Michelle Singletary

Washington, D.C.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column The Color of Money, which appears in The Washington Post on Wednesdays and Sundays. Her award-winning column is syndicated by The Washington Post News Service and Syndicate and is carried in dozens of newspapers nationwide. She has written four personal finance books, including, "What to Do With Your Money When Crisis Hits: A Survival Guide" and “The 21-Day Financial Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Freedom.” Singletary was the financial expert for “The Revolution,” a daytime program on ABC. For two years, she was the host of her own national television program, “Singletary Says,” on TV One. She is a frequent contributor to various NPR programs and has appeared on national talk shows and television networks, including CNN, PBS, NBC’s “Today,” and “The Early Show on CBS.” In her spare time, Singletary is the director of a ministry she founded at her church, in which women and men volunteer to mentor others who are having financial challenges. As part of this ministry, she and her husband also volunteer to teach financial literacy to prison inmates. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park. She has received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a master’s degree in business and management. In 2020, The Washington Post celebrated her long and distinguished career at the paper with the Eugene Meyer Award, its highest journalistic honor. To stay informed about various money issues subscribe to Michelle’s weekly retirement and personal finance newsletter, which will be delivered to your inbox every Monday and Thursday.

Archives

Read all of Michelle's Newsletters Read all Color of Money Discussions Honors & Awards:
  • The Washington Post Eugene Meyer Award, highest journalistic honor, 2020
  • Distinguished Achievement Award from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, the organization’s highest honor, 2019
  • Hall of Fame for the Society of Professional Journalists Washington, D.C., Pro Chapter, 2019
  • Fellowship, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton Seminars for Business Journalist, awarded by National Press Foundation, 2018
  • Salute to Excellence Award for Community Service, National Association of Black Journalists, 2010
  • Best in Business, series of columns, Society of American Business Editors, 2008
  • Books by Michelle Singletary:
  • What To Do With Your Money When Crisis Hits: A Survival Guide
  • Buy on Amazon
  • The 21 Day Financial Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Fre
  • Buy on Amazon
  • Your Money and Your Man: How You and Prince Charming Can Spend Well and Live Rich
  • Buy on Amazon
  • Spend Well, Live Rich: How to Get What You Want with the Money You Have
  • Buy on Amazon
Recent Articles

MICHELLE SINGLETARY COLUMN

Advance for release Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, and thereafter

(For Singletary clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Michelle Singletary

WASHINGTON -- Pandemic loneliness pushed many Americans online in search of a love connection. But a surge in romance scams often left them with an empty bank account as well as a broken heart.

For the past three years, people have reported losing more money on romance scams than on any other type of fraud, according to the FTC's Consumer Sentinel Database. Last year, the reported losses for romance fraud reached a record $304 million, up about 50% from 2019. And many of those losses were reported by older people.

Adults 60 and older reported losing about $139 million to romance scams in 2020, a new report from the FTC finds. That's a significant increase from the $84 million seniors lost to such scams in 2019. It's important to note this is only what people reported to authorities.

In this loathsome scheme, con artists use fake dating profiles to impersonate people looking for romantic relationships. The contact could also start as a friend request or message on a social media platform. The criminals ultimately persuade their victims to send them money via gift cards or wire transfers.

Before covid, schemers made up all kinds of reasons not to meet in person, and the repeated cancellations could alert some people that they were being bamboozled. But the pandemic gave criminals cover. Guidelines on social distancing provided a plausible excuse to keep the relationship online and avoid meeting in-person.

"What scammers do in a romance scam is they make up reasons why they can't meet their supposed love in person," says Kati Daffan, an assistant director in the Federal Trade Commission's division of marketing practices.

The pandemic inspired new twists to the stories that scammers typically use to defraud their victims.

"People reported that their so-called suitor said that he couldn't travel because of the pandemic or canceled a date because of a supposed positive covid-19 test," Daffan said. "Nobody should feel ashamed of coming forward to tell their story if this happened to them because scammers are incredible about coming up with believable stories."

The FTC's analysis is based on self-reported data from consumers. The FBI estimated in its annual Internet crime report that more than 23,000 people lost more than $600 million in confidence fraud, including romance scams, last year. This is up from $475 million in 2019.

