2013 May 22 by jesse
As a Colorado bankruptcy lawyer Many of my clients suffer from numerous and seemingly unending calls from creditors about their unpaid bills. There are limits to when, where, and who the collectors can call you about your debt. However, you must assert your rights. The collectors are not going to do that for you. Collectors only want one thing – your money. They will bully you until they get what they want!
Depending on the client’s unique situation it can take a few days to several months to file a bankruptcy case. Until the bankruptcy case is filed the client is typically harassed by his creditors for money. That’s unfortunate. Those stressful irritating calls can be stopped.
Both Colorado and the US Federal Government have laws that protect consumers from unfair debt collection practices. The law is called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Both the Colorado law (CRS 12-14-105) and the Federal law (15 USC § 1692c) give you the following rights:
- Collectors can’t contact you at any unusual time, place, or manner known or which should be known to be inconvenient to the consumer.
- Collectors can call you between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. local time unless you tell them it’s inconvenient
- Collectors can call you at work, unless you tell them your employer prohibits you from taking such calls at work.
- Collectors cannot call your family, your neighbors or your spouse or anyone else but you about your debt without your express consent or a court order.
- Collectors cannot call you if they know you are represented by an attorney.
If you get a collection call or letter I strongly suggest you send a letter to the creditor asserting your legal rights under both the Colorado and Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Acts.
Please contact me, Jesse Aschenberg, if you creditors are harassing you or you have bankruptcy questions.
2012 March 26 by jesse
“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear–not absence of fear.”–Mark Twain
“The unknown” can be a scary place. Taking risks and facing your fears throws you into this scary place and you can’t be sure what the outcome will be. This same risk can also be what makes it exciting.
What are your fears? Flying? Interviewing? Public speaking? Needles? Snakes? Nearly everyone is afraid of something, so don’t feel alone. If you’ve always wanted to conquer one of your fears, read on for some inspiration and motivation.
CLIMB OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
It’s natural to settle into your comfort zone in life. It feels safe and easy. Taking risks and facing fears gets your adrenaline going and brings out flight instincts. You want to run away from a scary situation, it’s natural. But it’s difficult to expand your horizons and grow as a person if you stay hidden away in your comfort zone. So every once in awhile, consider dipping a toe outside of your comfort zone and see how it makes you feel.
GET TO THE BOTTOM OF WHY YOU’RE AFRAID
Do some soul searching and think about why you are so afraid of something. Are you afraid to die? Are you afraid of failure? Or of success? Get online and do some reading about your fear. You might find information that helps you understand the underlying cause of your fear. For example, fear of flying often comes down to a fear of not being in control of a situation – having to trust the pilots to handle problems. At least when you’re at the wheel of your car, you feel in control. Knowing this type of information can help you tackle your fear head on, armed with all the facts.
Before you book that skydiving trip, consider starting with some more reasonable adventures. Head to a part of town you wouldn’t normally go to and eat some exotic food. Drive up to a high elevation and enjoy the view. Look at snakes through the glass at the zoo. Meet a friend at the airport, go shopping, have a meal, and just watch the comings and goings. Consider yourself “dabbling” in facing your fears. Do something different, have fun, and change your perspective a little. Realize that you might feel afraid and take that in, be OK with it.
Work your way up from starting small, and take bigger and bolder steps until you’re ready to face your fear. Breathe deeply to calm your heart rate, stay hydrated, and remember that you’re in control. You can choose to be brave and courageous, or you can choose to give into fear. Remember that you’re doing this for yourself – to have a better life, to get to know yourself better, and to challenge yourself.
NEED MORE MOTIVATION?
Facing Fear, Finding Courage: Your Path to Peace of Mind
Facing and Overpowering Your Fears
Face Your Fear: Living with Courage in an Age of Caution
2011 November 1 by jesse
According to a study published in Smart Money magazine, negotiating medical bills is something people don’t often do, but it can have successful results. In fact, 66 percent of patients who negotiated costs with their doctor were successful, while 70 percent were successful when dealing directly with their hospitals. Yet according to published estimates, fewer than 15% of consumers negotiate their bills.
So if you’re facing some tough medical bills and would like to negotiate the prices or terms, it’s certainly in your favor to do so. There is often room for negotiation with doctor’s offices and hospitals, even if your bill is overdue. Here are some tips and steps to consider when embarking on a medical bill negotiation.
IT DOESN’T HURT TO ASK
An excellent first step is to just pick up the phone and speak to someone in the billing department of your physician’s office or hospital. Explain your situation calmly and find out what your options are. You might get an on-the-spot hardship discount.
