Color of Money Live: Social Security, tithing, taxes and CFPB, oh my!

Jan 18, 2018

Join Washington Post nationally syndicated personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary for an online discussion.

“Knowledge isn’t power. The right knowledge is power.”

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So glad you could join me today. 

As always, here to take your general personal finance questions. Love to hear your Thursday Testimonies (got out of debt, savings is growing, stopped being the ATM for some trifling relative, etc.)

Also, note I have a guest Carter Dougherty, communications director at Americans For Financial Reform. He's here to talk about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and any consumer issues on your mind. 

So let's get started.


Hi Michelle- We have always made a point to live below our means and have 12 months of expenses (and then some) in savings. My SO was let go last month and, while certainly stressful in some respects, not having to worry about how we will pay bills is a huge gift. Thank you for being so clear and consistent about building a "life happens" fund.

Thought I start off with this testimony. 

First, I'm so, so sorry your SO is out of work. But so happy you have backup funds to lessen the stress!

Michelle, thanks for having me. Love talking about CFPB, and trying to figure out how we can help it help your readers. Onward.

Hi, and thanks for all you do to help us understand personal finance. I had a store credit card with a $300 balance, then got laid off. I contacted the card issuer to request some sort of hardship assistance. I was told none existed. In the months I was unemployed, unfortunately, that card became the least important thing to pay (in trying to send in SOMETHING, I wasn't paying the minimum amount required, so I'd get a late fee and a finance charge). I called 14 times in two months trying to get help. I was told each time that no hardship assistance/program was available. Then I got a letter saying they wanted to work with me. I called again (and am now reemployed) but was told to submit my most recent pay stub to qualify for their hardship plan; I was told I make too much money. I'm able to pay the minimum due and actually wanted to just pay it off. But now the balance is $620. I got a letter this past weekend saying it's been sold. Am I obligated to pay this new company instead of the original one? What will happen if I submit payments to the original one instead? Will my credit report say the new company name or the original one?

First of all, good that you're employed again. You got in a pinch and now you're making a good-faith effort to pay your debts and be a good borrower. Happens to many folks. Don't let your creditors forget that.

Your experience had several twists and turns that require explanation, which you've done nicely. Now you need to get that information to someone who can help.

I'd suggest filing a complaint with the CFPB's consumer complaint system. Go to and tell them what happened.

You'll be asked for your details. It's a secure system so go ahead and give them. They'll ask you to narrate what happened. You can cut and paste what you wrote Michelle.

Now, I'll be honest. Thanks to the new guy running the agency, they may not be working as hard to resolve complaints as they did before. 

If you don't get results, ask them what's up. They work for you, not the other way around. And if you then don't hear anything, email me at We are also trying to understand how the system is doing. I can't promise results, but we'll see.

Good luck.


Our family is definitely losing the ability to itemize this coming year because of the new $24000 standard deduction for couples. Should I explain to my church why my pledge is going down by 33% because of this? They will think I'm being cheap but I would argue that they really have been just getting a big bonus all these years that I could itemize. I realize that you believe in tithing but I consider tithing to be an Old Testament rule not any different from the prohibition on mixing meat & dairy (cheeseburgers) or the prohibition on eating shellfish (crabs).

Okay, going to try to unpack a lot here.

First, you can still make deductible charitable contributions. That hasn't changed. Whether it's enough to make it worth NOT taking the higher standard deduction for 2018 is really your individual situation. 

Second, yes I believe in tithing and we could have a LONG conversation about the debate on this issue. Tithing was not abolished with the New Testament. But more importantly it's simply about wanting to give back. My husband and I choose to carve out 10 percent of our gross income to support our local church, which in turns supports 100+ ministries that help, support and care for thousands of people in our community. For us that is money well spent and we don't quibble about whether it's a rule. We see it as being grateful for our abundance.

Lastly, and just as importantly, if you believe in supporting your church, why does it matter if you get the deduction or not? Sure the deduction if you can take it is a bonus, but that should not be the main reason you give. And if it isn't, than no need to explain why your giving is lower.