These numbers don't surprise Kathy Stokes, director of AARP Fraud Prevention Programs. She also runs AARP's Fraud Watch Network. Many people are still isolated because of the pandemic. They are lonely and, in the case of a widow or widower, grieving. This makes them more vulnerable and susceptible to being generous.

"The pandemic may have driven more people online, whether it was to a dating app or a dating website, or to just engage more in social media or online games," Stokes said.

The problem is the scam can go on for months or years, draining people's life savings.

"And we're not talking just about $1,000 or $10,000," Stokes said. "We had victims call the helpline who have lost half a million dollars. Once they realize that it has been a scam, they are devastated financially and emotionally. And we hear from families where these poor victims end up dying by suicide."

We need to recognize this isn't about people being simply gullible. These scammers are super-sophisticated and organized.

"It's not the guy in his mom's basement making a call one at a time, trying to find somebody to get over on," Stokes said. "It's criminal enterprises, often transnational."

An Oklahoma man was sentenced last month to four years in prison for managing a group of money launderers in an online Nigerian romance scam that stole at least $2.5 million from many victims, including elderly individuals across the United States, according to the Justice Department.

In Texas, 11 suspects have been charged with targeting widowed and divorced seniors on dating sites such as Match.com, Christian Mingle, JSwipe, and PlentyofFish.

The criminals concoct sob stories of needing funds to pay taxes, cover travel costs or pay down debt. In the Texas case, the suspects siphoned tens of thousands of dollars at a time from victims' accounts, the Justice Department said.

There's a lot of outreach to get the message out about scams, especially romance scams. Many victims are often too embarrassed to come forward and admit they were hoodwinked. The FTC's Pass it On campaign provides fraud prevention materials and resources. Share the information with anyone you know who could be a target. AARP has resources at aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.

If you know a friend or relative is talking to someone online, pry. Daffan suggests doing a reverse image search, because often the scammers will copy someone's photo as part of a dating profile or pretend to be a real person with a presence online.

Scams fall into the category of "see something, say something." This is a warning for those of you who love someone who is looking for love. Do what you can to help them avoid losing their heart along with their money.

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Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

MICHELLE SINGLETARY COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, and thereafter

(For Singletary clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only. WRITETHRU: In final graf, changes attribution to "Bakkum said" (sted "he said")

By Michelle Singletary

WASHINGTON -- The pandemic has delivered another unwelcome threat to our lives -- inflation.

Consumer prices are rising, and if you're living paycheck to paycheck, this means you have a harder time paying for food, gas and other items.

Inflation hit a 13-year high in September, with consumer prices up 5.4 percent compared with a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Inflation has been a surprising and unwelcome guest, seeming to persist at an elevated level at a time when we're all hoping to put the devastating economic impacts of the pandemic behind," said Mark Hamrick, senior economic analyst for Bankrate. "Like the pandemic-caused downturn itself, it exacerbates wealth and income inequality. The wealthy can adjust. Those on lower incomes, not so much. It is as if some people just can't catch a much-needed break."

Like Blue Origin's rocket blasting into space, prices are way up compared with what we were used to pre-pandemic. But this isn't a fun ride. Here's how to handle a rise in consumer prices.

- What changes should I make to my budget to beat inflation?

This is a time when you should review how you spend your paycheck. Even if you've cut until it hurts, look for additional trims.

· Obvious places to cut are eating out or streaming services. When was the last time you looked at your mobile plan?

· Use apps and the Internet to find lower prices where they are available, including for gasoline.

"When prices aren't changing all that much, people may be inclined to invest less of their time shopping, thinking that it might not make all that much of a difference," Hamrick said. "Think of shopping right now as investing time to find better deals."

Supply-chain disruptions may continue to push consumer prices up, so you might want to get an early start on your holiday shopping, Hamrick said.

Hamrick makes this great point: Is this a year when something more personal, such as baked goods or a customized photo album, could be substituted at a lower price?

· Put off unnecessary purchases until supply issues are resolved and prices go down.

"Whether it's an updated iPhone or another piece of clothing to mostly hang in the closet, most Americans simply consume more than they need to," Hamrick said.

- Is there anything I can do to reduce my food costs?

In an inflationary environment, substitutions can be your financial friend.

Food and shelter costs rose in September -- and, put together, accounted for more than half of the monthly increase of all items measured in the consumer price index when seasonally adjusted, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Prices for meats, poultry, fish and eggs rose 2.2 percent over the month, and beef prices rose 4.8 percent.

