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Michelle Singletary
Washington Post Personal Finance Columnist
Thursday, February 14, 2008; 12:00 PM

Need advice about how to handle your personal finances? Whether the struggle is saving for retirement, organizing your bank files, talking about money responsibility with your spouse or loved one, Post personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary offers her advice and answers your tough questions.

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Today, she was joined by Victoria F. Collins, executive vice president and a principal of The Keller Group Investment Management, Inc. Collins is co-author of "Couples and Money: A Couples' Guide Updated for the New Millennium" and "Divorce and Money 3ED (3rd)."

Michelle's other guest was Johnny Parker, life coach and author of "Blueprints for Marriage: Building Love for a Lifetime."

Read Michelle's latest columns, check out her Color of Money Book Club selection archive or sign up for her weekly e-mail newsletter.

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Michelle Singletary: Good afternoon all and Happy Valentine's Day.

Hope you haven't spent too much money on your honey :)

Anyway, let's get started. I have two great guest to answer your burning love and money questions.

And of course yours truly won't hold back a bit.

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Brooksville, Fla.: Just a comment about grammar and spelling: the correct spelling for the name used to describe a girl's sweetheart is - beau. It may be old fashioned but it beats - boo - as in boo hoo which occurs after he leaves her.

DSE

Michelle Singletary: You are so unhip.

Boo is the latest and I think cutest way to refer to your beau. It is slang and I didn't use it thinking I was writing beau. Just trying to have some fun and bring you into this century.

Don't believe me do a goggle.

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Date Lab: Honestly, the unemployed Date Lab guy has a Master's degree, was going on interviews, trying hard to get a job! Of course, starting to date under those circumstances might be a bit tricky, but haven't we all been there, done that, at some point? There was no indication at all he was looking for a "Sugar Mama," which I view as another word for a cash cow. His date did not seem too put off by this; it was your editors who seemed to have the problem. Who knows, maybe this even helped in his employment search. I wish him the best!

washingtonpost.com: "Date Lab: He's cute -- but unemployed. Will she be his sugar momma?" (Feb. 3)

Michelle Singletary: I agree the headline was a bit unnecessary. Plus the guy was cute!

If you have no idea what we are talking about read my eletter, which I hope you ALL subscribe to. If not go to the biz section and sign up right after the chat.

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Washington, D.C.: My husband and I need wills, and need to select guardians for our children. Do we need to consult an attorney, or can we use software that is on the market?

Michelle Singletary: You can use software but just consider hiring a professional to make sure it's done right.

If not, many of the software available in stores and online will tailor to your state or local laws.

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Maryland Resident: In Maryland, can we freeze our credit files to protect from identity theft and can we freeze our child's (under 18) credit file?

Marriage and money. He is the more reasonable spender and I am the more unreasonable saver. So he pays the monthly bills and I am turning off lights, watering plants with the UNSALTED water veggies are cooked in, washing clothes in cold water, saving for retirement, college, vacations, home repairs, etc. In essence, we have divided up our financial picture and responsibilities into daily expenses and long-term financial goals.

Michelle Singletary: I'm really happy for you. Not the case with many couples I can tell you first hand.

You are blessed.

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Wilkes Barre, Pa.: Comment regarding discussing money responsibility with spouse: Critical that you do this. 18 months ago my beloved husband passed away leaving me with a huge mortgage, unpaid real estate taxes and no insurance. I knew every day of our marriage that he truly loved me but I never realized how bad he was with money. At first I felt "how could he do this to me if he loved me?" but have moved on to understand that he was just not good with money. He did love me and let me know every day. I refused to be a victim and have dug myself out of the hole by several rounds of expense slashing and paying everything on time even if it was only the minimum. I've managed to raise my credit score 100 points. His life insurance policy expired 6 months before his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer (8 months before his death) and only when he rec'd the diagnosis did he tell me that info. Had I known at the time the policy expired, I could have purchased mortgage insurance at least. Communicate, communicate please, if you love your spouse.

Michelle Singletary: I am so, so sorry for your lost. But thank you so very much for sharing your story.

I do hope it helps others to open their household books and talk.

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Washington, D.C.: I was wondering if you had any advice or resources for a couple who has about $280,000 in student loan debt, approx. $124,000 in private loan debt and the rest in federal loans consolidated at a 2% interest rate. I read a lot of advice for people who have less than $20k in student loan debt, but not much for those who carry large loads from graduate/professional school. We don't have a house, but we both contribute to the match point for our retirement plans through the federal government. And yes, we both work for the federal government thus making federal government salaries.

