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Michelle Singletary
Washington Post Columnist
Wednesday, February 25, 2009; 12:00 PM

Personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary hosted an online discussion with David and Claudia Arp, authors of "10 Great Dates to Energize Your Marriage" and "52 Fantastic Dates for You and Your Mate" on Wednesday, Feb. 25 at Noon ET.

In her Feb. 8 column, Michelle writes: It's often said that money is the main cause of marital discord and even divorce. But that's not quite accurate. What really causes the fights is all the emotional baggage... As I was going through the many "love and money" books I get this time of year, I decided to choose two non-financial works. Read more in Short on Cash? Invest in the Relationship.

A transcript follows.

Read Michelle's past Color of Money columns or check out her past Book Club picks.

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Laurel, Md.: Hi Michelle, my wife is very concerned about the possibility that the FDIC will have a total meltdown and we'd lose the money we have in our bank accounts. How likely is this to happen?

Michelle Singletary: Hello everyone. Welcome. Lots of questions (like this one) so let's get started.

If you keep your money below the FDIC limits you should be fine. No depositor with insured money has every lost a penny.

And frankly if that happens we are all up the creek.

If you are unsure about how much of your money is insured go to www.fdic.gov

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District of Columbia: Michelle, girl, stick to money, that's enough, love is just too complicated.

David and Claudia Arp: Relationships are complicated but oh so wonderful when they work and it is work to build a healthy relationship. It doesn't seem to matter whether you have a lot of money or not--what is key is staying connected emotionally and working together as a team on your finances, parenting and other things. That's why dating is important because it brings you together.

Michelle Singletary: When I'm helping couples with their relationship I am sticking to money since that is one of the top reasons they fight.

So I'm in my lane and plan to stay here.

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Loudoun, Colo.: Hi, We've recently started to do a weekly "date night" as an attempt to get more solo, grown-up time. Any tips on how to break out of our usual parent/work roles and just be with each other for a couple of hours over dinner? I want us to nurture our relationship, but it feels like all we are doing is spending money on a babysitter and dinner, without getting the nourishment in return.

David and Claudia Arp: It's great that you've taken this step to start a weekly date night. Dating doesn't have to be expensive--you don't have to always do dinner and a movie. We suggest that you look for things you can do together where you can talk--that's rules out the movie. Men like to relax by doing somethings, and women like to relax by talking so look for things you can do where both needs are met.

One of our favorite dates is going for a hike together. As to baby-sitting--you could trade with friends and keep their kids for them to have a date. Be creative, you're on the right track!

Michelle Singletary: Folks I had a date night and day with my hubby recently following the Arps advice.

It was WONDERFUL. In fact I surprised by husband. We were on a leadership retreat for our church and I paid for us to stay an extra night. Things almost when bad when one of my husband's friend's father passed away. But he went to the funeral (I stayed for the retreat). He was fussing because he didn't want to come back for me (it was a long drive). But I pressed him and when he arrived tired, he was so happy and grateful for the extra alone time. We talked, had dinner, bonded (ain't saying no more). And we didn't talk about the kids, work or stuff. We just talked about us and love and...so nice.

Try this guys is so wonderful

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Thank You.: I followed your advice and paid off three of my credit cards. Imagine my surprise when I examined the statement and realized I was being charged 23 percent interest! I now feel like I am getting a 23 percent return on my investment.

Michelle Singletary: You are so welcome. And you are getting a 23 percent return.

Good, good for you.

Now if you are at work, just whisper, "Free at last, free at last."

If you are alone shout it out!

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Philadelphia, Pa.: I know this a marriage session but I was hoping you could help me. Been a fan for 2 years now. I have been actively cleaning up my credit report for the past year, the only thing I have left to payoff right now is a school loan a private school loan. What do you recommend I do for a better credit score, pay down the school loan, get a secure shared loan or a secure credit card. Last time I checked my scores were in the low 600's.

Michelle Singletary: Right now you should not care about your credit scores. That's important if you are going to get more credit, which you don't need.

Now I know scores are important for insurance, job, etc. but I rather you concentrate on getting out of debt and not worrying about how you are viewed by lenders for more debt.

Pay off the student loan with the lowest balance first. If they both are about the same then go after the one with the higher interest rate.

