Color of Money Live

Oct 25, 2012

Join The Washington Post nationally syndicated personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary Thurs. October 25 at noon ET. Singletary will be discussing Color of Money Book Club October pick, "The Instant Survivor: Right Ways to Respond When Things Go Wrong" by Jim Moorhead, co-founder of a crisis management practice at a Washington law firm. Moorhead will be Singletary's guest and available to take your questions about his book. During the chat, Singletary will also be available to answer your personal finance questions.

Can't fix error in your credit report? Call Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Debt settlement is rarely a done deal

Michelle's column on Moorhead's book

Today's eletter

I'm so glad you all you join me today. I'm happy to have with me Jim Moorhead to talk about developing a crisis management plan for you career and life. So let's get started.

What do you do with your spare change? I feel like I always have a ton of change floating around. I take it to the free change machine at Navy Federal every couple of months, but I'm still finding random pennies in my purse, under the coffee table, etc.

Boy do I know what you mean. I'm forever finding change in my car. And I'll admit a lot of it ends up in the junk drawer in a container. But my husband comes behind me and collects the change and puts it in the bank, which is then used for regular household expenses. I also keep it to dig through to give my kids money for school or church. So think of this as part of your "life happens" fund for when you need some quick change for such you need.

Hi Michelle, The DC Government is sponsoring Financial Planning Day this Saturday in Colombia Heights. http://www.financialplanningdays.org/Content/cityselectstep2.aspx?City=Metro+Washington&rt=Applicant People can take workshops or meet with a Certified Financial Planner. I went last year and got some great financial advice. I recommend it.

Thanks for the info.  I love the idea of setting time for people to get to know and meet financial planners. So often people tell me they don't want to pay for financial advice or they don't really know what a financial planner does. But given all the financial decisions we have to make these days, it can be worth it to pay for good advice. 

Hi Michelle. I really missed ur TV show. Will u ever be returning? I really enjoyed learning about the credit report, I am having a major problem, so I plan on taking ur advice and fixing it. Thank you for all you do. I miss your show.

How nice. I really miss doing the shot on TV One too. I'm hoping to be back on the air soon with a regular program. I was with ABC for a little bit on the daytime program "The Revolution" but it didn't last. Ahem! 

But I still love doing my column and chats!

The problem with reports like the gender gap study in today's e-letter is that there's no Association of University Men to publish a counter-point to it. We all know that the 23% or 18% gap is not a comparison among apples, but whether the pure gender gap is 6.6%, 2% or possible negative isn't something for which an advocacy group exists on the opposite side. Considering the way many ethnic minorities complain that the principle beneficiaries of Affirmative Action and Diversity initiatives have been white women, I suspect there's some effects that no one's found, because no one's both interested in looking and funded to do so.

I don't agree that we have to have competing studies to prove there is a gap. I consider the information from gov't sources to be as close to neutral as you can get and gov't stats still show a pay gap. We can debate how big the gap is but there is a gap that needs to be closed.

Jim is coming. Just some techncial difficulties. But keep the questions coming about crisis management. I could use some right now. Taking care of my ailing father-in-law and I could have used a better crisis plan than I thought I had!

Hi Michelle. A friend's mother just recently found out that she had to have major construction work done on the apartment building she owns and resides in. In order to get the work done immediately (structural issue), she had to surrender her annuity. Although she was able to get a construction loan from the bank, she now has no other savings other than about $28K in some account (not a savings account, has a higher yield). Is there something she could have done differently so as not to have had to surrender her annuity?

It's hard to second guess someone who is in the middle of such a thing. But I frequently tell folks with investment property that they need an even larger savings or money that is not invested for such things. It appears she did the best she could give the situation. Going forward she may need to raise rent or take part of the rent money she's getting and set it aside for major repairs. You need an emergency money for your business just like you do for your personal life.

So, when things go wrong, do you need to bring in professionals to help sort everything out? I was reading Money magazine last night and it seems like going to the pros is the best way to prepare for retirement, for example, because the average person can't make sense of Social Security, 401(K)s, etc. alone.

The time to bring in a pro is before something goes wrong. So yes, get good advice so you can make sense of what it takes to retire the best way you can. If you are in major debt, look for a good, nonprofit counseling agency (www.debtadvice.org). If you've not sure what you need to retire hire a planner who will look over everything for you and come up with a comprehensive plan.

Michelle, my taxes got a little more complicated this year by me buying a rental house, and I'm already fretting a little about filing taxes next year. Is it time to get a CPA? And how much do they charge generally?

