Color of Money Book Club

Michelle Singletary
Washington Post Columnist
Thursday, August 27, 2009; 12:00 PM

Personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary will host an online discussion about how to get ahead in the job market with Reesa Staten, a career research studies expert at Robert Half International, and Sharon Black, who oversees a team of recruiters at that company, on Thursday, August 27 at Noon ET.

Submit your questions and comments anytime before or during the discussion.

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

A transcript follows.


Michelle Singletary: Welcome. I hope you all are enjoying the last bit of summer.

I am. I already need another vacation :)

Anyway, I see we have a lot of questions piling up already so let's get started.


Fontana, Calif.: I just completed my MBA and I have been working for the State of California for about 26 years ages. At this time there are very few job opportunities with the State due to the economy. What type of job can I obtain (part time) with a MBA?

Sharon Black: It depends on your work experience. There are companies that will hire part time particularly during this economy. You may have to be flexible with pay and temporary work could be an option as well.


Topeka, Kan.: I currently work in Kansas but I'm am looking for a job in a different state due to my fiance getting relocated. Even though my resume will say I presently work in Kansas, should I put my Kansas address or my future out of state address? Does it even matter? Thanks!

Sharon Black: I would keep your current address on your resume if you are not moving soon. Your cover letter should indicate that you are relocating.

If you are moving in the next couple of weeks, then I would put your new address with a local phone number.


Maryland: Submitting question early... Hello Michelle,

I am getting married in May 2010. My fiance has lots of debts (about $60k) and my debt is less than $5k. We have dated for 3 years and I know that he is not a big spender. We are both in our early 40's. I have owned my home for 10 years and he will be selling his condo to move in with me. I would like to get a prenup. Where do I begin? Any advice would be very appreciative. Thank you.

Michelle Singletary: First, I hope you two have gone through some sort of premarital counseling. Please. Please. Please.

And, just me, but wondering how did your fiance accumulate $60,000 in debt? School loans? Does he or you have a plan to pay it off after you get married?

As to your question. Why do you want a prenup? Doesn't sound like either of you have a lot of money or possessions to worry about? So what's that about?

Do you want to ensure you have nothing to do with "his" debt? Want to keep your house from him?

Are there some trust issues?

What you need is some counseling, not a prenup. And I don't mean that in a mean way. I just think you have to talk out some things before you get married.


Albany, N.Y.: Hi,

I am relocating to Pennsylvania and wondering how to note that I am moving in my resume/cover letter without giving the impression that I am seeking relocation expenses, which I am not.


Sharon Black: In your cover letter indicate you are relocating and do not need to have relocation expenses paid. I would also indicate dates and times you will be available to interview locally.


Paying off Credit Cards: Hi Michelle! You are my hero!

I have gotten a loan from a family member to pay off my credit card debt. I have been paying my bill online, if I'm paying off the entire balance ($14,000) should I pay it via online payment or personal check or cashier check or...? FYI- I cut up the cards months ago :)

Keep up the great work!

Michelle Singletary: Online should be fine. But before you pay, just make sure you have the final payoff amount as of a certain time in the future so that you don't hit with some bonus interest for a small balance you left behind.

The next step of course is aggressively pay back that very kind relative. Be sure you don't make any large purchases, take a vacation or do anything to suggest you are wasting money rather than paying back the relative. That can cause a lot of problems when someone lends you money and then they see you spending on things they think are frivolous.


Westbrook, Maine: Do you have any suggestion for older workers finding a new career? I can no longer find work after 25 years of RPG programming. It's almost impossible to get an interview of office positions when employers figure out my age from resume. Thanks. Pat

Sharon Black: is a good resource for experienced workers. I would position yourself in an interview as "well" qualified verses "over" qualified. Your years of experience should work in your favor particularly in this economy. Employers are finding it hard to find professionals with in-demand skill sets.


