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Color of Money Book Club

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Michelle Singletary
Washington Post Columnist
Thursday, September 28, 2006; 12:00 PM

Michelle Singletary hosted author Chris Balish for a discussion about September's Color of Money Book Club selection -- "How to Live Well Without Owning a Car" (Ten Speed Press, $12.95) -- at Noon ET on Thursday, Sept. 28.

Michelle writes that Balish's mission is simple. He wants all of us to challenge the notion that we need a car. Most importantly, he says we all should reevaluate the cost of car ownership.

Read Michelle's past Color of Money columns.

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Michelle Singletary: Hey folks. Glad you are with me again today. Hope you are doing well.

I just love this forum and the chance to talk to you live. Anyway, lots of questions so let's get started.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: I'm ecstatic to be car free!

But I have an unrelated question. Recently I checked my credit report and it had a TON of inquiries. This surprised me since I don't do those random credit card sign ups. It looked like my student loan companies were checking my credit every few months, is this normal? Is there a list of somewhere of what kind of transactions result in an inquiry? It looked like when I was shopping around for consolidation rates last year that involved some inquiries, I didn't know that!

Also, are all inquiries treated the same or is one from your loan holder different than from the GAP?

Thank you for any info!

Michelle Singletary: More and more these days companies (your lenders) are checking to see how you are paying your other bills. It's an excuse I think to hike your interest rate if your agreement allows that. Also companies are constantly looking for customers. Pay well and they want you. Pay badly and they want you so they can offer you a card with a high interest rate. If you like you can opt-out of pre-approved offers of credit by calling 1-888-567-8688. The Big 3 Credit Bureaus now use the same telephone number. If you call one, you are opting-out with all 3.

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Chicago, Ill.: Thanks for taking my question and for your great columns. I've just spent weeks getting a fraudulent account deleted from my credit files (filed a police report, contacted the credit agency and the original company, contacted each bureau and asked for a fraud alert on my file). However, I'm concerned that my FICO score has been damaged. The fraudulent account was only for $75, but my FICO score had dropped about 100 points (from high 700s) since I'd last checked it six years ago. In the interim, we bought and sold a house, haven't increased any debt or been late paying bills. Could it be that refinancing our mortgage lowered my FICO score because new accounts were opened? We also opened two small consumer credit accounts for the interest-free option (since paid, and I know not to do that anymore), but I haven't closed them because I thought that would cause more damage. Should I close them, or just wait six months to check my FICO again to see if deleting the fraudulent account has improved my score? Thanks so much for your help!

Michelle Singletary: Definitely applying for new credit can ding your credit score. But none of what happens has seemed to have hurt your ability to get credit. If you haven't done it already get a free copy of all three of your credit reports at www.annualcreditreport.com. And since you say you haven't checked your credit score in a while you may want to buy your credit scores to see where they stand now. You can go to www.myfico.com to buy your scores.

But if you aren't having trouble getting credit and you don't think you will need to apply for any new credit in the near future don't worry about getting the scores.

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Marietta, Ohio: I live in Marietta, Ohio (pop. 15,000) which is located in southeastern Ohio on the border with West Virginia (which is part of Appalachia). The only public transportation is a bus line that runs Monday through Friday from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with very limited routes. I am a single mom of a nine year-old girl. I have a master's degree in library science and work at a library about 2 miles from my house. Last September I tried biking to work for two weeks. In order to get her to school and me to work on time (supervision at school starts at 8:40 and I had to be at work at 9:00) she went with my neighbor's kids. First of all there are hills any way you go. Not nice to go to work all sweaty. Secondly, I got hit almost everyday and got knocked off once (yes, I wear a helmet and just got a bad bruise on my knee). Walking is also not an option because of time and distance (i.e. daughter's basketball, church, the concert band I play in, etc.). I have a cousin who lives in D.C. and he has never owned a car. A friend I work with now who grew up in the Bronx didn't get her license or a car until she was 19. Yes, I have used public transportation including buses and/or subways in Boston, Columbus (OH), Milwaukee (WI), and Washington, D.C. No car in a metropolitan area with great public transportation is one thing. Living in an area without a car and virtually no public transportation is totally different. Until a month ago I was driving a 1990 Mercury Sable before it literally died (the wiring harness went and I had to charge the battery every night). Fortunately, I was able to buy a 2003 Chevy Cavalier with only 28,500 miles on it for $6,800 from a family friend. If all goes well it's the car my daughter will learn to drive. I do try to combine errands into as few trips as possible and walk to many weekend activities in town when there is no precise time I have to be there. But during the week when I have to be places at a certain time and usually with a load of stuff that won't fit in my backpack, I drive.

