Color of Money Live

Dec 19, 2013

What are your financial New Year's resolutions?

Michelle Singletary, The Washington Post's nationally syndicated personal finance columnist, offered advice on how to get your money right for 2014 and discussed her 21-day financial fast.

Well this is my last live chat for the year. I'm always so grateful and glad to have readaers join me. I hope the chats have been helpful. I certainly enjoy chatting with you online. So let's talk some now.

What you do after fast is over ?

So first, the during the 21 day financial fast, you can't buy anything that is not a necessity. And you can't use credit. The idea is to shut down your shopping so you can concentrate on what you really want to do with your money.

To answer your question after the fast you apply the principals. You implement a savings plan. You put in place a debt payoff plan that I suggest in my book. You put in practice the things that will help you find financial peace. 

It's not unlike a diet that might help jumpstart your weight loss. But a diet alone won't do it. You have to eat right, get sleep, stop stressing, etc.

Same with your money after the fast.

I hope you will join the group fast starting Jan. 13. If you want to join email me at colorofmoney@washpost.com

I'm hoping to have a large community of folks fasting together for financial freedom.

How do you build on what I did ? Thank you the Help I drive a Taxi cab , I see and get money every day I spend every day I want stop

Try the fast. Seriously. Get the book "The 21 Day Financial Fast." Read one chapter a day. Learn about saving, paying off debt. It will help you figure out how to manage the money you get everyday. Because it can be hard seeing and getting that money and not putting it away. But to change the ways that keep you broke, you have to change the way you think. That's the purpose of the fast. I developed it in the ministry I run at my church. And it has helped so many people get control over their finances. 

Hi Michelle, Thanks for all these chats! I've been doing some research on fee-only planners in my area. The typical fee is between $4-5k annually, which seems high. I haven't found any that do by-hour. Any advice?

There are definitely planners who charge by the hour. Perhaps not in your immediate area but with technology today, you planner doesn't have to be local to work with you. Have you tried looking through the National Association of Personal Ffinancial Advisors thu napfa.org? Also try the Garrett Planning network.

 

No question - just a thank you for being a compassionate but tough voice for all of us. I'm halfway through my "pay off debt" journey and I owe you so much for helping me stay on track. Hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season.

Thank you so very much. I really appreciate your comments. I really do have a passion to help people find financial peace. It's why I spend so many hours volunteering, including in prisons. It's why I wrote "The 21 Day Financial Fast."

I want people to know what you know now, which is that getting that debt monkey off your back is so wonderful and freeing. I wish you the best now and in the future.

I have been behind on filing my taxes for the last 3 years how do I get organized to a point where I can filed these taxes.

First, good for you for taking control of this issue. So many  people fear the IRS so much that once they get behind they never try to do what you are trying to do.

Honestly, hire a tax professional to help. The person can help you figure out what you need to do the filings. Check with the IRS also because if your income is below $50,000 you may qualify for free help in filing your tax returns.

If you want to do this yourself, start by downloading the tax forms for the years you are missing. Generally, you'll need your W-2s for those years, which should have been mailed to you. If you are self-employed you should gather documents relating to that income such as any 1099s. A good source of what you need can be fold on the IRS website, irs.gov.

Search for "What to do If You Haven't Filed Your Tax Return"  

With fiscal year 2013 almost done I have a question regarding a few of my debts and potential deductions. I make student loan payments every month as well as a monthly installment on a medical bill from a few months ago. Even though I could pay off the hospital bill in its entirety, I continue with the monthly payments because the hospital bill is interest free, whereas the loans have interest rates of 3.1% and 5.77%. If I’m going to make a bill debt payment, it should be on the interest bearing accounts. Now however, I’m wondering if it would behoove me to pay off the medical bill (A direct payment to the hospital for routine services) for the tax deduction. My medical expenses for the year will probably be about 5.6% of my expenses this year (it’s that much because I work in a position with a stipend tied to the poverty level, not huge medical bills). I’m already planning on paying off this month’s interest on student loans at the end of the month and paying the remainder of that month’s payment in January (they allow for this) but I’m wondering if I should pay off the medical bill too to maximize deductions, or if the tax deduction probably wouldn’t help that much. I could probably afford to pay it all off, but it would be a little iffy and require reducing the over payments on my interest bearing loans. Thanks for your help.