Adn the best way to get better credits scores is to pay your bills on time. You don't need a credit card -- secure or otherwise

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St. Louis, Mo.: Sorry that this question is not related to the topic, being that I'm single and all, but I have a question regarding my credit to debt ratio. When I pulled my Equifax credit report, it showed that my credit to debt ratio is really high, not including my mortgage, but when it includes my mortgage it is really low (I'm only 3 years into it). I am in the process of paying off 2 credit cards, one will be paid off next week, once that is paid off I wanted to transfer the balance of my last card to a new card with a zero percent interest rate so I can pay it off in 6 months. At my current interest rate (21 percent) it would take me longer. My credit score is in the low to mid 700's. Will my credit to debt ratio effect me trying to get a new card? Thanks

Michelle Singletary: Again, you are worrying about something you need not right now.

Scores in the 700s are good. You may take a hit by getting the new card but you have a good plan. Don't worry about that. Pay off those cards, pay your bills on time and your scores will go up and stay up.

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Laurel, Maryland: Hello Michelle.

Let me get to the point. My wife and I bought a house we cannot afford. We entered into an option ARM and are now in arrears 60 days on our mortgage. We have been in our house a little over two years and at the time, we thought we could afford to live here, but along the way my wife lost her job and was without employment for several months. She is working now, but we fell behind.

I am working with a mortgage consultant and weighing our options. Currently, we are looking a "Deed-in-lieu of". We have a 3 year old daughter and a dog, therefore the rigors of a short sale may be traumatic. We may consider a loan modification to know a few hundred dollars off of our monthly payment, but ultimately we may still not be able to afford our home. We understand the damage to our credit that the Deed In Lieu option brings, but should we try to sit tight or cut our losses and try to move?

Michelle Singletary: The one question you have to ask first will determine whether you stay or go.

1. Can you afford the house going forward with your current income?

If a loan modification lowers it enough that the monthly payment (taxes, insurance, etc) is 36 percent or less of your NET monthy pay. Stay.

If not. Move.

And don't worry about your credit right now. If you decided to move try to secure a rental before the deed or whatever hits your credit report (will help with getting a place).

Otherwise your main concern should be bringing financial peace into yoour home and that may mean facing giving up the house.

But know this. It will be okay. Just a house.

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District of Columbia: The FDIC is backed by the full faith and credit of the US Government. For a depositor to lose insured money, the U.S. Government would have to go out of business - not going to happen.

http://www.myfdicinsurance.gov/is a step-by-step site to estimate how much you have insured at a bank.

Michelle Singletary: Thanks for the direct link.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: If I have money in two accounts, both covered by FDIC in bank A and in bank B, and bank A buys bank B but doesn't change the name of bank B, do I have two insured accounts? Or, if the total of the two accounts together are greater than what FDIC insures, is part of my account no longer insured?

Michelle Singletary: I believe if the ownership is the same, you have to treat the accounts as being at one institution. Not completely sure.

Use the link I just posted to help you figure this out. Or call the FDIC to be sure.

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Baltimore, Md.: How do you get your spouse to initiate the "dates". It's no fun if you are doing all the planning.

David and Claudia Arp: It's got to start with one of you and if you're the one most interested then we suggest that you take the initiative. Plan the date around something you know your mate would enjoy. He or she may find it's so much fun and enjoyable that they will begin to take the initiative from time to time.

Sometimes mates don't want to date because their partner uses the time to complain about what's wrong in the relationship. So on your date, don't talk about money (sorry Michelle), parenting, the in-laws or who forgot to take out the trash. Concentrate on the positives and on having some fun.

Michelle Singletary: No need to say sorry. I totally agree.

You need that you and me time without all the baggage.

That's what my husband and I did this past weekend. We came away so relaxed and energized in our marriage.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Sorry, I'm also off topic. My credit score is 760, I have a number of credit cards with zero balances for at least one year - I never use them anymore. Will closing these accounts ding my FICO? Thank you so much!

Michelle Singletary: May ding a little but not much. Close them if you like as long as you aren't getting any major credit anytime soon.

The ding will go away shortly.

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Credit Scores: I know you keep telling people in debt not to worry about their credit scores just yet, but some people have to for their jobs; some places of employment do a credit check and credit score check! I think, for non-financial jobs, that this practice is abominable, but in this job market, people can't always shy away from the credit check request. Just something to think about.