Michelle Singletary: Listen I hear you. And in my column when I selected the book I believe I said that Balish recognizes that not everyone can live without a car. But you tried. You looked at alternatives and isn't that what we all should do when it comes to our financial lives? See what works. See if you can find a cheaper, easier, environmentally safer way to do things. And I love the fact that you bought a used car.

So you did well.

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Vermont: We have 1 car, which my husband drives to work (no public transportation available). I take the bus or get a ride with a neighbor to work.

My question is about this: Sometimes if I have a dentist or haircut appointment during the day, I ask one of my coworker friends if I can borrow their car off the parking lot. I take it, do my errand, and then return the car all during a time when it would have been sitting on the lot. I always thank them and sometimes give them homemade cookies. I feel that this works well as they are not inconvenienced at all and they seem happy to oblige, but I also feel guilty, that they are enabling us to get by without a second car but I really shouldn't put them in that position of always helping me out. Is this a clever arrangement I should feel proud of or am I freeloading off them in an inappropriate way?

Michelle Singletary: Interesting question. First, if your gut is making you feel a little uneasy I would listen to that. Because that feeling is there for a reason. And think about it, you don't say anyone has grumbled, so it is all you. Maybe deep down you sense or feel or suspect your co-workers are saying yes but really want to say no. Personally, I would say no if I didn't want to do it. And let's face it you are "using" them really. They have to pay car insurance on that car and would suffer a loss if you got into an accident.

Perhaps on the days you need to run errands you could drive your husband to work and use the car that day. Or rent a car for the day.

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washingtonpost.com: Unfortunately our guest, Mr. Balish, won't be able to make it today.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Recently I realized that one of the reasons that many people persist in driving--even when they live next to a Metro and work next to a Metro three stops away--is that generally the fixed costs of car ownership--car payments, insurance and parking--are a far higher proportion of transportation expenses than gas. For car owners, Metro is an additional expense added to those fixed expenses, but it's cheap when those fixed expenses are removed.

There is a psychological incentive to "amortize" those fixed costs by driving more (total expenses go up, but cost per mile goes down). We all know people who own large SUVs and justify the expense by crowing about all the money they save by driving out to Costco or IKEA.

By contrast, because car-sharing plans make you pay in pretty much direct proportion to how much you drive, suddenly it becomes natural to group errands, look for alternatives to the big box stores and learn which stores are close to home (I've discovered lots of mom and pops I overlooked when I had a car and would drive out to the big box stores on Rockville Pike). Speaking of budgeting, my monthly Metro bill now comes out to about $60, not 17-20% of income, but rather, 1%.

Michelle Singletary: Great point. Really. I did that math. I took metro for awhile and then realized my transportation costs didn't really go down because I still had many of the fixed costs of my car PLUS I had to pay for metro and parking at metro.

So I went back to driving. But I have to say that I do make an effort to drive less or combine errands etc. It also helps that I HATE shopping so not too many trips to the mall.

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Opt-out.: Thanks for listing a phone number to opt out of pre-approved offers of credit. But is there also a URL?

