Color of Money Live

Oct 11, 2013

On Fri., Oct. 11 at 11 a.m., join Washington Post nationally syndicated personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary for a live online discussion.

Michelle will answer personal finance questions. She will also talk about the government shutdown and the health care marketplaces.

--Questions and answers about the healthcare marketplace

--Some 'free-loaders' who live with elderly parents may be giving more than taking

Welcome. I'm usually on Thurs. so thank you for adjusting your schedule to join me today. Well, we've have some crazy financial times! So what's on your mind about the debt talks, shutdown, Scandal episode last night (just kidding).

I would love to hear from any federal worker and how you're coping financially. 

Anway, let's get started.

I already have individual health insurance that renews in May. Can I wait to enroll in a plan from the Exchange until after I see what the new rates for my existing plan will be -- or do I have to make the decision during this year's open enrollment, or wait until 2015? If I did decide to enroll in a plan from the Exchange on March 31, when would a new plan take effect?

You should definitely create an account and see what the exchange will offer especially if you get a subsidy. However, you can only enroll from now until March 31. If you have a live event after open enrollment closes, you can change but otherwise you would have to wait until the next open enrollment for 2015. So the good news is you have time to check our the numbers assuming they get the systems up and running as they should.

I used PayPal to pay for a Halloween costume that never arrived. It was being custom made by a company on Etsy, but I ordered directly from their website to avoid the extra fees. They claimed various problems from new sewing machines to a flooded house. This week, their website, facebook page, twitter feed, gmail account, and just about any other place they had their business were deleted. It has been more than 45 days and PayPal won't help resolve the issue. How can I get my money back... or costume delivered?

I'm not sure I can help with this. I'm not familiar with Pay Pal policy. You certainly can keep trying but if the company is out of business, which it appears to be not sure you have any options.

Hello Michelle, I am my dad's only child and have growing concerns about how I will be able to care for him in his latter years. He has only worked side jobs over the years and his only source of income will be social security. He has no life insurance and has been denied. I love my dad very much and just want to make sure I have a plan. What can I do to ensure I am prepared? Thanks

Interesting, I just was part of a program last night talking to seniors about their long-term care plans. Most didn't have a plan. So you are doing the right thing thinking about this before the need is there. I would suggest you to to AARP's website and go to their caregiving resource center.

You will find a wealth of information to help you have "the talk" with your father and begin to make a plan. And I'm afraid given the information you've supplied that plan will involve a lot of care and money from you. So now is the time to start saving to help your dad.

I signed up for unemployment compensation this week, since I'm furloughed and it's unclear how long this shutdown will last. I understand I'll need to repay any money I get if Congress decides to pay us anyway (which is possible, but not guaranteed). If that does happen, do you know how that works?

I'm not sure how the repayment works exactly because I'm sure it will vary from state to state. Your best source is the unemployment office. Call now and ask because it does apprear when the shutdown is over workers will get back pay. Here's a fact sheet from the Labor Dept.

To your question this is what the Labor Dept. wrote:

What will happen if Federal employees are paid for time during the shutdown period?

If Congress passes legislation that retroactively provides for the payment of salary, states will generally require repayment of any unemployment benefits received. States will advise affected claimants if benefits are overpaid and if so, provide repayment options.

How is having an insurance policy up for renewal not considered a life event? That is like saying if my cell phone plan ends in May, my only option will be to renew with that company. If I want to switch plans, I need to decide by March, even if I don't know what will happen with my existing plan.

Yes, you are right losing your insurance is an life event. For more information for those of you with individual coverage go to and search for "What if I want to change individual insurance plans?" Here's the link:

When you can change plans

  • If your current plan ends before March 31, 2014, you can use the Marketplace during open enrollment to replace your individual insurance. You can enroll for coverage that starts as soon as January 1, 2014.

  • You may qualify for a special enrollment period in the Marketplace when your plan ends because you're losing your coverage. Your insurance company may need to provide documentation to the Marketplace that your plan has ended.

I appreciate the concern expressed by readers, but want to let you know my brother does not care for nor help my parents in any way. He will not drive them to doctor appointments, the post office or even the supermarket. He does not do any housework either, instead my almost 85-year-old mother can be found making breakfast, lunch and dinner for him every day, in addition to doing his laundry. It's so sad to watch and I truly appreciate your advice.

Thanks for the update because this was a question people were asking: Isn't it okay for the parents to pay for if the brother is taking care of them?

I had assumed from your orignial question that the brother wasn't doing much if anything. 

So yup. Freeloader. What a shame. But your parents are enabling him and that's a shame too.

He's a sole practitioner dentist whose patients owe him tens of thousands of dollars and he won't go after the money or require them to pay upfront. Nearly one third of the checks he's given bounce and about the same % of credit cards are declined. He still has student loans and his office equipment cost over $200,000. Last year a financial magazine that listed bills you can most afford to let slip put dentists at the top of the list! He says he hates to see people in pain but our financial situation is painful as well. I'd like him to join a group practice that would take care of billing for him, but he is resistant. Is there some sort of middle ground? It's putting a real strain on our marriage.

I'm so sorry for your situation. Clearly, you have a caring husband. But really, he needs a business manager, someone he can make the bad guy or girl to help with collections. Tell him he isn't helping his patients or his family by not running his office well. If he continues this way, he won't be able to service this other patients who do pay. Try to see if he will make an apt. to talk to someone at the group practice or at least conduct some interviews for a good, tough but loving, caring business manager. Failing that, put the numbers in front of him. Your financial numbers for your household. Show him how he's not being a good steward by not trying his best to collect what he is rightfully due. 