White Plains, N.Y.: My daughter graduated from college in May with a Business degree in Marketing and MGMT. She also took finance courses which she found interesting as well. Too date she has had only one interview though she has sent out, via the internet, many resumes. She likes media/advertising and math and would be interested in any job at the entry level position. She is willing to learn and work hard. How do you break into this market without connections?

Reesa Staten: Your daughter is graduating at a tough time in the job market, but there are opportunities for those who are persistent. She should go beyond sending resumes via the Internet, though, and research and contact companies that interest her. Perhaps an internship is a possibility? Her interest in both media and math is a unique combination. High-tech marketing and public relations firms often seek this particular skill set. Agencies also provide a good training ground for futures in corporate marketing and PR. Networking is key to finding a job right now, so she should also make sure she joins industry groups like IABC, American Marketing Assoc. and PRSA.


Richmond, Va.: Hello, Thank you for taking my question. I am debt free except for a mortgage. I have a year of living expenses saved. I would like to sell my home within the next 9 to 12 months, but I owe more than what a buyer is willing to purchase it for. I thought about putting extra money, $1,000, towards the principal of the mortgage to pay it down and hopefully get a sale. Is this wise, or should I wait out the housing market and save the money?

Michelle Singletary: I would wait out the market if you don't have to move. If you pay down the mortgage what do you really gain?

It would be like shifting money from one hand to the other.


Any Town: Michelle,

Sorry this isn't on topic, but I'm at wit's end. Last year we bought a house we could afford on our two incomes. In February, my spouse lost his job. I'm fortunate to work for the government and have a stable job, but it has been a struggle to get by, and we're only able to scrape together our payments in combination with his unemployment. We started the loan modification process in March. In May, I gave birth to our first child. He was premature, and has required additional medical care and formula--I was counting on his food being "free" for the first year! Our modification application is still in process, and I just saw that we've been approved for a moratorium, which I understand will shred our credit scores and require a huge balloon payment we won't be able to afford at the end of the moratorium. It looks like my husband won't qualify for the second unemployment extension, so in January, we may end up defaulting on our mortgage anyway. The only way I can see us avoiding that would be to cash out my TSP and his 401k, but that would just be postponing the inevitable. Do you have any advice?

Michelle Singletary: Oh you poor dear. So much to worry about. I'm so, so sorry.

First, repeat after me: "It's only a house."

It may be that you have to let the home go. If you don't see being able to keep up the mortgage you need to let your lender know that and begin steps to sell the house if you can. Try doing a short sell. That's when you get a buyer willing to buy the home but for much less than what you owe. The lender will then forgive you and your husband of what's left to pay. And this year you don't have to pay income taxes on the forgiven debt.

As you already have pointed out, it makes no sense to deplete your retirement savings if you pretty much will end up losing the house anyway.

Talk to your lender about an exit strategy.

Good luck with the house and the new baby.


Maryland: Thank you for taking my question.

We have been saving for our child's college tuition. We have also been saving for retirement at the same time. We are 2 years from a college tuition payment.

Question: What are your thoughts on us contributing less or not at all to our retirement funds while paying college tuition?

We have been saving for 20 years for retirement and we are putting in the maximum in our accounts. One of us plans to retire as soon as the child walks across the stage and the other will have another six years to work and save. We also plan to have our home paid for when college is over too.

PS: Regarding Teddy, if your daughter played sports in school, say thanks Teddy. If you use the automatic doors or elevators or ramps into buildings, thank Teddy. If you are using COBRA for health insurance, thank Teddy. The list goes on and on. Today we take so many things for granted that Senator Kennedy championed. To whom much is given, much is expected. Job well done.

Michelle Singletary: First, that's a nice tribute to the senator.

As for the college fund, if you've been on track for your retirement savings, then yes I would pull back a bit for an expense that is coming up very soon. This as oppose to taking on debt.


Rockville, Md.: Good afternoon,

Thanks for taking my question.

My question is on the paid off credit cards. I have 3 that are paid off (YEAH) however, do I keep them open or do I close them? The rule used to be is keep them open so they can see the history of them (never missed a payment on any of them), but now I'm wondering with the current economic situation if it is better to close them?