Ask about special needs programs. Hospitals often do not advertise these programs, but they exist. You might qualify for discounts or to have your bill dismissed entirely. Hospitals often have financial counselors and patient advocates who can help you. Just ask.
If you do not have insurance, it’s worth asking for a discount based on this fact. The healthcare provider might accept a loss on your service or give you a discount because you do not have insurance. Hospitals and physicians regularly have up to a dozen costs for the same procedure, depending on whether the payer is an individual, Medicare, Medicaid, insurance, etc. Why not ask them to give you the lowest of those rates, if they are acceptable for other people to pay? You could start by asking what the Medicare rate is for your procedure, as that’s often the lowest.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
This stage requires perseverance and patience, as you are now entering the complicated world of medical billing. But it can have big payoffs.
Mistakes are often made on medical bills. In fact, one out of every five medical claims are improperly processed, According to the American Medical Association. So review your bills carefully and make sure you haven’t been double billed for anything. If you see separate entries for “anesthesia” for example, make sure anesthesia charges weren’t included in other areas. You might have to get on the phone and ask some questions.
Get online and research costs for your procedure. A good place to start is the Healthcare Blue Book, which lists the fair market price of most procedures. Think of it like buying a car. Knowing the cost range for the item helps you negotiate a price on the lower end of that scale.
Medicare prices are the standard that many insurance companies and healthcare providers go by, so get online and find out the rate for your procedure. A good place to start is the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Medicare Web site. Enter your ZIP code and begin comparing hospital rates.
CONSIDER A PAYMENT PLAN
Physicians or hospitals would much rather receive payments over a period of time rather than never at all. So it’s in your favor to discuss a payment plan arrangement for your medical bills. Ask about interest though, as many charge hefty fees for the privilege of paying over time. Ask for this fee to be waived because of your circumstances.
TURN TO A HEALTHCARE ADVOCATE FOR HELP
Even though it may not seem like it, there are people on your side. Some areas have healthcare advocates — start by finding your state Attorney General’s office at www.naag.org. Or reach out to The Patient Advocacy Foundation for free advice.
If you can find an individual healthcare advocate who earns a commission on the money they save you, this is an excellent option. These professionals are often previous employees of health insurance companies or hospital billing departments. So they have the expertise to help you negotiate and research your procedure costs.
2011 November 1 by jesse
If you’re like most of our clients, you are hoping to get through this holiday season without incurring big bills to face later. To help you make the most of the season, here are some tips on three of the most expensive areas – decorating, gift giving, and gift wrapping. We hope these help you have a very happy holiday!
DECK YOUR HALLS WITHOUT BREAKING THE BANK
- Get your kids or grandkids in on the action. Set up an art station with paints, crayons, glitter, and glue, and have the little artists make holiday decorations. They will love seeing their handiwork displayed – and you will have inexpensive decorations.
- Recycle things you have around the house like lightbulbs (makes a great santa face), old wrapping paper and bows (for new ornaments), and last-year’s Christmas cards (for cute new decorations). There are some very inventive ideas here: http://www.allfreecrafts.com/christmas/index.shtml
- Make angel ornaments out of coffee filters. Here are instructions if you’d like to give this creative idea a try. http://crafts.kaboose.com/easy-coffee-filter-angel.html
- Pop some popcorn and string it up using a needle and thread. Add some color with cranberries, beads, or buttons.
- Decorate your house by bringing the outside in, using whatever you can find outside, such as pinecones, tree branches, and acorns.
- Go with an artificial tree that will last year after year. Compare the cost of pre-lit trees with buying an unlit tree plus separate strings of lights. Often, the pre-lit can be cheaper.
- Cover your walls and doors with homemade snowflakes, in a variety of sizes, cut from regular computer paper. It’s a simple old-fashioned decoration that has big impact.
WRAP GIFTS IN STYLE, FOR LESS
- Check out dollar stores – they often have great options for gift wrap, bags, and bows.
- Use what you have on hand, like the comics from the newspaper, colorful magazine ads, or pretty calendar pictures.
- Print out kids’ pictures on computer paper and use that as wrapping paper – the grandparents will love it!
- Make your own gift wrap out of brown paper grocery bags – just take some sponges and cut out shapes like stars and trees, then load them up with paint and stamp the paper.
- Look for non-holiday specific paper that’s still festive and colorful, like bright reds, greens, and silver or gold.
- Get the kids to make their own gift wrap, using large sheets of drawing paper and some crayons or markers.
- Make your own gift tags out of last year’s Christmas cards or by cutting a small piece of matching wrapping paper and folding it in half.
GIFT-GIVING ON A BUDGET
- Set a spending limit and stick to it. Perhaps you set an overall amount, or a limit per person. This will help frame your holiday shopping season and keep your spending in check.
