by Lois Wencil

Yearn for financial privacy? Even now it can be yours.

Organization is the key to your independence. You need to be able to identify the cash you have in your possession. Coins are simple: dimes, quarters, and 50-cent pieces have nicks around their edges. The dime is the smallest and thinnest; the quarter is larger and thicker; the 50-cent piece is even larger. Pennies and nickels have smooth edges. The penny is smaller and thinner; the nickel is larger, thicker, and has a slightly thicker rim around its edge.

Paper money must be sorted and folded in a consistent pattern. A suggested folding system follows: $1 bills are folded in twice from left to right; $5 bills are folded from left to right and then again from top to bottom; $10 bills are folded lengthwise and then folded again from left to right; $20 bills are folded in thirds; $50 bills are left unfolded; $100 bills are clipped with a paperclip at the top and kept unfolded.

Keep all bills of the same denomination together. When I cash a check at the bank, I usually get $5 and $10 bills. This avoids possible confusion. Instead of going to the teller window, go to one of the representatives at a desk. They usually are happy to fill out checks and sort money for you. Also, you will not be holding up the line.

My bank has just put in a talking ATM machine. I've been given my own earphone. I merely plug it in the hole below the raised earphone symbol and follow instructions. The keypad (similar to that of a telephone pad) is brailled. The bills come out in $20 increments.

A talking money identifier is available. It is costly. If you know how to write, there are a number of templates that you can use. They include a signature guide, check-writing guide, envelope addressing guide, and several varieties of full-page guides. You can also purchase raised-line checks from your bank. Most important is that you keep control and sign documents yourself. There have been many horror stories to prove the value of following this advice.

Paying bills has become easier with the introduction of automatic payments. You can call and get forms so that many of your bills can be automatically paid from your checking account. These include utility bills, mortgage, telephone, insurances, and even rent. You will need help in filling out these forms and sending a voided check to the companies involved. On each bill, the day that your payment will be deducted is given. Write down these dates and check the status of your account to see the exact amount that was deducted and your remaining balance. If you usually pay off a charge account at the end of the billing period, get an account with the bank in which your checking account is based. In this way, you can pay it when you visit the bank. Also, a debit card can be used for shopping, at restaurants, for entertainment, and even at your doctor and dentist.

It is advisable to get overdraft protection for unexpected expenditures. The interest for using this service is high. However, the cost of overdrawing your account is even higher. You can keep track of your bills using braille, dark markers with raised line paper, your computer, or a tape recorder. Write down each item spent immediately. Braille and large-print bills and statements are available from your bank, stockbrokers, and utility companies.

If you have difficulty in using a regular telephone, talking and large-button phones are available from distributors of products for the visually impaired and at Radio Shack. To keep track of your long-distance calls, use the stopwatch feature on a talking timer or certain talking clocks. In this way you will avoid surprises.

Managing your own finances can at first seem a daunting project to those who are visually impaired. But by learning about the services that are currently available to all, and by using consistent methods of organization, you can stay out of debt and keep your financial privacy intact.

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