Color of Money Live

Apr 25, 2013

If you are in need of a mid-week financial boost, join Washington Post nationally syndicated personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary for an online discussion on Thursday, April 25 at noon ET.

Michelle will answer your money questions and offer her two-cents on today's hottest financial topics.

If you can't make the chat, be sure to submit you questions early or read the archives later.

-- Beware of professional high-tech cons

--Michelle's Mailbag

--How to pay a lower rate without refinancing

--Today's e-newsletter: Loose lips sink eel squealers

I'm so happy. A sunny day and my kid has finally selected a college. For many who have asked. It's Fear the Turtle motto for her for the next 4 years. University of Md, College Park, Honors College. Both my husband and I are graduates. I'll be writing more soon about the college application process and what I learned. So if you would like to chime in with your thoughts if you JUST went through the pain and glory of it all please email me at Put "College" in the subject line. 

So let's get going. 

Dear Michelle, this post will undoubtedly elicit howls of outrage, but I have many friends who feel the same way. I am a wealthy widow with 5 children and 13 grandchildren, and you'd better believe I'm leaving my money to those whose lifestyle I support. No one who married outside our faith, is involved in a same-sex relationship or has lived with a parther without benefit of matrimony is going to get a penny. I view this the same as making charitable contributions. Why would I give money to groups that support causes I oppose? The same goes for children and grandchildren who reject my views. To me that's a no-brainer.


Dividing up money can cause divisions in families

You've made bold declarations to be sure. And you are using money to communciate your choices and view of life. 

Is that wrong?  Who is to say?

And what will those who don't get a penny feel about you and the heirs who do inherit? Might you be sowing seeds of discontent for generations to come? 

You are right. Outrage will follow. And I suspect many will also agree. So I'm going to stand aside and let others weigh in. I want to know what you think.

Hi Michelle, I just wanted to say thank you for doing all that you do, and with such compassion and grace. You hit the right note of giving tough love when necessary, but also being empathic toward the person who is struggling. I like how you focus on moving forward because so many people beat themselves up for the mistakes of the past. It is best to learn from it and move on. Keep helping people work toward financial security - you are great!

Thank you so very much. You captured just what I try to do. You made my day!

What tax shelters are available for young people to take advantage of? I don't have a mortgage or dependents. I make small student loan payments, but other than that, I don't have any way of limiting my taxable income. It really hurt this year. Any advice?

I really couldn't give you advice on this. The best person to answser your questions is a tax professional. So ask and now is a good time to ask. The tax season for the most part if over so go find a good professional and sit down with that person to map out your tax stratergy for the coming years.

A few years ago, I discovered it was much easier to balance my checkbook when I rounded up the monthly bills to the nearest $10. It just seemed easier to subtract $70 than it was to subtract $68.21. I have started to pay bills online, but find that many companies will NOT let you pay more than the amount owed. Why? If I could do it with a check, why not online?

I'm not sure why you can't do it online. But rather than pay a bill ahead of schedule if it's for something like cable rather than a credit card, just take the extra dollars and transfer to your savings account. Or check with your bank because many have programs where you can round up and the extra money is automatically deposited into your savings account.

I have been told to put my money in the form of an annuity in order to have a steady income throughout the retirement years. There are a multitude of annuties from immediate annuities to hybid annuities. Which annuity program would you recommend?

First, who is telling you that you must get an annunity? Are you only getting your information from an annunities salesperson? If so, stop. Do some research and get information from a source that won't make money off of you.

Annunites work for some people but not everyone. You need to know if it's the right choice for you.

Here's a piece by to get you started in looking at the pros and cons of annunities.

Here's another article you should read before buying:

From that article on from Eve Kaplan, CFP, is a fee-only advisor in Berkeley Heights, N.J: "Here’s an example of an unsuitable annuity sales attempt. A financial advisor tried to pitch an annuity to a close relative of mine when she was 79. With this type of contract, called a variable annuity, you invest a lump sum and the sponsoring insurer puts the money into mutual funds, where it presumably will grow.

Fortunately, she turned to me for a second opinion and I recommended she stop taking calls from this advisor. The fine print on this annuity proposal indicated that underlying expenses were over 3% per year and the money is locked up for 10 years until she turns 89. If she needs the money before then, she incurs stiff surrender penalties."


I am interested in knowing your opinion of multi-level marketing ventures such as Primerica. I understand that these opportunities have uplines and you can do as well as how much energy/investment you put forth. Are these scams or just another means of making legitimate money that depends on your dedication??

Many multi-level marketing operations are not scams. There are such scams but the one ou mention isn't.