Michelle Singletary: You are definitely right. And I think in all the cases the folks had jobs.

My point is people are worrying about something they can't do anything about. The damage is done. So concentrate on getting of debt.

And if the job issues is an issue, come clean with the employer or potential employer before the report is pulled. Explain whatever happens. Nothing else you can do.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I have a question- maybe you can settle a disagreement between me and my boyfriend. I suggested that use his tax return to pay off his credit cards (he has savings in the bank). He said its not good to pay off credit cards because it will lower your credit score if you don't have a balance. I said that the only thing that matters is your credit to debt ratio. Who's right? Obviously, I think its important to pay off cards that are charging interest!

Michelle Singletary: Your boyfriend is a knuclehead. Good thing he has you.

He's totaly wrong for soooo many reasons. Forget about the credit score, why on earth if you have it in your power would you keep around that debt like it's a pet.

You don't get any brownie credit score points for "keeping" debt. You lower your score by having debt compared to how much is available to you.

Buy your boyfriend a good personal finance book.

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Closing credit card: I am listed on the account for one of my parents' credit cards. It was for true emergencies when I was in college, and I haven't used it in years.

I'm getting married soon, and we'll be looking to buy a house in a few years. If I take myself off this card -- essentially "closing" it-- will it affect my credit score? Everything else is really great. Score is currently in the mid 700s.

Michelle Singletary: I wouldn't close it since you are getting a hosue soon.

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Alexandria, Va.: We dated before we were married but I don't see why we could date now--especially since our financial resources are so limited. How will dating help us?

David and Claudia Arp: Think about why you dated before you married? It was probably because you enjoyed being together and you loved feeing close and focusing on each other. Couples have those same needs after marriage but often times kids come along, jobs are demanding, life happens and focused times together just don't happen. So the solution is to start dating again!

Dating helps you to be intentional and to make your relationship a priority. Also you're modeling for your kids. One of the greatest fears children have today is that mom and dad are going to divorce like their friend's parents down the street. It's so healthy for your kids to see you enjoying one another. Also dating builds your friendship. In research we've conducted in the past, we found that the friendship factor is one of the greatest indicators of a successful long-term marriage and dating will help your friendship grow and thrive!

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Reston, Va.: Hi Michelle. You frequently tell your readers (and chatters) to manage their money responsibly and not take on debt. Do you think you can talk some sense into the administration and Congress? It seems like we have reached a point where no one is concerned about spending -trillions- of dollars that we do not have. While the government does need to intervene, I get the feeling we are going to set a new spending baseline which, as the governor of Pennsylvania said, we will be unable to sustain. Unfortunately, the good governor went on to say "and I don't care."

Michelle Singletary: I'm trying my friend!

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Cheap dates: My husband and I do something we call cheap date Sundays where we go to the bookstore and pick out a bunch of books we think would be interesting conversation starters then go get a snack at the cafe (a piece of cake or something we can share) and flip through the books until we land on something sparks conversation.

David and Claudia Arp: That's a great idea! Something along the same line is going to a card shop and choosing romantic cards and reading them to each other. Just be sure to put them back where you got them. You don't have to buy them!

One couple like to go to Home Depot and look for ideas for home improvement projects they might want to do in the future.

Dating does not have to cost a lot of money.

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District of Columbia: Hi Michelle- I submitted this question last week-hope you'll have a chance to get to it today. I have about three or four credit cards with balances of less than $600. And I also owe a debt of $2,400 to the University of Maryland. In addition, I have a student loan that I defaulted on earlier last year in the amount of $28,000. I've been paying $150 a month on the loan for the last year in an agreement with the collection agency. My plan is to pay off the credit cards and my school bill by the end of June. But my collection agency wants to double my payments on the other loan, which is going to be hard to do as the income from my part time job will be cut in half (just found out on Saturday) and no raise from my full time job. What do you suggest that I do? I also have payments on two personal loans (one is $254 a month and the other is $192) that I'm current on, not to mention rent, phone and other bills.

Thanks for your advice.

Michelle Singletary: Wow, you are dealing with a lot. Good lesson about how not to borrow.