Michelle Singletary: Well, here's the good news. You have two good gov'ment jobs.

The bad news there are very few options other than pay the debt. Now, you can search and see if your agency or another federal agency has a tuition repayment plan. The program allows agencies to repay Federally insured student loans as a recruitment or retention incentive. But as I said it doesn't cover private loans. agencies may make payments to the loan holder of up to a maximum of $10,000 for an employee in a calendar year and a total of not more than $60,000 for any one employee.

For more info go here:

http://www.opm.gov/oca/pay/studentloan/

Other than that plan on cutting your expenses for a long, long time to get that paid off before you need a walker.

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Reston, Va.: Hi everyone, I could really use some of your expert advice and it might help settle an ongoing point of contention in my relationship.

I'm dealing with about $2,100 dollars in debt, $900 on a credit card and $1,200 in unpaid medical bills. Not a huge amount, compared to other stories, but with my salary and other bills, I can afford to pay about $175 off combined a month.

My boyfriend keeps asking me to let him pay for it, and then I will of course pay him back. He makes about the same as me but has much more money saved. We live together and will be married soon, and his argument is "my money is your money" and vice versa. I've been resisting since I feel like he doesn't deserve to have me waste his money (all debt was acquired before we met). I have also pointed out that after we get married I will have graduate school loans he can help pay off and he will need a car soon, and he can start paying for bills then. What is the best solution. For what it's worth, there's no interest on the $1,200 in medical bills.

Johnny Parker: Marriage is about being a team. The strongest relationships are when two people are seeking to agree upon core values. It is important for you and your man to discuss your beliefs about money and establish mutual agreement.

Michelle Singletary: Honestly, I agree with you. He should let you pay your own debts until you are married. He's not your husband, not his responsibility.

And P.S., lots of folks who live together and say they are going to get married --never do. Best to keep the money separate until the I dos.

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Virginia: Hi Michelle,

Happy Valentine's Day! Your article on "keeping up with the Jones" really hit home. It's hard not to be jealous of a friend (married, no kids) who's buying a half-million dollar home, tons of clothes, new cars..but then I realize that our family (small townhouse, kids, no consumer debt) is where we want to be. It's so hard to wean yourself from the consumer life but feels so good when you do and are debt-free!

Michelle Singletary: Just keep remembering that. I bet your friend is mortaged to the high heaven.

For me I choose financial peace over all that stuff anyway.

Now if you buy with no debt and you have an emergency fund, life happens fund, retirement savings, college fund if you got kids go for it. Otherwise don't envy the debt stupid.

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boo is not "hip": It's the 90s ghetto equivelant of "the ole lady"

Michelle Singletary: Whatever. I like the term and use it often for my boo.

If you don't like then use pookey or whatever floats your boat.

But don't bother me with such nonsense.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Please help my family: we joined a $ saving pot with our friends where everyone puts in a certain amt every month, and receive it all back in 1 lump sum when it's our turn. Should we use that ($30K) to pay off a large lump of our 2nd trust mortgage ($50K that is interest variable), or pay for a minivan in cash? We have 2 kids, with another on the way soon. We currently only have 1 car. Also, does this kind of $ saving pot have any tax responsibilities - no one receives more than they put in. If you do recommend buying the car in cash, are there specific forms at the dealer that we need to fill out, i.e. report to IRS? Thanks very much for your help.

Michelle Singletary: First before I answer I have to tell you all kinds of bells are going off in my head.

Are you sure this isn't a scam?

And if you get what you put in why bother pooling your money with other folks outside of your household?

If it's legit pay off the debt. You can't afford the car yet.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for doing this chat! My wife and I just had our first child. What are a few investment vehicles to get started early, to help ensure our child's success? Thanks!

Michelle Singletary: You are so welcome and I would suggest setting up a 529 college savings plan.

For more information go to www.savingforcollege.com

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Northern Virginia: I have a question about my soon-to-be husband that I'm hoping you all can give insight about.

He grew up with no money whatsoever ... his parents made bad financial choices and his father suffered from a mental illness for yeras and never worked. Because of this, he didn't ask his parents for a dime after the age of 15, bought his own car, his own condo and maxed out his Roth IRA through saving and smart investments.

We got engaged and moved in together and now he is more paranoid than ever about money. He says it's because he realizes his life priorities are changing and we are going to have a family in the next couple years and he feels more responsibility.