It's definitely time to bring in professional help if you can't do it yourself. You may already have had to file quarterly taxes. You don't want to end up being fined for not paying enough. Get thee tax professional. But look around for someone familar with rental property. Get some recommendations from other landlords.

I know this sounds weird, but we use our spare change as "insurance" for our pets. It started when we used the contents of our change jar to pay the adoption fees for our dog, then our cat. There's always been enough in the big change jar to cover vet visits and medications (though, to be fair, none of our pets have every had anything worse than a UTI), as well as obedience classes. It's been a good way to keep pet expenses from impacting the family bottom line too much.

Good, good tip. Love it. Or the idea of assigning the change to a specific expense. You could do the same with school stuff for the kids (lunch money, field trip, etc.) Just label the jar. Or could be Friday pizza money or movie money every two weeks, etc. 

Love it.

I am a horder of coins. As a kid, I used to collect coins (mainly pennies) and wrapped coins into rolls. About 10 years ago, I tried to bring the rolled coins to my bank but they said they didn't like them rolled because they still needed to be counted. That was the last time I tried to turn in my coins. Since then, I started filling mason jars with the pennies and still wrap the rest. I have an ever growing pile under my nightstand. Every time I hear a story about a person who paid off their house with pennies, I think that in a few more years, I too might be able to do that.

Try finding some of those machines that will count the change for you. I know there is one in the grocery store near me and the money is then used toward buying groceries.

You never know tho. You may have enough to become debt free. If so, definitely tell me!

I just got my annual free credit report, and my credit score is still abysmal (624). Over the last couple years I've started reading your column, took a Dave Ramsey class, closed my 2 credit card accounts, paid off my car, and have been very careful about paying everything on time. (The credit cards will be totally paid off in March.) It's so discouraging to be working so hard and see so little improvement on the credit score. What else should I be doing? I'm glad I pulled the report to check for errors, but man - what a blow to the ego. I've been working my butt off to be more financially responsible but sometimes it feels like I'm going nowhere fast, and I'm doing it in last season's shoes.

Wait a sec. Let me see:

-- You are reading my column. GREAT, SMART

-- Took a Dave Ramsey class. Love him. We think alike in that we strive to help people free themselves from debt bondage.

-- Closed credit card accounts, which means you aren't using more debt on those cards. (Although if you still had debt on those cards that's probably why you didn't see a jump in your score. You shouldn't close CC accounts until you've paid off the balance on those cards and have NO other debt or any other credit cards). 

-- Paid off your car. WONDERFUL. ONE MORE DEBT BITES THE DUST.

-- You are paying your bills on time. WHAT PEACE.

So my dear STOP fretting. You are in good shape. And for the record a 624 scores isn't so bad. And it's not so bad when you think of it this way. Good credit scores give you the opportunity to get more debt at better prices. But you don't want any more debt, right? So what do you care? 

Don't be discouraged. Once you pay off the rest of the debt and give it some time, you score will rise. 

But the most important thing here isn't that three-digit number. It's that your turned your financial life around and that makes you a two-digit 10 in my book. Far more important that a 624. 

Celebrate!

I am lucky and grateful to be in a position where I make more than I really need. To avoid spending on unnecessary things I always keep a list of all my monthly expenses (plus a little for spending) with a month end goal of what my savings should be. Somehow having that month end number to work for really works for me. I have to think it's like weight watchers where you have to go for a regular weigh-in and you know very clearly if you've reached your goal or not. Anyways, it works for me and keeps me from wasting on little things that I don't really need. Thought you would like this.

I do like. Thanks for sharing. 

I often encourage people to post things or notes to themselves as a constant reminder of where they are or where they want to be. 

We have an old pickle jar that we put change in. When it's full, we do something fun. We had over $100 last time and used it for a family outing.

I really like this idea! Might try it myself. We have family movie night on Friday and we could use it for movie tickets, even it just a few. 

Hi! I am from Detroit. I lost my job and fiancee' three months ago. I am making an emotional recovery but I realize that I have been making bad decisions based on temporary emotions. How can I put things in perspective and plan a Comeback?

Hi! Often our emotions jump in the way of good decision-making.  A few suggestions.  Get out a piece of paper and write down the following four questions and then write out short answers: What is the problem?  Why do I have to get started on this problem right now?  Who can help me?  What’s the one step I can take right now to solve my problem?  Using paper and answering these questions can help strip away emotions and focus you on motivating and focusing your efforts and getting others to assist you.  Good luck!

