Dear Savvy Senior
What tips can you recommend to help seniors with downsizing? I have been thinking about moving to a retirement community, but in order to move I need to get rid of a lot of my stuff. I have a four bedroom house as well as an attic and basement that are full. Any tips would be appreciated.
The process of weeding through a house full of stuff and parting with old possessions can be difficult and overwhelming for many seniors. Most people in your situation start the downsizing process by giving their unused possessions to their kids or grandkids, which you can do up to $13,000 per person per year before you’re required to file a federal gift tax return, using IRS Form 709. Beyond that, here are a few extra tips and services that may help you.
Downsizing for Dollars – Selling your stuff is one way you can downsize and pad your pocketbook at the same time. If you’re willing, have the time and access to the Internet, online selling at sites like Craigslist and eBay is the best way to make top dollar. Craigslist.org is a huge classified ads site that lets you sell your stuff for free. And eBay.com lets you conduct your own online auction for a small listing fee, and if it sells, 9 percent of the sale price, up to $100. Or, if you don’t want to do the selling yourself you can get help from an eBay trading assistant who will do everything for you. They typically charge between 33 and 40 percent of the selling price. Go to ebaytradingassistant.com to search for trading assistants in your area.
Some other popular selling options are consignment shops, garage sales and estate sales. Consignment shops are good for selling old clothing, household furnishings and decorative items. You typically get half of the final sale price. Garage sales are another option, or you could hire an estate sale company to come in and sell your items. Some companies will even pick up your stuff and sell them at their own location – they usually take around 50 percent of the profits.
Donate It – If you itemize on your tax returns, donating your belongings is another way to downsize and get a tax deduction. Goodwill (goodwill.org, 800-741-0186) and the Salvation Army (satruck.org, 800-728-7825) are two big charitable organizations that will come to your house and pick up your donations. If your deduction exceeds $500, you’ll need to file Form 8283, “Noncash Charitable Contributions.” You’ll also need a receipt from the organization for every batch of items you donate. And be sure you keep an itemized list of donated items. See IRS Publication 526 (www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p526.pdf) for more information.
Disposal Services – If you have a lot of junk you want to get rid of, contact your municipal trash service to see if they provide bulk curbside pickup services. Or, depending on where you live, you could hire a company like 1-800-Got-Junk (1800gotjunk.com, 800-468-5865) or Junk-King (junk-king.com, 800-995-5865) to come in and haul it off for a moderate fee. Another good option is Bagster by Waste Management (thebagster.com, 877-789-2247). With this service, you buy the bag (it measures 8 feet by 4 feet by 2.5 feet) at your local home-improvement store like Lowes or Home Depot for around $30. Fill it to a limit of 3,300 pounds and schedule a pickup which costs between $80 up to $205 depending on your location.
Get Help – You can also hire a professional “senior move manager” to do the entire job for you. These are organizers who will sort through your stuff and arrange for the disposal through an estate sale, donations or consignment. Costs for these services usually range between $1,000 and $5,000. See nasmm.com or call 877-606-2766 to search for a senior move manager in your area. Or, you can hire a professional organizer through the National Association of Professional Organizers at napo.net.
Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you recommend some tips to help protect seniors from telemarketing scams? My 80-year-old mother has been swindled out of several hundred dollars over the past year and keeps getting calls from scam artists.
Telemarketing fraud is a big problem in the United States, particularly among seniors who tend to be the most vulnerable and frequently targeted. Here’s what you should know, along with some tips to help protect your mom.
Phone Fraud – According to FBI reports, there are around 14,000 illegal telemarketing operations that steal more than $40 billion from unsuspecting citizens each year – most of whom are over the age of 60.
Telemarketing fraud happens when a con artist calls you up posing as a legitimate telemarketer and tries to cheat you out of your money by offering things like free prizes, vacation packages, sweepstakes or lottery winnings, discount medical or prescription drug plans, buying club memberships, credit and loan promises, investment and work-at-home opportunities and more. They also usually demand that you act right away and require some kind of up-front payment to participate or receive your winnings, which is always a red flag that the call is a scam.
Seniors also need to be careful of fake charity and fundraising phone scams, home improvement scams, fake checks (see fakechecks.org), grandparent scams, and invitations to free lunch seminars.
What You Can Do – The first thing you should do to help your mom steer clear of phone scams is to alert her to the problem and how to recognize it. To help you with this, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers a consumer education website at ftc.gov/phonefraud that provides a rundown on some of the most common phone scams making the rounds these days and what to watch for. They also offer some helpful publications you can get for her like “Putting Telephone Scams on Hold” and “Who’s Calling? Recognize & Report Phone Fraud” that you can order for free by calling 877-382-4357.
The next step is to remind her to never give out her personal information like her credit card number, checking or savings account numbers, Social Security number or mailing address to telemarketers no matter what they promise or tell her. If she’s getting calls from telemarketers requesting this information, she should simply hang up the phone because it’s a scam.
If, however, your mom is having a hard time recognizing a scam or hanging up on pushy telemarketers, get her a caller ID and tell her not to pick up unless she recognizes the number of the caller. Or, ask her to let the calls go to voice mail. Telemarketers rarely leave messages.
Also, make sure her phone number is registered with the National Do Not Call Registry which will significantly cut down the number of telemarketing calls she receives. You can register your mom’s phone number for free at donotcall.gov, or by calling 888-382-1222 from the number you wish to register.
Unfortunately, being on the registry will not stop calls from political organizations, charities, pollsters and companies that your mom has an existing business relationship with. And, it won’t stop telemarketing scams either. If your mom is getting a lot of calls, discuss the possibility of changing her phone number. Scam artists trade and sell what they call “suckers lists” of prior victims, and the only way to get her off these lists may be to change her number.
Report It – It’s also important that you or your mom report any suspicious telemarketing calls she gets to the FTC (see ftccomplaintassistant.gov or call 877-382-4357) and to her State Attorney General. Reporting it helps law enforcement officials track down these scam artists and stop them. You’ll need to provide the telemarketer’s phone number, as well as the date and time of the call.