Money, a subject on the minds of many Americans, is among the most taboo of all topics. In fact, 44% of Americans responding to a 2014 Wells Fargo study admitted to finding discussions of personal finances extremely challenging. This is a higher percentage of Americans than are reluctant to talk about their health, death, or politics.
Unfortunately, keeping mum about money isn't helpful to the 65% of Americans losing sleep over financial concerns. If you're one of them and you have questions, you need answers so you can take action.
Fortunately, you don't have to ask your friends or family your money questions -- you can find answers to three questions that you may have been afraid to ask right here.
1. What if I don't have enough saved for retirement?
More than 6 in 10 Americans are worried about retirement savings. Americans have good reason to worry, with the median account balance for retirement savers at just $24,713 according to Vanguard's 2017 How America Saves report.
So, what happens if you get to retirement without cash in the bank? It depends on age and work opportunities. Your best option is to keep working as long as possible, both to increase Social Security benefits -- which are higher if you wait -- and to save more. Both a 401(k) and IRA allow catch-up contributions for workers over 50. If you start at 60 and max out contributions, you could put $24,000 into a 401(k) and $6,500 into an IRA annually as of 2017. If you work until 70 and earn a 7% return on investments, you'd end up with a nest egg of $421,401 from zero.
If you cannot work any longer, you have fewer options. You may need to consider moving to a low cost of living area and banking the equity in your home to provide retirement income; renting out a room in your home to bring in extra income; or using a reverse mortgage. The important thing is to have money available when you're way too old to work, as retirement spending tends to be the high during your most senior years when you get sick and incur significant healthcare expenditures.
If your income is truly too low to survive on and you cannot work, you'll need to explore government benefits programs like Supplemental Security Income -- available to low income seniors over 65 -- and Medicaid to cover healthcare needs.
2. What if I have a financial emergency I can't handle?
Close to 60% of Americans have less than $500 saved for an emergency . If disaster strikes and you have nothing in the bank, what do you do?
Start with the lowest-cost options for coming up with cash first. If you can, sell items you don't need or pick up extra income by doing overtime or taking on a side gig. If you don't have the time or ability to earn the money, ask your employer if they have an employee assistance program that offers low-interest loans or even direct financial gifts in emergency situations. You can also ask friends or family for a loan-- but make a clear repayment plan to avoid damaging your relationships.
When your ingenuity or personal network won't provide cash you need, see if you have access to credit card checks. Some creditors allow you to cash a check, deposit the money in the bank, and treat the transaction as a balance transfer -- which means you'd likely pay a fee of around 3%-5% and pay 0% interest for around a year. Using credit card checks could cost less than standard card interest, but it's critically important to ensure you're actually taking a balance transfer, not a cash advance which has a much higher interest rate. .
A personal loan is also a lower-cost option than using credit cards, but it can take time to apply. Personal loans can be obtained from banks, credit unions, and even peer-to--peer lending networks like Lending Club.
A home equity loan or line of credit are also options for homeowners, but they should be approached with caution because you put your home at risk. A 401(k) loan is a last resort if you have exhausted all other options, but there are huge risks, including the potential for a big tax bill if you can't pay back the loan.
3. What if I get sick and can't pay for care?
Almost 40% of all Americans worry they won't be able to pay healthcare bills. Unfortunately, even insured Americans often face high deductibles that make affording care difficult. Planning ahead by investing in a health savings account makes it easier to pay medical expenses, but this doesn't help if you get sick without the cash to cover treatment costs.
If you have a medical problem and little money for care, your first step should be to look for low-cost or free clinics in your area. If none provide the services you need, contact providers to compare prices, ask for discounts for paying cash, or find out about payment plans. Many providers will work with you, and you can even enlist the help of your doctor to save. In close to half of all conversations where patients raised financial concerns with their doctors, the discussion led to a strategy to reduce out-of-pocket spending, according to Duke University research.
When your bills are truly too high to pay, Medicaid could provide help. A total of 31 states and Washington D.C. expanded Medicaid to make benefits available to people with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty poverty level, and Medicaid also has a special Medically Needy program for higher-earners who wouldn't traditionally qualify for coverage but who incur substantial monthly medical bills.
Don't be afraid to ask for help
When you have money worries, not talking about them often makes things worse because you can't find help. There are resources out there -- from government programs to nonprofit credit counselors to financial advisors-- who can help you get your finances on track.
Just don't be afraid to ask for the assistance you need, and you'll be surprised at the money challenges you can overcome.