Your giving is lower because you want to give less. Own the truth. 

In Texas, at least 30% of nonprofit and faith-based social service clients are in trouble with payday and auto title loans. What should policy makers in Washington be doing to stand up for our charities and the families they serve against the financial drain caused by these abusive loans?

We had hoped to see the consumer bureau help communities by enforcing new protections for borrowers of payday loans. These protections are common sense: making sure that loans are made that can be paid back; making sure payday lenders - who usually get access to their borrowers' bank accounts- can't debit those accounts more than twice a day if the account is empty; and making sure loans advertised as short-term can't simply be rolled over until they are, in effect, long term with exorbitant annual interest rates like the national average of over 390%.

CFPB is now under a new controversially appointed acting director who has said that he wants to weaken this rule, or maybe even kill it. Policy people in Washington should listen to service providers like yourself and follow through on the rules that are now in place. A few Congress members have also introduced bills that would cap small-dollar loans at 36% annual interest, all fees included. That's a more reasonable rate, and in keeping with how much lenders are allowed to loan to military service members. It's also at or above the rate of interest that fifteen states currently cap loans at. What's good for people in the military should be good for the rest of us too.

would you suggest a single 55 yo person with a job and a decent retirement portfolio use a community bank, a large bank (not WF), or otherwise?

Really, look at what services you need and pick the bank, credit union or community bank based on that.

I have several accounts. One with a large bank because I travel a lot and HATE paying any ATM fees. 

I also have a few credit union accounts. When I did get car loans, the credit union offered the best interest rate. I set up different accounts because I use them to pay the tuition and fees for my two kids in college. I like to keep the funds separate just to keep track in case I'm ever audited. Once to show cleaning all money in and out from their 529 plans were qualified expenses.

So figure out what you need/want and pick the Federally insured institution based on those needs and wants.

Your recent columns about when to take Social Security show a disparity of views with each point being valid for that specific individual. One thing to remember, however, is that we don't know what the future holds. A life-threatening illness nearly killed me, twice, several years ago at age 63. I retired one year later at 64 and immediately took Social Security. I had done all the calculations about the break even point, but for me the main reason was I realized life is always shorter than we think it will be and the money will enable me to enjoy it. My 2 cents.


Read Michelle's latest columns: 

The great Social Security benefits debate: Take it early or wait?

Early or late: One senior says ignore the conventional wisdom of waiting to take Social Security. Take it at 62.

You are absolutely right.

Please folks, click and read the links.

When to take Social Security is such an individual decision. And a great part of the decision is often based on things you can't predict. When will I die? Will I get sick? Can I keep working until 70?

So you do the best you can to make the most educated guess. 

Then don't look back. Have no regrets.


The guy Trump put in charge of CFPB, Mick Mulvaney, has a totally separate job of figuring out the budget, and we're days away from the federal government (maybe) shutting down. He's long harshly criticized the very idea of the bureau. He's already said he wants to stop its rule on payday lenders and cut the bureau's budget. He seems to hate the very agency he's supposed to be leading. This seems ... not normal.

It's the conflict to end all conflicts. Mulvaney has said he is opposed to the very existence of the CFPB, yet he is now leading that agency? No, that is not normal. The CFPB has recovered $12 billion on behalf people around this country taken for a ride by their financial institution, and fought for an end to rip-offs and scams. It is this work that Mulvaney apparently wants to destroy.

Also, I do think it's kinda crazy that he has a day job running the federal budget, not a small thing either, and he is also supposed to take on the most powerful industry in the world. While avoiding a shutdown? That's in the news.

The big lesson here is that independent regulators are supposed to be independent of politics. The White House is political. Trump needs to nominate a professional with a proven track record of protecting consumers.

My current contribution to TSP is 15% per check (%10 by me, matching = the other 5%). I'm trying to determine how much "value" there is in continuing to bump that up vs. using those little bumps now towards for other things? I have no debt, no payments on anything, some savings, a small online investment account, etc. In other words, when the decision of where to put "extra" doesn't have an obvious answer (as it so often does), what's the best way to decide?

