Reader Mailbag: Cold

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What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to five word summaries. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Building website skills
2. Which credit counseling service?
3. Serious mortgage trouble
4. Thermostats, nighttime temperatures, and kids
5. Shady credit union practices
6. Direct stock purchasing
7. Frozen interest rates?
8. Which debt to pay first?
9. Huge student loan debts
10. Company cuts 401(k) match

Somewhere during the last week or so, I picked up a pretty vicious cold. I’m not surprised – the stress level around here (with lots and lots and lots of things going on) has been pretty high.

I might just spend the afternoon drinking tea, eating some toast, and not doing much at all other than resting.

Q1: Building website skills
I’ve come up with a few website ideas that I think are really good.

The problem is that my developer skills are both incomplete and rusty. I took a basic web design class in high school (10 years ago), and a couple basic programming classes in college (6 years ago).

The only way I can think to learn this is to take some courses at a community/technical college. But I have no money to put into it. Are you aware of any free resources (books I can probably find at the library, online resources) to learn how to build a functional website?
- Julia

It really depends on what you’re trying to build.

If you’re trying to start a blog, the content matters way more than the design does, especially at first. Just start a blog at blogger or WordPress and get started with one of the default templates. If it takes off, then invest the money and get someone who can actually design a template do the work for you (I did my own here, but I will probably revise it soon with some help).

If you’re thinking of something else – a static site, or something like that – you have a couple of options. You can stick to something really basic and teach yourself using online web documentation, but there’s a bit of an upper limit on what’s feasible if you’re approaching this from an “on the side” angle. On the other hand, you could simply get a copy of Adobe Dreamweaver and learn how to use that.

Q2: Credit counseling services
A recent posting mentioned Consolidated Credit Counseling Services. If you were thinking of using a service like that, which one would you use?

- Kathy

I don’t recommend any particular credit counseling services, as I don’t have experience with enough of them to recommend any. However, I can tell you what I would look for in such a service if I were looking for one.

I would start with my state’s Consumer Protection Office and ask for a list of recommended agencies – i.e., ones that are in good standing with the state. I would make sure that they’re affiliated with the NFCC or the AICCCA, meaning they’re at least accreditable to some larger entity. I would meet with at least a few of these agencies and determine which ones meet my needs. Ask them for a full disclosure of all of their fees.

Remember, though, with credit counseling, the odds are not in your favor. According to Liz Weston, only a third of people who meet with credit counseling services wind up in their program, and those programs have a 45% dropout rate. You have about a 1 in 6 chance of actually being helped from a consumer credit counseling service.

Q3: Serious mortgage trouble
My nephew and his girlfriend are in deep trouble with their mortgage and finances. They bought a house for $489,000 couple of years ago and got a mortgage paying 8.5% interest only, which will change in a couple years and will have to start paying principal too. The house appraised @ #350,000 or so last year (probably worth less now). They both have good managerial jobs in retail & newspaper, but have not been frugal in saving. My other concern is that the industry that they are in is not stable. They have brought alot of luxury things, so they have other bills as well and don’t have much savings. Plus they have a baby along it’s way. My question is where do they get help. They have tried to refinace their mortgage but the mortgage company is not of much help. Should they walk away from this mortgage or is there some kind of government help that they can pursue?

- Grace

I’m really surprised that their mortgage company isn’t of much help. The government is strongly encouraging mortgage lenders to get bad mortgages off of their books and this certainly sounds like a bad mortgage. Have they tried to refinance in the last six to nine months? If not, they should try again.

If the company truly won’t work with you, they should take a serious look as to what happens with the mortgage when they have to begin paying principal. Since this is not a standard mortgage, does the interest rate adjust? How much principal are they going to have to pay?

In the next two years, they’re going to simply have to make some hard choices. Are they willing to give up their luxury goods? Are they willing to give up their home? One of those is going to have to give.