I used to live paycheck to paycheck but he has reeled me in a lot and I never spend outside of my budgeted "fun money" for the month. I think we are doing great-- we both max out our 401(K)s, Roth IRAs, we have two paid off cars, are paying about 5x more than the minimum into our student loans. We have 20K in our money market. We are renting right now (because we are moving back to our hometown in 1 yr) so we are insulated from the whole housing crisis.

What gives? When will it be enough for him? And how can I allow him to relax about money?

Johnny Parker: Northern Virginia,

Although your husband-to-be appears fairly financially conservative,he may never relax financially because of his fear of financial failure. The greatest fear men have is the fear of failure. Plus, most men define their worth based on being great providers. You've heard the saying, "a good man brings home the bacon."

Express understanding regarding how he grew up and the struggle he experienced. Secondly, thank him for how he has helped you improve the way you handle money. Encourage him to be open to having an agreed upon monthly allowance.

Michelle Singletary: I totally agree with Johnny. And despite the fact that you are living together before marriage please, please get premartial counseling before you say "I do."

This is the very thing that you need to talk A LOT about before you take those vows. Just make sure you understand all his issues and that he feels comfortable sharing them with you.

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Nashville, Tenn.: Hello Michelle. You were at a church we attended recently as a guest speaker and you rocked! We really enjoyed you. We love your show and NPR segment. My question is concerning our family finances and what steps we should take next in our finances.

My husband and I have been debt snowballing our debt for about 2 years. We've paid off a private student loan and by the summer will pay off credit card debt acquired during college. Other than our house the only debt we have is the $4k cc and $40K in student loans.

We're also a Dave Ramsey reader/listener. We want to keep debt snowballing but if we do we risk forgoing valuable years of great compounding for retirement savings and college savings for our 2 kids (2 and under). Our thinking is to build our 3-6 month emergency fund now, pay off the student loans gradually, continue contributing to 529 plans and open IRAs. I know Dave says get the $1k emergency fund and then focus on the debt and others say since the student loans interest rate is low (3.325) then just pay the minimum ($190) and focus on the future. If we pay min. on student $40K student loans it would take 20 years to pay off. I don't want to pay on student loans for 20 more years but I also don't want to miss out on these good retirement/college savings years either. I also want to build our 3 - 6 month savings in the bank instead of the $1k immediately after the cc debt is paid.

We're both 30 and gross $80K together and we have daycare expenses too ($800 - which will free up money once they start kindergarten). We need some direction. What steps should we take? If you suggest the 3-6 month E fund, then retirement/college savings route combined w/student loans how much should we direct to each fund? Every month after we finish off the credit card balance we will have about $700-$800 left each month from our budget to allocate to something. Please help.

Thanks!

Michelle Singletary: Thank you so much and I LOVED speaking at World Overcomers in Memphis. I was doing a four-day financial conference.

Wonderful pastor and people.

Anyway, if it were me this is the order I would do things:

-- Make sure I have a least the $1,000 Dave recommends. I call that the life happens fund. It's there so you don't go into more debt for say a car repair

-- Put some money toward the emergency fund

-- Aggressively get rid of the $4,000

-- Then tackle the student loan debt

-- Then start on the retirement fund

-- Then college fund

Now you can do the retirement fund and college fund at the same time after you get rid of the student loan debt.

And ignore the boneheads you advise that you keep that student loan debt like it's a pet. It's a burden that keeps you in bondage.

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Bethesda, Maryland: Hi Michelle:

I had been hiding my credit card bills from my husband for a long time until last week when I was tired of being broke and in debt. Yes, we have separate accounts. Initially, he was very upset and now he wants to attack the bill. He suggest that I use my TSP(gov) to pay the $3,000.00 debt. What do you suggest? Is there a penalty for withdrawing my money?

Victoria F. Collins: Attacking this bill by w/drawing from a retirement plan is not a good strategy. Not only penalty, but long term growth of those assets for your future life. Better strategy that you both - and I mean both - is to work out a manageble payment plan - pay more than minimum each month. Talk with your credit card company. Get Liz Pulliam Weston's book Deal with your Debt, check your FICO score, and be confident you can do it. Get in touch with why you're putting this kind of stress on yourself by hiding credit card bills. And know that relatively speaking you're lucky it's only $3,000, lots of couples facing lots more debt - You can solve this!

