You can't put a price on good health. You've heard the maxim, but in the era of high deductibles, caveat-riddled coverage, hidden fees and a healthcare system in flux, it's taken on a new meaning. Even if you have coverage, how do you budget for your health needs beyond the standard co-pays and insurance premiums? It's a question anyone who's ever received an unexpected medical bill has grappled with. According to a recent poll by Kaiser Family Foundation, 67% of over 1,100 people surveyed worried more about surprise medical bills than covering the cost of rent, food, electricity or insurance premiums.
In the same poll, 39% of insured adults under 65 claimed to have been hit with higher-than-expected medical bills in the past year—with some facing unexpected charges upwards of $2,000.
The truth is, health insurance doesn't guarantee you protection from medical-related debt. That doesn't mean you should pass on the care you need, but you don't have to be blindsided by the costs either. Arming yourself with information, doing your research and being your own advocate can make all the difference—for your health and your bank account. Here's what you need to know.
Avoid "in-network" loopholes
Just because a hospital or clinic is in your insurer's network, that doesn't guarantee the doctor treating you offers the same coverage. This is particularly common with surgical procedures that require multiple professionals. According to the Wall Street Journal, anesthesiologists, radiologists and pathologists are "the most likely to not accept many health plans." Meanwhile, specialists brought in for consultations and even MRI or blood-work could appear as an out-of-network charge on your medical bill.
To avoid added costs, contact the hospital in advance to request that all specialists and lab tests are in accordance with your network plan, and barring that, try to negotiate a rate beforehand. If you're still overcharged, you can contact a billing negotiator, (Consumer Affairs has a list of the best rated), which takes a cut from your reduced rate, or a nonprofit like Patient Advocate Foundation.
You can also advocate for yourself, as Forbes' Kelly Long did after a surgical procedure with an anesthesiologist that wasn't on her plan.
"In my case, I finally called the billing office of the anesthesiologist and asked if they would be willing to accept the amount my insurance was willing to accept," writes Long. "The billing associate consulted her manager and then offered me a 20% discount."
Ask about Facility Fees
Hospitals can charge for the use of their facility and equipment, which can be unavoidable in emergency situations. But if it's not a dire situation, or if your doctor works out of another location besides the hospital, it's possible to avoid the fee. Call ahead, ask about facility fees and whether there's a way to avoid them with a visit to another office.
Check for Billing Mistakes
Ever spotted a mistaken charge on a restaurant check? Medical facilities make mistakes too.
Calculate each item on the bill, and make sure there aren't erroneous procedures you didn't actually have. Here's the big one: Even if the procedure's name checks out on the bill, the CPT (current procedural terminology) code for a procedure could be wrong. You can find a list of codes at the American Medical Association's website. If your insurance company denied coverage for a procedure that you know is in your plan, make sure the code listed matches the procedure you had. If it doesn't, alert both your plan and the medical facility of the mistake.
If you're setting up an appointment for preventative care, check with your healthcare provider about what's covered, specifically the numeric codes for each procedure. Then, when booking the appointment, give those codes to the administrator to avoid mistakes later.
Other mistakes to look out for: double charges of the same procedure, misspelled names and inaccurate dates. Any one of these blips could lead your insurance to initially veto coverage.
Research your options—all of them
In an emergency, researching cost effectiveness should be the last thing on your mind. But if you've done your homework in advance, you'll save yourself a financial headache later. Check with your local fire department about the ambulance services in your area and confirm with your insurance provider that they're in your network. While you're at it, check in about your options for same-day care.
Providers, like Aetna, hospitals like NCH, and online platforms like Doctors On-Demand offer virtual care services, staffed by physicians on call to answer your immediate concerns and help you decide next steps. Most cost as little as a co-pay or offer a flat rate starting around $40.
If you need an immediate in-person visit and can't get an appointment with your primary care physician, you've still got options. Chain pharmacies like CVS offer walk-in clinics ($99-$129) for quickie problems such as sore throats or other minor issues, while urgent care facilities, which can start at $150 without coverage, offer wider services.
If your issue might be life-threatening (chest pains, shortness of breath, vomiting and other red alerts) it's time for a trip to the ER, which usually means a higher co-pay and resulting bill. But in times of crisis, money should be the last thing on your mind. But when you're feeling better, or better yet, before you get sick, you can arm yourself with even more information on ER fees and what to expect over at Vox, where they've launched a project aimed at exposing the hidden costs of Emergency Room visits. You can even help their cause by sharing your own bill.
While it's possible to be frugal with many aspects of your lifestyle, there are certain events and possessions that will require you to spend a substantial amount of money. Thus, a wise course of action is to begin saving well ahead of time while thinking about your goals for the future. This way, you'll be able to maintain a stable financial state even when faced with those large expenses. The following are a few major life purchases that you should plan for.
Marriage is a joyous occasion that many people look forward to. However, a wedding can be quite expensive, often costing thousands of dollars. Your family and your future spouse's family will often contribute to covering this, but you should still prepare to spend a good deal of your own money on the ceremony. If you're in a serious relationship and are considering marriage, you should plan where the funds for the wedding will come from and take the necessary actions to accumulate them. It's also crucial to discuss financial matters with your partner, since your property will merge once you get married.