However, I'm not a fan of multi-level marking. I don't like the idea that in many cases  you are more focused on recrutiing people than selling a product. Raise your hand right now at your desk if a friend or random stranger tried to invite you to a "dinner" or "lunch" or "meeting" with no details and then ended up trying to get you to join some mulit-level markeing company. I've been trapped too many times with such presentations. Hate it. 

I'm hoping to get your input regarding the use of a TSP loan to pay off a student loan. I'm in my late 20's and currently have a student loan ($10,000) with a 5.45% interest rate mixed. This is the only debt I have, although I will be purchasing my first home next month! I have the down payment set aside, and will still have about $15,000 left in investments/Roth IRA, although I will not have much easy-access cash left over (maybe two months of emergency cash). Do you think its wise to borrow against my TSP (with a current interest rate of 1.5% that will be returned to my own account)? Is it worth taking the loan? I've always heard not to touch retirment funds. Thanks!

I wouldn't borrow from the TSP. One risk if you do. Let's say you lose your job or you leave it. That loan becomes due immediately. Also when you take money out,you aren't letting it work for you, even if you are paying the money back to yourself.

So you need to buckle down hard, cut expenses and aggressively pay off the studenet loan without resorting to another form of debt to pay off the debt. You could find the money by reducing what you are putting in your TSP and use that money to pay off the student loans. If you like you could invest enough to get any match but anything over that use it ot put on the student loans. 

Michelle, I enjoy reading your columns and books. I have a question about savings. I have around 25 thousands I saved in various back accounts. I want to move my money into one account to receive a better return. This is my emergency fund, do you have any suggestions? Thank you is a great site to look at what various institutions are offering for deposit accounts. The rates are still pretty low but worth looking around. Also, don't worry too much about the rate on this money. You want it to be liquid and available so you don't want to put it at risk, which means suffering the pitiful interest rates being offered today.

I'm trying to plan a bit and am not sure how to go forward. I'm about to get a substantial raise. I have about five months worth of emergency/unemployment savings at my current salary for if I lose my job, but I also have credit card debt from when I was young, irresponsible, and unemployed. Don't worry, I've learned my lesson on that front! First, should I dip into that savings to get completely out of debt and then use the raise money to replenish? Or do I leave my savings alone and use the raise to pay off the credit cards? Once the credit cards are done, I will tackle my student loans, but the interest rate on those is extremely low, which is why I'm leaving them until last. Or do I keep paying down the credit card debt at a moderate rate (I always pay more than the minimum due) and build up my savings? Thanks!

If you are pretty sure your job is secure (or as best any of us can tell that our jobs are secure) I would:

-- Make a list of all your debts and list them starting with the one with the lowest balance and so on. 

-- Keep three months worth of the emergency money in the bank acccount.

-- Take another $1,000 to $2,000 to put in a life happens fund for the things in life that happen (car repairs, etc.)

-- After that take the rest of the savings and pay down your debts starting with the one with the lowest balance. Make the minimum payment on all the other debts. The point is to get rid of the lowest first, then start on the second lowest, etc.

-- If you don't have enough money to pay off the lowest, take all of the money to just pay it down.

-- Then take the pay raise and apply it to the debt with the purpose of paying it all off. Then move to the next debt, taking the raise to pay that debt off and so on.

-- Once all the debts are paid off, take the raise money and built back up your emergency fund to at least six months.

What are you top 3 finance book suggestions (other than yours, of course?)


Michelle Singletary's fab five financial books

Lucky you. Here's a link of my top five books.

This sounds absolutely hateful. Yes it's your money, and you can do with it whatever you like. But, do you not love your family members just because they don't live a lifestyle you approve of? Are you trying to punish them? Can you imagine how those who don't receive a penny, and even those who do, will feel about you when you're gone? Is this the legacy you want to leave behind. WOW.

Let's start with this response to the person who wants to communciate her values through the money she does or doesn't leave to heirs.

She and her scorecard must be very happy with each other - (sounds like a pretty unhappy way to live if you ask me)

And another.

Wow. If her children and grandchildren currently get along, I would bet that they will not once she passes and the inheritances become clear. This individual clearly does not love her family members for who they are, but only cares about what they represent. How very sad.

And another.

It is certainly her money to do with as she pleases. No reason to divide it up any other way. But it does go to show you that money does not buy happiness - and while so many people envy the wealthy, you never know what goes on behind closed doors. What a sad home. And how difficult for her children to have been raised in such a judgmental way. Hopefully her offspring have been able to recognize that unfortunate sadness and do not "pay it forward" to the next generations.