Thanks for your time. Smaller Credit Lines Shouldn't Hurt Scores Much

Michelle Singletary: Please read my column today. A link is provided.

You won't lose the long history on the accounts if you close them.

If you don't really need or want the accounts, close them UNLESS you have other similar outstanding consumer debt. When you close credit accounts if affects your credit utilization rate, which, depending on any debt outstanding, can lower your credit scores. But if you aren't carrying any credit card debt, closing accounts should not have much if any negative affect on your credit scores.


Orinda, Calif.: How do I get in touch w/ Ms. Black? I am located in Northern California. I have an undergraduate degree in accounting and an MBA and 30 years of experience.

Sharon Black: Please call Robert Half International. 650 574 8200. Thank you!


Washington D.C.: Ms. Singletary,

If a credit card company closes your credit card account because you have gotten behind in payments, can they still charge you over-the-limit fees and intrest payments? Thanks and enjoy your chats.

Michelle Singletary: If you are over the limit, yes.

And yes they can continue charging you for any outstanding balance not paid.


Orinda, Calif.: I have over 20 years of experience. Very specialized - aviation finance. I've had a very hard time getting interviews based on "transferable skills", even with my network of former colleagues. I'm open to suggestions.

Sharon Black: I would work with a specialized recruiter. They can work with you on transferable skills. A good recruiter has vast contacts and has built trust with many hiring managers. This may enable them to secure you interviews that you may not be able to land on your own. I would also suggest consulting work as an option. This way you can gain access to diverse assignments, industries and companies.


Resume errors (Laytonsville, Md.) : Regarding pursuit of the error-free resume, I think it's important to note another HUGE reason that Perfection Matters.

Many companies these days use software (optical character recognition stuff) to screen resumes before a human ever sees 'em. So if you want the software to pick up your actual skills and job duties, best to spell them correctly. Case in point: if you want to be a "manager", be sure you don't get screened out as having experience being a "manger."

Again, it's not just trying to please pickypickypicky human reviewers; it's trying to get past the software reviewers, too!

Michelle Singletary: Interesting point.


Camp Springs, Md.: It is very difficult finding a job in this economy. What advice can you give to someone who has been looking for a long period of time with no success?

Reesa Staten: Persistence is still key, and try not to let your frustration show in your interviews or application materials. Easier said than done, I know. In addition to responding to open positions you see, make sure you also are contacting companies that interest you directly to show your interest in working there. You would be surprised how few people do this. Employers like to know that you specifically want to work for their company. Also, consider volunteer work if you are not doing so already. This can give you a much needed break and allow you to keep your skills sharp. I don't know your background, but many nonprofits welcome volunteers who bring a skill set like accounting or marketing. Make sure you also are networking online on sites like LinkedIn. Hang in there. You are not alone. Unemployment is at its highest level in 30 years and employers are more understanding of lengthy employment gaps right now.


Bethesda, Md.: I am interested in finding some sort of a position as a financial planner/counselor that does not involve selling financial products (which seems like a conflict of interest). Do such positions exist? where would I look? Is CFP certification the best route to take?

Thanks! Love your advice!

Michelle Singletary: You might consider going to work for a nonprofit that does budget, debt and financial counseling. Try the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) for leads.


Kansas City, Mo.: I have an error free resume but I need help on my cover letter. I don't know what I should highlight in body. Does anyone have a format or structure for putting the best in your cover letter without reusing verbage in my resume?

Reesa Staten: It's best to use your cover letter to highlight why you want the job you are applying for. Your cover letter should be customized to each job opportunity. Tell the employer why you are the best fit for their job and why you believe you are the most qualified. It also helps to show the results of any research you have conducted about the prospective employer. This will show you have done your homework.


For Maryland's Prenup: Your attorney will probably suggest pre-marital counseling before they'd be willing to do a pre-nup under your circumstances, if they are a good family law attorney. (And you don't want a bad family law attorney!)

Michelle Singletary: I recommend it -- counseling -- under any circumstances!