Q4: Thermostats, nighttime temperatures, and kids
My husband and I have had a programable thermostat for years, and always had the temp go down when we are at work or when we’re asleep. However, last year we had twins. They were born in November, and since they were tiny and fragile, and since we were home 24/7 and up all hours of the night, we just sort of let the thermostat stay at a constant 68 degrees. (which is pretty much as low I am willing to go, I truly dislike being cold.) We swaddled the babies as long as we could, then employed fleece sleep-sacks and layered onesies/footed jammies and hats at night. Now they are almost a year old, which is when those authorities who approve such things say you can put blankets in the crib, etc. The boys do sleep all night most nights, and we still use the PJ’s and sleep sacks. However, I am hesitant to use the thermostat to drop the temperature down during the night again because they move around so much at night, I don’t think they would keep a blanket on, and even with the sleep sacks and layered pajamas, they always have ice cold hands and feet when they are sleeping, even with the temp staying solid at 68 degrees. Also, we do still occasionally have middle-of-the-night wakings, when we are forced to be up and about and tend to babies. Usually we just throw extra blankets on the bed hen the real cold comes, but I am at a loss of what we can do about the babies. They are no longer frail little peanuts, they are solid, healthy, almost-one-year olds, but I don’t want them to be cold or uncomfortable at night. I would, however, like to save where I can with the heating bill. We live in a decently-insulated, modest 3-bedroom house near Chicago. Winters can be pretty brutal. We no longer have periods of time during the day when no one is here like we used to. We have someone come to our house to take care of them when we work, and when we don’t we’re often here all day anyway. What do you do to keep your kids warm at night, and let the temperature in the house drop down to save money? What about when someone is home all day? Or should we just suck it up to another essential expense of having kids until they are able to stay put in bed?

- Jennifer

As I’ve mentioned before, the benefit of dropping the temperature in your home comes when there’s no one active in your home – during the day if it’s empty and at night when everyone is sleeping.

Your note obviously eliminates the daytime drop as there are people at home and active. You’ve also noted a lot of different reasons why you don’t want to drop it at night.

If it’s personally important to you, then don’t drop the temperature at night. Simple as that. We drop the temperature some at night (down to 60F), even with three kids under five at home. There’s never been a problem with it.

Q5: Shady credit union practices
I am buying a house, thanks in no small part to you and your helpful blog, which I have been reading for years. For seven years I have banked at a wonderful, friendly credit union. They know all their clients by name. They have a lot of clients who have been through homelessness, addiction, etc and are only now (in their 40′s and 50′s, etc) opening their checking or savings account with them, and they are wonderful with these clients. They give tiny loans for $300-500 for clients to buy bikes to get to and fro from work, etc. In short, I have always thought this was the most progressive and wonderful credit union.

When I went to look at my credit report, however, I found that they had erroneously reported that I had paid my tiny revolving credit line 90 or more days late, multiple times. Of course this was an error — I’ve never been late on a payment, so I took all my records in and expected that they would clear the problem up right away. I was horrified when they basically acted like it was my fault, like I had made lots of late payments, and they casually told me they’d “look into it” and acted insulted when I asked for a manager or someone else to help me.

The mortgage broker had suggested I stand firm and insist on speaking with someone in charge, so I did — but they acted put off and angry. The person they finally brought out for me made me wait a long time and then did not call me for more than a week (she said she would call the next day.) When they found it was indeed an error, they insisted that I do all the work to call Experian and Equifax, formally dispute the charges and then they would “work on it.” One of those companies wants me to pay $10 to get their report before I can make an online dispute!

This makes me really sad. Personally, if someone came into my job and told me I would make a mistake, I would drop everything and research the issue until it was resolved. Especially if it was a good, long-term customer! I felt I had a personal relationship with the staff at this credit union, and now feel like they think I’m just some delinquent. Is this sort of behavior normal for a bank? Should I find a new credit union? Or am I just putting way too much personal feeling into a relationship that never existed?
- Linda

This doesn’t sound like an overall credit union problem. This sounds like an employee of a credit union who doesn’t want to put in any legwork.

If I were you, I would go to the credit union and escalate this. Bring in every evidence you can of your on-time payments. If the person at the counter won’t help you, escalate. If that person won’t help you, escalate.

