Microwaving Contacts, And Other Mega-Goofs

By Michelle Singletary
Saturday, July 21, 2007

Author Pearl S. Buck wrote in "What America Means to Me" that "every great mistake has a halfway moment, a split second when it can be recalled and perhaps remedied."

In today's world, we have to make so many personal finance decisions that mistakes are bound to happen. But what might we all learn if we shared our own head-banging financial errors?

It's with that thought in mind that I decided to create the first annual "My Mega-Money-Mistake Contest."

I am delighted that so many people were willing to publicly admit their errors -- some heart-wrenching and others humorous.

For example, I probably shouldn't have, but I did chuckle at Ken Hock's story.

"Several years ago, I purchased a pair of soft contact lenses at a cost of $350," the Whitehall, Pa., resident wrote. "One morning I went to put my lenses in the heater and the heater would not work. I put them in the case and popped them in the microwave for 30 seconds thinking it would sanitize my lenses. Ten seconds later I heard this pop."

As I said in announcing the contest, the amount of money lost did not have to be huge. Rather, I was also looking for mega-mistakes that illustrated larger points.

That certainly was the case with the third-place winner, Latia Bowles of Washington.

Bowles wrote that when she came into a little chunk of money (an inheritance from a family member), she opted to pay off a bunch of bills, including a $3,500 student loan.

"I thought I had paid my loan off in full, but it turns out that I had a very small balance," she said. "Now almost five years, two children and many other money mistakes later, my credit score drops because my student loan company reported my nonpayments."

Her balance: $55, plus $22 in interest and $12 in late fees. Bowles's story illustrates how important it is to clarify the status of your loan with the lender if you are doing an early payoff. Once you make that final payment, you need to double-check to make sure the debt is cleared.

Second place goes to John Flaherty of Pawtucket, R.I. He's proof that no good financial deed goes unpunished.

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