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How to Pay for Transition-Related Expenses Without Going Broke

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Once a trans person has accepted their gender identity and decided to begin transitioning, it’s an exciting and liberating time. Everyone’s transition looks different, and each person may choose varying interventions. But as soon as someone starts looking at the costs, which could include doctor appointments, bloodwork, hormones, legal name and gender marker changes, a whole new wardrobe and potentially, surgeries, the costs can skyrocket quickly.

This is an especially tough pill to swallow for the trans community, which already faces significant financial disadvantages compared to the general population, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality. As revealed in their 2015 report, this is because many trans people face unsupportive families and suffer from discrimination with employment and housing, which results in financial distress and homelessness at higher rates than cisgender people.

“In the trans community, we see the highest amount of unemployment and housing insecurity,” said Emmett Schelling, executive director of Transgender Education Network of Texas. “Most trans people can’t save money because they’re worried about their day-to-day survival.” This makes it difficult to find money for binders, electrolysis or other transition-related needs when just getting by can be a struggle.

While there are some transition-related expenses that are difficult to avoid, many can be reduced or wiped out with the help of certain resources and strategies. Here’s how to save on several of the most common expenses.

How much does it cost to medically transition?

Not every trans person desires hormone therapy or surgeries. But for those who do, the costs can be high and vary greatly depending on the provider and whether you have health insurance that covers it.

For some ballpark figures, below are the costs of some of the most common transition-related surgeries at The Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery, including hospital and anesthesia costs. Note that this clinic and others provide a discount when multiple surgeries are done at once.

For trans women seeking hair removal, electrolysis and laser hair removal are used because they’re the most permanent methods. However, costs may vary drastically, since the number of sessions required to achieve results is unique to each individual and the amount providers charge can differ significantly.

Male-to-female confirmation surgeries and procedures

Breast augmentation

$9,000

Vaginoplasty

$25,600

Rhinoplasty

$9,000

Thyroid cartilage reduction (trachea shave)

$5,400

Female-to-male confirmation surgeries and procedures

Basic chest masculinization

$7,800

Phalloplasty

$24,900

How to finance your transition

Apply for grants

If you want a surgery or procedure that’s still beyond what you can afford, consider applying for a grant. There are several specifically for people who need assistance while transitioning.

“There are a few different nonprofit organizations out there that provide financial assistance for people seeking gender affirming surgery or electrolysis or binders,” said Ryan Sallans, a transgender author, public speaker and diversity trainer. He is also a volunteer vice president of The Jim Collins Foundation, which has an annual grant cycle that awards financial grants for gender-affirming surgery to a limited number of applicants. They offer one type of grant that pays for 100% of surgical fees.

“It makes us a unique organization,” Sallans added. “Being able to tell people that 100% of surgical fees are covered is completely life changing, because a lot of people aren’t able to even put down $1,000 or $2,000 for a surgery.”

Through a legacy donation by a trans woman, they also have a grant available that provides 50% of funding and requires the individual to put down the other 50%. “I actually really love that grant — sadly it’ll be gone in two years — because there are many people who may have most of the money,” he said. “They just don’t have that last piece.”

According to Sallans said each year, they typically receive 400 to 500 applications, and in the past, they were only able to award one to three grants annually. For the last two years in a row, they’ve been able to provide three grants that covered surgeries at 100% and two that covered 50%. The amount they can give out each year depends on how much they’re able to fundraise.

The nonprofit Point of Pride also started offering surgical grants for the trans community a few years ago, and they’ve given out more than $103,000 total in grants. They also have a program to help with the costs of electrolysis for permanent hair removal.

Get creative with fundraising

If you’re struggling to piece together enough money for transition-related expenses, you may turn to credit cards or a loan. But rather than getting into debt, consider fundraising first. Many trans people turn to GoFundMe, Schelling said, which allows them to raise money from their friends and family.

Some people also organize fundraisers; for example, working with local LGBTQ bars to have a percent of one night’s proceeds go toward their surgery. Schelling said he’s seen people in Texas do “plate sales,” where they hold an event and make food, like homemade enchiladas, and sell plates of it to raise money for their surgery. If you get creative with fundraising, he said, and combine it with any savings you do have, you can meet your goals a lot faster.

Explore your insurance

If you have health insurance, read your policy carefully to determine what types of transition-related care is and isn’t covered. If you’re not able to figure it out, call your insurer or ask your job’s human resources team to help you understand your coverage.

Be aware that under the Affordable Care Act, health insurers and medical providers are not allowed to discriminate against you because you’re trans. While this doesn’t mean they have to cover every procedure, an insurer cannot categorically exclude transition-related care, and providers aren’t allowed to deny you care simply because you’re trans — though unfortunately it sometimes still happens.

