment and low payment fees. The minimums due are very low.

When you can, pay in full. We now have consumer laws in place to require our creditors to remind us that stretching payments over many months or years results in paying two or three or more times the purchase price. It's not a bargain buy if you end up paying three times the price. Think twice about buying anything you can't pay for in full by the end of the first billing cycle.

There is no "secret they don't want you to know" when it comes to paying your bills. There is nothing fancy or mysterious about maintaining good credit. Pay on time.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What a Dog Bite Costs You

Someone I know got bitten by a dog. He was taking his nightly walk in his neighborhood, and a lady walking her dog did not control the animal. It leaped at him and bit him. He cried out, "Your dog bit me," but the lady said, "No, he didn't, " and she ran away.

It was dark. He didn't know her or the dog. He certainly couldn't chase her. A man chasing a woman on a dark street? The police could have deemed that assault. He never got a good look at her or the dog. So he went home.

After he got home, he collapsed in a faint, and a relative rushed him to the ER. The ER doctors did a nice job, explained that the faint wasn't life-threatening, and shot him full of meds. They told him to come back for the necessary series of rabies shots. You'll be relieved to know these shots were not in his stomach, as legend has it, but in his arm.

Rabies is still a fatal disease, so opting not to get rabies shots is a mortal risk. Especially since where my friend lives nearly an estimated one-third of all dogs have not had their shots. Most jurisdictions offer rabies inoculations free when you apply for a dog license. Free as in free. A pretty good deal to safeguard your dog and your fellow citizens. But many people do not license their dogs.

The bills for treating the dog bite have now arrived. My friend has health insurance with a yearly $2,500 deductible since he's young and healthy. After the deductible was met and insurance paid its share, the out-of-pocket cost of this dog bite was $4,000 for the ER visits and the shots. Bills from the ER doctor and from the hospital are still expected.

That's right. Four grand.

Would there have been any way to get the shots less expensively? Probably not the first set, since they were given in an emergency situation. Perhaps my friend's regular doctor could have ordered the vaccine for the follow-up shots, and they would have cost less. Perhaps not. My own attempts to get my doctor to order the shingles vaccine were fruitless, despite it supposedly being commonly available. With rabies, my friend could not take a chance and wait to see if maybe his doctor could get the vaccine. His other option might have been to go to a freestanding pharmacy that gives shots, but again, whether the pharmacy could obtain the vaccine in a timely manner is a question. Most insurance plans will not reimburse for shots gotten at a pharmacy, at least, not without a fight.

The only sure way around the enormous cost of rabies shots would be to identify the dog and determine if it had been inoculated. I suppose my friend could have gone door to door in the neighborhood and attempted to describe the lady and her dog, but since he didn't really know what they looked like, he thought it was pointless. He could have reported the incident to the police as an act of good citizenship, but that might have been pointless, too. He knows that if identified, the lady could claim that he attacked her and her dog was protecting her. That's a serious charge and he might get arrested and have to hire a lawyer to be cleared. Meanwhile, her dog would be automatically impounded, and if not inoculated, would be destroyed. As soothing as that idea might be, the price my friend would pay would be too high: possible arrest, a police record, and a lady who is really, really mad at him. You're thinking, "Why should a man fear the vengeance of a woman?" Why not? Her dog bit him without provocation. Is she likely to be any nicer than her dog? Dogs don't just bite people; they get schooled to behave badly by their owners.

I advised my friend to carry a stick from now on when he takes his nightly walk. But there is some risk to him to be seen carrying a stick since he is not elderly. As it is, most women steer clear of a man on the sidewalk, just in case. This situation is a tough one, and expensive, too.