Answers to your crisis questions now coming.

What advice you can offer a relatively new manager, who has been placed in a toxic environment?

You need to be a detective. Find out who or what is responsible for the toxic environment.  Is the company doing badly?  Is there no sense of mission?  Are employees bored?  What’s the cause?  Sound out employees and identify the two or three major issues and what their suggested solutions are.  If you show you listen, accept and act quickly and consistently on constructive ideas, you will start to improve your workplace.

How much time do you think is lost with people dealing with personal problems on the job? And should managers be more sensitive to these situations given the economy, people taking care of elderly relatives, school-age kids?

A study found US companies lose over $75 billion a year because of employees’ grief over personal issues.  Managers need to be flexible in dealing with the situations you mention just as employees need to communicate when they are facing problems and suggest ways to work around the situation.  Otherwise, co-workers can feel frustrated and let down if an employee is underperforming and they don’t know why.

Are there any tips to stay/maintain calm when things go wrong? I tried multiple things, like deep breathing, taking a shower, chanting still haven't made progress as I expected.

Isn’t it frustrating?  Lots of people will tell you to stay calm but it’s hard.  Here are some things to try.  Call a friend and ask them just to listen to what you’re facing.  Get a piece of paper out and answer the four questions I outlined above. Create your own crisis management plan and team to help you in times of stress.  You can download a free Instant Survivor Handbook from my website www.instantsurvivor.com.

Hello Ms. Singletary and Mr. Morrhead! I am a single woman taking care of my 87-year-old mother who has early/mid dementia. Up until last September my mother worked full-time at Walmart. She lives in Laurel (my brother lives in her apartment, but not as a caretaker) and I live in Alexandria. Concerning her finances, she has about $3K in the bank. She receives $1K a month in Social Security, which pays for her rent. I have been supplementing her income by paying for her food and some bills here and there, but I can foresee that I will not be able to meet all her financial requirements. Should I apply for Food Stamps and Medicaid for her? Thank you so much for considering my question!

I bet Michelle is better equipped to answer this question!  By applying for food stamps and Medicaid sounds like an excellent idea.  As you suggest, you need to balance your own needs with those of your mother and those programs should be available to help her.

I so know what you are going through right now. You need to get outside help for a master plan. Her mom's care at this point sound like it goes beyond food stamps and medicaid. Besides you need to find out if she qualifies for any public support. If she doesn't, you still need a plan.

Please call the local office of aging. There are so many resources for caregivers now. My father-in-law is in hospice, and the company we have Hospice of the Chesapeake is WONDERFUL. They have provided so much help. You mother may not be ready for that but call for help. AARP has a great site for caregivers with lots of numbers, websites for help. 

The resource folks can also and most importantly help you figure out how to manage the finances. 

Jim, can you explain more your four-point plan to develop a crisis management program for individuals? How will it help in today's job market?

If you're looking for a job or trying to hold on to the one you have, a good technique is to follow my four steps.  STAY FROSTY by writing down your plan.  SECURE SUPPORT by talking to people you know and perhaps a job counselor.  STAND TALL by creating daily action plans to get a new job or improve how you're doing at your current job.  SAVE YOUR FUTURE by keeping up your contacts and making new ones who can help now and in the future.

What advice would you give the person who wrote me this note: I have twin boys who are freshman in college are are acting like aliens, a daughter who is a high school senior (with all of the drama that comes with that) a wife who is teaching special needs children and an assistant who feels like I work for her! Everyday my life is in crisis!

Wow! How about taking out a piece of paper and dividing it in four sections.  Write at the top each of section one of the four issues you mention.  Then develop action plans for how you plan to address each one.  For example, a meeting with your twins where you go over with them the behavior that is upsetting you and why and steps to change it.  Do this for each of the four situations.  You want to help them and protect yourself from too much drama.

Michelle, To help pay down our some of debt, my father recommended an approach he's done for years when his finances were tight: borrowing against our life insurance policy. I'm willing to explore this option again, but it kind of feels like robbing Peter to pay Paul, as it were. To put it another way, it feels like taking on additional debt to pay off another debt. What are your thoughts on this?

I think your gut is right. You are robbing Peter to pay Paul. I'm not a fan of using debt to pay off debt.

Try talking to a credit counselor and see what a nonprofit can do to help you sort this out. Go to www.debtadvice.org.