So you are asking me a tax question that's best answered by a professional. But how much of your medical expenses can be deducted is based on your adjusted gross income not the percentage of your expenses. Here's what the IRS says: "Beginning Jan. 1, 2013, you can claim deductions for medical expenses not covered by your health insurance that exceed 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. This change affects your 2013 tax return that you will file in 2014."

Hi Michelle, I celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving each year with my husband's family - his parents, brother and sister. We have 2 small children. I have always contributed dishes to holiday meals and for the past few years I have provided the main protein (turkey on Thanksgiving and beef on Christmas) because my in-laws are on a limited budget. My brother and sister-in-law are in their late 20s and do not contribute to holiday meals, which always take place at their parent's house (other than eating!). My SIL is a grad student, but my BIL makes a lot of money working in tech industry. So I'm about to spend a chunk of change providing a holiday meal but they will just show up. I was wondering if it would be out of line to mention that we would accept donations toward the holiday dinner, and how could I do it delicately, without ruining Christmas for everyone. What do you think? I'm worried if I mentioned this to my in-laws they would think it is crazy to ask their "children" to contribute to the holiday dinner. I have said something subtly to my husband in the past and he waved me off. My BIL especially eats a lot of nice meals at my house and never offers to reciprocate.

You are right. This could turn ugly. So before I give you advice, ask yourself is it "worth" the trouble it might cause. Can you afford to bring the meat? Additionally, is it the cost of the food or the fact that they never offer to pay that steams you. Because the latter is an issue of fairness and frankly life ain't fair. People like you who are generous often get steamed when others don't even think about helping. However, your reward is that you are generous. Don't change because others aren't.

One other thing, just because someone makes a lot of money doesn't  mean they have a lot of money. Can't tell you how many people I've helped get out of a financial mess that make six-figure salaries. Perhaps the couple is dealing with a lot of school debt. You just never know.

Now, if you want to go forward and since the meal is at your in-laws, I would approach them first. See if you can get your husband to do it. If not, and if you want to go down this path, mention that you would like to see if everyone can bring something. Mention that you would like to bring something else besides the protein this year. You can control what you bring. And maybe if you stop automatically bringing the biggest item for the meal, others will step up.

Finally, as to your last sentence. People treat you the way you want to be treated. If feel you are being taken advantage of, ask that you have dinner at their house sometimes.

I will say this. My house is the house that most of the family comes to -- on my husband's side and mine. We end up buying most of the food with folks rarely offering to pay (some do but most don't). I've just accepted that and budget for it. I used to get mad but now I just accept it. Plus, I get to keep the leftovers :)

Is there a website with more information on the fast?

The informaiton you need for the fast is in the book "The 21 Day Financial Fast." 

Do you have to be a member at FBCG to join and if so, how do you view the Crown Financial Ministires spending programs?

So FBCG is my church and where I voluneer as the director of Prosperity Partners Ministry, which holds a 10-month program to help people with financial challenges. We teach people how to budget, get out of debt but most importantly how to change how they think about their money. We assign people to groups led by a "Senior Partner" who acts like a money coach or money mentor. My husband and I also serve as Senior Partners for several couples as part of the program. Our next session for 2014 begins in Jan. And no you do not have to be a member of the church to be served in the ministry. We do it as part of our outreach to the community. Finally, I like the Crown program. It's good. The key to all these types of programs is to help people become better financial stewards.

I'm looking forward to joining the fast. I purchased the Power to Prosper a few years ago and did the fast then - how different is your new book from the older one? As I'm considering the best ways to spend my money and work on my finances, will this book arm me with new tools or can I use the older version to follow along?