Reston, Va.: Hi Sharon, I have my MBA degree in marketing and have my own business for past 8 years. I am an independent agent and sell medical equipment. I would like to change my career and work for some other company in a marketing team. Is it a good idea? I have not had any interview call till now for past 3 months. Should I consider joining school to brush up my marketing skills??

Sharon Black: I would suggest that you work with a specialized recruiter in the marketing area, for example, The Creative Group. This could enable you to work with a broad cross section of firms, diversified projects and increases your marketability.

Health care marketing is a growing area and you may be able to transfer your skills into that field.

If you do decide to go back to school, you may want to pursue training in social media marketing as this is a growth area.


Re: White Plains College Graduate: Michelle, I think you missed the mark with your advice to the mother of the recent White Plains college graduate. Internships are great... but I think that there is much to be said for utilizing your personal network. The internet is great, but in this market you must really make a case for yourself. I believe that is best done in person. So... talk with your friends, your parents, your parents' friends: who do they know in industries/companies/positions of interest? Talk with them. They generally yearn for the opportunity to connect with recent graduates and share their experience. They will also think of you long before the nameless internet applicant when they have an opening at their company.

Michelle Singletary: Well, I didn't answer that question, but your suggestions are nonetheless good.



Phoenix, Ariz.: Hi, Michelle--you have really had an impact on me; I've learned so much from your columns and chats!

My question is about career changes. My husband switched careers a few years back, but in the current job market, he's open to working in either field. Problem is, he can't seem to find anything, and I'm wondering if it's because his resume has such varied experience (he went from something very technical to something more creative). The other issue is that now his technical skills are out of date, and we don't know how he can update them without spending more money (that we don't have) for him to go back to school. Any suggestions?

Michelle Singletary: First, thank you for your kind words.

Second, it may not be your hubby.

This is a tough, tough job market right now.

Have you checked with community programs or community colleges? They often have very low-cost ways to update certain skills. Check with some career centers as well.

I so wish I had an answer for you but I just don't. People with great skills and people like your husband who need to update their skills are all finding it hard to get a job.


Bethesda, Md.: When I was a hiring manager, I tossed resumes with typos because I needed someone who could write an email to a client that I didn't need to proofread. I was in the education field and these errors were definitely noticed by clients (and commented on). If "putting your best foot forward" included typos, I needed someone with better feet. Tiny Typos Can Add Up To a Big X On Your Resume

Sharon Black: Our research shows that just one typo on a resume can take a candidate out of the running. That being said, it really depends on the hiring manager and the type of position you are applying for. If a position requires heavy attention to detail, you really want to avoid any resume mistakes. We always recommend that candidates have someone else proof their resume because it may be hard to spot your own mistakes. Another tip is to read your resume aloud; you may spot issues by hearing verses seeing.

Michelle Singletary: In my column (link provided) I talk about the zero tolerance atmosphere we have come to accept. But it's not always right. Raise your hand if you have NEVER made a mistake.


I thought so.

So as Sharon said, if you are applying for a job for example at a legal firm and even a tiny mistake can cost the firm millions, yup, make sure your resume is error-free. But perhaps some other jobs are more forgiving with minor errors.

As someone who has had to hire people, I try to understand that mistakes happen. If overall the person's resume looks good and they have some good experiences, I might overlook a tiny typo.

I just ask that we all have compassion especially in this economy. People are hurting. They need a job and maybe, just maybe in all the worry about money, their family, etc. they let something slip. Certainly hiring managers want to be responsible and find the right person but also recognize people are human.


Maryland: What advice do you have for older workers who have lost their jobs?

Reesa Staten: is a good resource. You might also consider temporary work as an interim measure until you find something permanent. Employers need workers who can hit the ground running on temporary assignments and this is where your experience is a big plus. When applying for positions, be sure to emphasize that you are well qualified -- not overqualified.


re: resumes: I'm one of the hyper-critical resume/cover letter reviewers. But I do it both for grammar and for relevant experience. My thought has always been that your resume is a short document that can show how much attention to detail you put in to your work. If you can't get a two page document out without error, I'm just not sure I can trust you with the 50-200 page reports we need you to do.