Michelle Singletary: Go to https://www.optoutprescreen.com

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Virginia: I used to live in Europe. All the streets have bus stops. All the cars are smaller. They walked more. We do the opposite.

Michelle Singletary: We certainly do. There are people who will drive down to their mailbox.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Michelle-

Thanks for taking my question. I want to know, how do you deal with "charge-offs" on your credit report? I recently checked and saw several of these and it worried me. These were accounts that haven't been active in some time and obviously this is because I did not keep up with the payments. Now I'm in a better situation financially I wanted to begin to address these accounts. However, I have the feeling that a charge off means it's a closed matter that will remain on my credit report negatively. What should I do?

Michelle Singletary: I think it's great you want to deal with the charge-offs. When you pull your credit report it should also list the contact information for the lender/creditor. So contact them and arrange for payment.

Now to prevent the charge-offs from appearing as new delinquencies be sure to let the creditor know they can not and should not update your report in a way that makes it appear as if the debt is new. By having a copy of the report with the last date of activity that's your proof that the debt is old. Also old debt is supposed to be removed from your credit report after 7 years.

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Washington, D.C.: Dear Michelle,

Thank you for your article on setting a budget. I've never had one so I am sitting down this weekend to see where my money goes.

That being said, I never overspend, I have no debt of any kind and have an excellent credit. Now I need to see how I can save more.

Michelle Singletary: That's great you are taking action. And not having debt is a good step toward financial freedom. But I know a lot of folks who don't have any debt and still don't have savings.

So good for you for taking charge of your financial life.

And remember the percentages in that column are just a guideline. You may find you spend more in one area but that means cutting somewhere else to make it all add up to 100 percent.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Michelle -

Would you please remind me how to request my free credit report, to include my credit score? Thanks - love the chats, and that new photo of you is great!

Michelle Singletary: Thanks. I thought the old photo made me look homey.

Anyway, you can't get your credit "scores" for free. You have to pay for the scores. But you are entitled to a free credit report from all the bureaus once every 12 months. To remember you could do it around your birthday.

Also, if you are turned down for credit, you can get a free credit report.

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Washington, D.C.: My parents said they would co-sign on a house loan with me. Could that hurt them in the future if they decide to move and buy another home?

Michelle Singletary: It most certainly can and I highly advise against co-signing for anybody at anytime for anything.

Really, don't ask them to do it. Co-signing means they are agreeing to pay the house note in FULL if you can't. Having that debt also means they reduce the amount of credit they can get or qualify for. If you need a co-signer it means you aren't ready to buy. Seriously. These days lenders are qualifying everybody and their mama for credit so if you can't get it on your own, you are not ready.

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Tenleytown: Hi Michelle!

I also liked your budgeting article, and like the other poster, have never had a budget.

My question is this: How do you categorize expenses for pets, books, other things like this? Hobbies?

Thanks!

Michelle Singletary: Really you can create your own categories, but would put it under misc. or personal expenses.

For the pet expenses you might want to make that a category all by itself. When I had a dog, I spent quite a bit on vet visits, grooming, special dog food, etc. So I just budgeted for it by itself.

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Baltimore, Md.: What is a charge-off?

Michelle Singletary: Charge-off is really an accounting term. Means the creditor/lender is assuming you won't pay and removes the debt from its books as a receivable. And just so you know just because a company has listed your debt as a "charge-off" doesn't mean that you no longer owe the debt.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I took Metro to work for 20 years. Now I work in a place to which I can drive in 15 minutes or Metro and bus in about an hour, including ten minutes standing outside.

So that's my breakpoint: an extra hour and a half to use as I choose.

Michelle Singletary: I agree with you. Time is money. That's also what happened to me. It took so much longer to get to and from work on metro and I had to pick up my kids so I went back to driving.

And I HATE driving. Always have.

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Charge-off follow-up question:: Thanks Michelle! One more question: Once I do pay off or down these charges, how long before my credit is restored? Basically, is it a matter of take care of the problems and the score goes up automatically or take care of the problems and eventually, after also doing some good things for my credit, the score goes up?