If you have faced discrimination from an insurer or medical professional, you can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If you need assistance, contact The Transgender Law Center Legal Helpline or call (415) 865-0176 x306.

If you’re on Medicare, know that transition-related care that’s deemed “medically necessary” is supposed to be covered. However, attempts to get surgeries covered by Medicare are not always successful, so ask your doctor about their history with the program and whether or not previous claims have been accepted.

Consider borrowing to help cover the costs

If you’re not able to pay for transition-related costs with savings, you might be able to finance them with one of these options.

Credit cards. Credit cards offer an easy way to borrow funds. Your credit limit might not be enough to pay for an entire major surgery, but it could cover smaller procedures or miscellaneous costs. If your credit card’s interest rate is high, many credit cards offer 0% interest rates for a year or longer, giving you time to make a dent in your debt. If you go that route, just make sure that if you carry a balance, you can handle the payments once the regular APR kicks in. Also keep a lookout for annual fees, and be aware that carrying a high balance can hurt your credit score since it increases your credit utilization ratio.

Personal loans. Another option to pay for transition-related costs or surgery is taking out a personal loan, which gives a lump sum that’s then repaid with interest in fixed payments. You can take out a personal loan from a traditional financial institution, like a bank or a credit union, or from an online lender. Personal loans are typically available anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000, and interest rates vary significantly depending on credit history.

Medical financing. There are also certain financing options specifically for medical expenses. One is CareCredit, a medical credit card accepted by some healthcare providers. CareCredit often offers 0% interest for certain time periods, but if you don’t pay off your balance by the end of that predetermined “promotional period,” you will owe interest retroactively, and at a very high rate. CareCredit should only be used if you know you can pay off your balance in full before interest kicks in. Another option is Prosper — the company known for peer-to-peer lending also offers a special type of healthcare loan in partnership with some doctors. If your doctor uses their system and you’re approved, you can get a loan for up to $35,000 with no retroactive interest.

Find extra work

Another way to help pay for transition-related expenses is to supplement your income. Consider turning to the gig economy, where you can give rides, deliver groceries, charge scooters and a number of other flexible jobs.

Schelling said he’s even encountered many trans people who work at Starbucks for several years. This offers a unique opportunity, he said, since it not only brings supplemental income, but Starbucks also offers extremely trans-inclusive health insurance, even to part-time employees.

3 ways to save on transition-related expenses

Find free clothing

Some trans people slowly start building their new wardrobe over time, but others don’t start purchasing attire that matches their gender identity until they begin socially transitioning. This can get expensive quickly — not to mention, many transitioning people are uncomfortable shopping in public, Schelling said.

One way to get around this is to participate in or start a clothing swap with other members of the trans community. Some organizations put these together, but if there’s nothing in your area, try to organize one yourself. Have everyone bring some clothes they no longer wear, and swap them with those who are now looking for those types of clothes. People can also bring shoes, jewelry, bags, makeup and other items they no longer need.

“In the city next to me, there was a group of trans people who were doing that,” Sallans noted. “They were collecting binders and clothes and giving it out to people when they had a social group meeting or peer support meeting.” Beyond the immediate need, he added that it also helps build a sense of community.

If a clothing swap isn’t an option for you, consider visiting local thrift stores or online marketplaces like Thredup or Poshmark to find gently used clothes at a huge discount.

Schelling added that some organizations and businesses offer free chest binders for trans people who can’t afford one. For example, Point of Pride offers a free binder program.

Look for LGBTQ-friendly healthcare

Many trans people seek out hormone replacement therapy, but if you don’t have health insurance, accessing HRT and any other basic healthcare needs can be extremely expensive. Fortunately, more and more LGBT-focused clinics are currently opening up around the nation, according to Sallans.

“There are different non-profit organizations that can subsidize costs, whether you need access to hormone therapy or general prevention care, like reproductive and sexuality care,” he said. Planned Parenthood is one such organization, he also noted; while not every location offers hormone replacement therapy, many do.

There are also individual clinics, like Kind Clinic in Austin, Texas, that focus specifically on healthcare for the LGBTQ+ community and offer discounted services.

Schelling’s organization has also observed the increase in clinics that offer trans healthcare.

“A lot of times, the upside is there’s access to competent medical care, and some of those clinics assist you with the costs of your medications,” he said. “The downside is that usually there’s a limited amount of days or evenings these clinics are open, so once people find out, the wait list can be two to three months out.” However, he noted that if you’re looking for hormone therapy, once you have your initial blood work completed, you typically only have to go in every few months.

Access free or discounted legal assistance

If you want to legally change your name and/or gender marker, you’ll have to go through your legal system to get new IDs. “Having people who are knowledgeable in this process is extremely important since it can be extremely overwhelming and expensive,” Sallans said. While using a lawyer for this is optimal, especially since laws vary by state, it can be expensive. Sallans said he did his all himself, which was much cheaper, but it was also very daunting.

