When you or a loved one has received a cancer diagnosis, money may be the last thing you want to think about. But taking control of your finances from the start may be the best way to prevent a crisis later on.

Keep track of important papers. Many people find it helpful to keep their records and paperwork in one place for easy reference. Important documents may include:

  • Copies of medical records
  • Prescription information
  • Health insurance records
  • Disability insurance
  • Long-term care insurance
  • Veterans benefits

Get a handle on your income and expenses. Figure out how much money is coming in to your household, how much you spend and what you spend it on. Contact your gas, electric, phone and/or mortgage company and ask about setting up a payment plan. Think about how your household could either earn more income or cut back on spending. Do you have money saved for an emergency? Do you have assets (a home, other property, a retirement plan, life insurance) that you can use to obtain cash?

Stay on top of medical bills. The consequences of medical debt are staggering and unfortunately all too common. Medical debt can be a major burden and source of continuing stress for many living with cancer. If you find yourself behind on paying medical bills, there are resources that can help. The Patient Advocate Foundation’s (www.patientadvocate.org) case managers can provide guidance and support and can intervene on your behalf regarding medical debt. They also maintain a network of volunteer attorneys. Lawhelp.org provides referrals for affordable and/or free legal assistance programs in one’s area and advice about bankruptcy protection and other financial issues. For more information on legal help, read CancerCare’s fact sheet titled, “Legal Assistance: Finding Resources and Support.” See the next chapter for more tips on managing medical debt.

Let your creditors know about your financial situation. If you’re having trouble paying your bills, it’s best to address the problem now rather than let the bills pile up. You can often negotiate with creditors. A nonprofit credit counseling service may be able to help you work with your creditors to set up a viable payment plan.

Personal financial planning. Consider seeking advice on your financial situation from a professional. An accountant may be able to help you save money on your income taxes. For example, you may qualify for tax credits that will reduce your taxes. If you have a lot of out-of-pocket medical expenses, you may be able to reduce your taxes by deducting some of those expenses from your income. A financial planner may be able to help you take control of your finances and plan for your financial future. Look for free or low-cost financial planning talks sponsored by organizations such as AARP (www.aarp.org) or by investment management companies.

Get help. Financial stress often causes emotional stress. Oncology social workers are licensed professionals who counsel people affected by cancer, providing emotional support and helping people access practical assistance. CancerCare’s oncology social workers are available to help face-to-face, online or on the telephone to find local resources, free of charge. To learn more, visit www.cancercare.org or call 800-813-HOPE (4673).