If your story is accurate, the credit union is having some personnel issues that need to be addressed. Those aren’t good practices for any financial institution.

Q6: Direct stock purchasing
I’ve been reading your blog for the past few months and love it. I have a question about buying stock direct from an S&P-500 company. Right now, I have a few shares of company X in a Sharebuilder account. SB charges $9.95 (or something like that) per transaction, whereas if I buy stock directly through company X it only costs me $1 + $0.10 per share transaction. I plan on buying $20 or so per month in a buy-and-hold type of strategy because of the steady dividend payments on the stock. Do you think this is a good idea to avoid “high” brokerage fees? Secondly, the information on company X’s website indicates that it is possible to transfer shares from a brokerage to an account with them, but in order to do that – the shares must be assigned to me. How would I go about doing this so that I may transfer the shares to company X’s account?

- Josh

This is a good plan if you’re looking at it from the narrow perspective of investing just in the stock of one company.

However, you should keep in mind that a single company’s stock is a very poorly diversified investment. If that company fails, you lose most of – if not all of – your invested money. You should be counterbalancing this investment with investments in other things.

You also need to check and see what the policy is for selling the shares should you choose to do so. If they make it difficult in any way, that’s another red flag.

Q7: Frozen interest rates?
I just tried to use your blog post about calling the credit card company and asking for a rate reduction. I spoke with two people and was told that my credit union has frozen their ability to lower interest rates until February of 2011 because of the recent changes in government policy. Now, this definitely sounds like a [fishy story] to me, bit could there be any truth to it?

- KD

This might very well be the credit union’s policy. I’m not involved in the business analysis at that credit union, so I don’t know.

However, I will say that such a policy isn’t directly mandated by any government source that I’m aware of or that I could find while researching it.

Most likely, this is a temporary policy of the credit card company while they try to figure out their new game plan after the new credit card act that was just passed.

Q8: Which debt to pay first?
I just finished (re)filling my emergency fund to a level that gives me comfort – just around 10k.

I have about 1000 per month in free cash flow that I can use to pay down debt.

A) 17k private student loan @8% variable 18 / 20 years remaining. $150 monthly
Or
B) 7k auto loan @ 6% fixed with 24 payments left. $350 per month.

I save more money over the long run with option a, as well as reduce my risk of the variable rate increasing. But with b, I can change my cash flow situation rather quickly (e.g. extra 350 per month in a matter of 6 to 8 months). My brain tells me to go with a because of the long term savings, but my gut with b because the vehicle has a shorter usable life than the education, and the cash flow change is dramatic.

What are your thoughts?
- Chris

You’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head with your description of the two options.

I would look at other factors for the decision. How stable is your current employment? The more stable it is, the more I would lean towards option (a). How about your personal life? Is there marriage or a move or a child coming up? Again, the more stable things are, the more I would lean towards option (a).

Cash flow helps the most when you’re getting ready for changes because you can bolster your short term savings with it. If things are stable, then option (a) puts more cash in your pocket in the long run.

Q9: Huge student loan debts
I am almost 27 years old and I have a HUGE amount of debt. HUGE. After graduating from high school in 2002, I was accepted into a highly competitive 6year medical program that took students from high school and put them directly into medical school without having to get a degree before applying. The first 4 years of school went fine and I was successful academically. Everything changed for me in my 5th year when my father passed away suddenly from small cell lung cancer. I got way off track emotionally and let my school take a back seat to my bereavement. I took a sabbatical from school for 1 year to study for Step 1 of the boards and deal with my family issues. Needless to say, I didn’t study enough and I failed boards. Then I came back to school and retook the boards and failed them again. The school I was attending sent me to the Doctoral Candidate Review Board and I was dismissed from the program. At that point, I had had no job or income and was living off of student loans for school and for living costs. In total, I was taking out an average of $50,000/year split between private and public loans. After that career opportunity ended, I knew that I needed to get a job as quickly as possible and was hired in a supervisor role make $35,000/year. I have done Financial Peace, religiously read your blog along with an assortment of other personal finance blogs, and put myself on a very strict budget. I have worked with my loan companies and got an academic deferment for my public loans (I am now pursuing an MBA which my company is graciously paying for) and an economic hardship payment plan with my private loans. I have created a debt snowball and have eliminated any other kinds of debt ie credit card or small student loans (sub $5000). Recently, the most amazing and frightening thing happened to me and I was blessed with a beautiful baby girl. Prior to my daughter’s arrival in my life, I was barely making ends meet and planning for the future that I wanted. I was investing 10% of my income in my 401K, and putting $200 of every paycheck into my emergency fund, car repair fund, and xmas/birthday fund. Now, with Lila entering the daycare stage of her life, I am incurring costs that I never had the forethought to plan for. My big question is, what course of action would you recommend for me to get out from under this debt and keep my mistakes from negatively impacting the quality of my daughter’s life?

