Color of Money

Jul 02, 2020

Welcome to a weekly discussion about your money hosted by Michelle Singletary, nationally syndicated personal finance columnist for The Washington Post.

Did you know: "Knowledge isn't power. The right knowledge is power." So, stay informed.

Want more advice from Michelle Singletary? Sign up for her newsletter on retirement, delivered every Monday.

Read & share Michelle Singletary’s Color of Money Column.

Follow Michelle Singletary on Twitter (@SingletaryM) and Facebook.

Thank you for joining me today. 

Let's talk about your money or any financial issues you have on your mind. 

And please share any good financial news with your Thursday Testimonies. I know I could use some uplifting stories. 

Let's get started. 

I feel torn about the data on black vs. white property values. On the one hand, I don't like that black families hold less wealth. On the other hand, as the mother of young adults who struggle in this housing market, I'm glad that depressed property values are better for POC (especially those whose income is also depressed) who want to become homeowners. Is there a way to resolve this conundrum?

If you haven't read today's story on the bias in property values here it is: Black families pay significantly higher property taxes than white families, new analysis shows

So, yes depressed property values based on racist policies can make it more affordable to get a home. But what happens when your young adults want to sell and can't? 

The answer isn't to continue the discrimination. It's public policies that help make homeownership more affordable. More downpayment assistance programs. Make sure we eliminate bias in credit scoring. Racism does not benefit black families in the end.

Read: Even machines are discriminating against black and Latino homebuyers

 

Hi Michelle! I'm getting married in a few weeks (in a much different way due to COVID!) My fiance and I were both homeowners when we met, so I sold my house. Closing was earlier this week, and with the nearly $100k in proceeds, we just paid off both our cars and are now debt free except for the mortgage on one modest house. With the remainder from the sale, we've been able to fully fund our emergency account and will be able to redirect some of our monthly savings (from the cars and the other house) towards the 529 for his daughter. Most of all, we can BREATHE knowing we have a good safety net in these uncertain times. Not sure we would have made these good decisions without your guidance - so THANK YOU!!

WOW!

I asked for some good news and this certainly hits the mark.

Thank you for sharing!

Now what???? We are saving for a new car to drive across America when Covid 19 is over!!!!

Keep the good news coming. 

I can't wait to be free. Our mortgage is on the way out soon too! And I'm going to have a "mortgage-burning" virtual party. And you ALL will be invited. 

Hello, Ms. Singletary. I currently make $49,575.00 annually. I contribute 9% to my company's 401(k) plan. Should I be contributing more? I also have a ROTH IRA at my job also. I am 56 years old with a child who be a freshmen in college in the Fall of 2021. Thank you.

Before answering, I would want to know if you have savings to pay for school without taking out loans?

If not, I wouldn't increase retirement savings but divert that money to college expenses. I would also want to know if you have any debt aside from a mortgage.

If college is covered then sure boost retirement savings. If you aren't carrying on consumer debt, yes save more for retirement. 

A success story of sorts and a question, please. I have had the good fortune of all my government provided services coming through just as expected during this pandemic. My taxes (electronically submitted in early April) were processed in a timely manner and my refund showed up in my bank account. Same goes for my stimulus payment. Same goes for my unemployment assistance due to a furlough from work (one week of furlough a month through the summer). Although it was quite unwieldy to navigate through the Virginia employment website initially, in the end the system did work, which has proved to be especially useful as the furloughs drag on. I know people are incredibly frustrated with the government systems and that everyone hasn't been as fortunate as me, but I did want to let your readers know that in some cases it's working as needed and proving very useful. In less good news, weekly unemployment without the additional $600 from the government is very limited! I think it would be incredibly difficult to make ends meet without the federal funds. Are there any plans to extend this as the economy recovers and if not, do we contact our representatives to make some noise about it?

I'm so glad you have been one of the fortunate ones who hasn't had to experience waits to get your funds. 

As for an extension of the $600, it doesn't look good. Republicans have been saying they think it's too much or that people like you won't want to go back to work with such a generous unemployment stipend. 

What would you say to them?

Read: Trump expresses opposition to extending unemployment benefits enacted in response to pandemic

And then read this: Keeping higher unemployment pay is just a start. The whole system needs fixing.

