Auto Load Responses: 
Font Size: 

January 31, 2013

12:01
P.M.

Color of Money Live

Total Responses: 43

About the hosts

About the host

Host: Michelle Singletary

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.

Subscribe to Michelle's newsletter
Color of Money Q&A Archive
Host: Helaine Olen

Helaine Olen

.

About the topic

Join me today at noon ET for my live discussion about money. My guest will be Helaine Olen, author of "Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry." Her book is January?s Color of Money Book Club pick. If you can't make the live discussion, submit your questions early.
Q.

Michelle Singletary :

So glad you all could join me today. And as the chat intro says, I have a guest, Helanine Olen, author of "Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry. 

She's written about personal finance as well so if you have want two takes on your issues fire away.

So let's get started.

Q.

Bonus student loan payments?

Hi Michelle, I want to take a chunk of a work bonus I just received and apply it towards my student loans. I have 2 options: 1) Pay off my Stafford loans in full or 2) put several thousand towards my much larger private student loans. I want the satisfaction of paying off the Stafford loans, but it would probably be wiser to put the money towards the private loans. Do you have any advice?
A.
Michelle Singletary :

Before I answer can you detail how many loans (Stafford and Private), the interest rate for each and the amout you still owe for each loan?

– January 31, 2013 12:01 PM
Q.

Paying off student debt

Michelle, I am working hard to pay off student debt. I pay about double what I should. We have six months of savings, and I am wondering if we should take a portion of that to pay off some debt. Like maybe $10,000? Would that be a good idea? My husband and I make good incomes and have secure jobs. Our only other debt is a mortgage. What do you think?

A.
Michelle Singletary :

I love that you are aggressively paying off that monkey-on-your-back debt. First, list all the debts, starting with the loans with the lowest balance. Then I would take the $10,000 and pay off the as much of the debt at the top of the list. If you can knock off two or three even better. 

Then keep doing that. Be systematic so that you see some progress and in my experience that will in turn charge you up more and before you know it all that debt will be gone.

– January 31, 2013 12:04 PM
Q.

Online degrees

Hi, Michelle. My twin HS senior daughters want to get online college degrees. This would save us a ton of money, but I'm old school and think classroom learning, not to mention the overall college experience, is better. Even if they lived at home and attended one of the many fine DC area colleges, that would be fine. We're fortunate in that money is not an obstacle. We can easily afford to send them virtually anywhere they would like to go and can get admitted (to which one says, Yea -- Hawaii!). I think youhave a daughter approachihg college age. How would you respond if she made this request?
A.
Michelle Singletary :

I do have a daughter about to go off to college. She's just got her acceptance letters. Three great schools -- Towson, North Carolina A&T and University of Maryland, Honors College (I went to Maryland so Fear the Turtle!).

I don't know enough about online colleges to say it's not the way to go. BUT...if I had the money saved  I would want and encourage the campus experience even commuting. They become engaged and see people face-to-face. I loved Maryland and being directly involved in on-campus activities. I learned as much about myself and the world that way (I was the first female president of the Black Student Union). I went to poetry readings, etc.

So I would push for the on-campus experience if you can afford it. 

– January 31, 2013 12:09 PM
Q.

Paying Bills

Sometimes, it feels like every time I turn around, there is another bill to pay. It isn't about the money, but the time required to review and pay the bills. Sometimes, I consider pre-paying for the next six months of the bills to avoid having to deal with it each and every month. There must be an easier way.
A.
Helaine Olen :

I feel the same way! I try to make a date to sit down twice a month and go over everything. It seems to work but, I agree, it is time-consuming. You can do automatic payments to save time and a lot of people swear by that. I admit I don't do it. I think it is important to know what is coming in and going out. 

– January 31, 2013 12:09 PM
Q.

Which author put their money where their mouth is?

This book and chat are perfect perfect timing for me. I've been reading everything from Suzie Orman's Money Class to the Millionaire Next Door. Pound Foolish is next on my list. Michelle, your book is also on my list. My question is this: In your educated opinion, which author(s) and/or books are really worth my money?