Pertinent numbers
Total Public Student loans: approx $225,000 at 5.375% interest – deferred till 2012
Total Private Student Loans: approx $85,000 at 4.20% interest – economic hardship, making $575 payments monthly
Rent/Utilities – $900
Avg costs for my daughter: $500
Bi-weekly take home pay is $950

From what I have read, you cannot declare bankruptcy on student loans but I feel like I have my back against a wall.
- Cary

That is backbreaking debt, no doubt about it. It is stories like these that make me very nervous to encourage people to incur a lot of student debt. If something goes wrong, you’re buried for a very long time without anything to help you out. Even if you make it, it slurps up a hefty chunk of your income for a very long time.

As for your problem, your best bet (that doesn’t involve trashing your credit, wage garnishments, and probable lawsuits) is to focus hard on that MBA and get yourself in the best position you possibly can by 2012. Every single dollar choice you make will impact this – you can’t afford any more debt and you need an emergency fund to protect yourself against that possibility. It’s time for used cars, beans, rice, and salad, my friend.

The problem with student loans is that they don’t go away. You can get sued at any time for an unpaid student loan. They can wage garnish you at any time for an unpaid loan. They just stick around until you pay them off. Your best approach over the long run is to face this challenge head on with everything you’ve got.

Q10: Company cuts 401(k) match
I am aggressively funding my emergency fund for 6 months of expenses following graduation but I have another question. You, and many other finance books, suggest only funding your 401(k) to the company match and using any excess to fund your Roth IRA. Due to the recession, my company has not matched at all for 2010 but may start again in 2011. Nevertheless, I continue to put 6% into my 401(k) and zero into my Roth IRA. This is in addition to funding my emergency fund. Should I re-direct the 6% to my Roth IRA until my company decides to match or keep things the way they are now?

- Lacey

I would start a Roth and contribute to that until the match returns. There are two big reasons for this. One, you’re almost always going to find better investment opportunities in a Roth due to the freedom of choice. Two, the money in the Roth is after-tax money – you won’t have to pay taxes on it when you take it out later.

As for whether the matching will return, I would bet on “no.” If a company realizes they can get away without matching, there will have to be a good reason for them to bring back retirement matching. From their bottom line, cutting matching looks like a “free” savings on wages – you’re not actually cutting anyone’s income, so they won’t mind.

The best thing you can do, though, is to just keep saving. The 6% you’re saving is far more important than where you’re saving it.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag. However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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50 thoughts on “Reader Mailbag: Cold

  1. Re: Thermostats at night: I wonder what the economics (and safety) would be for running a free standing heater to heat just one room. I have one of the type that circulates something hot inside itself, so it just radiates warmth which I use to preheat my bedroom in the winter before I go to bed. Very cozy.

  2. “Every single dollar choice you make will impact this” – excellent advice, even if you’re not in dire straits.

  3. Re: Q8, it’s true that paying the debt with the highest interest rate first is the optimal strategy for reducing the overall amount of interest you pay over the life of both loans.

    But in this case, the difference is next to nothing. I plugged your numbers into an online “debt snowball calculator” which put the extra cost of paying the car first at $82! Personally, I think it’s worth that much to knock a debt out quickly and free up your cash flow.