One thing stuck out for me.

"Some savings."

It's key to have retirement money but it's restricted money for the most part until you turn 591/2

So if an financial emergency comes up where will you get the dough?

You might have understated your savings. But if not, you should have at least three months of living expenses saved. Look at what's happening this week. The government could shut down and some folks may have to go weeks without a paycheck. It's happened before!

You should also have what I call the "life happens fund," for the things in life that happen such as a major car repair. This pot of money is going to have funds coming and going as you pay for things. Got a $1,000 car repair bill? No problem. You don't have to swipe it from your emergency fund (which you want to keep safe for a layoff, shutdown, etc. ) You use money in the life happens fund. Start with $500 and eventually, if you can, build this pot up to a few thousand. 

So if you have extra money and you are on pace to save well for your retirement, I would build up your savings. 

How should I feel, if I have made financial mistakes in the past? I want to change the process and my thinking.

You should feel 100 percent normal. Mistakes are what we learn from if we're smart. So you're normal, and smart. That's a start.

One of the major, but less appreciated, functions of CFPB is its consumer education work. There are TONS of materials on its website that will help you manage your money, and help you get a fresh start. They range from the very specific (using tax returns to start a savings fund) to the very broad. You seem like you're looking for a broad approach.

I thought what CFPB did at this link was innovative:

It's a correspondence course for the 21st century. An email course on managing your finances. It will get you thinking about how you can make that fresh start.

It covers areas like tracking your spending, paying down debt, and creating a budget.

Good luck.



Ditto on what Carter said.

Even I, the GREAT, Michelle Singletary, makes money mistakes. 

Okay, you know I'm kidding right. I don't think that high of myself. 

But seriously, my job is to read, research, interview all things about personal finance. And I still get headaches trying to figure all this stuff out. I still make mistakes. Buy more than I should, miss language in the fine print, etc. 

The key is to try and make sure the financial mistakes aren't life changing. But when they are, figure out what went wrong and try not to do it again. 

First--I volunteer near your church and drive by it frequently. There are ALWAYS a ton of cars in the parking lot, and I am thankful/grateful that you support those ministries (and us, too!). Second, the tax changes will hurt so many charities that I think it is really, really important to consider why you give in the first place. If you give for the deduction, maybe you are missing the point. My husband and I fall very much into the Michelle column vs the writer--we are blessed and want to give back. And the things we support via giving (not just the church) remain important to us and important to contribute to. And the need is now greater than ever.

Amen. Amen. Amen!

Seriously, for the person who wrote in, if you still have the funds, don't pull back. Your church needs you. Your community needs you if your church is doing what it should with the money it receives.

I have been so blessed in my life. I give because there is need. I give because to whom much is given, much is required. I give as an example to my children. I give because one day I may be in need and sure hope there are resources there to help me. 

My husband and I will still be able to itemize but even if we couldn't, even if today they took away the charitable deduction, we would still give and give like we've done in the past. 

And if more of us gave, perhaps the government wouldn't need to do as much as it has to do now.

My brother-in-law asked his financial advisor when to take Social Security. The advisor asked, "When are you going to die?". Since none of us know the answer to that question, the advice was to take Social Security whenever it makes sense. I plan to start payments as late as possible. I was the higher income earner. I want to leave a bigger payment for my spouse, just in case I pass away first.

And that's a good choice for you. 

So you are absolutely right. Early or late, you won't know if you were right until you die. Then you can't have bragging rights.

Just make an informed decision. 

And don't feel guilty if your financial decision calls for you to take it early. It is what it is!

I tried to get my sister to get a credit union banking account and she finally did ,but she is still addicted to those check cashing locations. We can bring people to water,but some will always want soda.

You are so right!

I do the best to give people good advice. Many take it. Others ignore me. Fine. You grown. 

At least I tried.