A.
Helaine Olen :

I am a huge fan of Michelle's column! Another must read for me is my friend Liz Weston at MSN. They both have books and you can check them out. I also strongly recommend Personal Finance for Dummies. It's the most basic and unintimidating text I've ever discovered -- maybe the "dummies" in the title does it. 

– January 31, 2013 12:10 PM
Q.

Preparing for possible furlough

Hi Michelle, I took a hard look at my budget yesterday - we were told to be prepared for 1 day of furlough each week for the next 22 weeks, starting in April. I have $2400 on a credit card, 19.99%. They won't lower my rate, despite my stellar history, both with their company and with my credit. Between now and April, I can get the balance down to close to zero, but that includes throwing all my life happens fund at this debt (I'm currently in process of building it back up, as it is...). Then, come furlough time, I'd have no life happens savings. Without using the savings, I could get it down to around $1100. Thoughts?
A.
Helaine Olen :

I hate to tell anyone not to pay down their credit card at once, but you might be one of the exceptions. You need to have an emergency fund. Could you see if you can find a lower interest credit card? Even if it is a teaser one-year rate, it might well help you out. 

 

– January 31, 2013 12:13 PM
A.
Michelle Singletary :

I agree. Unless you have the Life Happens Fund AND an Emergency Fund. For those who may not know, I advocate two types of cash savings -- life happens and emergency fund. You are expected to constantly dip into the life happens for the things in life that happen, unexpected car repairs, etc.

But if the life happens is your only savings, don't spend it down. Just keep plugging away at the debt. Or take half and pay down the debt and keep some savings. 

However if you also have some emergency savings take all the life happens and get rid of the credit card debt.

– January 31, 2013 12:13 PM
Q.

couples finance

My boyfriend and I are in our 30s and we're pretty good at managing our individual finances. We won't merge finances until we get married. Unfortunately I have nno idea how to do that - how on earth do two people manage their finances together without any blood loss! Any tips?

A.
Helaine Olen :

Ah, books have been written about that subject! And I'm sure I don't need to tell you money disagreements are one of the leading cause of the end of relationships. All I can tell you is that I am married 20 years, and the best advice I can give is to try to figure out what your values are and what is most important to you. It helps. The other advice? Never, ever lie to your spouse about what you are spending. And communicate. I know it sound ridiculous to talk about taking money out of an ATM but it's important, trust me. 

– January 31, 2013 12:15 PM
A.
Michelle Singletary :

Ditto. I've been married 21 years. We have joint everything. We talk about money all the time. No secrets. We discuss major spending like for us $200 or more. Sometimes I'll even call on the way to the grocery store to double check so we don't both end up buying milk. 

You've just got to have a plan. Who will actually pay the bills, how much should you both save from your paychecks, how do you feel about debt, etc. Lay it ALL out before you get married.

– January 31, 2013 12:15 PM
Q.

Maryland

Michelle - I have to share a good story. I've written to you before about how my parents taught me like you do, and you run a car into the ground. Well, my car finally was worth much less than the repairs, and I needed a new one. Thanks to getting 8 years out of my old car, I had enough to pay CASH for a new Toyota. And the "car payment" is going right back into savings. Writing that check was one of the happiest moments of my life - I have never been so proud. My parents were too.
A.
Helaine Olen :

And I am proud of you too! Way too go!

– January 31, 2013 12:16 PM
A.
Michelle Singletary :

You make me so proud. Tearing up now. And man oh man how good it is to pay cash for a car!

– January 31, 2013 12:16 PM
Q.

Student loan follow up

There is little difference in student loan rate, the highest private loans are at 3.25% and the Stafford loans vary between 2.14%-3.19%. I have $5,000 in Stafford loans and $28,000 in private loans. I would like to throw at least $5,000 at the loans, but possibly a little more. I'm trying to pay extra off each month, but Sallie Mae makes it so difficult since you can't pay extra towards the principal online.
A.
Michelle Singletary :

Thanks for the follow up info. It really helps me to give you a better answer.

So take the $5,000 and pay off the Stafford loans. Be done with them all. If there's a little more than that, save and pay them off. Then tackle the next private loan with the lowest balance. Make a list and pay off them one by one. 