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi,

I can't seem to get my dear husband to participate in any of our finances. We're both responsible with money, but I am definitely the tightwad. Even so, I just don't like the idea of one spouse dominating the finances....any suggestions???

Johnny Parker: After a pleasant meal(men are more receptive after a meal), gently ask him about his goals/desires for the financial aspect of the relationship. If he gives you five or ten minutes of conversation, express appreciation. Let him know how it makes you feel when the both of you don't talk about money. Men respond better to requests than demands or orders.

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Bethesda, Md.: Michelle, I'm a little confused. I printed out one of my credit reports yesterday like I normally do every 4 months. And for the first time since I've been printing out my reports every few months (I've been doing this for at least 2-3 years) I had a collections notice pop up. It's for an apartment I lived in back in 2001. I had no idea anything had gone to collections for this apartment and it even says that it was paid in 10/01. It was $260. Should I even bother with it since it's paid and will fall off my credit report this year anyway? Apparently it's not really hurting me since my FICO score is 805. But still, I find it rather annoying that it randomly popped up this past January and I never knew it went to "collections" anyway.

Thanks!

Michelle Singletary: If you don't have anything better to do than you might call. I wouldn't bother with a score of 805.

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Re: Gaithersburg, Md.: The pot of money thing is cultural. Koreans have been doing it for generations. Obviously I don't know the details of the chatter's arrangement, but you shouldn't automatically be seeing red flags.

Michelle Singletary: In this day and age of many scams, better see red now and ask questions then be scammed later.

You should always, always check these things out cultural or not. In fact, some of the biggest scams are "affinity" cons that use people's cultural connections to gain their trust.

That's all I'm saying.

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Alexandria, Va.: We're having a child soon as well, so I've been looking at 529 plans as you suggest. However, colleges will consider all of the money in a 529 as usable for the student's education, versus only a fraction of the parents' assets, which may well outweigh the tax benefits. Might it not make sense simply to invest that money in the parents' names (assuming that one is sufficiently disciplined not to touch it, of course)?

Michelle Singletary: You've got it wrong. The 529 is in the parent's name. That's why for example in Md. you -- the account holder-- can get a tax deduction of up to $2,500 per account.

But even it weren't I just don't get this notion that you shouldn't save becasue it might affect financial aid.

Do you know what most aid comes in the form of?

LOANS!

Save as much as you can.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: My girlfriend is a well-accomplished woman who loves to work, travel and go out a lot, and is not at all a domestic type. She keeps her apartment "livable" but that's about it. She has this idea that after marrying we'd live in a new McMansion, now that their prices have come down. How do I make her realize that this dream home of hers hardly fits our lifestyle?

Johnny Parker: Having dreams and desiring an affluent lifestyle is nice, but even more important is the quality relationship you and your girlfriend are building. More than the size of the physical house is the strength of the relational house you build. Building a house requires having the right blueprints and its crucial that you and your girlfriend are in agreement as to the type of relationship you want to have. Will you both agree on the emotional, sexual, spiritual,relational and financial blueprints for the long-term success of your relationship? Pre-marital counseling will be extremely beneficial.

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Help for the feds with student loan debt: Most agencies don't fund the student loan repayment program. However, a provision of the recently enacted College Cost Reduction Act forgives outstanding debt for federal employess who have made 10 years of payments after the effective date of the law, October 1, 2007. (The law's not retroactive.) I don't think this will help with the private loans, but it's still something. This sometimes comes up on Stephen Barr's Federal Diary. The last time I heard, the Department of Education was working on regs....

Michelle Singletary: Thanks.

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Bowie, Md.: Michelle, this is half a money question and half a family question. My sister and her husband are coming for an extended visit. They are born remodelers, and they've done a lot of work on their house that looks really nice. I am worried that they are going to look at my master bathroom and say, "Let's redo it". My husband and I know we need to redo it but we have other issues that need to be handled before we get to it (like the subfloor, which also affects the subfloor in the master bedroom, etc.). My sister is likely to encourage this because it will keep her hubby occupied and because she feels she's not a big enough part of our life. But I can't let her buy me a new bathroom, and I can't afford a new bathroom today. What's the best way to turn aside the remodeling talk without hurting her feelings or letting her think I'm living with a substandard bathroom 'cause I'm frugal?

Thanks. Hope you and your boo have a happy V-Day!

Michelle Singletary: First me and my boo do indeed plan on having a great V-day. Spending no money, just loving on each other. That's enough for me cuz he is super fine, warm, sweet, funny,...oh sorry lost myself there.