Then again, I'm also pretty critical of the resumes & cover letters that are clearly form letters and not at all tailored to the job we posted - it shows me you're just not that into our company.

Michelle Singletary: I hear you. But again, just read with compassion.

And know that many, many reports even after being read and reread and read again still end up with typos.

As someone who reads many reports I understand that and it does not affect my overall view of what is reported.


Pre Marital Counseling: Although we both felt our pre cana classes through church were very outdated, especially the financial part, we did feel that it brought up a lot of interesting topics and I recommend that everyone attend something. For instance, my fiancee and I learned that we had different views of family life, but that our communications skills are very good. As for finances, I am the one with all the debt and my fiancee has helped me make a plan to pay it off and we work together to deal with our finances. Go to counseling. Its a good idea.

Michelle Singletary: Thanks for that testimony.


Durham, N.C.: This is follow-up to Maryland getting married. I understand her. My husband is a very good man, but i have a business and rental property that I want to keep in my name for right now. it does not matter to me if I had married another man. These are things that I worked hard for, I am not quite ready to share. At least not that part.He has moved in with me and we have joint accounts. I don't want to be the fool in this relationship.

Michelle Singletary: And yet you have shared something more important than money with this man -- your heart, your body.



student loans: I started an approach to my student loans and I want to make sure its the best financial decision. I've taken my savings and extra income and started paying off my loans faster. I've started with the federal ones (which are locked in at 6.8% interest, but all are over 5%). My husband and I are not planning on buying a home for a while (I think the market will improve), so is paying down my significant debt a good use of our disposable income/savings? There's no way we can get a return on our savings near the interest rates, so this seemed like the best choice. Note: We have a little savings left and I have a very stable job (fed).

Michelle Singletary: I would only tweak your plan to also save up at least three months of living expenses.

In this economy, no job is stable.

You need to have a nice juicy savings account AND pay down the debt.


For Phoenix, Ariz.: I agree with your suggestion about checking with community colleges. Many are offering free or reduced cost classes to unemployed workers. While it is probably too late for this school year, many schools also offer scholarships for returning students. I work in the scholarship office of a community college and we have several scholarships set up specifically for returning students (even students attending part time).

Michelle Singletary: Thanks for this confirmation.

I'm a huge fan of community colleges, which often don't get the respect they deserve.


Anonymous: Michelle, love your column and chats. My husband and I are newly married and are struggling with how to allocate "yours, mine and ours". He makes about 40% more than I do- do we split things down the middle, expense wise, or pay a proportionally? Do we keep separate savings goals or just have joint goals? We do have some financial goals we are working towards, namely saving for a house and paying down his credit cards, but are at a loss as to how to take care of ourselves financially as well as as a couple. Any advice you or the chatters have would be much appreciated!

Michelle Singletary: Get rid of the yours, mine, ours way of thinking.

Let's say your hubby makes $100,000. And you make $60,000.

Some see that as his $100,000 and her $60,000.

I see it as a great $160,000 to use to save together, pay down debt together, give to the community together, etc.

As my fine and wonderful husband likes to say the wonderful thing about being married is one plus one can equal more than two.

And if case you miss the poetry of that expression, together you can accomplish way more than if you think of things as his, mine and ours.

Set the goals together. Save together. Combine the income. Pay the bills as one.


Smryna: Michelle and Sharon,

Thanks so much for this insightful chat. How do I find specialized recruiters? I am in the Public Affairs field.

Sharon Black: You can find firms online. The Creative Group, for example, places public relations/public affairs professionals. I would also suggest asking people in your network for referrals. You want to work with a firm with a good reputation.