Food prices have largely been rising because of weather-related shortages, transportation issues and lack of staffing. Meat and fish prices are going up faster than vegetable prices, so take that into consideration in your at-home meal planning.

Hamrick said he went shopping recently to make crab cakes for his son, visiting from Los Angeles. A 50 percent price hike for crabmeat changed the menu.

"I bought chicken thighs and cooked them at a fraction of the price," Hamrick said. "Now's the time to try to spend time when possible preparing meals at home, using lower-cost items as much as possible."

- Should I change how I invest for retirement?

Inflation doesn't really change what you should have been doing all along, which is diversifying, said Carolyn McClanahan, a certified financial planner who founded the fee-only Life Planning Partners, based in Jacksonville, Fla.

"Through thick and thin, the best way to prepare for any economic environment is to have a diversified portfolio," McClanahan said. "If you aren't already practicing diversification, now is the time to make that change."

If you're an ultraconservative saver who has shied away from stocks because you're scared of the stock market, you might want to consider that inflation is also a risk. If you don't at least keep pace with inflation, you're losing the purchasing power of your money.

"Where interest rates are right now, investors need to take on slightly more risk to get a return that may beat inflation," said Ben Bakkum, quantitative investing associate at the digital adviser firm Betterment.

- Is there anything I can do to take advantage of a rise in inflation?

If you have some cash that you don't think you'll need for a while, consider purchasing bonds, McClanahan recommends.

Series I Savings Bonds, which are issued by the Treasury Department, allow investors to earn a combination of a fixed interest rate and the rate of inflation, adjusted semiannually. The composite rate for I bonds issued from May through October is 3.54 percent.

To buy and own an electronic I bond, you must establish a TreasuryDirect account. Go to treasurydirect.gov.

- Is there any good news about rising inflation?

If you receive Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits, you'll see your payments go up because of rising consumer prices. The Social Security Administration announced a 5.9 percent benefit Increase for 2022.

And, if inflation relents next year, which some believe is possible as supply chains normalize, Social Security recipients will continue to get the higher payments anyway, Hamrick said.

Additionally, one of the few potentially beneficial effects of rising inflation will be that the Federal Reserve may well lift benchmark rates sooner rather than later, and more than previously believed, he said. That's welcome news for savers.

"Previously miserly returns on savings should begin to rise," Hamrick said.

It's hard not to panic about inflation when your paycheck doesn't go as far as you need. Still, keep things in perspective. It's not the 1970s, when prices skyrocketed.

"Recent headlines about increasing inflation have been alarming, but inflation itself is not abnormal if it's not out of control," Bakkum said.

- - -

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

MICHELLE SINGLETARY COLUMN

Advance for release Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, and thereafter

(For Singletary clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only.

By Michelle Singletary

WASHINGTON -- Covid made things much harder for a lot of workers, but it has been financially devastating for many older women.

One of the most defining and troubling aspects of the pandemic is how badly it has affected women. And now a new report from AARP finds that when you dig further into the numbers, the financial fallout from the pandemic has been more pronounced for mid-career and older workers.

Since the beginning of 2020, a large percentage of female workers 40 to 65 lost their jobs (14%), saw their work hours reduced (13%), were furloughed (9%) or had their salary or hours cut (4%).

Job losses for Black and Hispanic women were higher than for White and Asian women -- 20% for Black women and 23% for Hispanic women, compared with 13% for White women and 14% for Asian women.

While unemployment has dropped significantly since the beginning of the pandemic, nearly 70% of women over 40 who are still unemployed have been out of work for six months or more.

With so many employers complaining they can't find workers, you may be wondering what gives.

Well, lots of women are overqualified for the entry-level or low-paying service-related jobs being advertised. Or, they find employers don't want to hire them, because of their age. Nearly one-third of older women cite age discrimination as an impediment to finding a job.

Linda Sussman is 65 and lives in Manhattan. She's a seasoned public health professional and is having trouble even getting an interview. Sussman took time off to raise her son, who's now 17, but she has more than 30 years of experience in the fields of family planning, human sexuality and women's reproductive health.

Even before the pandemic, Sussman said, she was having trouble rejoining the workforce. The pandemic made her job search much worse.