I'm basically in the same position as the first poster. At the ripe middle age of 57 I am looking at being out of a job very soon. In fact I wish they would just go ahead and release me. My husband has a small retirement income coming in, enough to pay the mortgage and utilities, and we have savings to cover my cobra. He has to take RMD's from his IRA at this point so I know the bills will get paid. And my company is getting sold so I can apply for Unemployment since I will be let go just because they don't have a position for me. I will continue to look for work as I need to do something for a few more years but my husband is not in the best of health so I am kind of looking forward to taking the summer off to take care of him and to take the first extended vacation I might have in 40 years of working full time. Keep preaching about savings!

So sorry about your job loss. But I love that you framed this all as a testimony! 

Savings can truly be your savings grace.

Some states have laws that limit payday lending. But with most payday lending being done over the internet, do those companies have to follow the law of the state where the customer lives?

So 15 states and the District of Columbia have strong usury laws capping small dollar loans at 36% - or even lower in some states. In those places it doesn't matter if the loan is made out of a storefront or online.

If you know someone falling into a debt trap with interest rates above what their state allows, they should consider filing a complaint with both the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as well as with any consumer financial protection office of their state Attorney General.

It may not always be obvious exactly what the cost of an online loan is - and that is a problem. You could end up looking at pull-down menus, numbers that don't include fees, and all sorts of other tricks or traps. But the law, and the people who enforce it, are the final word on whether that loan is legal or not in your state.

Incidentally, this is one more reason why we need a strong CFPB at the federal level. When lenders are hopping around in cyberspace (some even work from islands in the Caribbean!) it's going to be hard for states to enforce the law. If there's not a strong federal role here, it will be bad for consumers.

I've taken to using the month of January to update my financial "stuff." I shop for bank account interest rates, do a dry run of my taxes to check my deductions, run through the retirement picture (check pension, IRA, and SS accounts) and then assess the possibility of paying things off early. This year I found a savings account that would significantly improve my interest rate from my current account. I checked that I've reduced my tax refund from $3K to $1K so I have my money sooner. I've run all the retirement numbers and still on track. Switched to a credit card (that I pay off monthly) with rewards that pay for things I already need to purchase. I like doing this and then being able to only do monthly account checks the rest of the year.

Man, I could use you in my ministry. Always looking for folks like you who know this stuff. 

Good for you. Love the idea of the January checkup! 

Hi Michelle, I am trying to help get my sister out of serious debt. She lost her job, couldn't find another one so she took a much lower paying job in a retail store to make ends meet, and is constantly struggling. She has lots of credit card debt and while my parents kindly provide assistance for now, that aspect can't last forever. My sister wants desperately to get out of debt but feels overwhelmed and ashamed that she got this way. My family really wants to help her. My question is if seeing a financial counselor or debt counselor would be a good idea. I'm thinking someone who can go over her budget, help her develop a plan to pay off her debt, and maybe put her in touch with any gov't agencies that could offer her financial assistance. Neither my parents nor I are experts with money, and I think advice from professionals are often better received than advice from family! Do you 1) think this is a good idea and 2) could you direct me to any organizations that provide this type of counseling? I did go to but i wasn't sure if this was the right resource. Thank you!

You are a good sibling. I can read your compassion for your sister. Interestingly the same thing happened to my sister several years ago. She loss her job and it was awful. My husband and I had no problem stepping up to help her. We paid her car note for a year to help relieve some of her stress. 

Please share the transcript of this chat with your sister.

Hey there, it's me Michelle Singletary.

First, I want you to stop beating yourself up. A lot of people make money mistakes. Maybe you didn't know the right thing to do. Maybe you overspent for a host of reason. Maybe you were handling everything until you loss your job. It doesn't matter now. Once you know better do better.  And I hear that's exactly what you are trying to do. You have a good sibling lean on him or her. Let your family help give you a hand up. However help them by talking to a budget counselor. I do recommend going to Find a nonprofit consumer credit counseling agency near you. If you can, do an in-person session. If your sibling can go for support, I recommend it. You may qualify for a debt repayment plan with a small (and it should be small) monthly fee. It's worth it to have them help you talk with your credit card lenders. 