Atlanta, Ga.: I have been out of work for about 9 months with no real job prospects in sight. So far my strategy has been networking (both here in Atlanta) and also in DC (I am a former lobbyist. I have also applied to jobs online. The problem I am faced with is that most jobs that are announced in my field are done more as a formality. Corporations hiring in my field tend to promote within. My new strategy is looking for government jobs, but that process seems to move at a snail's pace. Would it be career suicide to take an administrative position while I continue to look in my field? BTW: I just started a graduate program.

Reesa Staten: If you need the administrative position, you should take it. This particular job market is unprecedented and employers are more understanding of nontraditional career moves. It also gets your foot in the door and puts you in contact with people who may have jobs that are a better fit. As a former lobbyist, you know how important networking is. That is the key in this job market. Your graduate program can provide excellent networking and internship opportunities. Interns are of all ages these days, and if you can't afford to live on an intern's compensation/stipend, the administrative job can pay the bills while you continue your education.


If don't really need or want the accounts close them UNLESS you have other similar outstanding consumer debt.: I have three cards: one with no balance, credit card #2 will be paid off in October, and the third has a $5000 balance. I wanted to close either card number one or two after I paid off card #2, but are you saying I shouldn't until card #3 is paid off? Thanks!

Michelle Singletary: Don't close the paid off accounts until you have paid everything off.

And then only close them if you don't really want to use them again.


NOVA: My fiance and I are buying our first house and are working out mortgage details. We're big savers so are able to get a conventional loan and do a large down payment. Now we're trying to decide whether to do a 15 or 30-year mortgage. The difference between the two is about $500 a month. We can do the higher 15 year payment fine right now with both of us working. My worry is that if I take of time for kids or one of us loses a job, that extra $500 could become difficult (but not impossible). My fiance sees the long term lower interest rate and overall lower total cost, but this isn't necessarily going to be the only house we ever live in. I'm a worrier, by the way.

What do you think? Do you advise the 15 year higher payment or the 30 year lower one so we have more of a safety zone? We plan on overpaying our mortgage as we can and would overpay a 30 year one anyway.

Michelle Singletary: I like to have a safety zone. And you can always, always make extra payment to make it a 15-year loan anyway.

But that's me.


Saratoga Springs, N.Y.: Hi,

Any suggestions for the best way to network with alumni contacts?

Sharon Black: Linked In and Facebook are great tools for staying in touch. The best way to network is to offer support and help people. Share useful information, for example, an article in their field. Be a resource. The more you put into the relationship the more likely it is they will want to help you. Focus on the quality of your relationships versus quantity - meaning do not spread yourself too thin as we cannot network with everyone.


Radford, Va.: Hi Michelle,

I enjoy reading your column - you project as very sincere and caring. Thanks! My question for you is about peer lending groups, like "lending club." I think that use in these might grow as credit card companies tighten credit availability. They seem to offer attractive rates for investors, but I'm concerned about liquidity and security. What do you think is the future of lending clubs and do you think they are worth investing?

Michelle Singletary: I've written about these sites, clubs, etc.

I'm not a fan. It's too risky. And frankly I rather not be in the money lending business. I mean think about it the companies with all the technology can't always get it right and in fact failed miserably leading us into this recession.

So how can everyday people judge who will pay them back.

Stay away. Invest in a boring old mutual fund.


resume mistakes: I was working in HR years ago and we came across a resume from someone who looked great for the job, so my boss asked me to call her in. She had some kind of typo on her resume (I can't remember exactly what it was - but something that was misspelled, but still was a correctly spelled word - akin to misspelling "public"). My boss told me to tell her about the typo so that she could fix it if she was sending out her resume - trying to be nice.

Anyway, we invited her in to interview, she accepted the interview, and then didn't show up - we think she was so embarrassed at being told about the typo.

Reesa Staten: That is an unfortunate mistake. It underscores how important it is to proofread your resume and show it to others so they can read it, too. We have a website devoted to highlighting the funnier mistakes on resumes ( We publish them as a learning opportunity -- to show that mistakes are common but they are avoidable if you pay careful attention to the details. You can bet that job seeker won't make that mistake again.

Michelle Singletary: Maybe you are missing the elephant in the room.