Getting rid of the loans one by one on the list will mean so much to you and you can see the progress because the loan is crossed off. And I know the lenders make it hard to do this, but make the effort. So worth the hassle.

– January 31, 2013 12:19 PM
Q.

Question for you both

With the complexity of many people's financial situations, where should normal people (i.e. middle class with no particular affinity for numbers and no real financial education) turn to in order to answer questions such as - should I rent or buy? How much should I be saving for retirement? How should I invest those savings?. I, for one, usually become completely overwhelmed when I begin to think about finances.

A.
Helaine Olen :

I would consider looking for a financial coach or planner -- someone who is completely unbiased, who you can pay for by the hour. It doesn't sound like you need someone who is pushing financial product, but someone who can sit down and guide you through the process of determining your goals, your priorities and working out a pathway to get you there. 

– January 31, 2013 12:21 PM
A.
Michelle Singletary :

I agree. Also look for a financial class in your local area. A lot of those questions are answered in such programs. I run a free one at my church. It's a 1o-month progam and we team you up with a mentor. But there are other such programs in many communities. 

You can also go to www.debtadvice.org and talk to a budget counselor. For a small fee that person can walk you thu some basic money issues.

– January 31, 2013 12:21 PM
Q.

College Education

The best thing about going to college was the experience of meeting so many people from other areas. It was wonderful. Recommend the parents take the girls to various colleges for tours.
A.
Michelle Singletary :

Good advice. We took our daughter on a college tour. It was worth the time and money. But I have to tell you, I can't wait until this is all over. This college selection stuff is hard especially when your kid has his or her heart set on a school with a price tag that makes you choke!

Anybody out there feeling me on this?

– January 31, 2013 12:23 PM
Q.

Personal Finance Industry

I didn't read the Ms. Olen's book (but I will) but I just had a comment about the finance industry in general. I've worked for a Financial Planner/IAR for the past 3 years and it frustrates me because almost everything is directed to "high worth" clients, people with money. There doesn't seem to be a push to help out the middle of the road people, like myself or my husband. We make about $110,000 combined and here in Montgomery County, that's not much it seems. I'd love to start a company that caters to the middle class with products/planning that are reasonable without so many fees such as wrap fees or annuity fees.

A.
Helaine Olen :

Thank you for saying that! It's one of my HUGE frustrations with the industry and something I wish I had been able to explore in more depth in Pound Foolish. The industry needs to recognize that middle income people need help too and they not just an easy source of clients for stuff like annuities. 

– January 31, 2013 12:25 PM
A.
Michelle Singletary :

You are so right. But one problem I find is the middle-income folks don't want to pay for help --even a little bit. So it's hard for the unbiased financial coaches that they need to earn a living. 

Just saying.

 

– January 31, 2013 12:25 PM
Q.

Goals for 2013?

Layoffs are a possibility and right now I am hoarding cash. We have some credit card debit, mortgage and car payments. Should we pay the miinimums on the credit cards to keep more cash in our pockets? Our next goal is to payoff our mortgage. We figure paying off the mortgage is better for us, longterm. The interest on the cars is the lowest rate. If the layoffs don't occur, we would pay off the credit cards immediately and work on paying off the house. Right now, should I put any money in my 401(k)? I stopped because I figured I needed the cash. We do have a rainy day/busted water heater fund and a no job fund that can cover 6 months of the mortgage. Thanks for your advice and good luck with your daughter's college selection. If she is planning on staying on campus start buying those college necessities now.

A.
Helaine Olen :

Hi. If layoffs are a possibility I would hoard every bit of cash you can. It's hard to give specific advice without knowing the specifics of your financial situation, so I would ask a question: how many months do you think you could live on the rainy day/mortgage fund right now? If it is less than six months, I'd say to skip the 401k -- as long, that is, as layoffs remain a possibility. I should add I really hate giving this advice but it sounds like you need cash you can access easily right now. 

– January 31, 2013 12:27 PM
A.
Michelle Singletary :

Again, I agree with Helanine. Hoard cash. Pay only the minimum or what is required until you are out of the layoff woods. Even the retirement. If you look at the stats many people are having a hard time finding a replacment job and it can take much longer than six months. For some it's taking a a year or more especially if you are highly paid.