 

this is going to sound strange but I didn't move the money on the stimulus debit card to a bank account. I kept the card & I use it for our joint expenses; only groceries or gas. I decided to go on a spending fast with my credit card since I found myself thinking that the stimulus was "free" money & was tempted by a number of very pricey things. the balance on my credit card has been $0 for 2 weeks since I don't put gas on it. I want to see if I can go for a month or 6 weeks with a $0 balance.

I love this idea of a spending fast. Let me know if you make it. I hope you do!

Because of the pandemic restrictions, we've hardly driven anywhere and out-of-state trips to visit relatives got canceled. So even though delivered groceries cost more than our usual, we've had more money to donate to food banks and other pressing needs.

This is not a tiny Thursday Testimony.

It's huge...because of your big hearts!

(she/her, Southwest) On a whim, my wife looked at refinancing numbers for our mortgage and now we are closing on a refi that drops our interest rate below 3%, shortens our term by several years, and cuts a little off our payment. The new term matches the length of time I expect to be working, and we plan on paying extra as we are able. I had the realization last night that I could easily be looking at a couple years of bringing home a salary WITHOUT mortgage payments!

How wonderful. My husband and I are also looking forward to ending the biggest payment we have out of our paychecks too. 

I think all of use who will be getting rid of our mortgages soon should have a mortgage-free virtual party - and even if you have a mortgage you should attend as inspiration.

What say ye folks? 

I didn't make enough money to make it to where I have to file taxes but I did, but i didnt file in 18 an filing for 19 the irs sent me a pin number to where i lived 3 years ago. So i had to mail my taxes, i did on march 20th. Now new New Jersey did my state tax in less then 4 weeks when its supposed to take over 12. Now i was talking to someone on the phone with the IRS an they couldn't help they couldn't take my social an see i didn't make enough to file to send me the stimulus. They said u have to wait for ur taxes to be processed an he said that wouldn't happen till August some time. So i asked him well what if my mailed in taxes were to get lost in the truck load of other mail an he just laughed it off. So my question is do u have any advice

It's been hard for a lot of people waiting on refunds and stimulus payments. At this point, unfortunately, you just have to wait. You do not want to file again and you can't use the nonfilers tool because as the IRS representative said, you have a tax return in the pipeline. But my column yesterday pointed out that the IRS has made processing paper returns a priority. And they are getting to about 1 million paper returns a week so it's possible it won't take until August to get to your return. 

Read: IRS says July 15 tax filing deadline won’t be extended

 

So, GEICO has been running ads all over the place touting their extremely generous 15% policy discount due to COVID and reduced claims. I got my policy renewal in the mail the other day and what a coincidence, the "discount" was almost identical to their rate increase. What a scam. I've been a customer for over a decade, but no longer.

The devil is always, always in the details. 

Michelle, thank you for all you do. We paid off our mortgage three years ago, and started saving most of what we were paying to it for a new car. Now I'm out of work, but because we don't have any debt, I'm taking my time and looking for the right job, and I can take my time and not worry about it. In addition to our emergency fund, we could spend down our new car fund if we needed to. My hoopty has at least a few more years left in it, I think!

Being free from debt gives you the ability to breathe during times like this! 

This is why I preach this all the time. Get that monkey off your back! Free yourself. 

I currently owe $6,568 on my mortgage. My goal is to have it paid off by December of this year. While I still will have a few thousand left in December, I'm going to write a check to get rid of it. This is all balanced on the hope that I will not get laid off in the next 2 months as my organization is going through very hard times and they told us that lay offs were inevitable...

I do hope you are not laid off. Definitely get rid of the rest of the mortgage in Dec. but not if it depletes your emergency fund. No mortgage is great in a job loss situation but you'll also need cash too. 

Hi Michelle, I recently completed my residency program and will go from a resident to attending salary next month, which is about 5x increase in income. I have two questions for you: 1) Thoughts on how to go about hiring/finding a financial advisor? I plan to ask around but once I've got a few people in mind, how do I choose? Thoughts on financial advisor firms versus those that work for big companies like Merrill Lynch, etc? 2) Any suggestions on money tracker apps? I have heard Mint thrown around a lot but wanted to know if there are any other you recommend or like. Thanks!

Question? Will you have student loans? 

If so, concentrate on getting rid of that debt before worrying about finding a planner. And if you have medical debt, keep living like you have been on the resident salary so that you can make a dent in that debt.