    JJ

  4. @Linda:

    I think you’re putting too much emotional energy into your relationship with your credit union. There’s a valuable lesson here: A bank is not your friend. Neither is a financial planner, a building contractor, or a mechanic. They are first and foremost a business partner. If they seem friendly, it’s only because they want your money.

    Your credit report is your responsibility. The way the process works is, if you think there’s an error, you file a dispute with the credit bureaus. They go back to the entity who filed the delinquency and give them a period of time to come up with proof that the delinquency is valid. If they cannot/do not, then the delinquency is removed from your report.

  5. @Jennifer: Since you say that your little ones have ice cold hands and feet at night, I think you need to crank that thermostat up a bit to keep those babies comfy. Once they are old enough to keep themselves covered with a blanket, you can go back to turning it down.

  6. @Cary: I’m not an expert on this, but you might look into an “income-based repayment” for your federal student loans, which caps your loan payments at a percentage of your monthly income and forgives the balance after 25 years (or 10 years if you work in certain public-service occupations).

    You might also take a second look at bankruptcy. Student loans are very difficult to discharge in bankruptcy, but not impossible. You must show “undue hardship” – you can read articles online about what that means.

    But in any case, you must do something. Your expenses already exceed your income (assuming you’re paying more than $80/month for food, transportation, and everything else), and when your federal loan payments kick in, just covering the interest will cost you $1000/month. Unless your MBA will realistically increase your income by that much and more, “eat rice and beans and hope for the best” is not going to cut it.

  7. @Jennifer – Have you considered putting a space heater in the babies’ room? That way you could keep their room comfortably warm without having to heat the whole house.

  8. Jennifer, if your house has a furnace and vents, you can shut the vents to under-used parts of the house and leave the babies’ room vent open to maintain a higher temp there, or, as Kerry D above suggested, you can get a free-standing heater. The oil-filled radiators provide gentle, quiet heat without blowing dust around. The only cautions are – 1) make very sure the circuit it is on can handle the load (I use one as the only source of heat in one part of my house, so I installed a separate circuit just for the heater) and 2) when the children reach crawling stage, you’ll need to take precautions against them getting access to the heater or its cord. In the old days, radiators had metal boxes surrounding them, with vents along the top and bottom for air circulation. Something like that, bolted to the wall, would probably be easy for a metal shop to produce and would take care of the problem.

  9. @Julia (Q1)
    WordPress can actually be used to create far more than just blogs. There are numerous plug ins out there that turn WP into anything from a real estate listing site to a full etail operation. Best of all, you don’t need that much dev skill to operate it.

    I started out with WP about 4 years ago with zero website development skills and these days I can easily create any number of sites.

  10. Re Q3: “I’m really surprised that their mortgage company isn’t of much help.”

    I’m really surprised that you’re really surprised. The nephew and girlfriend are making the mortgage payments, and from what Grace said, we don’t know for sure that they won’t be able to continue making the mortgage payments. They’re both employed and making good money, and apparently have enough money left over to buy “a lot of luxury things.”

    There are so many homeowners out there who are in so much worse shape than these two. And in many cases, the mortgage lenders (and the government) are giving even *them* the runaround. I’d think that Grace’s nephew and his girlfriend would be pretty far down the list of people who need help, if they’re even on it at all.

    Grace mentioned walking away from the mortgage. That may make financial sense for them. If that’s an option they’re considering, they should talk to a laywer.

  11. Q3: Like Johanna, I’m not sure why Trent is surprised. Lenders have their hands full with folks who are in default. They’re not giving the time of day to people who are able to make their payments.

  12. Cary, you should definitely do some serious research on the bankruptcy dischargeability of your loans given your current circumstances.

    Assuming you started paying your public loans today, you’d be paying $1,082 a month for the next FIFTY years; the deferral is just piling on the interest. If there is any way to negotiate a reduction in the public debt and get rid of all the private debt, I’d explore it very seriously. At your current rate of payment, it will take more than 17 years to pay off the private debt.

