Personal Finance: Consorting co-workers should be careful

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Thursday, February 10, 2011; 10:27 AM

Interested in pursuing the cutie in the cubicle next to you? You might want to push the pause button on your passion. A failed office romance can impact your professional career.

Even as many companies implement rules to ban office romance, many workers find themselves willing to take the risk to find love.

The Vault 2011 Office Romance Survey found that 65 percent of respondents said the recession has had no effect whatsoever on their willingness to take romantic risks at work, with only 31 percent claiming that they are less willing now than before the recession.

Andrew Strieber, producer of Careercast.com, says sustaining a business and personal relationship can be an unsuccessful balancing act.

"At least in normal life, if you look at the person you thought you'd marry and suddenly realize that you actually can't stand the sight of them, you can just break up," Strieber writes. "But when this person is a work colleague, you may still have to maintain a professional relationship no matter how badly things end. Depending on the circumstances, failing to do so could cost you a raise, a promotion-- or even your job."

Fortunately not all office romances end in the dumps. Just look at Bill and Melinda Gates. The billionaire and his wife met at a press event and are still working together, now heading the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

So if you decide to pursue your office interest, tread cautiously.

"Proceed carefully," adds Strieber. "Handle your office romance the right way and you might live happily ever after; screw it up and you could wind up looking for a new job."

Here's this week's Color of Money Question: Have you ever had a workplace romance go bad? If so, tell me about it. Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com and put "Consorting co-workers" in the subject line. Please include your full name, city and state.

Live Video and Text Chat Today

At 11:45 a.m. log on to my live video chat where I'll answer some of your money questions. I'll also give another shout-out and a free t-shirt to a new Debt Defeater.

And stick around after that because at noon ET, the financial conversation continues with my live online text chat. Send in your financial questions early or read the transcript later.

Weathering The Storm

The Survey of Marital Generosity found that the strains of the recession strengthened the bond of many married couples.

Research conducted by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia found that while the recession has many people stressed out, two positive things have come out of it regarding marriage. According to the survey:

* Many couples report that the recession deepened their commitment to marriage.

* Among those couples who were considering a divorce prior to the recession, many said the economic downturn caused them to postpone or put aside divorce.

The data come from the National Marriage Project USA's Survey of Marital Generosity (SMG), a nationally representative survey of 1,197 married Americans aged 18 to 45.

Of those couples who said they had redoubled their marital commitment as a result of the recession, 52 percent were likely to report being in "a very happy marriage," reports the Post's Annys Shin.

The recent findings echo previous reports about the declining divorce rate during the recession.

"For some, the financial stresses associated with the Great Recession have hurt their marriages," said Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project. "But for others, this recession has fostered a new commitment to marriage that appears to have improved the quality and stability of their marriages."

Divorce Creating Cash Issues for Some College Students

In last week's e-letter, I told you about a recent study in The Journal of Family Issues that found that many divorced parents contributed less to their children's college education than did married parents.

According to researchers from the University of Wisconsin and Rice University, married parents contributed about 8 percent of their income to their children's college education and met 77 percent of their college-related expenses. Divorced parents, on average, contributed about 6 percent of their income and met 42 percent of their children's financial needs. Remarried parents contributed 5 percent of their income and met 53 percent of the college costs.

So I wanted to know: "What impact did your parents' divorce and/or remarriage have on your college funding needs?"

Here's what some readers had to say.

"My parents are currently involved in a divorce and battle over money all the time," says Kevin White of Massena, N.Y. "When I started college two years ago, my parents pledged to pay for my first four years at a state school and then I would have to pay for the next three years of law school. Unfortunately, one year into college, my parents are divorcing and I find myself now taking out loans for years two to four in addition to law school as they try to split up the money and recover what they have lost. I am also struggling to pay for a place to live and even food. I have thought of dropping out and going to work, but I am still in school and am now deciding on whether to go through with law school or not. It has made things very difficult for me."

Roger Gray of Los Angeles said his parents' divorce had virtually no impact on he and his siblings.

"Please don't infer that there is another reason that students can use to claim they are victims if they don't succeed and fabricate another reason to put a guilt trip on divorced parents," Gray wrote.

"Parents are not obligated to pay for college. They are obligated to provide their children with a caring, nurturing home and provide them with a moral foundation to make life-long decisions," wrote Jamie Langholdt of Sioux City, Iowa.

Suzanne Gilman of Pasadena, Calif., wrote that her parents' divorce hit her hard financially.

"My parents, both remarried, each looked to the other to fund my Ivy League education after telling me not to worry about funds when choosing a college," she said. "Their divorce has significantly affected my future and my career choices, as I worked as much as 30 hours per week in college, hurting my grades and my college life. It further affected me when I chose to go to business school instead of medical school solely because it was a two-year program instead of four. My kids won't have to make choices like that."

Tax Tips for the 2011 Filing Season

If you are getting a refund this year, consider using some or all of it as an opportunity to save.

You can buy Series I U.S. Savings Bonds, which are low-risk bonds that grow in value for up to 30 years. The bonds earn interest and protect you from inflation. Here are some things you need to know about buying the bonds, according to the IRS:

-- You can buy up to $5,000 in U.S. Series I Savings Bonds in multiples of $50. Any portion of your refund not used to buy savings bonds will be deposited into another financial account ¿ such as a checking or savings account or can be mailed to you as a paper check.

-- To buy the bonds with your refund, file IRS Form 8888, Allocation of Refund (Including Savings Bond Purchases). For more information about the U.S. Savings Bonds refund option, visit the IRS website.

Upcoming Events

Join me for an informative panel discussion, "Behind the Headlines: A Discussion on Race and the Recession in Metro Washington." The free forum will be on Wed. Feb. 23 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at The Rennie Forum, Prince George's Community College, 301 Largo Rd., Upper Marlboro, Md.

The panel will cover the recession's impact on local black families and will look at how economic policies in Washington have affected African Americans. The forum will also examine the first of three groundbreaking public opinion polls on issues facing the black community, conducted by The Washington Post, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University.

I'll be moderating what I'm sure will be a dynamic discussion. The panelists will include ,strong>Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus; Michael A. Fletcher, a Washington Post national economics reporter; Jeff Johnson, a Black Entertainment Television journalist and motivational speaker; Dr. Julianne Malveaux, a noted economist and educator; Cecilia Rouse, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers; and the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network.

To RSVP or to submit a question for the panel, please e-mail behindtheheadlines@washpost.com.

For more details about the events, visit its Web site.

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.


© 2011 The Washington Post Company

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