I've updated and expaned the old book. Lots has happened since it came out. The recession. The housing crisis got worse. So I updated a lot of info. We also retitled it so people know the key to the book is the financial fast. But no you don't have to buy the new book if you have the old one. The concept is the same. As I've said, there are some new additions to several chapters, a new introduction and a really good chapter on long-term care. Still, if you want to do the fast again, the older version will do just fine. So I hope you join the group fast and try it again. We start Jan. 13. Just email me at colorofmoney@washpost.com

I had a major injury and fell behind on some bills. I took out several online payday loans to get by. I am current on them but my balances are not going down. Are there any laws or recommendation to get from under these?

I'm so sorry. Unfortunately, no laws to help you get from out under this debt. You will have to just pay them off.

I recommend you go thru your budget and see if there is any place you can cut until you get the loans paid off. If you can't cut are there other ways you can generate some money? A roommate? A second job is you are well enough. Just get rid of them as soon as you can because as you are finding out they appear to be a Godsend but quickly become a drain.

I've been unemployed for 10 months and my savings is near empty. Until I find a new job/career how can I focus on my lowering my medical debt, saving for my 7year old son's college and building my savings again? What should be my priorities once I'm back to work again? Thank you and Merry Christmas!

I'm so sorry about your employment situation. I know way too many people in the same boat.

So I'm going to tell you what I tell them. Right now you don't have the money to attact any debt and don't try to. Contact your creditors and let them know your situation and that you can't make payments. And you can't because you need to concentrate on the basis necessities of life -- food, shelter, etc. That means putting off any savings for the college fund. It means you can't save right now.

But once you get back working, foucus first on getting back on track to pay your bills and saving a little something in case of an emergency. Then after you get back on your feet financially, you can concentrate on long term savings and that college fund.

 

I follow your advice and am financially stable. Are there any organizations out there where I can volunteer my time helping people out of financial crisis? Does your church accept volunteers? Thank you!

If you live in the DC. metro area, I most definitely need good volunteers to serve. If you don't live in the area check with local churches or community groups. Many offer classes or have financial programs to help folks. Or start a program yourself offering it a school as an after-school program or a community group you belong to. That's what I did many years ago when I started Prosperity Partners.

Hi! This is my first time chatting with you and I am enjoying your sound responses. I also think I will do the fast. Where can I find your book? Is it only online or sold in stores as well? Thanks and have a great holiday!

Thank you for joining me for the first time. Welcome.

You can get the book at amazon or barnes and noble online. They are taking preorders now. It hits books stores Jan. 7th. 

And please do join the group fast. Just email me at colorofmoney@washpost.com and put "21 Day Financial Fast" in the subject line. Every day of the fast, I'll send out a tip and take questions and help you along. 

I plan to attack this high interest student loan and get it paid off next year. I know i can succeed and that's because I have reduced other debt following your other book and fast done in previous year. Thank you for your ministry

Yippie. Glad you are aggressively attacking that debt. 

So come join the fast to stay on track. I promise I'll make it fun.

One of your fellow WaPo columnists has suggested taking one's children on a field trip to a poor neighborhood to see poor people in action, so as to encourage altruism at Christmas. Even better than having them work the soup kitchen. Others have suggested donations instead of gifts, and commenters have suggested "punishing" insufficiently grateful kids with making a show of giving a gift to charity instead of to the undeserving child. Your take on all this?

I hadn't seen the column about taking kids to see poor kids. So I'll reserve comment.

But the best way to show your children how to give is for them to watch you give. Children learn what they live. If they see you giving and volunteering they tend to embrace that now or when they are grown. So my children watch me and my husband spend a lot of time giving and working at our church. We don't push them about we do ask them. So now what's happening? They serve. The all serve in a ministry. My youngest, who is 13, just asked if you can volunteer in the child care ministry at my church. That ministry allows parents to attend various workshops like mine. Her older sister did the same. 