– January 31, 2013 12:27 PM
Q.

Laid off

I am being laid off in June; how do I prepare myself?
A.
Michelle Singletary :

See previous answers.

Most important, hoard cash. Make only the payments you have to make.

Get rid of things know you don't need -- big cable plan, phone plan, etc.

Start now as if you're laid off so you can be in that mode when June comes.  

– January 31, 2013 12:29 PM
Q.

Paying down debt

Hi Michelle, My husband and I (due to a job loss) are in a position where we have significant credit card debt $20,000 and minimal savings $4,000. Thankfully we are both employed again and are working hard to try to resolve this problem - we have cut back with no meals out and no extras such as cable or new clothing. But our rent is high and we are locked in a two year lease. Right now our goal is to get to a $10,000 savings cushion and then turn the money we were putting in savings to paying down our debt. Is this the best way to take care of the problem? I worry about not having a cushion while putting all extra money toward debt. I feel like we are cutting wherever we can and still are not making much progress. We also own a small studio condo that we could sell for a small profit and could use that money to kill debt, but I am not sure that is wise or whether we should wait to sell until the market gets stronger. Thanks for your help.

A.
Michelle Singletary :

So sorry about the job loss but I'm happy you are back on track down.

But I want you to breathe. You are putting too much pressure on yourself. I know you want the debt gone but take your time to reset.

Build up a little savings, say two to three months. Then stop saving and then go after that debt. As for the condo, if you aren't interested in keeping it look into selling it especially if you don't have to bring money to the table. But talk to a real estate professional. 

– January 31, 2013 12:32 PM
Q.

Looking forward to "Pound Foolish"

I've read some of the reviews of your book and I am looking forward to reading it. I've always felt that one of the challenges with managing my personal finances as a way to a secure retirement is that the area I can control - discretionary spending - is so small. I am so depressed when I watch those "How am I doing?" segments on Suze Orman and these couples have hundreds of thousands of annual income, a half million socked away in retirement, houses worth several hundred thousand - and those are the only people she rates as doing well. If that's what it takes to be secure in retirement, I will NEVER get there with our $80,000 annual income.
A.
Helaine Olen :

Firs thank you. Second, remember the vast majority of people have nowhere near that amount of money saved -- most of us, in fact, have way less than $100,000 saved for retirement. I've decided the first step we need to take is to begin to talk about it. We're not going to get help if we don't start saying we need it. 

As for the small spending, while I would never tell anyone to waste their funds, I would say that a lot of talk about cutting these unnecessary expenses comes from people who don't have to do such things. The next time I hear someone yelp about someone else's cable bill, I plan to ask them how much they are paying themselves for the service!

 

 

– January 31, 2013 12:33 PM
Q.

push back from book?

I was wondering if any of guru's have pushed back from having the myths that they push exposed? Or are they still saying the same things, perhaps in the belief that the majority of the people who watch them will never hear of Ms. Olen's book...
A.
Helaine Olen :

I would hope they would engage with some of the critiques in the book. For starters, I would love for Dave Ramsey to explain exactly how you can choose not to participate in a recession. 

– January 31, 2013 12:33 PM
Q.

Money disagreements

I don't think they are the leading cause of the end of relationships. People may disagree about money - but it's usually a bigger cause (one person likes to spend, the other to save, one likes to hold over the other's head that they make more money) - I think it's more about communication, and money is something to easily blame. That having been said - to merge money...just do it. Take the bandaid off as quickly as possible.  In the end, one of the people in the relationship usually ends up 'taking over' without much hassle...but really- discuss and talk about how you're going to do it, as things come up...(as with most things)

A.
Helaine Olen :

I would agree with all of this. All I would add is that if one person ends up taking over, make sure that person still discusses it with the other once a month. I'm that person in my house and I do it -- even as my husband looks like he wants to fall asleep! I think it is important.

– January 31, 2013 12:35 PM
A.
Michelle Singletary :

It might interest people to know my husband is the daily money manager. Cuz if it were me, we would all be naked! I hate spending money. But the key is to talk. And as Helaine says, push him or her awake if you have to.

– January 31, 2013 12:35 PM
Q.