Anyway, do this for me. Right were you are sitting reading this note sit straight up. Then run your fingers down your spine...cuz you got one right?

In a loving way if your sister brings it up, just say, "Sis would love to do it but can't right now."

End of discussion.

Don't engage her. Don't have to justify your decision.

It's your house. She's your guest.

As for engaging with her husband if you don't alreay have some -- get some adult family board games. I recommend "Catch Phase." Such a fun game, easy to play and very engaging.

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Galloway, Ohio: PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance) - you either hate it or you hate it. I bought a house on my own 6 years ago. I refinanced going into the 3rd year at a 30-yr fixed 5.875 int. rate w/PMI (no choice) as I didn't have 20% to put down. PMI is not tax deductible. I want it dropped. I have called & made this request but, unfortunately, my house has declined in value & I am nowhere near the 20% equity required. It would be a waste of money to have my property appraised at present. Meanwhile, I try to add a few extra dollars toward the principal every month. I might mention that I have an 800 credit score, have never been late with a payment. If the government REALLY wants to help people with the presently high foreclosure rate, perhaps some attention needs to be paid to PMI. Why couldn't it be required for all people who do not put down 20% cash but start to gradually decline year by year? My only hope is to spend another 7-8 years in my home & pray that I eventually reach 22% equity so PMI will automatically be dropped. Can you give me any advice on this thorn in my side?

Victoria F. Collins: Feels insulting doesn't it - knowing that you are doing the right things, have great credit score, and PMI is being held back. But, congratulate yourself that you've locked in a 30 year fixed at a good going rate for today. Know that you'll have to pay PMI expenses at some point yourself (lender just wants to do for you so they get the float on your money. Suggest - go to higher up supervisor level at your lender and and see if exception can be made. Probably not in today's market as lenders are being scrutinized more closely than ever and have to follow the regs. Good lcu!

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Washington, D.C.: Hello Michelle,

My husband and I are looking to become first time homebuyers, have been pre-approved with a great income to debt ratio (thanks to all your great advice over the years). Only problem is we don't have the 5% for downpayment and are now faced with asking both sets of parents for a gift or loan. How would you approach this with in-laws that were not willing to contribute to wedding costs and don't seem interested in being financially involved? We would have great equity built into this house in 4 to 6 months of residence because it is so far below market value. Would you approach it as a short term loan that we could turn around and pay with a home equity loan (perhaps with some interest to appeal to them that it is worth their while)?

Thanks

Michelle Singletary: Me, I wouldn't ask given their history.

They haven't seem willing in the past.

But if you must, just present your case and be prepared for a No. But it's not the end of the world. You can still save for it.

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Arlington, Va.: There are two iron laws in finance:

Inflation makes fixed-rate debt cheaper over time.

Compounding makes early savings more valuable over time.

If that couple can get a retirement match, they are DOUBLING their money if they contribute to that level. It isn't "staying in bondage" to make a decision that will put them ahead years down the road.

Michelle Singletary: Here are my iron laws of finance having counseled numberious people out of debt and obtaining a masters degree and knowing full well there are people like you encouraging people to stay in debt:

-- all debt is bondage fixed or not

-- debt-free should be a goal for us all.

Now if you have manageble debt and there is a company match for retirement at least get the match. HOWEVER if you are drowning in debt its better to get out of debt quickly and take that money you were using for debt and begin to save and invest once you are free of the strangling debt.

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San Diego, Calif.: My husband and I combined our finances when we got married and I pay our bills, make investments, etc. I am more organized of and I don't mind doing it, but he feels like because I do this that I "control the money" and told me he is nervous to spend money without asking first. I don't want to be controlling, is there a better way for us to communicate about our finances without him feeling like I'm always in charge?

Johnny Parker: Ask him what would make him feel more comfortable? What would enable him to feel less nervous about spending money? Be open to what he says and try not to get defensive. Practice the communication technique of echoing - "So you would feel more comfortable if..."

Also, work out a monthly allowance agreement where you both receive a certain amount of discretionary money each month.

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Washington, D.C.: My brother just had his checking account information stolen (he has no idea how) and a sham company posted a $400 charge to his account. They have the full account #, not just a Visa checkcard number. I'm trying to convince him he HAS to close the account but he's saying it's too much of a hassle (he's in the military and gets a lot of things direct deposited/debted). He has the military legal affairs people going after the company and his bank (Bank of America) is refunding the funds. He's also filed a police report and a sent a FCRA letter to the only address he has for these scam artists. Any other advice for him - and any other good reasons why he HAS to close his checking account? Thanks!