More on the wealthy widow's inheritance plan.


Cannot resist commenting. I hope the heirs are comfortable with one another. Love can overcome a lot of ill will after a death. If they are waiting for an inheritance they may not enjoy one another's company ever again. Mother can try spending it all before she dies...that is what i intend to do.

I wonder could she still love all her heirs and still not leave certain ones money?

If money can't buy love or happiness, couldn't she be saying, love you but don't agree with your choices, lifeystyle, etc.?

My boyfriend has worked hard, saved diligently and invested wisely. He has recently decided to plunk down a LOT of money (cash, not credit) on a very sexy, very fancy used car. We're not married and don't share finances. He has no debt, lots of savings, has worked hard for this money and is ready to spend it on something fun. Big purchases like this terrify me - any ideas on how to relax and cheer him on? He deserves to enjoy this after 3 deployments, WITHOUT his supersaver girlfriend panicking!

So, as you point out, this is your issue. So explore why you are afraid to spend when the money (cash) is there and all other financial matters are well taken care of?

Do some soul searching. And I say that because I'm not much different. Hate spending even when I have it. But I know the source. Having been rescued by my grandmother, who didn't have much money and often worried about paying bills even tho she was a GREAT saver and hated debt. But she passed on that worry gene to me. So I battle it often. However, I'm learning to let go and spend. 

Seach. Learn and be happy for your boyfriend, who we all should thank for his service to our country. So let him have his fun. He's earned it. 

I respect your opinions, but you are making a headache for your heirs. The dis-inherited heirs could challenge the will in court, and the legal fees could drain the estate. That makes none of the heirs happy.

Interesting point. Whether they would win doesn't matter. People may try. 

Good morning, Michelle: I took my very elderly mother-in-law through a bankruptcy in 2008. All debts were discharged. It's now five years later; can I get rid of all of the statements from those creditors and make some room in my file cabinet or must I hold them for a certain period of time? Thanks!

Be sure to keep all the bankruptcy information and any letters acknowledging the debt was erased. But old statements you can trash.

Wow, well, I guess that is the hill you are literally going to die on. I personally would like to leave this world knowing that I gave as much love and care to everyone that I could, regardless of their past actions.

I have to weigh in on this weigh in.

Ask yourself what will be the outcome of your decisions. Will you cause more harm than good? 

Think about it.

I think she will create a division between her heirs, which may not be her intention but will definitely be her legacy. She needs to know this is a certainty. Though I personally disagree with her values and choices, she could choose to evenly divide a portion of her estate amongst her heirs to avoid the inevitable division and then donate the balance of her estate to nonprofits that agree with her values.

Good suggestion.

Is it wrong to leave your money this way? No. Your money, your rules. Will it cause hurt feelings towards you, towards their siblings, and in general? YES. I don't know why someone would want to purposefully cause that.

Another good point.

My husband is being laid off in three weeks, and I am worried because he has Parkinsons that he will not be able to find another position. How can I prepare?

I am so sorry for your family. Such a tough economy and when you have other issues to deal with even tougher.

So first, start acting financially as if the layoff has happened. Pull back as much as you can to begin stockpiling cash.

Will the employer offer employment help? Find out. If not, start to look around for agencies, sources that will help your husband in his job search. Contact all your contacts to help with the search. And finally, stay as hopeful as you can but also be open to talking to someone who can help with the emotional side of an unemployment. 

I truly wish you the best.

I think my marriage of 23 years has reached an end. I want to move out but I make less than $20,000. My husband makes about five times that amount. We had both been unemployed for a while so there is really no savings. I am thinking of moving out and collecting SS (I am 62-years-old) I will then declare bankruptcy to get rid of some credit card debt. I know I will be living in poverty but hopefully not too long. I don't know what else to do.

You say you "think." Is there a chance for counseling? Please try not just for the money but maybe your marriage can be saved. If not, you should consult with an attorney before moving or making any moves. Perhaps this can be an amicable split with your husband helping to make sure you aren't living in poverty. Please get good counsel before doing anything.

Hi Michelle, Thank you for taking my question. I am a entry-mid-level federal government employee. I currently contribute 15% of my salary (10%, with 5% matching) to TSP. Do you think I should be contributing more at my age? (My age is 34, salary low 50's). Thank you.

I couldn't really say if you should be doing more because I don't know your full financial picture. But go to and use The Ballpark E$timate, which is a worksheet that helps you quickly identify approximately how much you need to save for the retirement you want.