She was just triflin and that may have not have anything to do with the typo.

I commend you for telling her AND still inviting her in for an interview. Good for you and your boss at the time.


Jacksonville, Fla.: I have a BBA in Economics and International Business. I have no work experience in the field. I worked for banks but in the last few years, the banks have been hiring and firing, which is not good on my resume. I am unemployed and homeless what can I do in this economy? Desperate.

Sharon Black: It sounds like you are in a really tough spot. Have you thought about taking any job even if it doesn't use your degree - for example temporary work or retail? Taking any job demonstrates that you have a work ethic. Perhap this will give you some financial breathing room while looking for something in your field.


In Debt in Arlington, Va.: Michelle,

I'm a 45 year old male and single. I recently rec'd a big promotion pushing my income 25% to 115K and also have a roommate who contributes $700 to my net income. I owe 250K on my condo and have 150K in equity in it. I also have $35Kin credit card debt (used to be 40K) and all with cards that have an interest rate at 10% or less. No other debt.

My 401(k) is at 80K - down considerably from last year. My savings outside of the 401(k) are 10K. While my job seems fairly safe (company doing well, big promotion, etc.) you tell folks to put money aside for a rainy day. Should I slow my plan (2.5 years) to get of debt and put more money into savings? Should I take an 8% loan on the 401(k) to pay off the accumulated credit card debt?

Any thoughts would be truly appreciated.

Michelle Singletary: Ok, a lot going on here.

You have a lot of money coming. First, make sure you have a good budget.

Next, figure out how much of that $10,000 will cover your monthly expenses. Save enough for about three months.

But while you are doing that cut your expenses and use all of that promotion money to get rid of the credit card debt.

Do not borrow money to pay off debt. I repeat do not continue your habit of using debt.

You can take care of this with your income and cutting expenses.


Washington, D.C.: I am 51 and involuntarily resigned my job recently. It has been 15+ years since my last job search and I am a little intimidated by the search and application process (particularly for federal positions).

How can a career coach or counselor help me and where is it best to look for one?

Sharon Black: A skilled career coach may be able to guide your career options. Make sure the career coach has good references from reputable sources. As with anything, you want to invest your money wisely. Network for referrals (LinkedIn can be a good source). Look online to see what others have had to say about that coach.


Rockville, Md.: When I got engaged, I had over $1.5 million in stocks, bonds, real estate, bank accounts, etc. My wife owned a car. No prenup. No nothing. 8 years and no problem. Before I met her, I was thinking prenup when dating others but I think that was a sign. When I met her, the idea never crossed my mind.

For bank accounts, we used to have 1 joint and 2 individual accounts. We each had a small amount go into individual accounts (spend freely, gifts, etc) and remainder going into the joint account. All bills (other than "gift, spend freely" bills) were paid from the joint. Didn't matter who made more. The house made $x per year.

Michelle Singletary: I like your approach to your marriage.


It works.


NOVA (again, just a thank you): Thanks for your answer! I'm going to forward it on to the fiance for us to talk about more.

Michelle Singletary: Good for you!

Talk more, even if it means pushing back the wedding date.


Tired of retrenching: Hello Michelle. I'm still trying to work my way out of debt. I thank God that I still have a job, and that I can pay the bills, but it is SO HARD to save money. Can you throw a hug and some encouragement my way?

I may not always like what you say (cause the truth hurts), but I always love you!

Michelle Singletary: Throwing.


Your Way.

And you can do this. You can.

Just keep looking at that debt go down and realize once it's gone you are no longer in bondage. You are no longer anybody's slave.


Tracking checking account: Sharing a tip: The single most important method for me to track expenses is to carry a check register with my debit card. I carried a checkbook for years & years anyway, so what's the difference? The funds still come from my checking account, only now with a card instead of a paper check. The register, card, and pen are tucked into the same checkbook folder, and the amount of purchase can be easily entered while waiting for the card to process. Registers can be easily purchased online. We have a vast assortment of cellphone covers; maybe some enterprising soul can start a line of blingy register folders and make it trendy to track funds!