If that doesn't work come up with your own debt reduction plan that includes the really hard work of cutting expenses, maybe increasing your income wiht a part-time job to pay down the debt.

My daughter has about 9k in medical bill debt. This is her only debt. How does she work to repair this information on her credit report? Does it matter how old the debt is?

You can't "repair" debt this is accurate. You can only wait the bad news out. And by that I mean, after 7 years starting with the date the debt went bad, it comes off her credit reports.

Have her call the creditor and work out a debt settlement (and by that I don't mean calling or paying a compan to help). I mean having her save up some cash and make an offer to get rid of the debt. But if the debt is really old, the further away from the default the less impact it has on her credit report.

Why is is important to have a crisis management plan? Is that really possible for people?

Why shouldn't we copy what top companies do?  They spend a lot of money developing crisis management plans so they don't have to wing it when trouble comes.  A template for a crisis management plan you can use is in the free Instant Survivor handbook at www.instantsurvivor.com

In the last fifty years, our currency has lost 80% of its purchasing power; but it hasn't gotten any smaller, so now it's five times as big as it needs to be. The most important thing to do with change is to give to it cashiers, so as not to accumulate more of it. My wallets started lasting longer, once I started making certain to give 12 cents instead of getting 88.

Me too. I take the time to dig for the change and pay it out!

It is money. I use it to buy stuff. I always look in the coin section of my wallet when I pay for groceries or lunch or a small gift and if the total cost of the item isn't round, I try to add enough change so that I get whole dollars or at least nothing but quarters back. The math is good for my brain.

My brain too. Good point.

I have a "piggy bank" shaped like a skull. Every night, my husband and I dump our change into it. When it feels heavy, I take it to the bank and we deposit it or cash it out. Anyway, our tradition is to then go out to eat on what we saved. Sometimes, this is lunch at a low-priced chain, no alcohol included. Other times we've gone to very nice places. It really depends on how many times we raided the bank for quarters! These days, now that the bus takes SmarTrip and other services take debit or credit cards, that's pretty rare. It also dependend on how long we waited before we cashed it in. Sometimes we just didn't have time to go to the bank outside of Saturday (and it's too crowded to go then), so it would wait until we literally couldn't put any more coins into it. Back in the broke days, this was sometimes the only way we could afford to go out to eat at all. Whoever got closest to the correct amount got to pick the restaurant!

Love these change stories. Thanks.

I was laid off in the early part of the recession back in 2008. My immediate plan was to cancel non-essentials (Netflix, Tivo, gym membership) and to reduce other utilities (cut cable, telephone and internet packages to cheaper plans, use less heat in the winter, more open windows in the summer). I also did a sweep through my home to find items that could be sold on ebay or amazon for some extra cash (jewelry, movies, books, extra laptops, etc.). We also decided to use up cans and frozen foods that had been sitting around in our cabinets and freezer to cut down on our grocery bills. All our cutbacks gave us piece of mind to weather the storm until we got back on our feet. It's amazing how many 'extras' you spend money on in a given month that aren't really necessities.

How inspiring!  I hope everyone reads and rereads what you wrote.  First, you did not stand still when trouble came.  Second, you made hard, smart decisions.  Third, as you mentioned, by taking control you gave yourself confidence and peace of mind.  And yes, a good question to ask before making any purchase is: "Is this something I truly need or just want?"

I'm interested in learning more! Specifically pertaining to life as I have recently been diagnosed with a medical condition that will affect me for the rest of my life. I'm in my early 40s and my grandmother turn 95 this year. I could be dealing with this for 50 years and am scared of how this will impact me financially and the ability to get long term care insurance and especially health care in general - which we all know is constantly debated. Thanks!

I'm sure this is scary.  Doesn't life throws us really tough things?  Most importantly, you are recognizing how your life may change and what you should be thinking about.  That's great!  I suggest you take it step-by-step.  Focus first on your health - and getting the care and medication if that's prescribed for you and health care coverage.  Then focus on your job and your finances - and how your health may affect them and when and make a plan that will likely include reducing your expenses (as the reader described above) and perhaps taking a job that is more stable.   Best wishes.

Thank you for joining me today. So sorry about the technical difficulties in posting Jim's answers to your questions about crisis planning. If you have any more please send them to colorofmoney@washpost.com. I'll ask Jim to answer them and post them in my column or in my weekly eletter, which I hope you subscribe to.

Remember, stay financially safe. 

In This Chat
Michelle Singletary
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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