Most importantly know you have support.

And remember this is just one season in your life. With the right commitment from you and support, his too shall pass.


Michelle Singletary

P.S. If you have any questions, any at all, please email me at In the subject line include something that I said for you to reach out.

Hi Michelle! Will there be a Financial Fast this year? I have participated in several and I have friends who have been inspired to join me. Thanks. Marian

Funny you should ask. Writing about three types of financial fasts for Sunday's column, including the 21-day financial fast. So please read!

In Oklahoma -- where we have the highest per capita usage of payday loans in the nation -- we collected comment cards in support of the CFPB's proposed payday lending rule. One church collected over 250 in just one Sunday. Everyone's so angry about the predatory nature of these loans. What else can we do to make Washington, DC understand we need a strong payday rule?

First of all, thank you for your work. It sounds like yours is  a community which is paying attention to what's going on in Washington, and making sure Washington does right by you.

I'm somewhat new to the advocacy work on payday and I've always found the work of churches to be inspiring in this area. Congregations have been working for decades on this issue, helping parishioners, even paying their loans. And the feeling is strong, across political affiliations. Because it's in The Bible.

 We really need to get your voices raised higher. How can politicians ignore the voices of pastors whose congregations are feeling the hurt of these kinds of debt traps?

The stories of the people who actually get stuck in a cycle of debt should be at the center of the conversation, as well as the stories of those pastors and others who have to help them out of debt.

Write letters to your local newspapers, as well as to newspapers in Washington. Write letters to members of congress, or, better yet, show up to their offices. Honestly, tweet at them. Speak so loudly they can't help but hear you.

Sure, you can tell them any old lie you want. They'll see through any of them.

The truth will set us all free.

But I get it. A lot of folks are not happy with the new tax laws. But that's another fight. 

Don't punish your religious organization, nonprofits and charities. They need our help more than ever. 

People gave EXTRA in the past because it only "cost" them 66 cents on the dollar, or whatever their tax bracket was. Now it costs them 100 cents on the dollar, so they can't afford to give EXTRA. We'll just have to agree to disagree. Have a blessed day. I'm being sincere.

This is a safe zone. So I accept your comments. And it's okay that we disagree.

I just don't want people to make an excuse for why they can't give what they can afford. 

And, can I challenge you.

Is it possible to cut elsewhere so that you still have that extra? 

Just asking. No judgment. Truly. 

The "break-even" analysis for Social Security claiming drives me up a wall, as it's the completely wrong way to thing about the question. Remember, Social Security is a form of insurance. The purpose of insurance is to be there when you need it, in cases when you don't know how much you will need. If you did a break-even analysis for home owner's insurance, you'd decide not to buy any, because on average you'll pay more in premiums than you will receive in payments. But that extra money is worth it because insurance will help you if your house burns down. If you manage to avoid that fire, would you think that you shouldn't have bought insurance? Of course not. There are two main factors that make it hard to know how much money you'll need in retirement: 1) Health costs are unpredictable, and 2) life spans are unpredictable. You can choose to insure against health costs, for example by buying Medigap and long-term care insurance. (You should also have savings to pay for out-of-pocket costs). And you can insure against the "risk" of living a long life (which is a good risk!) by waiting until 70 to claim Social Security. If you live past the break even age, you'll have extra money to cover the extra costs. If you don't, it's true that you'll receive fewer payments, but you'll also have fewer years of retirement to pay for.

All really good points, which is why this decision drives all of us nuts.

Really what we are all trying to to is make sure we have enough. 

Hello, Is it a good idea to save prior to paying off debts or should I wait until I'm completely debt -free to start saving?

Save some while you are also paying down debt. 


Because if there is a financial emergency and you have no savings, what are you likely to do?

Borrow. Put it on a credit card.

So save something. I suggest aim for between $500 and $1,000 at least. Then stop.