Michelle Singletary: Actually the damage has already been done to your credit score. So paying now won't really help your score and shouldn't hurt it either technically. Every month, year the debt becomes old makes it better for your score.

So right now paying an old debt is just about doing the right thing.

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Michigan City, Ind.: Michelle, could you perhaps devote a column to the dangers of car title loans? They are like payday loans, only worse, because, in addition to the truly outrageous interest rates, you can easily lose your car! My neighbors' sensible (we thought) college graduate 23 year old son took out a $500 loan for quick cash, and his parents wound up paying over $4,000 to get his car back. If it can happen to these relatively sophisticated people, it can happen to anyone.

This has been a sobering experience for all of us. I've made sure my kids know to come to me or a reputable lender should they ever need "quick cash."

Michelle Singletary: I really do have to write about this. Thanks for the suggestion. I truly think that is one business model (along with payday loans) that should be wiped from the planet. Think about it: if you are borrowing against pay you haven't earned with interest rates that smack of loan sharking, you are in so deep that you shouldn't be doing that very thing.

In fact, for my television show, Singletary Says on TV One, I want to do a segment about that. So if you live in the D.C. Metro area and you are deep in debt because of a payday loan or loans or title loan, please e-mail me. or if you know someone who is doing this get them to e-mail me. I'd like to help you out. E-mail me at singletarym@washpost.com.

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Northwest Washington, D.C.: Hi Michelle. Love your columns. Just recently started to read about personal finance and you've inspired me to plan for my future. This is my situation: I'm a relatively recent college grad (less than 2 years) working at my first job just over a year so I'm not making much. But I've managed to accumulate about $5,000 in savings. (I've also started to put aside money in my job's 403(b) retirement plan). It's all sitting in one savings account earning piddly in interest and I have some still undefined plans for the future such as buying a home, dream vacation, etc. How should I split those savings? Should I have 4 different savings accounts at a bank, invest in a CD or mutual fund, give Internet Banks a shot, or what? I'm still a novice to the world of personal finance and still have a lot to learn. But some direction would be nice. Thanks for any advice you can give me.

Michelle Singletary: First thanks. Second, congrats on being a new grad.

Now for that $5,000. How much does it take to run your household for three to six months? I ask because I'm guessing much of that $5,000 should be your emergency money. If so you want to keep that liquid. But these days you can shop around for some good rates. Try ING Direct or go to www.bankrate.com and look for some of the best savings rates, either at a bank with bricks or online-only.

You should also consider money markets. The thing is if you are going to need that money in less than five years you do not want to "invest" it. But again there are options to get more for your money.

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Payday loans: On the subject of payday loans - what do you think of the phenomenon of more and more payday loans popping up in more affluent neighborhoods? I always associated those places with run down neighborhoods but now see them around half-million dollar homes.

Michelle Singletary: I think lots of folks are broke at all income levels and this industry is recognizing it's not just people living in less affluent neighborhoods. It's sad really.

When I started researching this I was shocked, SHOCKED at the number of people making good money who have used payday loans.

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Ashburn, Va.: I have some serious concerns with the automatic 401(k)/retirement enrollment option that employers have over EMPLOYEES' money.

I know that a lot of people who don't participate, simply can't afford the loss of the little bit of money they do get after taxes. I was one of those low paid working for about 10 years. Life is expensive!

The second issue I have is that the information being passed along is usually very complicated financial planning/investing data that the "Average Joe" doesn't necessarily understand. What gives employers the right to gamble with their employees' money? Regardless of the intention!

While I am now enrolled in a plan, I'm not getting any matching. That's a whole 'nother issue.

Michelle Singletary: But you see the thing is you can opt out at ANY time. So if you really can't afford the forced savings opt out. They employer has to put back the money and you can't be penalized financially for it.