Michelle Singletary: Good tip. Thanks.

I can't tell you how many people mess up their checking account by not keeping track of their debit purchases.


Germantown, Md.: Hi and thanks for taking my question. My husband currently works in another state (New Jersey) while I live in our house in Maryland and work down here. He is a political reporter for a local paper and has been sending out resumes to papers in this area for the past 5 months. I keep trying to get him to think of applying for a government contract position but he keeps saying it is too hard to get into. He has over 8 yrs experience as a journalist so I believe that has to count for something. Any suggestions?

Reesa Staten: Since you have a limited number of newspapers and magazines in your city, your husband should also look at opportunities in online media or writing jobs that allow him to telecommute. Has he considered corporate or agency public relations? A journalism background is highly valued in PR and communications fields. Not all journalists want to make this kind of switch, but it could provide more employment opportunities and allow him to continue to use his writing, reporting and editing skills.


Washington, D.C.: Michelle,

Rather than taking that much space in a newspaper to tell people how important it is to fix their typos - you instead preached to EMPLOYERS - to lower their standards.

You didn't call it lowering standards, but that's what it is. As an employer, I know that a resume is my potential employee's most scrutinized piece of writing (or it should be). If they miss errors on their resume, I will assume that they will likely miss errors in their daily tasks.

People with typos who miss out on job opportunities are not victims. Stop babying them, tell them to buck up and get it right. You are doing them a disservice by saying the opposite.

Michelle Singletary: Guess your reading comprehension is a bit off.

I asked employers to be compassionate, not to lower their standards.

AND I encouraged people -- giving them tips -- to recognize that people like yourself who have NEVER made a mistake will not be forgiving so that they need to do what they can to produce an error-free resume.

I think I covered both bases.


Hmmmm...for Durham, N.C.: Michelle -- what does your Hmmmmm mean?

Michelle Singletary: It means people seem to value their money more than their heart and body.

If you don't trust someone with your money, then why are you trusting them with something that money shouldn't, can't, won't buy?


Jacksonville, Fla.: I am unemployed since 2005, when the banks such as Wamu started shuffling jobs around the country and out of the country. I have now graduated from college with a BBA in Economics and International Business, yet I can't find a stable job because of lack of experience(recruiters want 3 to 10 years. Can you imagine that?). Gaps in my resume (hiring and firing in the banks to avoid paying the benefits promised at recruitment was the game right before the banks failed and were bailed out.)

I am homeless except when I had student loans. Now that I am not in school and no money coming in, I can't even secure a McDonald's job to get a roof over my head. I do not "qualify for unemployment because I haven't contributed in the last 3 years". I am not receiving any bail out from the government either. What should I do?

Sharon Black: I am so sorry to hear about your situation. I would suggest pursuing temporary clerical and light industrial work. Share with the recruiter that you will work short term assignments to show your work ethic and build your references. This could lead to longer term positions. You will also need to secure good references from your past employers to bridge the gaps in employment. Employers are more understanding of employment gaps given the economy but you must have good references to back it up.


Maryland: What is the difference between working as a contractor vs. working as a temporary employee?

Reesa Staten: Both contract positions and temporary positions can be secured through staffing firms, and the difference can relate to the length of the assignment (often longer for contract) or the field (IT positions are sometimes referred to as contract). We just published a report ( that notes that companies will be hiring more contractors as we head into economic recovery. This is common because they may not yet have a full-time job. Independent contracting is different than working through a staffing firm. Independent contractors must find their own assignments and are responsible for tax witholdings, etc.


Michelle Singletary: Well, can't believe it's 1 already.

Thanks to my guests. They got to quite a few questions. And yet there were still more. So they've agreed to answer some leftovers. I'll print the answers in my eletter next week. I do hope you have subscribe. If not you can find a link to join up on the personal finance page of our site.

Thank you all for joining me on the chat. As always, good questions, great comments, even fair critiques.

Take care and keep saving.


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