New and Improved -- A Conversation in Finance

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, February 19, 2009; 2:52 PM

Starting next week I'm making some changes to the e-letter to better serve you.

I want to make subscribers a greater part of the discussion. We are living in scary times as the economic mudslide continues to show signs that it's not letting up.

So, I want to hear more about how you think the economy is impacting your own personal finances, or your thoughts on the economic policies being made. Every other week I'll post a question. Then, the following week, I'll post the answers. I might ask about past columns or what you think about the latest efforts by President Obama to rescue the economy.

I'm looking for honesty or humor, and at a minimum, a thoughtful and respectful debate. Your comments will not be posted without your name and city or town. So unless you are willing to be open, please don't send me your answers. I'm generally not a fan of forums that allow people to anonymously comment or criticize. If you're bold enough to say it, put your name on it.

The e-letter will also be shorter in recognition that you're probably as busy as I am. I'm going to make a better effort at answering leftover questions from previous online discussions. I feel so bad when so many people ask questions that I can't get to in the hour allotted for the chats. I'm not promising I'll answer them all in the e-letter, but I'll try my best to pick and answer questions that address popular concerns.

So, let's begin! The question for this week is: President Obama has announced a foreclosure-prevention program that would use more than $75 billion to help 9 million homeowners. What do you think of the effort?

Before you send your comments, read The Post's story about the program so that you are better informed: Obama Proposes Package To Stave Off Foreclosures (Feb. 19).

Send your comments to In the subject line put "COM Question of the Week."

Economic Stress: Whose Hurting the Most?

Freelance writer Sindya N. Bhanoo asked Jed Diamond, author of "Male Menopause" and "The Irritable Male Syndrome," whether the slumping economy is having a greater effect on men than on women.

See what Diamond has to say in Economic Crisis Hits Men Harder (Feb. 17) and visit his Web site: for more.

No Tax Break

If you lost a job last year, you may assume that at least you'll drop to a lower tax bracket, yielding a higher tax refund. But that may not happen according to Kiplinger Finance.

For example, if you were laid off in the fourth quarter and received about 75 percent of your annual income, "there's a good chance that you'll still be in the 28 percent federal tax bracket" reports Kiplinger Finance. Here are a few ways to reduce your taxable income:

* Itemize your tax deductions; you can write off some of the costs incurred while looking for a new job such as transportation.

* Lower income households can deduct medical expenses in excess of 7.5 percent of their AGI. You can also withdraw money from your retirement accounts (penalty-free) to pay for medical bills in excess of 7.5 percent of your AGI.

For more on this issue read Unemployed But Not Untaxed (Feb. 18).

And for more tax advice, take a look at The Post's annual Tax Time report.

Family-to-Family Lending

In the last few weeks, Kiplinger has provided several stories on the subject of lending to family members.

In To Cosign or Not to Cosign (Jan. 28), Senior Associate Editor Anne Kates Smith describes the pitfalls of cosigning for a relative or friend.

While having a cosigner can help a struggling borrower obtain a loan or mortgage, cosigners must make the payments if the borrower fails to do so.

Knight Kiplinger, editor in chief of Kiplinger Publications, warns readers about the family drama that lending can cause and suggests gifting the money, if you can spare it. Take a look at his recent articles:

* The Perils of Lending Money to Family (Feb. 15)

* Should I Lend $50,000 to My Brother-In-Law? (Feb. 13)

Also, check out my column If You Lend, Be Prepared to Lose (Mar. 13, 2008).

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

Charity Brown contributed to this e-letter.

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