- If someone surprises you with a gift, don’t feel obligated to reciprocate. Just explain to them that you’re on a strict budget this year, they will understand.
- Do a family grab bag and pull names out of a hat for gift-giving. That way, everyone gets a gift but you only have to buy one.
- Just buy for the children. Adults often decide to forego gift exchanges and just focus on the kids at the holidays. The joy on their faces can be your gift!
- Make vouchers for around-the-house chores, such as two hours of yardwork help for your brother-in-law, help painting your mother’s bedroom, or watching your sister’s kids for an afternoon. Your time and effort is free, but they will appreciate the gift!
- Make homemade gifts, such as knitted hats and mittens, baked goods, candies, or picture collages. These gifts are often more meaningful than the latest expensive gadget.
- Take advantage of websites that offer “gifts under $20” categories, like Gifts.com and Amazon.com
- Consider sending an eCard with a beautiful heart-felt message of appreciation to your friend or family member. It’s free and the person will be touched by your effort. Or perhaps you can use eCards instead of printing out family letters. Here are a few sites to check out: www.123greetings.com and www.bluemountain.com
2011 October 6 by jesse
Many of our clients at Bankruptcy Law Professionals of Colorado are overwhelmed with medical bills. We often hear that they are frustrated by receiving confusing notices, multiple bills from multiple providers, and sometimes duplicate statements. Medical bill problems are becoming fairly commonplace. In fact, according to The American Journal of Medicine, medical bills prompt more than 60% of U.S. bankruptcies.
So if you’re knee-deep in a pile of medical bills, here are some tips for staying organized and managing your bills.
TAKE SOME TIME TO UNDERSTAND THE BILLS
Medical bills can be confusing – containing medical jargon, complicated calculations, and information about benefit coverage. If you do a little research and gain a basic understanding of how a medical bill is typically laid out, you will give yourself the foundation you need to get a handle on them.
In particular, take time to understand the bills that you get most often from a specific provider. If you will repeatedly see one certain physician, it will be worth your while to understand the bill for their services. Call your insurance provider or the medical office directly if you have any questions.
Here’s a great article on Understanding Medical Bills – http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/pat-advocacy/healthcare/888.html
It’s also important to understand your insurance benefits or if you use supplemental insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid, to know what is covered.
PHYSICIALLY ORGANIZE THE BILLS
Grab yourself a file cabinet, set of folders, or accordion file, along with your pile of bills and get to work organizing them. This will help you spot any duplicates and past-due notices, plus will help you stay organized in the future.
To tackle this, start by separating the bills by provider (hospital or doctor’s office you visited), putting the oldest bills on the bottom. If you haven’t already, mark all paid bills with PAID. Pin any duplicates together and flag any past-due notices with a sticky note. Or hold those out in a separate pile to be paid.
Now sort through the documents called Explanation of Medical Benefits and any Medicare or Medicaid statements – sort those by provider and place those with the correct date of service in your previous sorting. Look through your remaining pile for any supplemental insurance statements, payment statements, receipts, prescription information, and claim forms – put everything applicable to a service date together. For example, if you had a hospital visit on May 15th, find everything related to that visit and keep it together in one folder or file.
WRITE UP A TO-DO LIST
As questions or action items arise during your sorting, don’t stop organizing, just jot these items down. For example, if you have supplemental insurance to pay for remaining balances and need to fill out paperwork for a certain service, make a note of the service date and provider and get back to it. Or if you have to make a follow-up call to understand a charge, write that down as well.
For payment due dates, keep reminders in a central location, such as a wall calendar, daytimer, or online calendar. Or set up automatic payments through your online banking function.
DOCUMENT THE PROCESS
It might also be helpful to keep notes on what you’re doing as you follow up. So the next time comes around that you have to follow a certain insurance procedure or download a form online, you’ll jog your memory about what to do. You can also start a spreadsheet of payments made – or even simpler, a written list in a notebook.
TURN TO A SERVICE FOR HELP
If you are using an employer-sponsored health plan, you might have access to an online program that helps you understand your benefits and keep track of expenses. If not, there are other options:
SIMPLEE – an online healthcare service where you pay your medical bills, track your spending, and consolidate healthcare accounts to manage plans, claims, and more.
MEDICAL BILLS PLUS – software that provides an easy way to record medical visits and costs as they occur, and to calculate and display information that enables you to effectively manage your medical insurance program.
SMART MEDICAL CONSUMER – a web-based service for consumers to manage their medical expenses, with features including automatic detection of medical billing mistakes.
IN THE NEXT ISSUE: We will continue our advice on handling medical bills, including tips to help if you need more time to pay or want to negotiate costs.