So this is what I would do. List all the debts starting with the ones with the lowest balance

Credit card #1 400

Credit card #2 450

Credit card #3 500

Credit card #4 600

(I just used this as an example that since you said all had balances of 600 or less. But list them in order starting with the one with the lowest balance

University of Md $2,400

The other loans (if less than the $28,000)

Now make all the minimum payments on all the debt. Any extra money you can find (cutting expenses, getting another higher paying second job) and knock off the first debt on the list. Then take what you were paying on that debt and attack the second one on the list and so on.

As for the collection agency. Be honest and tell them you don't have the money right now and if they press you they may not get anything. Let them know about your plan and depending where on the list that debt is you will make every effort to make extra payments.

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Should we elope?: Hi Michelle, Fiance and I are planning a destination wedding for 2010. However, looking at the costs for everything (mainly the reception at a quality resort) has really soured my mood. I have a large family (he does not). I am no spring chicken at 44. What are your thoughts about planning a wedding in this economy?

David and Claudia Arp: While you're planning your wedding we would encourage you to plan and prepare for your marriage. So much time and effort (and money) go into one day--but a marriage is for a lifetime.

We suggest getting some pre-marriage education before you say "I do." A good source of resources can be found at www.smartmarriages.com and www.marriagealive.com Also consider taking a pre-marriage inventory like PREPARE or FOCCUS. You can google for information about both inventories.

You could also have a bookstore date and go pick out a book on preparing for marriage. We actually have a book, 10 Great Dates Before You Say "I Do." that you might enjoy together.

Enjoy your big day and the planning process, but don't forget to prepare for your marriage!

Michelle Singletary: I agree with the Arps. Plan for the marriage and spend as much time on that as you are on the wedding cermony, party etc.

Now if you have no debt (except for a mortgag), an emergency fund, life happens fund, saving for retirement and you can pay CASH for the wedding dont' rule it out. But do count the cost.

Also take a poll of your family. In this tough economic times this may be a burden for them to pay to go to a destination wedding. Please consider them in making this decision.

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Knucklehead, USA: "Michelle Singletary: Your boyfriend is a knucklehead. Good thing he has you."

Michelle is right, but in the spirit of this chat being a bout relationships, don't tell him he's a "knucklehead". My husband came from a very wealthy and sheltered background, so I have had to explain financial things to him (sometimes several times) and I have learned it's better when you can say it in a nice way and show him proof rather than resort to name calling (no matter how tempting).

Michelle Singletary: Oh yes, you are right. I didnt' mean for her to him a knucklehead. I can, but not you.

Now if he continues to be hardheaded, I would kick him to the curb if chooses to stay stupid.

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District of Columbia: To Philadelphia:

A bank merger without government assistance means there is one bank (regardless of the name on the door) and you could easily have uninsured deposits. This is different from Bank Holding Company A buying Bank Holding Company B and maintaining 2 separate banks (Bank A and Bank B).

http://www2.fdic.gov/idasp/- search for the bank. If it is still an active institution, the "ownership" doesn't matter (i.e. holding company). Separate certificate numbers mean separate banks which means separate insurance.

Michelle Singletary: Thanks.

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District of Columbia: My husband and I have the opportunity to purchase our first home. During our search I learned I would be loosing my job later on this year. We currently have an offer on the table that could be accepted by the seller any day now. My dilemma is the monthly mortgage is about $2100 my husband can only afford to pay $1700 by himself. Additionally, my employer will pay unemployment for six months @ $1400 a month. This is about half of my monthly salary. We want to proceed with the purchase, knowing all I have to pay is an extra $400. At the same time there are also expenses such as utilities.

We are thinking about the long term goal of homeownership.

What do you think or recommend?

Michelle Singletary: I think given your job situation you should not buy right now. You have no idea how long your job search will be and you admit the "joint" household does not have enough to cover the mortgage.

It's more important for you to concentrate on securing a job. Right now you have to think short term and on a short term basis you can't handle the mortgage.

I believe in homeownership but at the right time.

You need to let your real estate agent know the situation and I believe you are obligated to let the lender know as well. I know when we closed we had to sign a document that said none of our financials had changed. Clearly yours have.

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Michelle is Right, Va.: Hi Michelle, I just wanted to submit a comment that your advice is the best. I have spent the last year paying off my credit cards - my last payment is next month! - AND I have also put aside money into a life happens fund and an emergency fund. And guess what - life happened today in the form of a plumbing emergency. Instead of automatically reach for a credit card to pay an unexpected bill I was able to right a check. Thank you so much for all of the advice you give and allowing me to feel like I can breathe again!

