Financial Matters for Older Iowans
Authored By: Legal Hotline for Older Iowans
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Many older Iowans may find themselves in unfamiliar territory when it comes to financial matters, especially after the death of a spouse who handled the family's finances. To protect yourself from being taken advantage of and to ensure some degree of financial security for yourself, it is essential that you know about your income, resources and debts.
For many older Iowans, Social Security is the main source of income. The most common way to earn benefits is from your work history. If you do not have enough work history you may be entitled to benefits based on the record of your spouse. You may also be entitled to benefits as a widow, a divorced spouse or if you are disabled. If you are low income and have limited resources, you may also be entitled to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) if you are age 65 or blind or disabled. To find out more information about Social Security benefits, call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213.
Social Security often does not provide a sufficient income to meet all expenses. Many people are also eligible for pensions through either government, or private sources. If you are married when your spouse retires, you are normally entitled to a widow's benefit if your spouse dies before you, unless you have signed away your rights to a survivor's benefit. It is important to read pension information closely before you decide what type of benefits you and your spouse wish to receive. If you are divorced or are contemplating divorce, you may be entitled to receive pension funds as part of the property division.
You may also have resources such as your home, bank accounts, investments and personal property to increase your financial stability. Ownership of these resources determines how much control you have. As a sole owner of your resources, you have the most control over them and can make independent decisions about them. If you are a joint owner of a resource, your co-owner may be able to make decisions about the resource without your knowledge or approval. Therefore, use caution when adding a person's name to your resources. If the other owner has financial trouble, that person's creditors may have access to the resource to satisfy their debts.
Individuals are generally responsible for their own debts. However, if you are married and purchases you made with credit are for marital or household expenses like utilities, food or medical bills, both spouses are legally responsible for the debt. If you are a joint owner of an account, both parties are legally responsible for the debt regardless of who incurred it. You are also legally responsible for debt for which you co-sign if the other person defaults, so use caution when you agree to co-sign for others. If you have debts and are having difficulty paying them, it is important to know that Social Security benefits, pensions and some other sources of income and resources are protected from your creditors.
If you take time to understand your financial situation, you can increase the control you have over your income and assets and lessen the chances that you will be taken advantage of by others. Contact the Legal Hotline for Older Iowans at 1-800-992-8161 for advice about your specific situation. For more information about economic security and financial safety planning for women, contact the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women at 1-800-558-4427 and request a copy of the book "Financial Safety Planning for Older Women."
Last review 8/5/11