A New Car
Automobiles remain one of the top modes of transportation. As a result, you may want to purchase a new car at some point in your life. Although you may be fine with an old or used vehicle at present, you may one day be motivated by a desire to acquire something nice for yourself or by the practical needs that arise as you raise children. Whatever the case, obtaining a new car is a major life purchase that you should plan for.
In addition to setting aside funds to eventually put towards a vehicle, you should also aim to build you credit score. This is because your credit score will determine your available car loan options. The higher your credit score, the more you may be able to lower your interest rates on your car.
Owning your own residential property is a worthy objective that you may hope to make a reality one day. Ideally, you should save about 20 percent of the total cost of a house before you buy it. This will allow you to make a larger down payment and thereafter face less interest on your mortgage.
As with acquiring a car, the mortgage options that you'll have can change based on how strong your credit score is. You'll want to increase your score as much as possible in the years leading up to buying a house so that you can get more favorable interest rates. In addition to contemplating down payments and mortgages, you must also remember that you'll need to deal with property taxes, insurance, maintenance and repair fees, and sometimes homeowners' association charges.
It's also necessary to hire a real estate agent to help you with the buying process. There are different types of real estate professionals. You should know how to distinguish between buyer's agents and seller's agents so that you can obtain favorable prices on homes as well.
Many people live together before getting married and have begun the process of combining accounts and sharing responsibilities. However, some people wait to do this only after marriage, and others wait until they're married to live together. Whichever path you've chosen, it's still crucial to know a few tips to manage money together as newlyweds to determine where you should begin and how you can remain on the same page.
Discussing Money Motivations
As we begin to share money with our significant other, we soon find out what one person may rank as a priority regarding money and the other may not. As such, sitting down and discussing money motivations is important. Two people who cannot agree on how to handle money may cause serious issues. This should include:
- How to deal with money following payday. Is a percentage put into savings? Is that the day to splurge on dinner, drinks, and more?
- The frequency and size of payments made to debts. Some people like to pay minimums, whereas others pay in full or make double payments.
- What do you each consider money well spent? Is it a new 70" 4K television? Is it an investment? Is it paying as much debt off as possible?
- How do you go about consulting each other before making purchases over a certain amount?
Establishing Financial Goals
After you evaluate the motivations behind your money and how it should be spent, you'll need to spend time together hashing out financial goals. As newlyweds, there are certain things on your list that you're going to want to save for. How do you go about that? How much of each paycheck will you dedicate to a particular fund?
Some things in the future worth making a financial plan for include savings and paying down debts. This is the time to be honest about your current financial standing. If you're looking to buy a home, you'll want to assemble a first-time homeowner financial checklist to begin to develop topics of conversation. Some of the things to consider setting goals for are:
- Student loans
- Car loans
- Future children
- A house
- Medical bills
- Delinquencies on credit reports
- Vacation and rainy-day funds
- Emergency funds
The more honest and open you can be with each other about the money you have and now the debts you share, the better. Implementing plans for the best ways to have the things that you both desire while still taking care of existing demands is important. These can be uncomfortable things to talk about; however, these conversations are necessary.
Following these tips to manage money together as newlyweds will allow you to have a starting point for conversations that can be tough to start. The sooner you and your partner get on the same page with finances and the responsibilities that come with them, the easier the transition will be and the sooner you'll find success.
It's the dream: money you can count on to keep rolling in, even while you sleep.
Passive income isn't entirely passive, of course. You'll put in work up-front to get the profits rolling, so don't relax in your recliner just yet. But with so many potential sources of passive income available to you, picking one or several will mean that the day you can finally kick back will draw steadily closer.
Real estate is a tried-and-true wealth builder for a simple reason: people will always need somewhere to live. Research the market in a growing community until you know a good deal when you see it. You can maximize rent by fixing up a deteriorating property or upgrading a mediocre one. The key is to hire a property manager to do all the day-to-day landlord duties for you—and you'll need a good one. Smart investors put their profits in another property and repeat the process until they have a diverse portfolio.
A YouTube Channel
You can start a blog if you're more comfortable hiding behind a computer, but consumers are more likely to prefer video content. Post a series of “how-to" videos to answer questions about whatever you're an expert in.
You can put up any content you want, but if you don't want to commit to regularly updating it, focus on “evergreen" topics that will draw clicks for eternity. Ads will create your income, especially if your channel grows in popularity. Better yet, sign up for affiliate marketing. If you recommend a product and provide a link to buy it, you'll get a small percentage of those transactions.
If you don't mind vinyl-wrapping your car with an ad for a company, you can get cash just driving around and running your errands. Make sure you contact a reputable company that doesn't ask for any money from you; if they're the real deal, they'll evaluate your car, your driving habits, your area, and more. Bonus: the brighter the ad, the easier it'll be to find your vehicle in the parking lot.
What's something that people will pay for but doesn't require shipping on your part? Finding that item is what can supplement your income indefinitely. Write an e-book, charge for your cross-stitching patterns, design prints that people can digitally download, invent an app, record a “masterclass," or whatever else you want. Every time someone new discovers it, the cash register rings. With a little more effort, this is a potential source of passive income for you that can continue to grow. Once you build up a customer base, they might want more products. The good part is that it's up to you whether you wish to give it to them.