8 Real Life Calamities That Can Drain Your Finances (Plus How to Defend Against Them)


We all work hard for our money, but if we're not careful, it can be ripped right out from under us. From getting scammed on the internet, to medical emergencies, here are eight situations that can make you broke in an instant — plus a few ways to protect yourself.

1. Getting scammed

Maybe you're smarter than the average scammer, but loads of people are too trusting and naive. In fact, someone claiming to be from eBay scammed my own mom out of a few hundred dollars via email once. She thought the email was legit because at the time she was selling items on the auction site, and she assumed the request for her banking information was not only sanctioned, but part of the company's protocol.

"Scammers target seniors because they're considered wealthy, trusting, and typically unwilling to report scams," says Roger Cowen, owner of Cowen Tax Advisory Group in Hartford, Connecticut. "Common scams include callers pretending to represent Medicare or the IRS to get your personal information, and fake charity workers asking for donations."

How to protect yourself

The best way to stave off online and phone scammers is to verify that you're dealing with a reputable organization before providing any financial information. Many institutions never send emails requesting such information, and it's a policy you should adopt for yourself — never provide bank account, Social Security, or credit card numbers over email.

If you've received a phone call asking you to verify any financial information, double check the source before handing it over to the person on the line. Jot down their name and tell them you'll call the company back at the verified number you have in your records. Beware of fake websites as well (these links are usually embedded in scam emails) by checking the domain name to make sure it's correctly spelled. Look for https:// to precede any domain that has your financial information. The "s" means the site is security-fortified and usually legitimate. (See also: What to Do When You Suspect a Scam)

2. Tax penalties

Getting a bill for back taxes can be devastating. You'll not only owe whatever taxes you avoided in the past — which may be substantial if you've filed inaccurate returns for years — you may owe interest and penalties as well.

This can happen not only to filers who outright lie in an effort to buck the system, but also to well-intentioned filers who make errors on their returns.

In either case, you'll be required to pay up in a short period of time — or go to jail. Being broke or behind bars could be your only options.

How to protect yourself

If your taxes are complicated, hire a reputable accountant, report your income and deductions accurately, accept your tax liability, and pay it. If it's a large sum, you may qualify for a payment plan. Moving forward, ask your accountant for estimated tax vouchers so you can pay ahead of time to lessen the burden when you receive the actual numbers in April. Otherwise, if you know you're looking at a sizable tax bill, save as much as you can so you can settle up with the IRS as soon as possible. (See also: The Easiest Way to Avoid a Tax Audit)

3. Divorce

Sometimes divorce is amicable, but for many people it isn't — and that usually means somebody has to pay up. This is primarily the case when one spouse earns more than the other, or if one partner is unemployed.

How to protect yourself

If you're getting married and one of you has a noticeably higher net worth, get a prenup. Do not walk down that aisle without it. It's not the most romantic piece of paper you'll ever sign, but you'd be a fool not to. Don't let your future spouse guilt you out of the idea, either. Love is grand, but sometimes it'll take you for everything you're worth. (See also: 5 Money Moves to Make the Moment You Decide to Get Divorced)

4. Death

No, not your death. If you're not adequately prepared for the death of a partner, child, or parent, you could end up in a sticky financial situation. There may be medical expenses leading up to the death, and afterward you'll need to cover funeral expenses and settle debts on behalf of the estate.

How to protect yourself

Life insurance is the best way to protect yourself in the event that your spouse, parent, or child dies. If you're the beneficiary, you'll receive your policy payout, which creditors typically cannot come after, to cover expenses and any debts for which you may also be on the hook, like a mortgage. Use this money to satisfy loans that the deceased may have had, especially if you've co-signed for them. If it's your spouse that has passed away, you may be losing half your household income — maybe even more than that — so it's important to use the policy money wisely. (See also: 5 Reasons Why Life Insurance Is for Everyone)

5. Market crash

Many people have improved their lot in life by taking financial risks. But if you're an investor at any level, you worry about going bust. Any number of things can happen that will affect your bottom line, depending on how deep your investments go. The stock market can crash, taking your life savings with it. The real estate bubble can burst, leaving you on the hook for houses you can't sell. The worst part is there are often no warning signs. One day you're swimming in cash like Scrooge McDuck, and the next day you're looking under couch cushions for loose change.

How to protect yourself

Don't put all your eggs in one basket, don't overextend your credit, don't take on more expense than you can afford, and, above all, don't get cocky with your money. Devise a plan to weather a financial crisis so you'll be prepared well ahead of time. (See also: Ways to Prepare for a Stock Market Dive)

6. Natural disaster

While we can sort of predict the weather, we can't predict the outcome. Any number of things can happen to you, your home, or your personal property during a bad storm or natural disaster that may leave you strapped for cash or even facing a total rebuild.

How to protect yourself

If you live in an area where certain calamities are possible, purchase the proper insurance. Your homeowners insurance may cover certain events, but you may require special policies for others, like floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes. Consider what you're at risk for and put a policy in place. (See also: 9 Surprising Things Your Homeowners Insurance Doesn't Cover)

7. Spending more than you make

Sometimes, your biggest financial enemy is yourself. We like our things in America, and many of us will go to great lengths to get those things — including spending more money than we have. According to NerdWallet, the average household has $134,643 in debt. Households that carry credit card debt pay about $1,300 a year in interest alone on balances that average $16,748. These statistics represent an 11 percent debt increase over the past decade. (See also: The Fastest Way to Pay Off $10,000 in Credit Card Debt)

How to protect yourself

Find ways to make more money or live on less (or both). There are many ways you can introduce a second source of income to your household, like renting out your extra space, driving for ride-sharing operations, or pet sitting. But if you don't want to work constantly, consider cutting back on your overall expenses. You don't need everything you see, and the faster you recognize that the better off your bank account will be. Plus, you might even be happier as a result.

8. Medical emergency

American health care is in flux right now, which means that you have to be extra vigilant in making sure you're covered. Just one trip to the hospital can set you back financially for years if you're not prepared, perhaps even more if you require long-term care.

How to protect yourself

Cover yourself. You may have to bite the bullet on the premium, but at least you're insured. You can go to the doctor or hospital when you need to, and your care will (hopefully) be covered to an affordable extent. Not having insurance, on the other hand, may very well be a death sentence — or at least you'll wish it were when you get the bill in full.

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