I was part of a panel discussion for NPR, which has been going to various cities to talk to folks about their finances.

At one of the community events in Los Angeles, a young woman in her 30s trying to jump-start another career in occupational therapy after being laid off said she had more than $200,000 in student loan debt. She’s worried about it, of course. But something else struck me. She and her husband are also worried the debt will prevent them from being homeowners.

I told them to first focus on getting rid of the student loan debt.

Homeownership has for decades been key to the achieving the American dream. But should that dream be deferred in our still recovering economy?

“U.S. home prices crashed 43 percent between 2005 and 2012, yet polls find that the vast majority of Americans still consider home ownership to be a good idea and the best way for average people to build wealth,” writes The Washington Post’s Michael Fletcher.

For some, or even many, buying a home doesn’t make sense. Fletcher reports about a new study by HelloWallet, a company that works with employers to provide online financial planning services to their employees.

“Over half of current homeowners, 40 million households, purchased their homes during time periods when average homebuyers would have been better off renting and investing,” the report said.

One of the things that drives me nuts is when people say the top reason to buy a home is the tax benefit. It’s not as big a benefit as many think, HelloWallet points out in its report.

“For many families, the tax write off that they gain by buying a home is little better than the standard federal tax deduction — $6,200 for single people and $12,400 for couples who file taxes jointly,” reports Fletcher.

Another factor in when to buy? Timing. “The higher that rents are relative to price, the more financial sense it makes to buy a home,” Fletcher writes.

HelloWallet asks in its report: Could disciplined renters build more net wealth than home buyers, while taking on much less risk, by eschewing homeownership and investing the yearly savings from renting in a tax-deferred retirement plan?

Its calculations find that they can.

Color of Money Question of the Week

Does the American dream of homeownership still make financial sense? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your full name, city and state.

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Black Thursday

Maybe we haven’t lost the war against consumerism.

Since 2011, major retailers have pushed Black Friday into Black Thursday by opening on Thanksgiving Day in hopes of getting more holiday dollars. But “a core crew of retailers is pushing back, loudly proclaiming they will stay closed on Thanksgiving — and hoping the moral high ground will pay off even more,” writes The Washington Post’s Drew Harwell.

Harwell reports that Costco, GameStop, Nordstrom and at least two dozen other retail chains won’t open on Thanksgiving, and they are making a big deal about it.

GameStop said the store was staying closed “out of respect for our store associates and their families and friends.”

According to Harwell, “A spokesperson for the parent company of Marshalls and T.J. Maxx said, ‘We consider ourselves an Associate-friendly Company.’ ”

Costco said in a statement: “Our employees work especially hard during the holiday season and we simply believe that they deserve the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families.”

Says Harwell: “It is morality as a marketing scheme, and it’s adding a new tension to how retailers will compete during some of the busiest shopping days of the year.”

Are you buying their high moral ground?

Wealth gap in the air

Many of you will be visiting friends and relatives for Thanksgiving, and some of you will be flying. And that means you’ll get another reminder of the wealth gap in America.

On a long flight from Los Angeles to Baltimore recently, I caved and purchased what United calls Economy Plus seating. I just couldn’t stand the ideas of sitting for six hours with my knees and legs crunched. And Lord help me if the person in front of me pushed back his or her seat.

It’s bad enough that coach folk have to march past the privileged in first class with their wide leather seats, ample leg room, boarding drinks and segregated overhead space. (Still, knowing that you paid so much less for your ticket, you walk by trying not to player hate.) But then along came the great seat divide, which further separates the haves from the have nots.

On several recent flights, no matter how much I twisted my legs I couldn’t get away from them rubbing up against the men and women sitting next to me in coach. So, I loved this headline on a recent Wonkblog post by The Post’s Zachary A. Goldfarb. It read: “Why everyone still hates the airline industry, in one tweet.”

Here’s the tweet, from law professor Rick Hasen, who was flying from Chicago to Los Angeles: “Back on another @AmericanAir new plane. My review: beautiful seats, screen, plugs/usb: bad seat pitch and less room for writing on a laptop.”

As Goldfarb reported, American took the opportunity to try and up-sell Hasen.

The airline tweeted: “Have you tried our Main Cabin Extra seating? Up to 6 inches more legroom per seat.”

Hasen responded: “I understand. There is great pressure to monetize everything on airplanes. And cartelization gives frequent flyers less choice.”


A strike back for customers who think having a seat that doesn’t make you uncomfortably and awkwardly intimate with a strange seatmate should be part of the price of your ticket. We may not be able to afford first class, but at least treat us like a paying customer.

As Goldfarb pointed out, this is why “airlines still rank at the bottom of the pack, with poor inflight service and uncomfortable seats being a big part of the reason.”

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to www.washingtonpost.com/business.