Monday, December 29, 2014

Employee Assistance Plans Are For Real

Does your company have an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP)? Have you avoided making use of it because you're sure your HR department will tell your boss you're getting therapy? Are you convinced the EAP will directly rat you out to your boss about the exact problem for which you are seeking help?

That's not how EAPs work. They are completely, 100% private. The way you contact them is private. The provider does not even put your name on a file folder. You don't necessarily have to give your name to the provider. Even in these days of medical offices computerizing their files, the EAP provider is prohibited from listing your name anywhere. Therefore there are no records that can get hacked, or that can accidentally or on purpose be sent to your employer.

The other great thing about EAPs is that they are free. In the past, your medical insurance might have stingy about the number of mental health therapy visits you're allowed and reimbursed those visits at a lower percentage than other medical services. Although the ACA is changing this, the trend is for people to pay more and more in co-pays. Not EAP counseling. It's free. If you obtain therapy through an Employee Assistance Plan, you pay nothing. Want to quit smoking? Access your company's EAP. Want to cut down on your drinking, or your legal or illegal drug use? Use the company EAP. Want a shoulder to cry on, or someone who'll listen calmly as you recite your fears? The EAP provider is your answer.

Of course you don't want to ask HR about the details of the company EAP when you need it, so make a point of asking when you first start working there. Learn enough about how their Employee Assistance Plan operates to be absolutely sure it is fully confidential.

I never knew the full range of benefits available in an EAP until after I didn't have access to one. Free services I could have used! Free as in free. Think about it.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Freeze Your Credit, So It Can't Be Stolen

Recently, someone I do not know blogged the sad story of losing her wallet out of her purse and then having to deal with repeated attacks on her credit. Yes, she was really stupid not to keep her purse on her; evidently it has been her casual habit to leave it unguarded in grocery stores and even hang it on the cart the bellhop uses at hotels. So of course we can smugly say she was asking for it. No question, the identity thieves pick the low-hanging fruit first. If you have visitors to your home frequently, find a good place to secrete your purse, too. People you know will steal your identity, too.

Let's not be smug, though. Unfortunately, credit thieves are coming for all of us, and it's just a matter of time when they get to you or me. It's very hard to protect ourselves completely because everybody wants our personal information. Facebook keeps trying to get details of my life--the very items that credit companies want as the answers to questions as backup to the basic password. And certain people I do not know have found my date of birth (a matter of public record) and celebrated it on Facebook, totally without my cooperation or permission. My address and phone number are easily found through a free ZabaSearch, too, so forget that cute "give us your zip code" at the gas pump. Dead easy to obtain. Some things are matters of public record, including addresses.

So what can you do? You can freeze your credit with all three credit reporting agencies for a few dollars. You can tell each credit company with which you do business, and those that simply mail to you, not to send you credit offers (I haven't gotten them in many years). It's a little harder, but you can also demand that your credit card company not send you "convenience checks." We did this when our parent was high up in dementia, so no hired nurse could grab the checks and take her credit for a ride. It's also a good idea to cancel excess credit for elderly folks, and keep a remaining card in a safe place.

You can give false dates of birth when registering for websites (as long as you're 18, they're happy). You can remove excess credit cards from your wallet before you travel. You can make sure you never, ever give anyone your debit card number, or that your bank account from the debit card only has a few dollars over the price of what you are purchasing right now. You also can call your credit card companies whenever you plan to travel, and tell them the dates and locations. Without that prior call, I have found that credit has been denied for large purchases--even on a card that I routinely use for large purchases--and for small purchases, too, such as at a grocery store while visiting relatives out of state.

Of course do not carry your Social Security or Medicare card on a daily basis. Carry photocopies with the numbers blanked out; you know the number by heart, anyway. Change your online passwords, and use two-step verifications whenever possible. Use only one credit card online, not all of them (I know you have more than one). Check your bank accounts regularly, and look at your credit card statements to make sure no unusual charges have slipped in. Use your middle initial, so your name is more distinctive. If you name is Kathy Jones or the like, have it legally changed to something less generic, even if the change is only to add the middle initial Q. Proving you are the innocent Kathy Jones can be a nightmare otherwise.

The lock on your credit with the reporting agencies is probably the cheapest and easiest preventative measure, and you do not need to buy a commercial plan to do this.