If you are student-loan free, finding a planner that meets your needs depends on what you want. Start with just paying for an overall financial plan from a fee-only planner.

As for money trackers, I'm indifferent really. We track of our spending on Quicken and honestly, just a notebook. The tool doesn't matter as much as your commitment to keep track of what's coming in and what's going out. I've done well without the use of any money tracker really. 

Staycation I am on a mission to enjoy the summer regardless. Neighbors have spruced up their backyards as retreats, e.g. trimmed and cut down bushes, trees etc. I am sitting outside and enjoying soft ice cream. I am in love with teleworking. Am I stressed? Yes. Scared? Yes. Eating too much? Yes. Know too many people who have been sick or died of Covid 19? Yes. But, I am determined to enjoy this summer, survive, grow, oand thrive in this time. I am going to have a staycation.

I needed this. I've been down because we had to cancel our two-week vacation to the beach. Our family does this every year. I love the water. I'm so worried about other folks so I don't want to complain but I had been down about not being able to go anywhere. But you are right. I can enjoy myself right at home. 

A few weeks ago. in a column Jill Schlesinger recommended that retirees have two years of expenses in an emergency fund. While I have a life happens/car replacement fund just over six figures, I have no emergency fund. My husband and I have Civil Service pensions, no mortgage or car loans, and pay all of our credits cards in full each month. We take only the minimum RMDs from our 401K/IRA. What am I missing?

You are not missing anything. Enjoy your life. You have enough. 

I would love to be able to read this chat on the WP app, but they don't appear there. Some of them, like Carolyn Hax or Gene W., appear as a special link when they are live, but Michelle does not. In all cases, no transcripts are available (that I can see) via the app. Is there any way to get this changed? Thanks.

I have to look into this. Thanks.

I've been the Executor for three estates: a family member, and each of my parents. The family member died 18 years ago, but I was recently notified of a retirement account that he had, with no beneficiaries listed. My mother died four years ago, and I just got notified of a very small life insurance policy that she had (less than $5,000), also with no beneficiaries. I had gotten rid of most of the estate paperwork from 18 years ago, but I called the lawyer's office and fortunately they have copies of everything. I still have my mother's estate paperwork. Keep those documents! You never know when something might pop up.

You are so right. Or at least be able to put your hands on birth and death certificates. 

 

I have not received my tax refund. It was supposed to be directed deposited to my bank account. How do I check on its status ?

The IRS is just getting its staff back into the worksites. The agency has only just begun processing paper returns. And some electronic returns were held up because the IRS was checking them for fraud. To check on your refund status go to irs.gov and use the "Where's My Refund" tool. Just be aware that your information won't show up until your return is processed.  

Congrats on finishing residency! Rule one of money management - if you can do it. Always live below your take home pay. I realize some people need every penny for basic expenses. But if you can set up a separate account that some of your paycheck automatically transfers to as soon as your pay hits the bank. Live on the main account, ignore the secondary.

Yes!

Hi, Michelle and thank you for your advice and that of your guests. I purchased 1Password many years ago and am very happy with it. It seems to have changed to a subscription format and I wonder if I should « upgrade » to that for any reason. I am 73 and would like to talk to a 1Password representative about this and what is involved in changing over, but am concerned help may only be online. Any advice? Thank you, Judy

Many such companies have staff working remotely. So just call the customer service number to reach a live person who can walk you through your options. 

At least on the iPad, I've been able to search for discussions. Sometimes you have to find a discussion, any discussion. Then at the top of the page, there's a link that says something like "live discussions" - click that and it'll take you to all the discussions for the day. But I agree it shouldn't be this hard

Thanks. I'll ask about this issue. 

If you want to help - write your Representatives and Congress people and tell them the U.S. needs to pay reparations to African descendants of slaves - for hundreds of years of unpaid labor - and hundreds more years of discriminatory education practices, discriminatory housing practices, and overall inequality. And then ask your friends, relatives, etc. to write Congress in support of reparations, also.

You can't see but I'm clapping. 

My car will be paid off in about two weeks. YAY! I just had the oil changed yesterday and when talking to my mechanic, he said I could probably expect another 100,000 miles out of it (it's a Toyota) and believe me, I plan on keeping it until it dies. The car payment will now go to the new air conditioning unit we had to replace at the beginning of June. We had enough to pay for half of it out right, but with my car payment and a little extra, it should be paid off by December. Baby steps!