Opinion on mint.com

What are your opinions on the mint.com site? Is it worth the time?
A.
Helaine Olen :

I use mint.com and like how it breaks down my expenses. I'm less enthused by their product reccomendations, and I would advise you ignore that part of the service. 

– January 31, 2013 12:35 PM
Q.

College price tag

Really the cost of private schools or out-ot-state publics is a joke, and with multiple kids you end up paying more than you did for the house. BUT my question is, is the education bubble next to burst, when folks realize no retirement money is left?
A.
Helaine Olen :

I wish I could answer that! I tend to think this is going to have to end sooner or later. There is already evidence that less prestigious (read: not Harvard, Yale or Princeton) private colleges are not able to get the tuition increases they once did. This, for the record, is one of the issues I have with many financial gurus. They often tell you to prioritize retirement savings over paying for college and while, yeah, that is good advice, it doesn't really account for the fact that most of us really feel that paying for college is one of the most important things you can do for your children. 

– January 31, 2013 12:37 PM
A.
Michelle Singletary :

It's a bubble and it's busting already.

But I understand now better how this has happened. If your kid does all that you ask and gets the great grades and stays out of trouble and then looks at you with those doe eyes saying he or she will DIE if you don't let him or her to to whatever the brand name school, it is hard to say no.

But no you must. 

And no I'm going to say. 

– January 31, 2013 12:37 PM
Q.

RE: Online Degrees

I'd advise your teen daughters to attend a local college. Lots have a mix of both online and physical classes, so they can try both to see how they like it. I've taken online classes now, and I find them less engaging - it is up to YOU to do the legwork, homework, research, etc. The benefit of real physical classes is it forces you to actually pay attention and carve out time for your studies. online classes make it more difficult to do that. Plus you lose that face-to-face interaction between professor and other students. For me, I found that online classes are more demanding and less interaction, but I take it because i work a full time job and dont have the time to attend actual classes - which is what your girls (i assume) won't have any problems with.
A.
Helaine Olen :

I just want to add that I've been asked to teach online journalism classes and have said no, thank you. Part of the learning experience is the interaction between professor and students. 

– January 31, 2013 12:38 PM
A.
Michelle Singletary :
– January 31, 2013 12:38 PM
Q.

drive it for a decade

Glad to see advice about keeping the car - but I suggest 10 years. Many cars will do this: pay attention to rust spots and get to them early. Plus regular maintenance, etc. Save your money, just drive that bad boy...
A.
Helaine Olen :

I have to say it depends on the car. I just got into a similar position with an 8 yr old car. Some things are truly out of your control. 

– January 31, 2013 12:38 PM
A.
Michelle Singletary :
– January 31, 2013 12:38 PM
Q.

Retirement

Hi, my name is Anna and II am a 47 year old woman who recently changed jobs. My new job provided me with more income and great benefits. Unfortunately, they do not have a 401 (k) plan. What is the best option to save for retirement? I do have a small IRA. Thanks.
A.
Helaine Olen :

Probably an IRA or Roth IRA (depends on what you think your income will be in retirement), invested in low-cost index funds. 

– January 31, 2013 12:39 PM
Q.

Cost of College

We put two daughters through Undergrad and Grad school. Best investment every made was buying four years of prepaid tuition and 529's for other expenses. Told them in state we pay for it. Out of state you pay for it. They both did undergrad in three years to use tuition credit for one year of grad school. Gave them the incentive to go in state and as Yoda said they choose wisely
A.
Michelle Singletary :

You are my idol!

 

– January 31, 2013 12:40 PM
Q.

cable

I'm paying zero. We have netflix, and pay $16 a month. And then we have internet access. That's about it. You CAN cut cable. it's easy. (there's also hulu plus and a few others, but we don't subscribe)
A.
Michelle Singletary :

Yup. You can cut cable. And a lot of other things. And as I tell people going through a rough financial season -- it's only for a season. Hang tough because tough times don't always last.

– January 31, 2013 12:41 PM
Q.