Hi Michelle, So I went to see a financial advisor who is helping me to organize my financial life and I finally saw the actual number of money I owe on my student loans and I almost choked. let's just say it's WAY more than you will be paying for your daughter to attend UofMD. I just feel SO overwhelmed. I make really great money right now but I still feel like the number I saw will NEVER be gone. I even thought of doing the student loan know taking one of those public service jobs for ten years to have some of my debt cancelled...but I don't know if that is wise. Do you have any suggestions for me? Signed: Overwhelmed and kicking myself for all those student loans.

First, stop kicking. What is done is done. You fell for the line like so many others -- borrow and it will be just fine.

Second, you can get rid of this debt. Many do. Even the very large debt amounts. But you will have to make many changes and scarfices. Cut to the bone and and then cut some more. You might need to --for now -- pull back on some of your retirement investing to find extra money -- just for awhile.

But don't lose hope. You can do this. Talk to the financial person about helping you come up with a good plan to still save some but focus on getting rid of this large debt. 


Just wanted to point out that while paying taxes might "hurt", you only pay when you make money. I'm sure people making $30,000 a year would be happy to pay $30,000 a year in taxes if it means they are making $120,000.

Maybe this will help. A different way to look at it. Thanks.

FWI a dependent costs a whole lot more than the tax savings, mortgage (property taxes, interest, maintenance expenses. You can invest in an IRA (there is some tax savings).

Amen to that!

My best friend's aunt did this and it wasn't pretty. The kids who got the money felt horrible-- their gay brother couldn't get married and couldn't change his sexual orientation, so why punish him? Those who had a child out of wedlock made a mistake, but they were responsible parents who took the more Catholic approach of not terminating. The kids who got the money ended up deciding to split it evenly and they all think a lot less of their mother. Instead of them thinking of her as a good Christian woman, they think of her as hateful and unable to forgive mistakes or change her views.

Thanks for sharing. And I love that the heirs ended up sharing the money.

So, she wants to control her family with her money. In my family, that wouldn't work. It's that person's money, they can do as they wish with it. But none of us would change in order to inherit. We would just be sad that Gramma/Mom/whoever couldn't love us despite our differences.


Interesting point you make Michelle, about money not buying happiness so maybe we should not assume a lack of love on the widow's part. I would like to think that - but I have trouble with her second-to-last sentence, "same goes for children and grandchildren who reject my views." That sounds like a spiteful person to me. Another thing to point out - if it were my family, I have no doubt whoever got the money would just split it all evenly with the rest anyway.

To explain more what I mean. I think it's important that the heirs also not attach their self worth to what wealth the widow does or doesn't leave them. We say money shouldn't/doesn't/can't buy our love and then I get all these messages that say because she doesn't leave them money she doesn't love them. You can love and be dead wrong about something (pun intended). You can love and respectfully disagree with people's choices because you have different values or made different choices. I didn't post some notes that were as hateful as what many believe was a hateful wealthy widow. Who knows what's in her heart. It's hard to tell from a short comment, email, text, tweet, etc.

I have compassion for her and the heirs. Because as others have said the outcome will be ugly unless, as you point out the kids decide, "whatever" and split the money. But let me tell you even in families that appear on the same page, money or the denial of it can make people act real ugly.



Michelle, I have heard you say that being "trifling" doesn't disqualify people from receiving your help. I couldn't agree more. It is hard to help people financially when they have not lived "right", and I can see where this woman is coming from. but I think she also needs to do some soul searching. Maybe she knows Jesus and maybe she doesn't (it sounds like she has some value system of some sort), but I'd encourage her to think about all the "trifling" things she has done over the course of her life and determine how she would feel if someone withheld something for her because of her actions. We can love people and hate wrong-doing. If nothing disqualified her from receiving the love of Jesus Christ, than what makes her think she has the right to disqualify someone else from receiving a blessing that was only given to her by God, himself.

Thank you for your thoughts.

If I'm one of the granddaughters deemed "worthy", I'm taking my cut and sharing it with the "non-worthy" ones. At that point it's my money to do whatever I want with, right?


My mother has it but at 84, employment is not an issue. You might want to check out the Parkinson's Foundation ( I have no experience with them but as an advocacy and education organization, they might be able to offer your husband some guidance. Best of luck.

Thank you.

Well the wealthy widow certainly gave us a lot to think about. Man the issues money causes.

So, I didn't get to all your questions. Please know I have a new feature on Monday -- Michelle's Mailbag -- in which I answer some of the leftover questions. If you don't already, please follow me on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook ( 

Thank you for all your comments and I hope the widow was reading and reconsidering.

Take care. Join me again next week.

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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