Across the country, there are law clinics that offer free legal services for name and gender marker changes. For example, in San Antonio, Texas, the local LGBTQ center, The Pride Center, provides free legal gender and name changes through a legal clinic with a local law school. If there’s a law school near where you live, find out if there are any law clinics or programs available to help.

Some individual lawyers also offer free or discounted services for transr members of their community who have these legal needs. If you’re not sure where to start, and your city has an LGBTQ chamber of commerce, see if any lawyers are members. If there are any LGBTQ publications in your city, see if any lawyers advertise in them. Sallans says some nonprofits also offer these legal services for free in various areas.

Transitioning can be an expensive endeavor, but there is an ever-increasing number of resources and organizations available to help make the process more within reach.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Emily Starbuck Gerson
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How to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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Parents often revel in the calm and quiet that comes when kids head back to school, but they aren’t likely to enjoy the excess spending that also accompanies the back-to-school season. According to the National Retail Federation, parents will set a record in 2019, spending an average of $696.70 per household on children in elementary school through high school.

 

“It was interesting to see the across-the-board increases in spending levels,” said Mark Mathews, vice president for research development and industry analysis with the NRF. “Elevated levels of consumer sentiment, healthy household balance sheets, low inflation and recent wage gains all seem to be contributing to a confident consumer who is willing to spend money on back-to-school supplies.”

If you’re planning a trip to the store before classes start, there are a few ways to curb the spending and save some bucks.

Plan ahead

No parent should set foot out the door for back-to-school shopping without first taking stock of what they already have. Plenty of old supplies from previous years might still be usable, especially arts and crafts items like crayons, pencils and pens, as well as more expensive things like backpacks, lunch boxes and calculators.

Crossing a few items off your list is a good first step when it comes to saving, but learning how to budget is also important. It’s tempting to run down the back-to-school aisle and grab every colorful notebook and snazzy pencil case in sight, but it doesn’t make a lot of financial sense. Create a realistic budget based on the items you actually need, and try your best to stick to it. If possible, do most of your shopping online, since it’s easier to keep a running tally of how much you’re spending as you shop.

Be smart about sales

Although you’re bound to run into many back-to-school sales this time of year, you don’t need to buy 12 notebooks just because they’re cheaper right now. In fact, you shouldn’t assume the sales price is the best price at all, said consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch. Instead, always comparison shop.

“Run a quick Google search online or on your phone to see if another store is selling the same or a similar item for less,” she said. “Most big box stores will price match, so you won’t even have to drive to another store to get the better deal.” For example, Target, Staples and Walmart all have price matching policies.

Clip coupons and shop discount stores

Coupons have definitely made a digital comeback, with countless apps and websites dedicated to listing all your options in one place. “Spending a few minutes looking for coupons can help you get a better discount,” Woroch said. “Use apps like CouponSherpa, for instance. Or, use the Honey browser tool, which automatically searches and applies relevant coupons to your online order.”

Many stores also offer discounts to valued customers who sign up for their rewards program, like Walgreens and CVS, while craft stores like Michaels regularly offer discounts. Don’t knock purchasing basics like paper and writing supplies from the Dollar Tree, either — you might be surprised by what you find, and those types of items are often the same quality wherever you buy them.

Tax advantage of tax-free holidays

On select dates throughout the year, different states offer state sales tax holidays, or days where you can purchase items without having to pay sales tax on them. You can find a full list of the 2019 state sales tax holidays here, but some upcoming ones include:

  • August 18-24: Connecticut, clothing and footwear
  • August 17-18: Massachusetts, specific items costing less than $2,500 per item

Split bulk purchases

You can usually save money by buying certain items — like construction paper, pens, pencils and folders — in bulk, but you can save even more by splitting those bulk items with other families. Not only is this a great way to share savings, Woroch said, but you can earn rewards faster by charging everything on your card and then having the families pay you back.

Redeem your rewards

If you have a cash back credit card, now’s the time to use it. “Most credit cards give you the best redemption value when you opt for statement credit or have the cash rewards deposited into your bank,” Woroch said. “You can set this money aside for back-to-school shopping.”

Alternatively, Woroch suggested checking to see if your particular card allows you to redeem points for gift cards to retailers where you plan to shop.

Use discounted gift cards

Besides redeeming credit card points for retailer gift cards, you can also scour the web for cheap gift cards online. Planning a trip to Target? Scan websites like Raise, Cardpool and CardCash first. These sites buy and sell unused gift cards at a discount, meaning you can save on purchases you were planning to make anyway.

Consider having your kids contribute

Depending on your child’s age, back-to-school shopping might be the perfect time to start having them contribute to their own goods, especially if they earn an allowance or have a job. Talking to your kids about money at a young age — whether about budgeting, saving or spending — will help them develop solid money habits that will pay off in the future.

