Imagine we're producing a new reality show called A Day in the Life of You. How much of your time would be devoted to money matters? For most of us, it's not enough.
That's not because we're lazy. We're busy, plain and simple. We have kids to raise, houses to maintain, careers to nurture, and significant others with whom to spend quality time.
Since you can't outsource time with your lover (that's a question for an entirely different sort of website), a better option is to hire someone to help with the mundane money tasks that clog your to-do list: a Daily Money Manager, or DMM.
What is it?
DMM services typically include financial software setup and tutorials, explaining financial statements, coordinating paperwork for tax preparation, monitoring medical insurance payments and reimbursements, balancing checkbooks, and negotiating with creditors. Have trouble paying bills on time? A DMM can set up online bill payment from your checking account, or even write the check, lick the stamp, and send it off for you. For a list of DMMs in your area, visit the website for the American Association of Daily Money Managers, which requires its members to adhere to a code of ethics and now even offers a certification program.
Who's it for?
DMMs, long employed to help seniors and people with disabilities handle everyday financial tasks, are catering more and more to the busy average Joe. Rates vary, but expect to pay anywhere from $35 to $100 an hour, depending on geographic locale and the qualifications of your DMM.
That may sound like a lot compared to doing it yourself. But if you've ever been late with your credit card bill or mortgage payment, you know that the late fees, higher percentage rates, and damage to your credit rating can add up to far more than it would cost to hire a DMM. Your DMM, if monitoring your accounts, may also alert you to suspicious activity, minimizing the risk that you'll be the victim of fraud.
The Foolish Test-Drive
First, Fool contributor Elizabeth Brokamp (a.k.a. "my wife") and I asked ourselves: "What's the No. 1 pesky financial task we can never seem to get around to?" The answer was easy: Quicken. We'd always heard the virtues of using the software to manage all our accounts and balance our checkbook, but we never got around to learning how to use it, much less started linking up all of our accounts.
After reviewing the qualifications of the DMMs in our area, we hired John Bowen. He came to our home, downloaded Quicken to our computer, gave a brief tutorial, and linked up our family's checking, credit card, savings, and investing accounts. Now we can balance our checkbook and monitor all our accounts with the click of a button. The cost: Bowen charges $65 an hour, and the task took two hours.
What we liked: A task that long lingered on the Brokamp to-do list is finally done, and done right. Bowen was professional and informative, providing tips that only a longtime Quicken user could offer. He let us know ahead of time what he'd need to get the job done, so none of his time (or our money) was wasted digging up paperwork. We also liked that we could use the service once or decide to do it again, depending on our needs.
What we didn't like: We entered all of our personal data into Quicken ourselves, but we still felt like we were opening up our financial lives to a stranger. Plus, because it was done in our home, the session was subject to all of our family's usual distractions (our 3-year-old crying, the phone ringing, etc.), adding time to the task.
Foolish bottom line: DMM Gloria Froman of Let Me Get the Bill, Inc., said that all of her clients have one thing in common: They are overwhelmed, either by ongoing financial paperwork or that one task that they can never seem to get done. If that describes you, and it's costing you in late fees, penalties, and missed opportunities, then a DMM can help get you on track -- and provide the peace of mind that comes from facing a financial problem rather than burying it under another mound of paperwork.
Before hiring a DMM
- Solicit referrals from trusted friends and professionals.
- Check with the Better Business Bureau to see whether the professional in question is in good standing.
- Ask for a list of references.
- Ask if he or she has professional liability insurance coverage (this is a must).
- Meet in the DMM's office first.
Questions to ask the DMM
- What are your hourly rates? When does the clock start ticking? Is a free meet-and-greet included? Do you charge for travel? How else might I incur charges?
- What security measures do you have in place? How will you ensure that my private information (account numbers, passwords, Social Security number) stays private?
- Do you have any other professional credentials or designations that may be beneficial (notary certification, accountant training)?
- What are your billing practices? Are fees due when services are rendered or will you bill monthly?
- If work is ongoing, in what manner and how often will you communicate with me regarding my situation?