Starting a Roth IRA

I am in my early 20s and I am going to open an Roth IRA soon. One of the things that draws me to it is that I can use it to help me buy my first house after 5 yrs. My question is whom do you suggest I open an account with? I know online brokers invest it in stocks but I dont know if that will be best if I plan to use the money soon, so would opening an account at my credit union be better although there is less chance for growth. By the way, I am a federal employee but from my understanding you would only be taking a loan out against yourself with the Roth TSP rather than taking money out and not necessarily having to repay it with a Roth IRA.

A.
Michelle Singletary :

I can't suggest a particular company. But there are so many you can choose from. By the way the Roth is the pot. You put in it what you want so look for investments with low fees. Credit union or your bank is a good place to start.

– January 31, 2013 12:43 PM
Q.

Doing Income Taxes

Michelle, do you have any thoughts on the use of tax preparation software versus paying an accountant to prepare your taxes, if you have to file a 1040, but otherwise have relatively simple taxes (no business)? Do you regard any particular software as more cost-effective? Thanks.
A.
Michelle Singletary :

I've done both and been pleased with both. If using software I have just one warning (from experience) don't wait to the last minute. If something goes wrong you could miss a deadline trying to fix it. 

– January 31, 2013 12:43 PM
Q.

Sued by Credit Card -- But I won

Hi Michelle, I was in an ongoing disagreement with a credit card company that ultimately took me to small claims court. I won and the case was dismissed with prejudice -- meaning the company can never come after me again because I proved my case that I had made all payments and on time. How do I move forward to ensure this is removed from all my credit reports and not longer affects my credit rating -- which plummeted after being charged? Thanks!

A.
Michelle Singletary :

Keep all the court documents and challenge anything from that company that may appear on your credit reports. So every year get your free reports from www.annualcreditreport.com

– January 31, 2013 12:45 PM
Q.

Re: Student debt v. savings

Do you really think they should use such a big part of their 6-month emergency fund to pay off student loans? Job loss isn't the only disaster out there--illness, unexpected pregnancy, etc. could turn a 2-earner family into a 1-earner family.
A.
Michelle Singletary :

Yes I do. And then they should work their butts off to build that savings back up. But if they lost a job or got ill and didn't have the debt, they would weather that storm better.

– January 31, 2013 12:46 PM
Q.

Extra Money

Hi Michelle, Love your online chat. Usually just observe and learn. I am acquiring quite a bit of extra money that I won't need for some time from a real estate sale. I don't know where I should put it. I am retired and have my pension and Socail Security. Please help,

A.
Michelle Singletary :

Thank you. So without knowing more can't really say where to put the money. This could be a good time to find a fee-only planner (someone not trying to seel you something) to get good advice on what to do with the money. 

Try this site to find one

www.napfa.org

– January 31, 2013 12:48 PM
Q.

RE: Online degrees

Michelle, please let me add. Are these schools "diploma mills?" Mom may need to look into that.
A.
Michelle Singletary :

True that. Make sure the online schools are legit.

– January 31, 2013 12:48 PM
Q.

furlough day

As long as you know when it is - could you sign up with a temp agency and maybe bring in a few dollars that way? I know most of those jobs don't pay so much, but it's worth a try. Or babysitting? Maybe there's some moms in your neighborhood who might be interested in you helping them out...
A.
Helaine Olen :

These aren't bad ideas, but you need to remember they've occurred to many other people as well. The fact is that there are not enough well paying jobs out there.  Also, speaking as a mom myself, most people are seeking regular help, and are less open to arrangements they know will be temporary. 

– January 31, 2013 12:49 PM
A.
Michelle Singletary :
– January 31, 2013 12:49 PM
Q.

Re: Possible furlough

If I understand correctly, the LW has about $1300 in that life happens fund. If that is his/her only savings, I would not spend even half of that toward the credit card. Keep every penny. In the (hopefully unlikely) event that the furlough turns into a RIF, s/he will need that.
A.
Michelle Singletary :

Right. Keep savings until you are out of the woods.

