Higher Education Advice

Michelle Singletary
Thursday, October 29, 2009; 10:10 AM

If you're having trouble finding work, perhaps the answer is more training. Career expert Vickie Elmer says additional education can help the transition from prolonged joblessness to steady work or can assist with lateral career moves. Check out Go back to school to smooth career changes (Oct. 25).

Of course, if you don't have a job, the cost of going back to school might be a major roadblock. But, if you can avoid it, don't go into debt. It's the same advice I give to undergraduates.

Yes, higher education is often necessary these days, but at what price does it become cost prohibitive?

In Sunday's column, I wrote about the new trend in funding education - a decrease in expensive private loans and increase in federally-backed loans. If you have to borrow, certainly the better choice is through the government loan programs. And that process starts with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA form. You can find information about the application at FAFSA's website.

Are The Prudent Paying More?

Deals columnist Allan Sloan says the government bailout is cheating the American people, especially those who were financially prudent and those who live on a fixed income.

"The government is spending trillions to keep interest rates down to support the economy and prop up housing prices, and those low rates have inflicted collateral damage on savers' incomes," writes Sloan.

Greg McBride, senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com says, "It's a direct wealth transfer from savers and retirees to overly indebted borrowers."

Heene Hoax

In the latest news, balloon boy's mom, Mayumi Heene, allegedly confessed that the incident was a hoax. The stunt may have been an attempt to better shop a reality television show.

For last week's Color of Money Question of the Week, I asked whether authorities should make the Heene's pay for the search for their son if the situation proved to be staged. There was little disagreement among your responses.

Peter Cook of Andrews, N.C., wrote: "If it was a hoax, taxpayers should not have to pay for it. The Heene's should pay the entire bill."

P. Pogorzelski of Grafton, Mass., says, "Heene was fully aware that media promotion comes at an expense but, apparently, was both unable and unwilling to pay it. Now he must be prepared to pay the piper - even if that means civil and criminal charges."

"Think of all the other lives they put at risk," says Kristin Abbott of Leesburg, Va. "Planes were diverted, and thousands of people had their schedules utterly messed up. How do you quantify that?"

William Volker of Orlando, Fla., says, "By all and any means - every nickel! Isn't falsifying 911 calls a crime? And are criminals not made to pay costs and restitution? Reality show? This is just the sort of thing the world needs less of, not more, and what would we call this show?" One of Volker's suggestions was "Lying with Mommy and Daddy."

Linda Bunge of Petersburg, Alaska wrote: "It not only wasted a whole lot of money; it also tied up emergency personnel and equipment that might have been needed elsewhere for a true emergency."

C.M. Perry of Alpine, Tex., says "To learn that it was a hoax chilled me in a very different manner--that a parent would willingly use his/her child to gratify his/her acting ambitions! The children should be taken by Child Protective Services and placed with relatives or a foster family. The father, especially, and the mother should be tried for fraud, child endangerment and--lord, I wish this were possible--sheer stupidity and greed. And then they should pay through the nose."

Credit Cards and College Payments

Here are some questions submitted to last week's live discussion that I couldn't get to:

Q: I use one credit card. I pay the balance in full each month. I have not received any mail about changes to my interest rate or yearly fees. Am I in the clear?

A: There's a good chance you may have received a notice and didn't, well, notice it. If you are unsure, call your credit card company to verify if any changes have been made to your account.

Q: I stop paying [for college] the instant I know of a sexual relationship for an unmarried child or a marriage. My girls have heard from me for years - married people can work things out themselves and pay their own bills. Unmarried people can live by my rules or pay their own way. If you sleep around, you are declaring yourself an adult. Pay your bills.

A: Oh my, this is definitely an edgy position in this day and time. And I suspect it will generate a lot of debate.

But I don't disagree with you. It sounds like you want the best for your children. It appears you've clearly laid out the rules that with your money comes some personal responsibility on their part. So, if you've lovingly warned them (as opposed to cruelly dictating) that your financial support -- while they are in college -- comes with stipulations, and they take your money, then they should suffer the consquences when they break your rules.

Charity Brown 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.

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