Michelle Singletary: Great testimony and you are so very welcome. I'm glad the advice worked.

And good for you on paying off that last card!!!! If I were there with you, I would give you a hug.

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NoVA: Hi Michelle, I just want to say that as a homeowner, it is not emphasized enough that you need money for maintenance and to keep up that maintenance. At one point, our air conditioner broke and I cannot tell you what we would have done without extra cash on hand (in the middle of July, it was so hot!). Even in these hard times, it's very important and so much cheaper than a major repair. Just my two cents and as related to the topic of today, very important for married couples with a home! It just would be so horrible to get into debt or have to use credit to do something you should have the cash for.

Michelle Singletary: Amen!

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Alexandria, Va.: My wife and I had a couple large medical expenses this year we were able to write off due to the fact the total amount was way more than 8 percent of our income. We would like to find out how many exemptions to claim on our paychecks throughout the year so we get as close to a zero refund as possible. However, this year was not a typical year due to the medical expenses and the online IRS calculator asks for information from your most recent paychecks, as well as tax information from 2008. This messes up the numbers and it tells us to withhold a lot of extra money. How can we figure out what to withhold for this year (not anticipating any new medical issues)?

Michelle Singletary: Use the withholding calculator at www.irs.gov. Kiplinger also has one.

And when you do if all else is equal just use the tax information from a year ago so that you don't include the unsual medical expenses.

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District of Columbia: We're getting married in a few months and I was just recently let go from my job. Knowing that we saved up for our wedding ahead of time and have all the money we need in a savings account is great solace to us. Every bit that we are able to come in under budget is more money to help us out during my job search. Things have been difficult with the wedding planning having to pare back some things (flowers, guest list, etc.), but I cannot stress how grateful I am that we saved first, spent second.

Michelle Singletary: Good for you. And you know you can scale back even more (if you haven't obligated yourself for certain expenses).

Your wedding day is just that ONE DAY.

If you have to cut some more.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: What's the difference between a great date and a fantastic date, and why are there only 10 of one while there are 52 of the other?

David and Claudia Arp: Our 10 Great Dates are "great" because they each have a theme and in the process of each date you're learning marriage skills for instance one of the great dates is how to find unity in your diversity. On this date you look at the ways your are alike and the ways you are different. Just make a list of each. Then in the ways your are different talk about how your compliment each other. In the ways are you the same, talk about how your might need to compensate--if you're both spontaneous one needs to do some planning!

Our 52 Fantastic dates are fun dates that we or others have experienced. Like a window shopping date--to save money go when the stores are closed and to put another twist, look and identify all the things you already have.

Be creative, you can turn anything into a date. When we're delayed at airports, we'll flirt and pick each other up, or pretend we're saying goodbye. No one notices if you kiss at the airport!

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For DC: Definitely do not buy a home if you are facing being out of work. It's not just the month-to-month expenses that add up -- you'll want to buy new furniture, new window treatments, etc. And god forbid that you have to replace something major (roof, furnace, etc) while you're out of work.

Better to look for a new job now, and once you feel more secure proceed with the purchase.

Michelle Singletary: What I said basically...but worth repeating.

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District of Columbia: Hi Michelle, A long-time reader here hoping for your take on a debt matter.

My only debt is about $28.5K in student loans (four fed loans, two at 4.6 percent and 2 at 6.8 percent). (Thanks to scholarships and savings, I borrowed only a third of the grad program costs). I have a six month emergency fund and am now saving up for life happens, a house, and to get married (bf and I would have to cover it ourselves).

My fed job doesn't pay much but it covers my student loan minimums (3K/year), while I add to about 50 percent more on my own. I'm also saving about 1K/month.

My student loans, especially the 6.8 percent ones drive me nuts because it is early on in repayment and so most funds are going to interest. My extra payment is going to the smaller of the 6.8 percent loans and I will have saved enough by June to pay it off and still have about $3K in life happens/wedding etc fund (which I would rebuild).

