Just suppose for a moment that you want to find out the price of a new car. Not a loan for a car; just a car, outright. But, when you ask, the dealership does not give you a dollar amount. Instead, they ask you first to tell them how much money you have saved, how much income you have, and the value of your current car. Only then will they tell you how much the car costs. You’d probably hesitate at that, wouldn’t you?
“Heck, no,” you would say. They are basically asking you to divulge how much you can afford before they will provide a price and that, as we all know, is basically a con. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that they can put the price wherever they want, once they know your worth.
Well, I ran across this same con today except that I wasn’t looking to find out the cost of a car. I was trying to discover how much it would cost to live in a retirement residence. Just out of curiosity, and because one day I might choose to live in a communal setting, I thought I would check out a couple of them.
The first place I checked out online did not provide any cost information on their website, but invited me to email them for it. I did that and indicated that, as a healthy and active senior, I would be interested in an independent living unit with access to a garage parking space for my car. The email response was a simple answer; $2700 per month, all inclusive. That means that as a resident I would be provided with meals, housekeeping, organized outings, library and so on.
The second place I checked had a completely different approach. They didn’t provide cost information on their website but I had the opportunity to fill out a very lengthy Budget Assistance Tool. This form asks for details of monthly income including government benefits, funds from retirement savings, company pension income, employment income, and any other form of income including rental income, alimony payments and so on.
Bear in mind, that I would be filling out this form on an Internet site that gives me no assurance of security, no idea whether or not anyone else will read it, and if so, who they are.
The Budget Assistance Tool goes further; they want to know the value of my home, if I will be selling, and the estimated additional monthly investment income from the sale of the home. After that, they ask for details about my current expenses (mortgage, condo fees, property taxes), utilities, and home insurance.
At this point, it is fairly clear that they want to make a comparison between what I am currently spending and the costs of living in their retirement community. That makes sense, but my giving away so much information still feels unnerving.
The next page asks for the costs I have for home maintenance, including lawn care, landscaping, snow removal, security monitoring, HVAC maintenance, appliances, etc. Following that is a request for estimates on the costs of food and entertainment. Finally, the cost of transportation is to be factored in.
After providing all that information, the potential resident is given the results of the program’s calculations comparing current expenses with the cost of living in the facility.
I realize that there is a logic to this in trying to convince potential residents of the value of the commitment. One problem I have, though, is that I resent being asked for so much personal information before they will give me the price of an independent living unit. Presumably they have a chart which shows them the basic cost plus any additional costs for services. Why can’t they just show me that chart? I can decide on my own if that is better or worse than my current expenses.
The second problem is that I have no way of knowing if the algorithm that comes up with the result is rigged to adjust the findings to make their proposition look good. Am I being too suspicious? Maybe, but you tend to get that way when you are old. I’ve experienced a con or two, and this process just feels dodgy to me.
So, I didn’t fill out the Budget Assistance Tool. Even if I could have answered all the questions (and I couldn’t), I didn’t want to trust so much information to a commercial website.