However, I suspect that many people -- even those making little money -- can and should put some aside for retirement. I truly believe this. And I know because I was raised by one of those people. My grandmother made no money by any decade's standard and she was able to put money away for her retirement every payday. If she could do it so can others.

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Arlington, Va.: I understand that co-signing on a loan or lease can be very dangerous.

I understand that getting a credit card in college can be very dangerous.

But if college students wants to get into an apartment after graduating, they either need good credit history or someone who is willing to co-sign.

How would you recommend a potential graduate handle this issue?

Michelle Singletary: That's just not true. You can get into an apt. without having had credit all thru college. Will it be harder, yes. But it can be done. I did it and know many others who have.

What I suggest is this: The last month or two of their last year in college, get a credit card. Then charge $20 a month and pay off the entire bill when it comes due. That's it. It only takes a few months to establish credit these days.

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London: Cookies are nice, but I hope people also at least top up the gas tank after borrowing someone else's car, whether you used a lot of gas or went only a short distance.

Right now, I'm in London temporarily, and without a car, and love it almost all the time. I've dropped two pants sizes since being transferred over last spring (I prefer to walk whenever possible), and also am finding so many little places tucked away I wouldn't see if I were in my car hurrying by. I've also learned to shop slower than I used to. There are two groceries next to each other, so I go to the smaller one first, jot down the prices of items on my grocery list, go next door to the bigger one and get whatever is on my list that the smaller store doesn't have for less, then return to the smaller store and finish my shopping. Last weekend my bill was 15 pounds instead of 23. But, even though I love the freedom of not having a car, when I return to the States I'll have to go back to using mine because there isn't public transportation around my office location, and where my office is located is an area that is too dangerous for walking or riding a bicycle, between the very bad traffic and the twice-monthly drug busts, shootings, rapes, etc.

I'll still shop slower when I return, though. That can be done any place that has more than one store - even if it's between a gas station convenience shop and a grocery store.

Michelle Singletary: Good point. Paying for the gas used is good.

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Maryland: The reason you see payday loans in affluent neighborhoods is because - to quote a funny commercial - these people are often "in debt up to their eyeballs" and have no way to pay an unexpected bill.

Michelle Singletary: Totally true. And probably leasing those big fancy cars in the driveway :o)

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Alexandria, Va.: I am one of those people who believes I cannot be without my car because if that wasn't the case I would have gotten rid of my car a long time ago. However, I ONLY use my car when I deem it necessary (driving to the Metro station to work, grocery shopping, or going to see my sick aunt). I'm only 23 years old but I try to drive a little as possible. If it's walking distance I'll walk it. If there's reliable public transportation to it, I'll take that instead. I know all to well about the cost to own a car so I try to keep it as low as possible.

As a result, I've had my car (paid cash) 3 years and I only put roughly 24k miles on it (including traveling from PA to VA on a occasion to visit family). I fill up on gas twice a month on average. The last time I filled up this go 'round was Labor Day.

Michelle Singletary: I love it!

And the cash part especially.

Nothing like paying cash for a car. FREEDOM!

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Michelle! Thanks for this chat. I'm getting married in 4 months, and my fiance and I are keeping our finances separate until marriage, at which point we'll merge into one account. I was wondering if it's ok for me to give him a loan/gift of money before then. He had a high interest rate student loan that he's aggressively paying down, and he'll finish paying it before the wedding. However, paying for the loan means he is struggling a lot to pay for basic life necessities (including rent, other bills, etc.). Meanwhile, my student loan has a tiny interest rate, and we both agreed that I should pay the minimum and save my extra money in a much higher rate savings account. I also have a really high level of savings now. I want to give him some money to ease his financial stress right now; I mean, he's going to be paying for my student loan for the next 25 years, why can't I help pay for his right now? What do you recommend?