You can't force people to be givers. You have to guide them. And saying like, "Look at all those poor kids, you should be grateful" doesn't work in my opinion. Being a giver is a learned behavior. It's something that you have to get in your spirit for it to take. And most importantly it doesnt' happen once or twice a year. People are in need all year long not just at Christmas or Thanksgiving. 

Maybe the first piece of advice for the person who is three yrs behind in filing his/her taxes ... do this year's taxes first! That way, you don't get four yrs behind. You don't have to file your taxes in order. Another resource is your local library. There may be someone there who can guide you to someone who will walk you through the process.

Thank you. Good advice. 

Hi Michelle. Thanks to years of sound budgeting, living below my means, and not wasting money on frivolous items, I have no debt except a five-figure mortgage. I'm saving for retirement and I have an emergency fund. No kids, so no college savings. I could use more savings, but this month I'm taking some cash and buying a new digital camera. It's been a long time since I spent money frivolously, and like your annual vacations, I've decided this is the time to reward myself. Happy Holidays to me!

Good for you!

Hi Michelle I wanted to get your take on this. My husband and I have a LOT of debt - it's all cc debt (15k) and we're aware of it and have made a resolution to stop spending and pay down as much as possible. We've already taken the liberty of cutting up all the cards and only keeping the debit card on us and 1 cc at home that has a 0 balance (emergency's). I took on a part time job to help with the debt but was wondering about opening a 2nd checking acct at a different bank. I would have the income from the part time job deposited to that account and use that money to pay down the 2 cc's that are attached to that bank. My husband thinks it's stupid and says we can have it go to our checking and just pay it that way. My fear is that we'll see the deposits and use that money for something other than debt. What is your take on this? If I do open that other account which cc would you pay first. We have 2 - the first with the highest balance (11k) has a 18% APR and the one with the lowest balance (3k) has a 10% apr, I've tried calling the cc company about lowering it but they said no lower rates are available. The highest card has a min payment around 290/month where the low one is around 100.

To keep the peace, try it his way and see if you can keep paying down the debt and not incorporate the money into your other everyday spending.

Tell him let's do it your way but if the money does get spent, let's open the second separate account (as long as you can get a free checking account). As far as paying off debts, I suggest you get rid of the debt with the lowest balance. That will give you a boost and hopefully charge you up to quickly get rid of the rest of the debt. 

And to add, the deduction is only in the year the expense in incurred, not the year the bill is paid. Further, to get this "benefit", you must itemize your deductions. If you don't have other deductable items (i.e. mortgage interest, property taxes, etc), your standard deduction is probably higher so you'd lose if you try and itemize.

Thanks good addition.

No question, just a big Thank You for you and all your guests throughout the years. I am secure financially and now have the greatest pleasure in sharing my money with those in need, whether animal, vegetable, or mineral. Happy New Year.

Happy New Year to you too!

I looked up and it was past 1 p.m. I'm so sorry if I didn't get to your question. But I may. I'm taking some of the questions I couldn't answer and I'll answer them in my column next week. And there is always next year. I'll be back!

In the meantime, I hope you decide to join me on the group #FinancialFast (that's for you Twitter users). As I've said it starts Jan. 13. Get the book "The 21 Day Financial Fast" Please email me at colorofmoney@washpost.com to participate.

New followers on Twitter @SingletaryM get a chance to win a copy of the book. I have two more books to give away. And I'm also providing a free budget review to a lucky person who buys the book and emails me why they need to fast.

My hope for all of you is to find your path to financial peace and freedom. 

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmans and Happy New Year!

In This Chat
Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, "The Color of Money," which appears in The Post on Thursday and Sunday. Her award-winning column is also carried in more than 120 newspapers. In her spare time, Singletary is the director of a ministry she founded at her church, in which women and men volunteer to mentor others who are having financial challenges.

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