The thing is I am planning to stay in my job for at least 4 years or so more. Should I just continue my smaller additional payments (letting me save more for a house and a debt-free wedding)? Or should I just dig into my savings and make bigger payments to pay the loans off (at least the 6.8 percent ones)?

Sorry for the long post? But I'd appreciate your advice. I've been banging my head against the wall for over a month trying to figure out where I'd get the most bang for my buck.

Michelle Singletary: I wouldn't stop saving for a house and wedding.

You can get married without spending hardly anything. And the house can wait.

With that amount of debt I would put every extra penny to paying off the student loans. Keep your emergency savings, build up a little life happens and then all other monies go to the debt.

That's what I would do.

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Rockville, Md.: Hi Michelle! When you pester Congress about taking on more debt, can you find out why we can't get a free copy of our credit score every year, along with our free credit report? If the credit score is needed for so many things, why do we have to pay for it?

Michelle Singletary: I totally agree with you on the credit score thing and wrote as much recently.

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District of Columbia: Another success story on cutting costs: my wife and I life in DC, and so our only option for cable televison was Comcast. What I didn't know before is that you can get great high-definition television signals from the 4 network stations (plus 4 PBS stations, with 1 in HD) FOR FREE by using a $10 antenna from your local electronics store. (That's $10 one time, not $10 per month--there are NO MONTHLY FEES.) Goodbye, $50 dollar a month payments to Comcast!!!

Michelle Singletary: Love the testimonies. Keep them coming!!!!

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Just be sure to put them back where you got them. You don't have to buy them! : ew! I don't want to pay for a new book after someone's paged through it WHILE EATING pastries. Let's all be thrifty, but also respect other people's right to get their money's worth!

David and Claudia Arp: If you mess it up, please buy it!

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buying a house without a job?: If they tried to go ahead with the purchase, not only would it be a grave mistake, but it would be mortgage fraud my lying about their income! (given that they just sign away as if their employment status hadn't changed). Don't do something so reckless.

Michelle Singletary: Totaly agree!

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District of Columbia: Hi Michelle, My nephew will turn 1 in a few weeks, and I'd like to give him $500 to set aside in a college account. His parents have not yet set up a 529 account, though they may do so. I had planned on just sending a check, but is there a better way to go about this? Should I wait to see if they open the account and deposit it directly there? Thanks!

Michelle Singletary: You can open an account for him. Or do all teh groundwork, give the info to parents and tell them you'll start it off with the $500.

What a great aunt you are :)

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Crofton, Md.: I just want to say that date night can be as little as just turning off the TV. My husband and I have two children under the age of three, so energy, money, babysitters are all scarce. But one night a week, we make a commitment to not even turn on the TV, it forces us to talk to each other (Imagine!) and it really helps us reconnect we have a hectic week, I realize how little I have actually spoken to him all week. A little bit of effort to reconnect goes a long way! I have always said that the best gift we can give our children is a happy marriage, but Michelle made a good point that good marriages are not only good for our children, they are good for our economy, our neighborhoods, our country.

David and Claudia Arp: Bravo! You children are really lucky and we hope others will take your suggestion to turn off the TV and have an at-home date. Another suggestion is to grab 10-15 minutes each evening to connect. Some call this their "couch time" and the kids know not to bother them for that 10 minutes.

Marriage is good for our economy. Research was released last April 15th that marriage breakdowns costs taxpayers at least $112 Billion a year in down the line services!

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Maryland: I'm a former bank examiner, and wanted to add that what the media refers to as a "merger" or "'bank A purchasing Bank B" may not in fact really be the case. If the institutions keep their respective charters, then legally they are separate entities and FDIC limits exist for both. Only when the operating charter of one is collapsed into another do you have an issue.

Michelle Singletary: Thanks. I appreicate your weighing in.

I just love the talented people who sit in for this chat.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi Michelle,

Not really date related, but I am married!

We'd like to refinance the townhouse we bought in July. It was a jumbo mortgage at the time, and I was wondering if they've "upped" the amount for conventional loans so that we are no longer in jumbo range. Do you know if they have, and what the amount is, if so?

Thanks so much!

Michelle Singletary: The new law does restore the higher limits for a year.