– January 31, 2013 12:49 PM
Q.

retirement

There used to be no such thing. The idea that one can stop working and live for 20-40 years is a dream that most people can't afford. Of course, at some point, your expenses probably would be less and you might not have to have as high an income as now - but don't go into this thinking: oh, I don't have enough money. Most people don't. And won't. Just keep working while you are healthy and capable, cut back to something else if things are too stressful, and be happy that you can support yourself.
A.
Helaine Olen :

All true, but this is veering into blaming people for retireing. A good chunk of people who leave the workforce for good do it because they are laid off and cannot find another position, or they or a loved one suffers a health crisis leaving them unable to work. It's a real problem, and reminding them that retirement used to not exist isn't going to help. We also used to send elderly people who could no longer work and could not convince a family member to take them on to poorhouses. Just sayin'. 

– January 31, 2013 12:50 PM
Q.

Financial planner

Hello ladies, what steps should one employ to find a financial advisor? Michelle, I followed your advice for years and focused on saving money and limiting my spending. I now have a nice amount of money saved in an ING account but I'm paralyzed with fear about finding a financial planner. I hear so many horror stories of planners taking off with or losing people's money, and I lost money years ago when I purchased some Janus funds. This money is outside of my former employer's 401(k) plan. I'm unemployed right now but I've been diligent about not touching the money. .

A.
Helaine Olen :

The F word -- fiduciary. Make sure anyone you hire on has a fiduciary duty, that is the legal duty to act in your best interests.Don't accept less. 

– January 31, 2013 12:50 PM
A.
Michelle Singletary :

Agreed. And ask your friends if any are using a planner. Most important don't invest or do anything you don't understand.

– January 31, 2013 12:50 PM
Q.

Terp Mom

Just a college story: our son, very practical, only applied to colleges last year that were under $50,000 total. He's now at UMCP and loving it. We prepaid college tuition, and now are receiving refunds because his tuition is getting paid by the National Guard and Army ROTC.

A.
Michelle Singletary :

Thanks for the testimony. And you must be so proud to have such a financially smart kid. And thank him from me for his service to our country.

– January 31, 2013 12:52 PM
Q.

College Education/Fixed Income

Michelle I feel you on this one, I am a single mother on fixed income and can't afford the big price tag on the school my daughter want to go to. I have very little save,but it will not do anything just to pay the beginning fees of the school that all. We have been checking scholarship website but i don't know if they are scam or not cappex.com, college prowler, fastweb. do you know any scholarship website that are good.

A.
Michelle Singletary :

First, don't let her go to a school you guys can't afford. Just don't. 

As for scholarships I know about fastweb. College board has info on scholarships. And check the web sites for the schools. They often point you in the direction of legit sources.

– January 31, 2013 12:54 PM
Q.

College

I've been telling my kids it's up to them. We will only have a certain amount of money to help them out with (and it's wrong as a parent to advise my child that taking out $100,000 of loans is okay at 18-years-old). If they work hard and do their research, they should be able to get someone to pay them to go. if they don't - then it's someone else's choice. As with many things in life. Sometimes hard work doesn't pay off, and they should learn that too, by the way. In the end, my kids will be fine - maybe starting off at a local college. Yes, I'd love them to go away and have those experiences, but it's not a reality for everyone (and yes, mom and dad both have graduate degrees - kids are well aware how important education is to us - it's just that, well, also, if they don't want to go, I can't force them...and so um - if they want to get a min wage job with a high school degree...that's an education too).

A.
Helaine Olen :

The only thing I would add to this is that I think it is rather unrealistic to expect an 18 yr old to do all their own college research. I hope you are helping out in that area!

– January 31, 2013 12:58 PM
A.
Michelle Singletary :

You've so much I agree with. But what Helaine said is so important. Help them -- all the way through. We have told our children and our daughter going off next year that we are partners in this venture. She doesn't pick the school. WE do. She has some say, we have some say and together we will pick what's right for her. And I've been helping and pushing and nagging her all through the process because well she's 17. And teenagers don't always do what they are supposed to do. Also for the record, she's a  great student (3.9) and still she may not get any money. That's just the way it is. So we are prepared for that and not mad. It's why we saved.

– January 31, 2013 12:58 PM
Q.