Victoria F. Collins: He can put a freeze on account just as you can on credit cards which means extra scrutiny for whoever tries to use it and a call to him (from bank or cc) for OK to use it. I agree with you, he needs to close acct immediately - forget the hassle factor - he ain't seen nothin yet compared to the hazzle of widespread ID theft that could haunt him for years. Once cc numbers get out, you never know where they will turn up. He's lucky to limit the damage to $400 now and will most likely recoup it. We all need to be on watch always for ID theft, check our credit reports - regularly, and take action immediately when something happens. Glad the military legal is helping on bank side.

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Arlington, Va.: Michelle, we have a baby on the way, and my husband and I disagree over whether we should save for her college education. My parents struggled financially, and I paid for college myself, which was hard but I feel it made me a better person. I had a 60 percent scholarship, and paid for the rest in student loans and work-study. His parents paid for his, and he sees it as a parental responsibility. He says that it's harder these days to pay for college and win scholarships and he doesn't want a kid weighed down with debt. Can you give us a reality check?

Michelle Singletary: Sorry, I'm with your hubby. I'm always intrigued when people say their kids should struggle to pay for college when they have the means to help.

I ask you, if you kid got a full scholarship would you turn it down arguing its better for his or her character to borrow heavily or work as like a dog to pay for college.

I bet not. I got a full scholarship to college and I appreciated every single penny and what it did for my life. Raise your kid right and they will honor, respect and appreciate the money you spend for his or her college education.

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Washington, DC..: Hi, Michelle. Sorry to strike a negative note on Valentine's Day, but as a DC divorce lawyer, I see all the time what happens when "happily ever after" doesn't work out. Here are my 2 rules for everyone involved in any legal matter: don't sign anything you don't understand, and don't sign anything you don't think is fair. Keep up the good work! Another Michelle.

Johnny Parker: Money is really a symptom of a deeper issue. The reality is many people who marry never should have married. One study showed that the average engaged couple spends over 200 hours planning for a wedding and only 8-10 hours discussing marriage. People are more concerned about the ceremony than a long-term mutually beneficial. Before engagement, singles and dating couples need to experience a class I oversee called "So you think you want to get marred?" If all people want is a nice ceremony then throw a party but don't get married until you spend time getting to know them.

Michelle Singletary: Agreed read everything. Get counseling. Live happily ever after. I can be done.

_______________________

College Financial Aid: OK, so it's been awhile, but from what I recall, many private colleges will make up in grants any gaps in assets vs. cost of college.

So, the option of having assets not considered in the aid formulas can be useful. Then -I- can make up the difference with what I have instead of loans.

Does this make sense?

Victoria F. Collins: Sure it makes sense, but may not be "legal". When you fill out applications for grants they assume you're telling the truth and really do need the money - that's what you're agreeing to with your signature at the bottom. On your other point, yes student loans are a burden, but think of it this way - it's your investment in yourself and you're just paying for it on the installment plan.

_______________________

Reston, Va.: Just a quick shout out to say that it is possible. I'm a single mom who lived for over a year without child support help from my daughter's father. He started pitching in about 6 months ago. Since then, I've paid off one credit card, am well on my way towards two other ones. I'm putting 200$ a month away for savings towards both a 'life happens' and extended 'out of a job' fund.

I go out to eat maybe once a month. I take groceries to work (2 liter bottles to drink and I keep a plastic bottle at work for water). I budget like crazy and I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. (Debt free May of 2009).

Michelle Singletary: What a great testimony. Thanks so much and good for you!

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Washington, D.C. (not for long): Hi! I am getting married very soon and following him to an assignment abroad. Return date is unclear; we may decide to stay abroad for a long while. I am worried about identity theft (it has happened to many couples we know who have been abroad for a couple of years). Should I ask the bureaus to freeze my files (is it free in D.C.??) or just monitor my credit report closely? I am also thinking of closing down my credit cards. What do you think?

Michelle Singletary: If it really concerns you then get the freeze. It will give you a peace of mind. And that's priceless.

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Michelle Singletary: I'm so sorry our time is up. I see the questions are still coming in. But keep checking the column and my eletter for answers to the questions we couldn't get to today.

Thanks to you all and have a wonderful Valentine's Day, if nothing else it's a reminder to tell the ones we love that well we love them.

_______________________

Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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