Parents already seem to be catching on to this idea. “It was surprising to see how much of their own money kids are contributing towards the back-to-school bills,” Mathews said. “Teens and pre-teens will be spending $63 of their own money, which works out to $1.5 billion overall. This is significantly higher than the levels we saw a decade ago.”

Although the news about increased spending on back-to-school supplies may be alarming, these days there are more ways than ever to save. A little ingenuity, resourcefulness and research can go a long way.

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Cheryl Lock
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Cheryl Lock is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Cheryl at [email protected]

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Survey: Most Americans Have Raided Their Retirement Savings

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Successfully saving for retirement requires dedication and self-restraint, but more than half the country admits to robbing their future selves in order to satisfy today’s spending needs, according to a new survey by MagnifyMoney. While the economic pressures bearing down on workers today make their actions understandable, the hard truth is that many Americans are turning an already-difficult task that much harder by tapping into their retirement savings early.

Key Findings

  • Approximately 52% of respondents admit to tapping their retirement savings account early for a purpose other than retiring: 23% have done so to pay off debt, 17% for a down payment on a home, 11% for college tuition, 9% for medical expenses, and 3% for some other reason.
  • About 29% say there are some scenarios where it is a good idea to withdraw money early from a retirement savings account.
  • Around 60% of respondents do not know exactly how much they have saved for retirement. Just 40% know the exact amount, while 45% have a rough idea, and 15% have no clue.
  • Almost 25% are unhappy with their retirement savings. 47% are happy with the amount saved, and about 28% are neither happy nor unhappy.
  • Finally, 27% have never thought about how much money they’ll need in retirement.

Why are Americans tapping their retirement savings early?

The two main reasons respondents cited for withdrawing money from their retirement savings are as American as apple pie: home ownership and personal debt. According to the survey, 23% of those making an early withdrawal did so to help pay down non-medical debt, while 17% needed the money for a down payment on a home.

Although the housing market appears to be cooling off compared to just a few years ago, a down payment on a home still requires a significant chunk of change — experts recommend a down payment equaling 20% of the total mortgage to optimize your mortgage payments.

Personal debt, from credit cards to student loans, remains a fixture of everyday economic reality for millions of Americans. In other words, the stressors that cause workers to raid their retirement funds don’t look like they will decrease appreciably in the foreseeable future.

Which Americans are withdrawing money the most?

Breaking down the demographics, older savers are less likely to withdraw money from their retirement fund than younger savers. 54% of millennial savers say they’ve taken an early withdrawal from a retirement savings account, compared with 50% of Gen Xers and 43% of baby boomers. This stands to reason considering that many millennials have now entered the stage of life where they are getting mortgages, starting families and taking on bigger financial obligations while also being decades away from the traditional retirement age. Millennials are also more likely to say that raiding your retirement fund is justified under certain circumstances, as seen in the chart below:

Just one of many bad retirement savings habits

Tapping into retirement funds — whether an employer-sponsored 401(k) or a traditional IRA — before the appropriate age almost always comes with a financial penalty in the form of additional taxes and fees. What is more, you’re diminishing the principle that fuels the compound interest you need to meet your retirement savings goals.

Unfortunately the survey reveals early withdrawals are just one of the many bad habits Americans engage in when it comes to retirement savings. This list of less-than-ideal practices includes:

  • 35% of Americans are not currently saving for retirement. Of those who are, 37% started saving at age 30 or above, and 12% started saving when they were older than 40.
  • 60% of Americans do not know exactly how much they have saved for retirement. Just 40% know the exact amount, while 45% have a rough idea and 15% have no clue.
  • Nearly 1 in 5 Americans don’t contribute enough to their employer-sponsored retirement account to get the maximum company match. Maximizing a company match is one of  your best ways to maximize your retirement savings. Among those with an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan, just 17% of respondents contribute 10% or more of their take-home pay. Almost 5% contribute nothing at all, and nearly 6% are unclear about how much they contribute.

  • Approximately 42% of respondents have made the mistake of withdrawing their entire balance from an employer-sponsored retirement plan when changing jobs without rolling it over – and nearly 15% have done so more than once. A little more than 47% of millennials admit to this faux pas.

The most damning finding of all is that 27% of those surveyed have never thought about how much they’ll need in retirement. And while “ignorance is bliss” may hold true when it comes to some things in life, this expression should not apply to your retirement plans.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney by LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 1,029 Americans, with the sample base proportioned to represent the general population. The survey was fielded June 24-27, 2019.

Generations are defined as:

  • Millennials are ages 22-37
  • Generation Xers are ages 38-53
  • Baby boomers are ages 54-72

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

James Ellis
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James Ellis is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email James here