From the monthly archives:

October 2010

negotiate medical billsEven if you have health insurance, you still likely receive medical bills from time to time. And of course, if you don’t have coverage, or your policy is not as comprehensive as it could be, you are going to get hit with charges almost every time you receive care. While paying your bill in full is always a possibility, you don’t want to jump the gun and send a check before thinking twice. Did you know that you can negotiate medical bills? That is right. If you know what you are doing, you can save a lot of money on the cost of medical care.

Here are five details to keep in mind if you are interested in negotiating a medical bill:

1. Do not waste time. The last thing you want to do is wait so long that the doctor has to send you another bill. If you do this, they will view you in a “bad light” which will harm your chances of negotiating a lower price. The second that you receive a bill is the second that you should put the wheels in motion.

2. Are all the charges broken down, one by one? Or did you simply receive a summary statement? To give yourself the best chance of success, you need a detailed bill. If you don’t receive one the first time around, get on the phone and request this type of statement. This makes it simple for you to see exactly what you are being charged for, as well as which areas can be discounted.

3. A cash payment will greatly improve your chances of receiving a discounted price. Simply put, when you pay in cash, you are making life much easier for the billing department. They don’t have to deal with cashing a check or processing your credit card. On top of all this, they receive their money without any wait. Because of this convenience you are offering them, you have much more power to negotiate. If you offer a reasonable cash payment, such as 75 percent of the total bill, you give yourself a reasonable chance to receive a discount. If you offer too little, such as 25 percent, you will not be taken seriously.

4. Who is in charge of the billing department? No matter what, make sure you are talking to somebody who has the power to provide a discount. In a small office, this may be the head of the practice. If your bill is from a large hospital, though, you will want to hunt down the billing manager.

5. Don’t stop if you hear no the first time around. It is called a negotiation for a reason. The first thing you can try is to ask for somebody else. If you are not talking to the top dog, ask for the person who has the authority to negotiate with you. Also, don’t be afraid to tell the person that you simply cannot afford to pay in full. By putting a little pressure on them, they will be more likely to concede a little. The last thing they want is to receive nothing at all from you.

Perhaps most importantly, you may never make any progress, but the worst thing that can happen is they say “no, sorry.”

The next time you receive a medical bill, think long and hard about whether you want to pay in full. With the five tips above, you may be able to negotiate a lower price.

Have you successfully negotiated a medical bill before?

(photo credit: bobster855)

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the benefits of volunteeringThanks to the recession, most employers have no shortage of candidates to pick from, so it pays to find ways to make your own application stand out as much as possible. Volunteer work is one way to do this but it doesn’t appeal to everyone due to the fact that it’s not going to earn you any money for your time. You might not be thrilled at the prospect of working for nothing, but being a volunteer can benefit you just as much as the organization that you’re working for. Here are a few of the advantages:

You can gain experience. This can be crucial if you don’t currently have much in the way of experience. I graduated not long ago and have been self-employed until now, but the idea of a steady paycheck is very appealing. Unfortunately for me, I’m somewhat lacking in the kind of job skills that employers are going to want, and I’d probably struggle to find even a part-time job given my lack of experience. Volunteer work isn’t just of benefit if your employment history is sparse though – it can also help if you want to change careers and don’t have relevant experience in the field that you want to move into. Many volunteer roles offer on-the-job training, which is a good way to get training or qualifications that would be useful when it comes to applying for paid work in the future.

You can develop “transferable” skills. Even if you’re not going to be gaining relevant career experience (for example, maybe you want to volunteer to work with animals or children when your career field is finance or sales), chances are that you’ll be using “transferable” job skills like teamwork, communication, problem solving, and being able to work independently, all of which are skills that can be highlighted on a resume. However “soft” and inconsequential these skills may appear on paper, they’re often looked on favorably by employers, especially if you’ve not had the chance to demonstrate them in paid positions. They are also great skills to touch on during an interview.

