Diversity and the debt “super-committee”

Where’s the diversity?

That’s a question many are asking about the twelve newly appointed debt panelists that have been selected to tackle the federal deficit. The panel has one African American, one Hispanic and one woman.

“Half the committee ought to be women, even though women only account for 17 percent of the Congress,” Terry O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, said in an recent interview, reports Post’s Felicia Sonmez. “Women are going to be disproportionately affected by what the committee does. I’m very troubled by the fact that these 11 men and one woman are now going to take the place of 535 legislators.”

Women aren’t the only ones underrepresented. Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez (D-Tex.), chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, says that “the Latino community has the most at stake if further cuts are made to programs critical to getting our economy back on track.”

House Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn (S.C.), the only African American on the committee, recently commented on the imbalance. “I’ve always said that we can be no more or less than what our experiences allow us to be, and if you’re going to put together this kind of effort on behalf of the country, you ought to have as many experiences and as many backgrounds as you possibly can participate in it.”

Recent Census data shows that 51 percent of the U.S. population is women, 16 percent Hispanic and 13 percent is African American. In Congress, 17 percent of the elected officials are women, six percent are Hispanics and eight percent are African Americans.

This week’s Color of Money Question: Do you think the debt panel needs more diversity? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Debt Supercommittee’ in the subject line. Be sure to include your full name, city and state.

Shared Sacrifice

Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and a legendary investor, has had enough. Or more accurately, he says, he’s rich enough.

In a recent New York Times Op-Ed article, Warren Buffett wrote about the urgent need for Congress to fix the country’s current fiscal problems. He charged lawmakers to stop pampering the financially privileged with tax breaks and to increase tax rates for the wealthy.

 “While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks,” Buffett wrote. “Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as ‘carried interest,’ thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors. These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.”

And because of this preferential treatment, middle class families are usually hit hardest when it comes to taxes, Buffett says.

“The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot,” adds Buffett.

To fix the tax gap, Buffett proposes raising the taxable income of households making more than $1 million and additional taxes for those bringing in more than $10 million dollars.

Is Buffett right?  Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com.

Co-signers Beware

As it becomes harder for people to qualify for a home loan, many may turn to relatives and even friends to co-sign their mortgages.

But should you co-sign if asked?

In The New York Times, Vickie Elmer wrote about this tough decision that many people are facing. “Money managers and lenders caution those who are asked about co-signing against jumping into such an arrangement,” she writes.

 

Do you really know all the financial risk of co-signing for someone? Many people think co-signing means they are the backup borrower. However when you co-sign you are agreeing that the loan is yours too. You become fully responsible for all of the loan should the primary borrower default.

You should also know that the mortgage shows up on your credit reports, and that could affect your ability to borrow money or buy a home. Any late payments by the principal borrower will show up on your reports.

As one financial planner said, “the only reason they want you to co-sign is they can’t afford the house. Make it between them and the bank” on the actual loan.

I want to hear from you. Have you ever co-signed for someone and it went horribly wrong? Send your co-signer horror stories to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Be sure to include your full name, city and state. Put “Co-signers Beware” in the subject line.

Debt Defeater

Have you recently achieved financial freedom?

Tell me how you became debt-free. Include the amount of debt you got rid of, how you paid it off, how long it took to be debt-free and how it feels to colorofmoney@washpost.com.

Put “Debt Defeater” in the subject line. You will receive a free t-shirt if I read your story during my live video chat.

School Shopping Tips

Eleanor Blayney, consumer advocate for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, offers tips on her FinancialFinesse.com blog on how to save on back-to-school shopping.

 “As a nation, we will spend approximately $23 billion to equip and clothe our kids for grades K to 12,” writes Blayney. “When our college-bound children are considered, that adds another $46 billion to the price tag. This anticipated surge in consumer spending is second only to the money we will spend for the holidays at the end of the year.”

Here are Blayney’s tips on how you can make the most of your back-to-school bucks:

--Shop tax-free – This year, almost two dozen states offered some kind of sales tax reprieve, generally for two to seven days. Visit your state’s Comptroller Office or Department of Taxation to find out if your state is participating.

Here are states in which the tax-free period is currently underway or soon approaching:

Maryland: August 14th-20th

Connecticut: August 21st-27th

Texas: August 19th-21st

--Shop with a list. The easiest way to overspend is to not know what you’re shopping for.

-- Shop without the kids. The National Retail Federation found that 51.7 percent of back-to-school spending is directly influenced by kids. Oftent he kids nag you to spend more than is needed.

Upcoming Events

--I’ll be speaking at the Women’s and Girls Fund of the Mid-shore fundraising event on Sept.15 at 7 p.m. at the Avalon Theater in Easton, Md. This event raises money to provide grants to non-profit organizations that provide a number of services to women and girls in several counties in Maryland. For example a grant to a Cambridge youth center is funding mentoring, tutoring, and after school programs for mothers and children from the low-income neighborhood it serves.

For ticket information, call 410-770-8347 or pay online

--On Thursday, October 16th, I will be honored with the Bridge Builder Award at The Training Source Inc. 18th anniversary dinner and auction. This is a fundraising event for the Training Source, which is a great nonprofit organization in Prince George's County that among other services provides training and employment placement assistance, leadership training for at-risk youth, and free professional clothing for job candidate.

The event will be held at Newtown White Mansion at 2708 Enterprise Rd., Mitchellville, Md., 20721 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more information about the event go to www.thetrainingsource.org.

Tia Lewis contributed to this e-letter.

 You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to singletarym@washpost.com . Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested. 

 

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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