So happy for your. And yes baby steps.

But after you pay off the air conditioning bill, take the car payments you were making and save them in an account. Use this money for repairs and to save for the next vehicle so when you need to put your current car to rest you will have the cash to pay for it outright. 

We assumed the Covid VA state income tax filing deadline would match the fed, July 15, but it looks like we missed the June 1 deadline for those who owe. Do we have any options except paying a penalty? How will the penalty be calculated? We haven't paid in the past, but I inherited money from my mother's revocable trust when she passed away in Jan. 2019. We thought the taxes would have been minimized by the trust but that doesn't appear to be the case. Any advice you can give would be appreciated!

If you can get through, call the VA state tax office. You may be able to get any penalties waived considering current circumstances. But call today. You do not want to delay paying and risk further fees. 

Briefly, I e-filed Federal in April, and delayed sending the $$ I owed until the July 15 extension. BUT, I realized Tuesday that I had goofed up the form, and a substantial interest amount was entered twice, causing me to owe. By the change, I now get a refund. I used an on-line service which is less than helpful now. My question is this: Do I need to pay what I owed, then submit the amended form and get a refund of the amount I paid plus the original over payment? Or, can I send the amended form, which they will magically marry up with the original e-file? I tried to call the IRS - but OMG - what an amazing phone tree. I never got connected with a person after several attempts to get thru it. OR, can you direct me to a place to get the answer?? THANKS SO MUCH

So, not being a tax professional I'm not 100% sure of what you should do. But keep trying to get to a real person at the IRS. You still have some time. The agency is bringing back people to answer taxpayer calls. Also, the IRS announced it would be taking amended returns electronically by the end of summer, which would definitely help in situations like yours. 

My guess is that since you don't technically owe any penalties that might be charge would be reversed because of the error.

But again, please call the IRS to verify. 

Hi Michelle, I’m sorry to say that I’ve never recovered from the 2008 financial crisis. Right before the crisis I quit an unbearable job that had depleted me to the point of near-despair. I had assumed I’d find work whenever I was ready. After a break to restore myself, I was unable to find paid employment for three years. During that time I had to rely on credit, and my credit card balance went from nothing to maxed out at $19,000. Since resuming employment in 2012 I’ve managed to get along paycheck to paycheck, but was unable to meaningfully save or make much of a dent in my credit card debt. In the past 10 years, while continuing to struggle financially, I’ve paid over $25,000 in interest to my credit card company (Mastercard; about 12% interest). I wish, wish, wish I could be free of this debt. I see now how this debt has hindered my ability to progress financially. I wish I could somehow negotiate a reduced lump sum payment and get rid of it forever. I’ve always paid the bills faithfully and don’t want to miss any payments, though. Do you think it is possible, reasonable, or realistic to try and negotiate with them? Who would I even talk to? What would I need to do to make that happen? I recently received a small inheritance and I could use those funds for a lump sum payment of about half the debt if they would even accept that. What do you think?

I'm so sorry your job loss was so long and happy to hear you are working again.

Definitely call and see if you can get the credit issuer to negotiate a settlement. Call the company today! And here's what you say

-- I have been trying to get rid of this debt after a long job loss. I just can't make a dent. I need some payment relief.

-- Would you accept a cash settlement to get from under this debt. They may not agree since you've been paying. But ask anyway. Offer the half you have.

-- If this doesn't work, at least pay down the debt by the half you have. That will help push up when you can pay it off.

-- If none of this works go to debtadvice.org and get help from a credit counseling agency near you. They are skilled at negotiating such things. 

Now, if you don't feel confident you can negotiate on your own start with the last step and go to debtadvice.org 

Let me know how things turn out. 

The home page of the web Post has a pull-down menu listing various sections and features. If you click on "Live Chats," you get a schedule for all of the Post's chats.

Thanks. 

That is for people who depend on their investments for income so they don't have to take out more than the bare minimum required when the market tanks and stock values are low. You have pensions and already only take out the bare minimum required from your investments. Advice is totally not aimed at you.

Totally not. Thanks for helping out.