College expense

My daughter attends UMBC. The total cost (tuition, fees, housing, books, meal plan, transportation exp, personal exp) is up to $25k per year. So much for the idea that attending an in state school is affordable. Granted, it's less expensive than many others, but we make too much for any financial assistance based on need and her grades, while good, are not top-notch and she is not eligible for many academic scholarships. She did not win any of the academic scholarships for which she applied, nor did she receive any based on essays, sports programs, volunteer activities, etc. There is more competition for scholarships than ever. It's discouraging. Our income precludes financial aid, but the income is a recent increase and the years of lower income did not allow us to save enough to pay full freight. Just venting.
A.
Helaine Olen :

I just want to tell you I hear your pain. It's a very frustrating situation and all I can say is if we keep talking about it, maybe we can get somewhere. 

– January 31, 2013 1:00 PM
A.
Michelle Singletary :

I hear your pain and living your pain. And I totally agree with you. In state costs are a trip too. It's hard for many people no matter how well they saved to have that much money. I so get you.

So if you only have so much saved, the kid has to commute and live at home or start at community college then transfer to state school. 

If we all stop paying these crazy prices something will be done. 

– January 31, 2013 1:00 PM
Q.

Change in work status

Hi Michelle, thanks for the chats! My husband is in the final stages of interviews for a job that would require us to relocate to a new city/state. We have a 4-year-old son and a 6-month-old daughter, so I likely would leave my job and stay at home with them for at least a few months (or maybe up to a year or two) while we settle in, figure out the schools, neighborhoods, etc., and then I'd look for a job. We don't have an exact salary figure yet, but we've looked up averages for the area, and we would probably be fine on one income, especially with lower childcare costs. I have a professional job and master's degree, but I know there's no guarantee of employment when I'm ready to work again! It all just makes me nervous, as we've always been a 2-income family, even though I think it would be a good move for us, personally and professionally (for him). What steps would you recommend we take prior to and after the move to make sure we are not getting in over our heads?
A.
Helaine Olen :

I'm going to take this on. I would urge you, if at all possible, not to completly sever your ties to the paid workforce. I don't mean you need a full-time job. Just try to keep a few freelance things going. I have a number of friends who stepped back and have found it impossible to break back in when their financial circumstances changed. 

– January 31, 2013 1:03 PM
A.
Michelle Singletary :

But if you do decide to stay at home with the kids, work the numbers. Really look at your budget and how you can reduced expenses to make it work. Once you get settled then I agree with Helaine to keep your skills up. But many families can and do live on one-income. It can be done but plan for it which could mean giving up some stuff. But oh what you gain.

– January 31, 2013 1:03 PM
Q.

Just keep working

Wonder if you've seen the articles everywhere about people over 50 being the highest percentage of long-term unemployed. Age discrimination in hiring and retaining is a very real thing. And I also heard recently that only a minority of working Americans make it to even age 65 before they have to stop working, for one reason or another.
A.
Helaine Olen :

I think I addressed this earlier. I completely agree with you. I think the pundits who just spouting off that everyone can continue working into their seventies are living in Never Never Land. And I say that as someone whose grandmother worked till she was 93. 

– January 31, 2013 1:03 PM
Q.

The Debt Movement

Hi Michelle, have you heard of The Debt Movement? It's a web site where financial bloggers and thousands of people collectively pay down $10 million of debt in 90 days, starting on February 1st. I thought that was an awesome idea but wondered if they asked you to participate?
A.
Helaine Olen :

I am not familiar with the The Debt Movement but I should say I like the idea of people banding together to pay down bills and otherwise offer financial support. My only concern is that such efforts tend to ignore the real reasons so many people find themselves in debt. It's not lattes, it's Lipitor.

– January 31, 2013 1:04 PM
A.
Michelle Singletary :

Haven't heard of it. But will look into it.

– January 31, 2013 1:04 PM
Q.

Affordable college

If you can't afford the full cost of a 4 year in state college, have your child attend a in state community college and then transfer to a 4 year college.
A.
Michelle Singletary :

Exactly!

– January 31, 2013 1:04 PM
Q.

Michelle Singletary :

Now some of you know I was trying to do this half hour chat thing. But the questions kept coming in and they were so good and heartfelt. As were the comments and suggestions and encourgement. So thank you. 

But now I must go. Come back next week. 

Q.

 

A.
Host: