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Take charge of technology

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Monday, December 2, 2013
Posted: 12 pm ET

The end of the year isn't far away, and December is prime time for making retirement planning payments and account changes.

In the old days, these transactions and the records that go with them could be filed away in a cabinet next to your desk. Today, canceled checks are mostly a thing of the past, along with check registers, paper statements and even paper bills. If you need to access that information, you better figure out how to do it online. Or, as Mike Sullivan, chief education officer for nonprofit credit counseling agency Take Charge America, says, "If you're an old dog, you better learn some new tricks."

At 65, Sullivan knows what he's talking about. "I haven't found financial institutions to be particularly helpful," he says. "Most of the help I get is from my adult children, which is ironic for someone who gives financial advice."

He said he thinks that handling transactions online requires a level of trust in technology that many of us older people don't have, as well as an extra level of attention to detail and memory -- other things that many of us lack.

If you see yourself in what Sullivan says, here are four of his tips for avoiding end-of-the-year and subsequent financial frustration.

Get the timing down. Remember that while debit transactions can be done instantly, deposit transactions can take days, making it easier than it used to be to bounce a check. Moreover, all banks aren't the same, so understand how yours works.

Keep it personal. Online banking is fertile territory for fraud. Keep your password confidential and be on the look out for communications that look suspicious.

Understand your investment websites. If you want to keep up with your retirement money these days -- even such traditional investments as U.S. Treasuries -- it's important to understand how investment websites work. It's not always obvious, but it's worth the effort to learn.

Get out of your comfort zone. Going paperless may seem like a pain, but it is inevitable. "Even if you are the most qualified, capable person in the world, don't be embarrassed to ask for help," Sullivan says. "Nobody has the time to keep up with all technology. Make sure that you have somebody you can trust -- like your adult children -- to show you how they do it."

Are you put off by new technology? Would you use new technology to keep track of your retirement money?


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