Check with your institution to see if the limit for this area has gone back up.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Michelle: I have about $30,000 in savings but also have about $20,000 in debt. Are there some rules or ways to figure out if I should keep my savings in tact just in case or if I should use most of it to pay off my credit card debt. I do believe I am secure on the job front if that makes a difference. I have been paying down my debt - it was $40,000! - but every time I consider using my savings something seems to happen like my car needs repair and I am happy to have the savings to tap in to.

Michelle Singletary: I would figure out at least three months livig expenses. Maybe another $1,000 for the life happens fund.

And if there is any left take it out of savings and pay down that debt!

Now if you are really, truly feel good about your job. Back out one month's living expense, $1,000 for life happens and get rid of as much of that credit card debt as you can.

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ew! I don't want to pay for a new book after someone's paged through it WHILE EATING pastries. : I know, it's like telling folks its OK to return a party dress as long as you didn't mess it up. Let's do the right thing WHILE saving money.

David and Claudia Arp: Let us clarify, we would not suggest anyone mess up a book but go together to the book store and look together at books as any typical bookstore customer would--just do it together and look at books you both like. You may even buy one to take home and read together.

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why should we date: OK now explain your answer in terms that my husband would get it.

David and Claudia Arp: In our 10 Great Dates programs around the country, sure the gals usually drag their husbands to the first couple of dates but them the guys start making sure they get to their date. Why? Because they are safe and positive and fun.

It's hard to explain to your husband why to date--better to demonstrate. Plan an evening you know he would enjoy--don't call it a date. Give him lots of positives--try to keep your positive to negative statements ratio at least 5 to 1.

Another approach is to talk about what you did before you were married that was a lot of fun and try to recreate that. If you had no money and used to go to the part with peanut butter & jelly sandwiches--do that again!

Sometimes when you talk about "dating" men see $$$ signs and they they have to get dressed up.

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Portland, Ore.: Michelle - I love your advice. It always serves as a good reminder to stay on track. I need your advice.

My husband is being laid off at the end of next month. He has a great severance (essentially being paid through September) and my job is stable. Between his Army retirement paycheck and my salary, we can cover all expenses (without his salary). It'll be tight, but we can do it. We expect him to find a job soon but in the case that he can't, what should we do? On top of it all, we're expecting a baby at the end of October.

We put away plenty each month for retirement and have a solid emergency cushion as necessary.

Michelle Singletary: I'm so sorry about the job loss.

But based on what you say, you sounds like you are doing all the right things.

Just stay on top of your budget and cut out anything and everything that is not essential until he returns to work.

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District of Columbia: HI, another off-topic question: got divorced, bought a house last April, met a great woman, got engaged, don't need the house anymore and want to sell because renting won't cover but maybe three-fourths of the payment. Got an offer to refinance and make the payment $200 lower. OK to refinance and then (if I'm lucky) sell soon afterward? RRefinancing is no-cost, no appraisal.

Thanks. New bride and I WILL have date nights!

Michelle Singletary: If you really, truly don't have to pay any refinance costs, you could refinance while you wait to sell.

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For District of Columbia buying a house: In addition to mortgage fraud, lenders are supposed to verify employment within 24 hours of closing. The last thing you want is to have the truck packed, your apartment let to someone else and then find out your mortgage was denied and you have no where to live.

Michelle Singletary: That's right.

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Single Atlanta Lady: "We dated before we were married but I don't see why we could date now"

As a single person comments like this make me want to stay away from marriage. It implies to me the purpose of dating is to sucker someone to be with you for the "serious" purpose of marriage-which doesn't seem to include fun or liking each other.

My single friends and I sincerely believe married people are the reason so many single people choose to stay single. If you all don't like marriage, how can you model it for of us who aren't.(That includes your children.)

Do you all think that married people are often bad ambassadors of marriage like my single friends and I do?

David and Claudia Arp: Unfortunately, some marriages are dysfunctional and in crisis--they are certainly not good models. Other marriages are healthy and good models. Look for such a marriage and ask them to be your mentors.

A healthy marriage is one of life's greatest blessings--but it doesn't just happen--it takes work and is a journey not a destination. And you're got to have some fun along the way. We say, Fun in marriage is serious business and one way you can have fun is by dating your mate!

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Central Virginia: Hi,

My husband and I (newly married) are working through out debt-and-savings issues, and we have a solid plan that's making progress. We're pretty frugal and don't live high on the hog. But I worry that as we're getting our financial house in order that our whole life will be about paying down the debt (And I totally get that if we don't pay it off, our whole life will be in service of that debt -- I'm with you).