Michelle Singletary: Don't give him the money. First because you aren't married yet, but it also builds character to pay your own debt. I'm serious about that. Sounds like you have a great guy. So let him be the man and pay his debt.

Once you get married then you TWO as ONE can take on whatever debt is left. Because I've seen many couples months even weeks to go for a wedding and call it off.

Stay the course.

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Co-signing a loan: In theory and in general, I agree with you that it's not wise to co-sign a loan for someone. However, my mother did so for me when I bought my first house, and it worked out fine. I was 35 and very responsible, paid for everything myself, on time, and kept the house in good condition. So I think it depends on the circumstances and the individuals involved.

I enjoy reading your chats, by the way. Thanks.

Michelle Singletary: Thank you so much. And I know for many it does work out. But when it doesn't -- and it often doesn't -- it can be horrible.

My advice remains the same and is not situational. Do not co-sign! That way it always works out.

It's a risk that people should just not take on.

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Bowie, Md.: Sorry, 12:56 and just thought of my question:

To establish credit, are there any of those pre-paid cards (credit-card, not gift card) that aren't a complete fee rip-off?

Michelle Singletary: There are and you are talking about "secured" credit cards. Try that web site I listed earlier, www.bankrate.com. Also try your credit union and your own bank. Many offer secured credit cards. With such cards don't pay a lot of fees, especially if they are high. Don't call a 900 number. In other words other than a small set up fee and perhaps a small annual fee you shouldn't be paying hundreds of dollars for a secured credit card. After all you are putting money in a bank account (typically $250 to $500) as security so the bank is not taking any risks since that money is your credit limit.

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Washington, D.C.: Good afternoon,

Thank you for the chats. I learn so much by reading.

Do you use any computer software to make your budget, or do you do the old-fashioned way of paper and pen?

Michelle Singletary: You are so kind. Hubby uses Quicken (he's the treasurer). But there are others that are just as good. Hey a pen and paper is good. Just the act of writing it down takes you a long way.

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Washington, D.C.: Re: College grad with $5,000 in savings. How is this possible!? I'm in my second, almost third year out of college at a relatively decent paying job and the thought of ever having that much in a savings account seems unreal! In addition to student loans (which are always a kick in the butt) high D.C. rent, and other activities that suck me dry (like my unpaid, part-time internship in addition to my full-time job), I can't imagine having anything extra to save. How is this possible and what do I need to do to get there!?

Michelle Singletary: One word -- Budget.

Also, you have to put the money away before you pay anything else, even your rent.

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Arlington, Va.: Michelle-- is it better to pay off about $50,000 in student loans (interest rate approx. 3.1%) or save for a house? We are in our early 30s and do plan to have a child next year. Our current dual salary is $170,000 but thanks to paying off one set of student loans and credit card debt, we have next to nothing in cash savings (we do have our TSP, IRAs, etc). It would probably take us close to two years to either save up the $50k or pay it off in the loan. What would you advise? FWIW, we each have a credit rating in the 800s.

Michelle Singletary: Pay off the debt. I know other people will tell you otherwise. But that debt is a weight around your neck. Get rid of it. With that kind of annual salary you should do it. But I do caution that you should still have an emergency cushion. You must have one even as you are paying down that debt.

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Washington, D.C.: Michelle,

This isn't related to today's topic, but I was wondering if you could summarize how long certain bills should be kept. For example, how long should one hold onto phone bills, gas bills, credit card bills, etc before shredding them? Thanks.

Michelle Singletary: Keep such statements for six months to a year or until after tax season. Then if there isn't anything on them you need (like proof you bought some expensive electronic equipment) shred and toss.

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Fred from New Orleans: Michelle,

I just purchased a car (used) for my daughter. She was shocked about how much insurance costs for a 21 yr old. I told her to start saving for the next 6 months of insurance now! To help her along, what is a good book on budgeting/finance for a young single adult?

