Information overload may come at a cost

If you are anything like me, your mailbox and email in box are filled with statements every month.

They arrive for credit cards, banks, investments, utilities, service providers, and more.

If you want to stay on top of them, it is easily a multi-hour a week job to review charges, reconcile bank statements, examine quarterly returns, and track utility usage. It all takes time, focus, and patience.

Some of us were born to enjoy this type of work. My husband, who is a CPA, might not say he fully enjoys it, but he is comfortable with it and knows what to look for.

However, as we get older, even the most detailed oriented of us may experience challenges.

As we age, our brain undergoes changes that may have some effect on our memory or thinking skills. These changes may hamper our ability to review and properly respond to the piles of paperwork that come our way each month.

According to the National Institute of Health, as adults we develop various thinking abilities that peak around age 30 and very subtly decline with age. These age-related declines most commonly include overall slowness in thinking and difficulties maintaining attention, multitasking, holding information in our minds, and finding the right words.

Specifically, our ability to perform tasks that involve executive function declines with age. Executive function is a set of mental skills that include memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. We use these skills every day to learn, work, and manage daily life.

This is, in part, why falling for scams is so prevalent among the older adult population. But even apart from scammers with ill intentions, as so much information flows to us each month, and we get older, it is easy to miss red flags and find ourselves in trouble.

Missing a monthly payment is common. All of us have likely done it at one time or another. If it is a one-time thing, and we immediately respond, the business may be willing to waive the late payment fee, but if it happens frequently, interest and fees may apply.

Reconciling your bank statement is as important as ever. Recently my husband found our bank double paid one of our checks. In all our years of checking statements and finding them accurate, it was reasonable to think we wouldn’t need to check them anymore, but we are glad we did.

While it is sometimes a painful experience, my husband checks each charge on our monthly credit card statement. Yes dear, that Macy’s charge is correct, I bought a new outfit.  Yes dear, that restaurant charge is right, I had lunch with a friend.

Over the holidays, when I assume many people are too busy to look at their statements, my husband noticed a charge for a dating website. He asked me if I had something to tell him, but as it turns out our card had been compromised. 

As with some scammers, they “test” with a small unauthorized charge and if it is undetected, they move on to charging more expensive things. Fortunately, we caught it early and addressed it with our credit card company who reversed the charge and sent us a new card.

Even investment statements should be routinely reviewed. In establishing assets like 401(K) or brokerage accounts, most of us choose a set of investments which are appropriate at the time. Later, market changes may make that investment less appealing.

If someone is not reviewing their statement each month or quarter and tracking returns, they may be experiencing losses that can be mitigated with a different investment.  

Life gets more complicated each day. If you find yourself unable or uninterested in reviewing your statements, it may be time to engage the help of a trusted resource like a close family member or a professional fiduciary. Information about professional fiduciaries is available at pfac-pro.org.  

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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