My question: What's your suggestion for having some fun, be it with an inexpensive weekend away occasionally, or something else, that will make this slog more palatable? I think it would be so easy to get into the "well, the $60 I want to spend on that sweater won't pay it all off" cycle, because to a degree that's how we got in our mess. We're learning from our past mistakes and we're on the path -- but what's your advice to make the tough road a little less... bumpy? Calvinistic? I'd just hate for our whole lives to be about just this one thing.

Thanks.

Michelle Singletary: I love that you are hating paying this off and suffering.

You know why?

Because it will hopefully serve to keep you from going here again.

So nope not giving you permission to spend much at all on fun. Find free fund things.

Keep up the pain of paying it off. It's just for a season. Then when you are done, and have saved up for it. Treat yourself.

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If you mess it up, please buy it!: or better yet, go to a library where people are supposed to use and then return the books! (then volunteer at your local library as well)

David and Claudia Arp: Absolutely, buy it. And a library date would be a fantastic idea!

Michelle Singletary: Okay, that's enough. Give them a break.

They aren't trying to steal the books, cards. Just an idea. GEESH!

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Good Relationships: The greatest gift we can give those we love is to be truly present.

Date nights aren't about the expense, they're about being truly present

Michelle Singletary: Nice point.

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re: District of Columbia: Be careful when refinancing while you wait to sell. Read all the fine print on the loan. I have a clause in my refinance that I can't pay it off within the first three years or else I'll get penalized. In my case, I'm OK with that but you probably won't be.

Michelle Singletary: You are talking about a prepayment penalty and good point.

I wouldn't sign a loan with one.

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Playing House: Hi Michelle et. al., Can you go over your arguments against living together again? I need some steel in my spine.

David and Claudia Arp: The divorce rate is much higher for couples who co-habit and research shows it's not the best move to make. The gal thinks, "He's living with me so he's going to marry me" while the guy may be thinking, "She's living with me so now we don't have to get married." There is much research on this. Go to www.smartmarriages.com for articles and research. Check out the book, Living Together by Michael & Harriet McManus. It's excellent and will give you plenty to think about.

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Cohabitation: My boyfriend and I are contemplating getting an apartment together. Our incomes are about the same, we've agreed on how much we can afford in rent, and we've discussed our expenses, financial priorities and debt (about the same amount, though mine is student loan and his is credit card).

What other sorts of financial discussions should we have before we sign a lease?

Michelle Singletary: Don't do it is the advice I would give you.

Seen this type of arrangement go bad so many times.

If you want to play house, get married.

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Alexandria, Va.: First, I'd like to say that it is such a relief that I am marrying a man who agrees with me on most everything financial. I can't imagine planning our life together without this basic understanding that debt is something we avoid at all costs. We discuss finances almost every day and constantly rethink and analyze decisions in order to make a good one. We clip coupons, take cheap dates, and think through every purchase.

Second, we want to buy a house, especially now. We want to wait until next February or so, once we are married. We have about 35K in student loans, and both fund fully our work retirement plans and our Roths. We also contribute to our emergency fund and have about 3 months in there.

Do we save for a house? Do we pay down the loans faster? My fiance gets a 12K raise in July. Do we save that completely for the down payment? Do we put that into the student loans?

Thanks!

Michelle Singletary: Pay off all the student loans before paying for a big wedding or saving for the house.

Not saying you shouldn't get married and definitely before you buy a home together but use all extra money to get out of debt first before you "save" for anything else you "want."

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Michelle Singletary: Well folks, that's it for day. Thanks for sticking around and for great questions, comments and help.

Much thanks to David and Claudia. If you don't have their books, I suggest you get them. They are easy to read and will go a long way to help your marriage.

Again, look for your unanswered question in my eletter. If you don't subscribe, please do.

Take care, especially in this economy.

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re: not playing house: Not moving in was the best thing I ever did. Realized that I wanted to do it as a step to getting married and he still isn't sure if he wants to marry me. Yikes! Dodged a bullet with this one. Not sure where our relationship is going, though we're both debt free, but I am so thankful not to be living with him through this.

Michelle Singletary: Sorry, had to add this.

Another good testimony!

Bye

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