"People don't even return your calls or acknowledge receipt of your résumé," she said. "I have so many friends my age who were either laid off or furloughed because of covid. They have not gone back to work, not because they don't want to or need to -- they can't. There's no work. It's not that there's no work, because we all know there's a worker shortage. They just don't want people our age."

It comes down to this: There's a trifecta effect for older unemployed women. In looking for work, they are more likely to face age discrimination. Once they lose their job, they experience a longer period of unemployment. And if they do find work, they often have to take a pay cut.

Caregiving issues have also exacerbated already tenuous job situations. Women were limited to certain shifts or couldn't work full time, because they were caring for a child or a grandchild. This finding makes the case to continue or expand flexible work.

And of course, losing one's job affects one's ability to handle everyday expenses, and this leads to more debt. Nearly one-quarter of women who lost their income increased their credit card debt. Twenty percent had to borrow money from family, and 11% were forced to take money from a retirement savings account.

Here's why this report matters, said Susan Weinstock, vice president of financial resilience programming at AARP. As the United States recovers from the pandemic, we've got to consider the disparate impact on older women. If their employment is severely disrupted and their income lower, this affect their retirement security. We already know that far too many people are forced to live just on Social Security. According to Gallup, 57% of retired U.S. adults say they rely on Social Security as a major income source.

"That work or job is a key to your financial resilience," Weinstock said in an interview. "Having the ability to have a decent job that pays a good salary is going to give you the ability to be financially secure."

The accumulation of debt to make ends meet will also push women further back financially. Pessimism about their ability to recover was profound. Many women whose financial situation got worse during the pandemic believe their financial recovery could take as long as five years, according to the AARP report.

"That credit card debt is going to come back to haunt them for years with the high interest rates," Weinstock said. "Every year they are in debt or having trouble just compounds. Just like compound interest can be so helpful, it can work in the other direction, putting you in a worse-off situation."

Even if they are employed or find a job, older women are worried about furloughs or layoffs in the next year.

"Economic recovery should include additional help for caregivers and flexible work options, as well as continued efforts to eliminate age discrimination in both hiring and access to opportunities at work," the AARP report said.

Well said, because this isn't just a women's issue.

- - -

Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

About
Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column The Color of Money, which appears in The Washington Post on Wednesdays and Sundays. Her award-winning column is syndicated by The Washington Post News Service and Syndicate and is carried in dozens of newspapers nationwide. She has written four personal finance books, including, "What to Do With Your Money When Crisis Hits: A Survival Guide" and “The 21-Day Financial Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Freedom.” Singletary was the financial expert for “The Revolution,” a daytime program on ABC. For two years, she was the host of her own national television program, “Singletary Says,” on TV One. She is a frequent contributor to various NPR programs and has appeared on national talk shows and television networks, including CNN, PBS, NBC’s “Today,” and “The Early Show on CBS.” In her spare time, Singletary is the director of a ministry she founded at her church, in which women and men volunteer to mentor others who are having financial challenges. As part of this ministry, she and her husband also volunteer to teach financial literacy to prison inmates. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park. She has received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a master’s degree in business and management. In 2020, The Washington Post celebrated her long and distinguished career at the paper with the Eugene Meyer Award, its highest journalistic honor. To stay informed about various money issues subscribe to Michelle’s weekly retirement and personal finance newsletter, which will be delivered to your inbox every Monday and Thursday.

Archives

Read all of Michelle's Newsletters Read all Color of Money Discussions
Books
  • What To Do With Your Money When Crisis Hits: A Survival Guide
  • The 21 Day Financial Fast: Your Path to Financial Peace and Fre
  • Your Money and Your Man: How You and Prince Charming Can Spend Well and Live Rich
  • Spend Well, Live Rich: How to Get What You Want with the Money You Have
Awards
  • The Washington Post Eugene Meyer Award, highest journalistic honor, 2020
  • Distinguished Achievement Award from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, the organization’s highest honor, 2019
  • Hall of Fame for the Society of Professional Journalists Washington, D.C., Pro Chapter, 2019
  • Fellowship, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton Seminars for Business Journalist, awarded by National Press Foundation, 2018
  • Salute to Excellence Award for Community Service, National Association of Black Journalists, 2010
  • Best in Business, series of columns, Society of American Business Editors, 2008
Links