Hi Michelle - I am a single Mom who's starting to get creative with ideas for funding my son's college education. He's a freshmen this year and I'm planning ahead for fewer formal scholarship opporunities next year. It seems schools are including student loans as part of their financing packages as a given now. Do you have any interesting ideas I might investigate before I pick up a bucket and hit the streets? (smile) Thank you

I have a new freshman so I'm on your street. First, don't assume there are fewer scholarships. Keep looking because they are out there. If you read me, you know I'm not a fan of accepting student loans are a given. That might mean if the student is going close to home, he may have to commute if you are running out of cash. Find out more about work study or him getting a part-time job to help. Also, go back to the financal aid office and see what else they can do to help that doesn't involve loans.

Michelle, we're selling our first home which we've rented out for the past three years and we anticipate a $150,000 profit after fees and taxes and such. My husband wants to pay off the mortgage on our current house (currently at 4.5%). We'd still have savings/life happens, etc. I kind of want to use half of it to pay down the mortgage and use the other half for home improvements we've wanted to do for awhile -- putting a bathroom in on the first floor and redoing the kitchen. Thoughts? I don't think we'll have this kind of money again for a long time (if ever!).

Well, I'm going to side with hubby. A paid for house? In this economy? When so many drag a mortgage into retirement. I'm on the side of debt-free baby. And you can still do the home improvments. Just take the money you were using for the mortgage and save it and in no time, you'll have the home improvement money.

The thing is people are reluctant to take the large cash and get out of debt because they don't usally have such a large lum sum of money. But do something big and bold with it and get out of debt. Get that monkey off your back especially since you have your emergency and life happens funds, which means you are good savers. And do this if you are planning to stay in the home for the long term.

Be debt-free baby!

I just wanted to jump back to a question about the health exchange and when coverage starts after you sign up. I wasn't completely sure, so I asked on There is a live chat section where you can ask a question. I did. And got an answer from "Marissa." Marissa said "If you sign up before the 15th of the month your coverage will start the following month. If you sign up after the 15th of the month your coverage will start the second month after. Example you sign up Jan. 17th your coverage will start March 1."

Cool feature on That part isn't having any glitches! 


I am currently paying IRS 60.00 a month but the interest is 280.00 along with failure to pay fine of 160.00.  I am retired from postal service--taxes owed twenty five hundred is now three thousand, also owe md but no fine. Any advice on lowering or payment plan?

I'm not sure what you are asking? Are you asking if you can pay less than the $60 because you can't afford that?

Or are you asking how to get out from under this debt that keeps adding on interest? 

I'm going to go with the second option. I feel you might be asking if one of those companies you hear about can help get rid of some of your debt. No. They will just take your money to do what you are already doing. You've set up a payment plan. But this is what happens with IRS debt. The interest kills you. I would suggest if you can to increase the monthly amount by any means necessary. Go back through your budget and see what you can cut. If you are able, get a part-time or full-time job until you can get this debt off the books. What I don't want you to do if make matters worse by getting scammed or being taken advantage by some tax paymetn service that will just overcharge you.

I have recently inherited about $80,000 and need to find a place that is safe to invest it since it's going to be my retirement money. I will be 70 soon and would like to retire by the time I'm 75 and need that money to make more money for me. I was very late starting to invest in my retirement. Thank you!

You really need to talk to a fee-only financial advisor. Find someone who can focus on your needs and not selling you a product. With just a short time to invest -- five years -- you are right that you don't want to take a lot of risks if you need to drawn down on that money. You can start looking for a fee-only planner at (The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors) Be sure to focus on not just investing or protecting that $80,000 but a complete plan for how you are going to live in retirement with the money you have, which may include any pension and Social Security. I don't have to tell you that $80,000 is a lot of money and it isn't. 

Hi Michelle, I've saved enough to fully cover the cost of my law school expenses (tuition and living), so have about $70,000 in a savings account. I've been hesitant to invest this money since I know it will be spent over the next three years (I'm in my first semester), but it also seems like a lot of cash to be sitting around earning minimal interest. Would you suggest investing the cash for my second and/or third year in index funds, or keeping it all in savings? I'm no longer working, so losing my savings would mean relying on student loans, which I've worked really hard to avoid.

If you need the money short-term, five years or less, don't take the risk. You know you "need" the money so you shouldn't risk any of it. Keep it in savings. You saved for this expense so spend it for this expense. Forget about that you aren't earning interest. This isn't money you set aside for that purpose. You set it aside so you wouldn't have to go in debt.

So stay on that track.

And good for you for saving and not relying on loans. 

Hi. I've been furloughed since Oct 1st. Also just learned that I have a relatively serious health issue and will need surgery right away. Will my health benefits remain in effect while I'm furloughed, and will I have to pay both my part and my agency's part of the premiums?

Here's an FAQ about your health benefit from OPM

Will an employee continue to be covered under the Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) program during a shutdown furlough if the agency is unable to make its premium payments on time? 
Yes, the employee’s FEHB coverage will continue even if an agency does not make the premium payments on time. Since the employee will be in a non-
pay status, the enrollee share of the FEHB premium will accumulate and be withheld from pay upon return to pay status.

So sorry time is up. Thank you for joining me today.

If I didn't get to your question check out my Monday Mailbag feature because it might be answered there. 

Also you can follow me on Twitter @SingletaryM.

Please join me next week on Thurs. at noon.

Take care.

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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