Michelle Singletary: Check the archive of my book club selections. But if I may be bold, try my first book, "Spend Well, Live Rich." It's easy to read, full of funny and sad stories and lots of ways to help your daughter get the right attitude toward savings.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Your advice to D.C. was dead-on, but she should encourage her fiance to be slightly less aggressive with the pay down if it is creating such financial stress. My husband and I married this year, and initially planned to pay off all debts within 6 months. But it turned out that doing so would leave us with very little emergency cushion, so we had to stretch it. Yes, we're paying a little more interest, but if something big happens with a car or health emergency we won't be digging a new hole for ourselves.

Michelle Singletary: Thanks. Glad you agree. And yes, make sure you have a cushion but after that pay off the debt ASAP.

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San Jose, Calif.: Hi Michelle,

I really enjoy and respect your column. I'm reading your book, "Your Money and Your Man," and learning a lot there, too. Here's my situation -- I put myself through grad school about four years ago and soon after graduating, was diagnosed with a serious kidney disease. My health insurance wasn't the greatest and between some stupid charges in grad school and thousands in medical bills, I ended up with some major credit card debt.

Now I'm paying it off and haven't put anything on my cards for two years. I hope to have them paid off by the end of 2007. I'm also contributing 6% to my company's 401(k), with a 50% match from my employer.

Meanwhile, two years ago I met a great guy who is completely debt free and makes $25,000 more than I do. In the long term, this is wonderful. But right now he wants us to vacation to Europe together, and while I could scrape together the money, it would mean less going to pay off bills and toward my savings account.

That said, I am very frugal when we're together and spend little on unnecessary things. The last time I bought clothes was probably with a gift card I received for Christmas last year. I think sometimes my man feels hurt that I don't spend more or contribute more to the fun things we do together. I've suggested an alternative vacation this year and Europe next year, when my debt is paid off. But he's miserable at his job and really has his heart set on Spain to get away from it all, and really wants me to come with him. He said he'd pay for some of our vacation costs but not all (understandably). What do I do?

Michelle Singletary: I hate to tell you but you SHOULD NOT go. You can't afford to go and the right thing would be not to go. And don't let him pay either. I know this is a tough sell but stay the course. And think about it. If this man can't respect that you are trying to do the right financial thing perhaps it's not Mr. Right after all. If you go to Spain, even if he pays part of the costs, what you are really doing is taking money promised to others (your lenders, creditors, doctors) etc. That's not right. Remember people provided services, goods etc. and behind those services and goods are people who have to be paid.

So Spain is out for now. Explain this again to your man. If he doesn't get it, if he still pressures you...he's wrong and that should be a huge red flag for you.

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$5,000 in savings???: Let me guess, they live at home? Or did mom and dad pay for school? Heck one of my girlfriend's parents paid for her college degree and gave her a car right out of college so she was free of debt from the get-go. Me? I had a student loan, car loan, credit card loans (Mom didn't actually pay for my books - she just paid the minimum and handed the balances to me as soon as I graduated), and living at home was not an option so there was rent, too. Budgeting is fine and dandy, but some of us have to budget just to keep our creditors from hounding us.

Michelle Singletary: Little player hating going on?

Hey, it is possible to save that much even with lots of expenses. Don't hate. Appreciate!

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Saving after college: I know it's late - but to the person who doesn't know how the other one saved $5k -- that was me -- 19 years ago. Start out small and don't be intimidated -- $20/a week adds up quickly -- set aside any small amount from your paycheck -- once you get used to it, increase it -- but $5 or $10. Don't think you have to put away a large amount.

Michelle Singletary: That's what I'm saying too.

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Michelle Singletary: Well we are at the end. Great discussion today. Thanks to all who wrote in. And I'm sorry if I didn't get to your question. I will get to some in one of my upcoming e-letters or in my print columns.

Also, I apologize but not sure what happened to my guest, Chris Balish. Nonetheless his book is good and very thought provoking.

See you back here in two weeks.

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