It fills gaps on your resume. If you’ve been out of work for a while or worry that it could be some time before you find a new job, taking on a volunter position can fill a gap in your resume while you’re between jobs (which an employer could otherwise question).

You can gain contacts. Even if you’re only volunteering one day per week, you’re still mixing with a wider group of people than you normally would. Who knows what doors could be opened through this type of networking?

You could be taken on full time. Not all charities rely solely on volunteers, so you might even find that they’re willing to offer you a paid role if you impress them. However, don’t take this as a given since it depends in large part on the funding available to take on paid staff.

Getting into Volunteering

So, you’re interested in becoming a volunteer but not sure where to start?

Useful websites. You can search for volunteer roles and placements on websites like VolunteerMatch and All For Good to find volunteering opportunities in your area that strongly appeal to you.

Contacting organization directly. If there are no volunteer vacancies that fit what you’re looking for, try contacting organizations directly. They may have a role available that they did not publicly advertise and may be interested in hiring you for the role. When I first made contact with the organization that I’m currently volunteering at, I outlined exactly how I felt that I could be of benefit and they were so receptive that they created the position just for me.

Final Thoughts

Volunteer work is looked on favorably by many employers and it can be a good way to get an edge on other applicants by adding this string to your bow – especially with the job market being as competitive as it is at the moment. Having volunteer work on your resume is unlikely to damage your chances of landing a job so if you’ve got some spare time, why not give it a go? Even some of the best, most-accomplished applicants out there may never have given any effort towards volunteer work, and it’s something that can help you stand out.

Have you been a volunteer or are you currently one? Have you found that it’s been beneficial for your career?

(photo credit: Nevada Tumbleweed)

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roofing contractorsSome people believe that comparing roofing contractors begins and ends with dollar signs. While money is a very important criterion, it is not the only thing that should be considered. As you compare contractors, there are other details that you have to keep in mind.

Last year, when searching for a roofing contractor, I learned a lot about the process including what to look for as well as which type of people to avoid. My thoughts on the comparison process are detailed below:

1. Price is important. Despite everything I just said, price is still the most important thing to consider. I’m not saying to choose one contractor over another since one is a few dollars cheaper. But if different contractors are thousands or tens of thousand of dollars apart, it will become tough to turn down the cheapest one.

To ensure that I was getting the best deal during my search, I requested quotes from three local contractors. Believe it or not, they were all within $500 of each other. This made the process more difficult, and I was forced to consider some other very important criteria:

2. What are you getting for your money? Soon enough, I realized that not all roofing products are the same. When comparing the quotes that were left with me, I noticed that two included 30 year shingles while the other was for a 15 year product. As you can imagine, I immediately crossed off the contractor that tried sneaking this past me. There is nothing wrong with 15 year shingles, except the fact that they don’t last as long as the 30 year variety. Why would I pay the same for a lesser product?

3. Experience and references. Making a decision between the final two contractors was tough. Both of them were local, so they were even in that regard. To help me make a decision, I requested three references from each as well as more information on their experience.

As expected, both sets of references checked out just fine. Past customers seemed satisfied with the overall level of work as well as the customer service. So once again I was stuck.

4. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. This is where I finally found a little bit of space between the two, and was able to make a decision. I asked both contractors if they could move another $500 off their price, in order for them to become more competitive with some of my other quotes. One told me that they could discount another $500. The other was set in stone and did not want to move on the price.

I decided on the contractor that gave the extra $500 off. They were even with the other provider in terms of product, experience, and service, so it made sense to save a few dollars.

Whether you need a brand new roof or are hiring a contractor for some minor repairs, you need to compare several options and quotes. The four points above allowed me to learn more about the roofing industry, while eventually finding and hiring the perfect contractor for the job.  I was very pleased with the result.

Do you have any other criteria that should be considered when choosing a roofing contractor?

(photo credit: Collin Key)

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