Once you’re convicted of a crime, your life as you have known it comes to an abrupt halt while you serve a prison sentence. You’ll lose your job and be kept behind bars until your sentence is up.
But do you know what happens to your bank account? Millions of people fill prisons across the nation. Some have entered prison with nothing or very little to their names. Others have excessive debt.
But others have enjoyed a comfortable living with a mortgage, business, and other assets before they were convicted. Do you know who will handle such matters as selling your business or making debt payments?
If you or someone you know has been convicted of a crime and must serve a prison sentence, you may eventually wonder how the financials will work. Here are four essential ways to prepare.
- Seek Financial Counseling from Your Attorney
You might feel confused and lost at this point, so it’s wise to turn to someone who has more experience in such situations. A good criminal defense attorney can do more than help to commute or lessen your sentence. He or she has likely worked with convicted individuals before and may have some financial advice before you go behind bars.
Ask any questions you might have about financial concerns. Your lawyer might recommend a capable financial consultant or offer to serve as a go-between for you and other account holders. In some cases, your counsel might be willing to handle debt payments and other simple financial duties on your behalf.
Most criminal defense attorneys will likely refer you to another lawyer who specializes in financial matters such as yours. That specialist help you fill out power-of-attorney papers for a trusted individual or negotiate your payments so you can manage them without an income.
- Have a Loved One Help
You can’t necessarily rely on the prison system for financial counseling, so it helps to have someone on the outside. Alice Gerard, a journalist from New York, served three separate terms in prison for trespassing on military bases as a protester.
She recalled that having her dad to back her up preserved her financial status. “The prison was pretty much useless, as far as providing information such as that,” Gerard told Nasdaq.
“I set up a joint bank account for my dad and me. When I was in prison, he was able to write checks on the account to pay for my credit card bills.”
If you’re on good terms with your family members, you might arrange a solution similar to Gerard’s. But you should be wary of which individuals you trust to share a bank account. That person will have full access to the funds in that account, and if he or she doesn’t have your best interests in mind, you could suffer for it.
- Contact Creditors
You may have more options than you might be aware of for repaying debts and other obligations like child support. Depending on the situation, the people to whom you owe money might allow you to delay the payments until the end of your term, and let the balance collect interest.
It’s not ideal, but it will save you from defaulting on your loans. Your creditor(s) might also have a special payment plan for people like you who won’t have an income for a while.
“Ask if they can put you on a reduced payment for a while or a hardship program with reduced interest. Some creditors will do it,” advises Andrew Bernstein, a Florida personal finance counselor who works often with the state and county prison system.
“Call the people you need to call. If you have child support, they need to know where you’re at immediately and work something out.”
- Have a Financial Plan for When You Get Out
This may be one of the most challenging aspects of preserving your financial situation, but it must be addressed. When you’re released from prison, you need a plan for work.
“Incarceration carries significant and enduring economic repercussions for the remainder of the person’s working years,” according to a Pew research study. “Virtually all inmates will be released, and when they are, society has a strong interest in helping them fulfill their responsibilities to their victims, their families and their communities. When returning offenders can find and keep legitimate employment, they are more likely to be able to pay restitution to their victims, support their children and avoid crime.”
Convict work programs, school programs, and other operations exist to help ex-cons get back on their feet. Often, you can get the ball rolling before you leave prison. Take advantage of education inside prison and be ready for the grueling conditions when you leave.
The financial aspect of going to prison may not be the most difficult part, but it will leave a mark. The steps you take both before and during your sentence will drive your success in escaping financial hardships for the rest of your life.