So if you have $100 extra month for debt reduction. Set aside $50 to build up a savings fund. Put the other $50 on the debt. Once you get a decent savings pot. Stop and put all the extra toward the debt.

News outlets reported this morning that Mick Mulvaney, CFPB "acting director," has decided not to request funds from the Federal Reserve. He apparently said that the CFPB has enough money and doesn't need any for reserve fund (that his predecessor used to maintain). Was this action taken in good faith or is this another step to undermine the agency and its work?

Okay, you sound like a policy wonk and news junkie, so let me try to make this a tad more accessible to Michelle's readers.

The CFPB is the only federal agency working to ensure that existing consumer protection laws are fair and vigorously enforced.  In short, they are taking on the unfair practices of big banks and Wall Street.  Thats a big job and the CFPB needs every resource to get the job done. We're talking about a very, very powerful industry here. They have the money!

If Mulvaney is asking to cut CFPB's funds, we really should be asking what part of CFPB's job he believes need NOT be done.

Work to shut down scam artists?  The CFPB stopped a scam that falsely promised to lower student loan payments in exchange for fees up to $2500. That took a lot of work. 

How about work to make sure banks respond to consumer complaints? The CFPB has responded to 1.1 million complaints involving problems with mortgage, credit cards, car loans, bank accounts, money transfers . . . et, etc, etc. That kind of work takes funding.

All Michelle's readers are taxpayers, so they should know that CFPB is a dollar-for-dollar success. I mean, it's not even close. It has recovered BILLIONS for consumers, but spends far, far less than that to operate.

That's called a good return on investment. If we all had that on our IRAs, we could retire much earlier.

Now: you tell me, is Mulvaney acting in good faith?

President Trump appointed Acting Director Mulvaney Mulvaney has announced that the ​Consumer Financial Protection ​Bureau may waive an early deadline to begin setting up the system needed for lenders to comply with the payday rule, and that the ​Consumer ​Financial Protection Bureau intends to begin a rulemaking to reconsider the payday rule. What do these steps mean?

Michelle, your wonk readers are warming my heart. Again, let's break it down a bit for citizens and consumers.

The new boss at CFPB, Mick Mulvaney, doesn't like the rule that the previous director put in place to bring some fairness to payday lending, the business of small-dollar, high-interest loans.

As citizens, Michelle's readers would probably want to know that Mulvaney took more than $60,000 from payday lenders as a congressman.

They probably also want to know that the agency worked for YEARS to get this one right. And now Mulvaney is starting the process of dismantling it.

So: consumers beware. If he succeeds, and you're in one of the 35 states that allow some form of payday lending, these loans will continue to be very hazardous for your financial health.

I’m having a problem with a lender and am not getting an answer from the company. With the all the changes going on at the CFPB, can I still file a complaint with the agency?

Still file. Can't hurt. 

In your newsletter today, you asked "do you feel you are worse or better off financially since Trump was elected?" This business about deducting donations brings it full circle. A year ago my wife decided we were going to crank up our donations to causes hardest hit by the actions of the new administration; we've done so, regardless of whether we could write them off or not. For 2018 we'll be taking the standard deduction... and donating even more, since those causes need it more than ever before and our tax burden is going down a couple of points. We're fortunate to have stable jobs. If the imbeciles controlling all the levers of power in government won't use their power for good, it's up to us to do what we can with what we have.


Read Michelle's newsletter here.

Good for you!

I likely won't be able to itemize deductions under the new plan, either. I will still give what I can afford. But I also think we need to reconsider donations and what is deductible. My $100 donation to the local food bank is a lot less money than a $10k "donation" to the Kennedy Center or Met Opera...the quotes are because that big donation is really purchasing something like better seats, access, those sorts of things. Whereas my $100 goes right into hungry mouths. The arts are important, but let's face it, those big donations are the rich making things nicer for the rich.

I don't want to pit the arts against a food bank. 

A clarification. If you get something in return for your donation, you can't take the deduction. 

Still the arts are important. My husband and I support Arena State in DC above our subscription. 

I think you get into a dangerous territory telling people who they should give to. 