Hi Michelle, I'm so sorry to hear about your cancelled two-week beach vacation. As a longtime fan, I know how much you frugally save for it and look forward to it. Sending virtual hugs. My question: a friend called yesterday asking if I could cover her rent because she had to cover the rent for her grown daughter & daughter's boyfriend (neither of them work). I trust my friend will pay me back in a few weeks when she gets her paycheck...but this isn't the first time she's asked for money due to this grown-but-not-working couple. Any advice? I feel like she knows I can cover her at the Bank of Good Friend, but I also feel she's postponing dealing with a Come to Jesus talk about work and money she needs to have with her daughter. FWIW, I gave her the money as a gift last year; but once she pays me back for this rent float, I plan to say no moving forward. What's the best way to help friends without enabling bad habits/behavior?

First, she's blessed to have you as a friend. And I know your friend means well in trying to help her daughter. 

I would not give her the money. As long as she has a backup plan - YOU -- she won't have that moment when she realizes she can't keep enabling her grown daughter. I won't even go into helping to pay for expenses for a boyfriend. Absolutely NOT. 

She should have NEVER used her rent money. NEVER. Worst case the daughter comes back home - minus the boyfriend who isn't working. 

If you give your friend the money you will be enabling her and the daughter. 

I know you are worried about how your friend will pay her rent. But you know what? That worry will be her wake up call that she made a very bad decision. Let her figure it out because unless she does, she will do it again. 

If you must, blame it on me. 

It will be a tough conversation. But it's one I've had to have myself. So I know how you feel and will feel. 

Just don't do it. 

I paid off my mortgage three years ago this month BEFORE I signed up with a fee-only financial planner. She was surprised and pleased when I first met her three months later that I had done so! I took your advice on both these steps, Michelle. I had one of my regular checkups with the planner earlier this week and even with the stock market swings, she says I'm in very good shape. I know how fortunate I am to be fully employed and have low monthly expenses because of no mortgage. But what was most striking about my checkup phone call was the amount of time we spoke about the social unrest in this country and what we can do to give back and step up. Having a financial guide who also shares my sense of what is right and wrong is just as important as her expertise. I felt so empowered in so many ways when I hung up!

Wonderful testimony. Thank you!

My and my spouse's credit score ranges from the 730s to just over 800, depending on the bureau. The biggest "negatives" appear to be our use of credit (we have an American Express and a debit card, so neither actually counts towards credit use) and a thin file (all we have open right now are the mortgage and American Express; closed accounts include two paid-off vehicles and a mortgage refi). Is there anything we should do to change that?

You have great scores. Just keep paying your bills on time. You really have nothing to worry about.

Hi Michelle, I've completed most of my estate and medical planning, but one piece remains, power of attorney. I have no immediate family but I do have a niece I trust, who has medical power of attorney and is my executor. I do want some kind of provisional power of attorney if I become incapacitated, but I don't just want to hand over control now. Does such a thing exist? As I understand it, if you give power of attorney, you are signing over the power of decisions now.

I would suggest you consult an attorney. But I believe you can restrict the power of attorney to be used only in the event that you are incapacitated. 

This isn’t specifically a financial planning question, but I respect your opinion so much that I thought I’d ask. My wife and I are so, so lucky and have been doing just fine over the past several months and have increased our charitable giving because we can do so. But I’m really trying to figure out how to maximize the impact of what we have to offer. I don’t have a defined process and make donations on a rolling basis as I read about what I consider worthy causes. At the outset of the Covid crisis I was donating to several food banks and more recently to social justice and legal defense organizations to support #BLM and its goals. So the question is: am I doing my best by making a number of $100 donations to multiple groups or should I martial funds and make just one or two larger donations? I’m sure it’s OK either way, but what do you think? I know you tithe, but that’s not really an option for me. Thanks - you’re the best. (he/him, Washington DC)

Wow. This just warms my heart. For me, I like to pick specific groups/nonprofits I like and give as much as I can to those groups. But honestly, I actually like your method of looking about and seeing where the need is right now. Plus, trust me when I say nonprofits appreciate any gift size because it all helps. 

Thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you have a wonderful holiday weekend. And please be safe. Wear a mask when you go out and practice safe social distancing. Your health and life is not worth risking. 

Please join me next week. I'll have a tax professional on to take your questions about the 2020 tax season. 

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

Read recent columns
Subscribe to Michelle's newsletter
Color of Money Q&A Archive
Recent Chats
  • Next: