Color of Money Live

Jul 30, 2020

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

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So sorry for the delay. Still having computer issues. 

But I'm here. 

Thanks for joining me today. 

As always, looking forward to any Thursday testimonies. 

Let's get started.

I lost my stimulus debit card and cannot get in touch with the bank that issued it. Do I call IRS?

No, don't call the IRS because they will just send you over to 

Here's my column on how to get a replacement card. Be sure to read it carefully because it can be confusing to get through the telephone system to order a new card.

Read: Stimulus prepaid debit card is causing a lot of confusion

Also read this: You might have thrown out your stimulus payment. Treasury is sending a letter to tell you how to get it back


I have 2 young children under the age of 4 and I been trying to update there information on the non filers tool how can I go about receiving the extra money for them?

If you have already received your stimulus payment and you receive certain federal benefits the IRS says it is not issuing a supplemental payment for the extra $500 promised for dependents under 17. But if a new stimulus package is passed, there may be a chance you can get the money. Otherwise, you would have to wait until you file a 2020 tax return next year. If you.

If you are applying for a stimulus payment for the first time using the non-filers tool and you give the IRS information about your dependent children you should get the extra $500 as part of your payment.  

I am a rising senior in college and I am looking to go to graduate school. I have to pay rent, food, tuition, books etc. What are some ways I can pay for all that and save for grad school in a year or two?

Honestly, you may not be able to save enough in a year or two if you don't have a lot of extra money after you pay for monthly expenses. So, how about stretching out your timeline so that you don't end up taking out loans?

Or, as you look for a job after you finish college look for an employer who may offer to pay for grad school. It's a benefit that many companies have taken away but some still do offer it. 

Also, if you can move back home to save on rent, etc. do that and then save most of your paycheck to pay for grad school. 

Finally, really spend the time finding out if you actually need to go to grad school. If you aren't trying to be a doctor, lawyer, etc. that requires you to continue on, talk to professionals in the field you want to go into to see how vital it is for you to have a grad degree. You may find they tell you it didn't help them earn more money or get promoted. I worked with a couple and the husband was already in grad school but they were taking on a lot of debt. I simply asked: "Do you really need this advanced degree?"

He kept saying that he did. And then I asked, "Who told you that you do?"

His only answer was the folks at the graduate school. 

He dropped out. Found the very job he was going to graduate school for, proving my point. 

I recognize that this question shows a LOT of privilege. I've been saving for years. Sometime later this year, I'll hit 12 months of take home pay in my savings account. I also have an investment account. Right now, I allot about half of my non-401K savings to the savings account and half to the investment account. When I made my plan, I planned to put more into the investment account or to my mortgage once I hit the one year of savings. But now, I just don't know. I'm a bit worried about total economic collapse, and think that having liquid savings would be worth more than having more money in my house (I already have a low mortgage payment and about 50% equity) or in an investment account that might lose a lot of value if the economy tanks more. What do I need to consider in making this decision? Thanks!

I welcome all questions, even from people who are doing well. You might actually benefit from a financial overview by a fee-only financial planner. Such a plan has helped me and my hubby to put things in perspective. I do recommend people with high-paying jobs to have at least 12 months of living expenses. If you are concerned about your job you could stretch it to 18 months. Then stop there. With the extra money you could put more on your mortgage principal thereby getting rid of that debt faster. My goal is to get rid of my mortgage ASAP so that when there's an economic crisis, recession, downturn not having that debt allows me to worry less. 

Why cant people who havent received the credit for dependents have another chance to update all eligible dependents on there next stimulus check?

Why indeed? It's a question I've been asking for the last several weeks through my column. It's an arbitrary decision by Treasury. And it's not right. It will also be hard to defend if they end up sending out additional stimulus payments. 

Hi Michelle! Just wanted to let you know that I paid off my student loans this week! It would've been a few moths ago but I slowed down the extra payments because of the pandemic to increase my savings. I wish I would've have been following you as soon as I graduated college, and it would've been years earlier! But thanks to you, my husband and I now only have our mortgage debt and the amount we had been putting towards the loans will go to our next financial goals. My hope is that as our kids get older, we're able to pass along your wisdom, model good financial sense, and be able to send them to college debt-free!

WOW! Just the kind of testimony I like. Congrats! So proud of you and thank you for sharing. And while I love the praise, I always say, "You did the heavy lifting."

And, don't wait for them to get older. I was sharing this stuff when my kids where in their car seats. For real. Once, when my son was asking to go to McDonald's, I told him about why we couldn't, that we were saving for him to go to college, pay off our mortgage, etc. His sister, in her booster seat, smacked her head and fussed at him saying, "Kevin, why are you asking mom, now she's going to be talking about some mortgage and  I don't even know that that is."

True story.  

One more tip... stay healthy. And on the companies paying for grad school. I did that. I did my Masters while the economy was recovering from the .com implosion. Got a full time job, and went back for the PHD a year later on the company's dime. I got most of the way through the classwork before the combined workload and a lot of travel got the better of me. I burned out. And dropped out. Recovery took a long time. Some people/jobs can handle it. But my example shows you need to take care of your emotional & mental health as well.

Thanks for sharing. And very good tip.

I did not go to grad school for a MS in Chemical Engineering because the ROI was bad. A MS ChE paid 10% more than a BS ChE but would have required more student loans. I graduated with a BS and was saddled with school loans of 25% of my starting salary. The student loan amount was manageable and I paid it off early. Us your college education and calculate what the ROI is for getting an advanced degree. If you have to take on subtantially more debt, the payoff is decades away. If you are fortunate enough to have "other people"/parents paying, the decision might be diffenent. I was not that fortunate. Good luck with your decision either way.

Yes, please calculate the ROI (return on investment), which means figuring out how much it will cost you to get that degree and how much more you will earn in the future based on the advanced education. I do have a Masters in Business but it did not help boost my income directly. I didn't take on any debt. My first newspaper employer paid most of it and then the Post paid the last 1/3. Just make sure you aren't saddled with debt and as a result any boost in income will for decades be used to pay off that debt. 

I'm asking this for my friend, whose husband passed away two years ago. Since then, she's been besieged for payment by a credit card company whose card she believes was only in his name. (She was an authorized user only.) She has asked the company sponsoring the card (Chase) to seek payment through the husband's estate, but they refuse, although other credit cards in his name alone did go through the husband's estate for payment. I suggested to her that maybe her husband applied for the card using her information as well as his own, but she insists she didn't sign anything and refuses to pay the credit card company because the bill is in excess of $20,000 and she says she can't afford it. The husband's estate is still open, because his father died only a few months prior, bequeathing him a share of the father's estate, and the father-in-law's estate is still ongoing in the state of New York. Meanwhile, this unpaid open bill is affecting my friend's own credit and she says a recent turndown of credit on her behalf indicated that the reason cited was that she had past due payments (obviously for this one account, since she pays all her other bills on time). She also says only her husband's name is on the bill, not her own, and that Chase sent her a document in which they wanted to ascertain her Social Security number, which she did not send back. Chase has refused to provide documentation of her signature or proof that she is responsible for this account. Is there a way she can find out for sure why Chase is pursuing her, and not her husband's estate, for payment? She thinks Chase is in error and, while I suggested she just try to negotiate payment with them, she refuses to do so.

First, if she is still listed as an authorized user the poor payment history or lack of payment is being reported on your credit correctly. Although authorized credit card users aren't responsible for the bill, the history of the account can be and is reported on that person's credit reports. So, your friend should get whomever is handling her husband's estate to remove her as an authorize user and of course close the account. Next, depending on the state where she lives she may be responsible for the debt as a spouse. In some states with community property laws if a spouse benefited from the charges (although how they would know, I'm not sure) that spouse could be on the hook for that debt. 

Read this from Am I Liable for My Spouse's Credit Card Debt?


We just paid off our mortgage about 10.5 years into it! We're now officially debt-free. We were very fortunate not to have had much in student loans and to have been continually employed for those 10 years, but we also made a point of buying less house than we could afford, being frugal with our spending and paying extra into the mortgage when we could (along with investing as well). I kind of want to frame the "loan paid in full" screenshot from our bank. :)

Congrats. And definitely frame it!

I've been waiting a few weeks to submit this, but I finally have 6 months of take-home pay saved up! I would have hit that mark a few weeks ago, but two home repair emergencies came up one after the other. Not repairs that could be put off. But that's what savings accounts are for, right?

Right! And congratulations for hitting your goal. 

Not so much a question, but a chance to vent, because I know you'll understand. My nephew starts college next month. Private college, $49k/yr with $20k of scholarships. (Compare to state university at $20k/yr with only $4k of scholarships.) Brother & sister-in-law earn $160k/yr but live paycheck to paycheck with nothing saved for school. Nice cars, nice house, nice vacations. Nephew now committing to $30k in student loans for THIS YEAR ONLY. And - most of his courses freshman year will be online. "Why not stay at home and save on room/board this year I ask? He wants to experience the full college experience." I get that. But my goodness Michelle, how do I just sit idly by, especially when they ask me for my financial advice since that's what I'm known for in the family? (Thanks for letting me vent.)

Child. Been there. Done that. Parents are hardheaded. I have had this conversation so many times my head hurts. 

It's crazy to take on that kind of debt, especially now. But you can only lead them to good advice.  You can't make them drink the wisdom. 

So provide it when asked. And come here to vent when they ignore it. 

Remember, too, that by going to grad school you're giving up 1-2 years of earnings.

That's right if you go full-time and don't work. 

With mortgage rates at historic lows, do you still contend that paying off your mortgage is smarter than investing the money you're effectively burying in your backyard?


I know you mean well. But have you been watching what the market has been doing? There is NO guarantee in the markets. But paying off your mortgage early is a guarantee you will save that interest. I would never tell people to pay off their mortgage at the expense of saving for an emergency, retirement or to send their kids to college. But if you are on track for those things, pay off the mortgage early. Because when the economy goes into a recession a downturn and you lose your job NOT having debt will help you weather that storm a lot longer. 


Depending on what field you go into, you can also can get paid to go to grad school. I have a PhD in a science field and was able to get teaching assistant and research assistant positions. Those paid my tuition and fees and provided me with a stipend that I could live on, albeit tightly. It was a lot of work, particularly the teaching roles, but I graduated debt free and with a solid resume.

Good point. Thanks.

To the OP: Excellent, congrats! Make sure (1) you receive any outstanding escrow balance; (2) your jurisdiction's property records are updated to reflect no outstanding lien; (3) you are set up to receive your property tax bill directly.

Thanks for this. Good tips!

An encouragement for me paying off my mortgage was to track my net worth instead of only my savings. As you pay off your mortgage, your net worth will increase even if all else stays constant. It is alway difficult to save and easy to procrastinate. Positive reinforment of my net worth increasing was confirmation that paying off the mortgage was right for me. I've experienced plenty of bear markets in my time and don't (always) buy the "advice" that you canmake more in the market. Remember March and April of this year. I also feel calmer and spend less on scotch and valium with a paid off house. Financial stress is reduced with a paid off house. Not eliminated, but definately reduced.

Amen to this!

I am not a lawyer, but surely this is a question handled by an attorney who specializes in estates. If the outstanding debt is $20K, and has been in dispute for 2 years, surely it is time for one. Meanwhile, fascinating to learn from Michelle that (a) being an "authorized user" can impact one's credit score and (b) that community property states may require the surviving spouse to pay the debt.

Often people don't want to seek legal advice so I didn't go there. But you are right. And if the friend isn't liable, a letter from a legal representative could help settle the issue.

My $200 a month subscription is now free. I have "good" insurance and finally asked my CVS pharmacist for a cheaper alternative. My doctor claimed to know nothing about drug prices. The pharmacist took my name and number and said he would call....... 1 week later he called and found some way for me to get it for free (as in $0). A real hero for me ......... I hoped for a good outcome, but my outcome was fantastic. Ask you pharmicist for lower costs ......... you may be suprised at the results.

Never hurts to ask!

Good afternoon Mrs. Singletary! I was wondering if you could in a future column address tax implications of Teachers (and others) working from home. We are reconfiguring our homes into office space, using our internet and electricity, etc. Will we be entitled to tax credits or write-offs for our home classrooms/offices?

Good question to ask a tax professional. Will do. Thanks.

Both my husband and I filed jointly in 2018 and 2019 received a refund both times and they have my bank information on file had a loss in my business so our adjusted gross income for 2018 was 12,000 and 24,000 for 2019 We qualify for the stimulus and still nothing and no help with the phone number they provide

I'm so sorry. But you are not alone, not that having this information helps. The IRS is still making stimulus payments so you may just still be on the "waiting list." 

How do I convince my college freshman that it is better for him to go ahead and start college this fall, even if all or most of his classes are online? He hates the idea, but I'm afraid if he stops his momentum it will be hard to go back. Also he has scholarships that I'm not sure could be put off. We can swing his tuition so that is not the issue. I think he would have trouble getting a job, so you might as well earn some credits. Thoughts??

I hear you. This is hard especially for people with a learning style that makes it easier for them to be in class. 

Just keep pressing your point. But if he won't listen and loses his scholarships that's on him and he should have to come up with the money, not you. 

Hi Michelle, been meaning to send this for years. Retired in2013 full pension, medical from 13 to 16 from union, same coverage. Had been over paying it for a few years. Finished it October 2013, 2-1/2 years early. Thom r long island ny

Ding. Ding. Ding. Getting freedom from the largest debt you carry. Love it.

We refinanced our mortgage earlier this week! We'll be saving $300 a month and are going to redirect that to pay down our student loans (we have sufficient emergency and "life happens" funds). Goal is to have the student loans gone in 2 years.

Good for you! The time will go fast I hope. 

Hi Michelle, lot of talk going on about the gifting. Everything I researched showed it was legal when the rules are followed. Gifting is legal per IRS code. No one person should ever hold the money, so no money should ever be missing. Everyone puts in the same and receives the same. Once people are gifted they can choose to continue the program. This has changed from how they did it years ago. What are your thoughts?

I'm going to be writing about this soon because so many people have been asking me about it.

I would not participate. My research so far shows it is a pyramid scheme and that is illegal. And it may not be true that you don't owe taxes. 

If anyone is participating on this please email me at 

Hi Michelle. I owe about $650 to Capitol One (sadly) on a credit card debt that is about four years old. I have received communications from a collection agency. I would like to take care of the balance now that I am more stable financially, but I don't want to give the collector the money. Can I still directly pay Capitol One what I owe? Thanks for your help!

At this point looks like the original creditor does not own the debt. I would offer the debt buyer a lump sum settlement to be done with it. Keep in mind they probably bought the debt for pennies on the dollar. If they accept your lump sum offer make sure you get it it writing and keep all the paperwork because often such debt is resold but not with the information about your settlement. 

He/him, Austin Tx The good news (at least as of last night!) In aggregate, my financials have recovered and are up 1.26% for this year after a drop of some 18% late March. But like today's apparent dip, I know there will be fluctuation and I believe these will occur all year and into 2021. I am pursuing moving more $$$ into cash to cover my projected spend for 2 years. I will leave some portion of total assets in equities but at my age I don't have years for the market to recover. I will note that my bond funds also took a considerable dip in value late March and early April. Bonds aren't the total safe haven most people believe them to be.

It's a good idea to have a cash cushion for a few years. 

Many thanks for your Sunday column on the new federal push for people to find other jobs that pay more and may not cost as much. The site lists sound engineer as one of the great fields to be in that doesn't require a degree. Thanks to the pandemic, since March you can count the number of employed sound engineers on one hand.

Thanks. That column really resonated with a lot of people. 

Read: Ivanka Trump’s Find Something New career campaign is more hype than help


I had never heard of sou-sou gifting and googled it. Sounds pretty shady. For one thing, it depends on the continuing good will of all participants. I'd hate to be the last guy on the list.

That is exactly the point. Many of these blessing circles or gifting groups are dependent on people recruiting others. That is a pyramid scheme. It may work for the initial folks who come in but not for the late comers. 

I have never heard of it.

You recruit people who pool their money and then each week someone gets the pot of the pooled money. 

Will I be able to receive the Stimulus payment? I receive SSI/SSD, receive Medicaid/Medicare on a set income also receiving SNAP/ Food stamp assistance. My daughter claimed me as a dependent on her tax file 2018/2019. Will I be able to get the second round?

Unfortunately, if someone claims you on their taxes for 2018 or 2019 you will not get a stimulus payment. To receive the money, your daughter would not claim you for 2020. You would then have to file a 2020 return next year to collect the stimulus money. However, if your daughter legitimately is paying most of your expenses you are not entitled to the stimulus money as a dependent. However, in this next round she could qualify for an extra $500 for you. The new legislation is expanding dependent payments to all dependents not just children under 17. 

I'm so sorry, I have to stop here. I read all your questions and comments. I may write a column about your question or please come back next week. 

Take care. 

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Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, "The Color of Money," which appears in The Post on Wednesday 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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