If one needs the money to live on, there is no choice; take it when you need to. But, for people who have some flexibility, the biggest risk in retirement is running out of money. If one dies relatively early and doesn't wind up getting as much as (s)he could have, well, you're dead. But if one lives a long life (well into 90s or longer), the extra money every month from having waited to start social security can literally be a lifesaver. Social security is supposed to (help) provide in retirement; it's not supposed to be a calculation of how fast can one get back the money (s)he paid in.

All true too. But again, we are all guessing. You may want the money now to do more and you may get to your 90s and not need a lot of care but you also can't do the things  you might have wanted to do in your 60s and 70s. 

Hi Michelle, Your terrific columns have me reconsidering how I "hold" my accessible money. I've never had a life happens or a specific emergency fund. At the moment, I have a checking account with a balance that hovers around $3000 and I have an investment account of individual stocks that I've held for decades, about $100,000. Before reading your columns, I planned on the stocks being money that I could access in about a week's time if I needed it. Most also pay dividends. I'm now wondering if I should sell some stock and put the money into life happens/emergency fund accounts. But I kind of like that its not so easy for me to overspend in an emergency, like upgrading a broken appliance, because the stocks are out of sight and out of mind. If it matters, I've hesitated to sell most of these stocks because I've held them for so long that I'll need to plan for taxes on the capital gains. Thank you for your thoughts!

Or how about, just boosting your emergency/life happens with any extra money you can find. This way you don't have to sell the stocks and create a taxable event when you don't need the money anyway. 

That's what I would do.

Thank you for this comment and for your "unpacking" regarding tithing and charitable contributions. Lots of good points to consider.

You are welcome!

Not the first poster, but many of us in this area are going to see a significant increase in our federal taxes this year. It's possible that for some people that's the difference in how charitable they feel than can be.

I get that and can appreciate that. 

Hi Michelle, I'm going through my filings, paperwork, etc. in anticipation of getting my taxes done, as soon as I get everything I need. I think I remember you doing a segment on how long to keep some paperwork and what can be shred. Would you please provide again? Ummm, I don't Facebook or tweet, etc., so a link would be good. Also, the new tax laws don't affect 2017 filing, correct? Thanks!

Don't have time to find the column you want but you should be able to search for it online or hit me up on my email and I'll try to find it.

And yes, for the most part the new tax laws don't impact your 2017 filing. 

I'm in my early 40s, and just went back to single. Other than a house with a huge mortgage on my own, I don't have much other savings/investments, and my income is pretty plain. Could you give me any suggestion on how to start my personal financial plan at this phase of my life?

I'm jealous of you, not because of your financial situation but because I am not in my early 40s. That doesn't just mean I'm old, it means you have time to get where you want to go. 

For starters, you have time. Decades of working life left, and time to make smart decisions. And there's no shame in wanting some guidance from Michelle or anyone else.

If you don't want to spend money on a financial adviser, I'd suggest starting with a kind of evaluation tool that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has created. It's here:

The Financial Well-Being score is something you can create for yourself without entering a lot of your own financial data into a website. And it's free!

What I like about it is that you can go back and re-do the score at a later point, and see how you're doing. You can compare yourself to other groups of Americans, if you like. 

This is a basic tool, but I think it fits well with your very basic question: How do I start this new phase of my life?

Best of luck.


Thank you all for joining me today. Great discussion about a lot of things, taxes, giving, CFPB, social security, etc.

Love it. 

If you haven't already, please subscribe to my two Post newsletters - Retirement & Personal Finance. 

And please, please, read my columns and share. Trying to grow the population of folks reading about personal finance. The better informed people are the better decisions they make. The links to read the columns and sign up for the newsletters are on this chat page. 

See you 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 Wednesday and Sunday and is carried in more than 120 newspapers.

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Carter Dougherty
Carter Dougherty is the communications director at Americans for Financial Reform, a coalition of over 200 consumer advocates, civil rights groups, labor unions, faith organizations and community activists.
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