    I’m usually of the view that one’s debts should be paid, but there are limits to what is realistic. Home buyers who lied on their loan apps to get into houses they couldn’t afford were, in most cases, at least adults with some years of real world living behind them, got to live their dreams at least for a while, and there is the option of bankruptcy for them. A teenager who is in some cases not even old enough to take a drink legally and has bought into the hype that a college education will invariably lead to a great job that will pay off hundreds of thousands of debt with ease, and instead is chained to a lifetime of debt for nothing in return has my sympathy.

    For everyone who thinks the government was “helping” people by setting up the huge student loan racket, Cary is the poster child for how government programs can “help” you into debt slavery. The beneficiaries of these programs were not the students, but the tenured college faculty and staff members who have seen their pay scales skyrocket over the last 15-20 years, while the value of a college degree, especially in the liberal arts, has dwindles to practically nothing.

  13. @AnnJo: “For everyone who thinks the government was “helping” people by setting up the huge student loan racket”

    To whom are you referring? I don’t see where anyone said that.

  14. RE:Q4: Thermostats, nighttime temperatures, and kids.

    Put a space heater in the twins room and drop thermostat in the house overall at night.

    Portable electric heaters that heat by circulating oil or water, however, usually have lower surface temperatures. You should also use one that has safety features such as auto overheat shut-off protection and a safety tip-over switch.

    It was what we used in our drafty house when my youngest was an infant until she got old enough for blankets and being able to pull the covers up herself.

  15. Josh (Q6) – This is a great idea. I’m assuming that you’re going to enroll your shares in a company DRIP – if you’re not already familiar with them, the Motley Fool has a great section on how these work. And yes, you do need to own the shares in your own name – most brokerages (including Sharebuilder) hold them in a “street name”. Most places charge a fee to transfer them into your name. When I was starting my Johnson and Johnson DRIP, the average transfer fee I found was around $150 (on top of whatever commission they charged). I ended up actually purchasing my first share through One Share – the site is primarily geared towards purchasing stocks for kids, but I ended up paying about $120 for fees/shipping and a frame. I figured $120 for a frame was better than $150 in someone’s pocket. I know that they only sells shares of certain companies and it’s a fairly small list, but you might want to check them out. I plan on holding it for many years, so I figure the $120 will be eventually saved on fees (in 14 months, assuming I was paying $9.95 per trade).

  16. I’m with Johanna and Jackie.

    The couple is still making payments and apparently has enough cash left over to buy other things.

    Why do they need any help? Because their house went down in value? Sounds like they can still pay the loan that they agreed to pay so I don’t see the problem.

    Of course, it would make sense for them to have a large emergency fund in case anyone lost their job (or both!), but that’s not really the mortgage company or government’s concern.

  17. I would be very hesitant to use a space heater in a baby’s room – especially since Jennifer’s babies are a year old and will be able to climb out of their cribs in the near future.

  18. My brother has a space heater that looks like an electric fireplace and it the outside doesn’t get hot. I know because we used it on Christmas morning and we tested it out by touching it. One reason he got it was not to worry about my toddler nephew getting burned.

    I have no idea how much it costs, I’m sure it wasn’t cheap, but you can also turn off the heat and just enjoy looking at the fire (which we finally did on Christmas because it got really warm).

  19. @#18
    Running a gas fireplace gets very expensive very quickly. I don’t use mine anymore! Only when company is over or if we’d just like to enjoy it for an hour at night.
    If anything, make sure you turn the pilot flame off when you’re done using it — yeah, it’s sometimes a pain to remove the vent cover and reach under to turn off the gas. But that gas wastes quite a bit of money each month!

  20. @19 – I’m not talking about a gas fireplace but an electric one that plugs into a wall outlet.

  21. When my kids were that age we put them in socks and a onsie, then fleece footie pjs, and then a fleece sleep saque. No blankets till age 2 for us. I tried hats, but they pulled them off. We keep our home at 50 at night, and we live in WI. No problems.

    One thing we did in the night was to preheat their bed and room with a space heater and a heating pad. Turn off the heater and remove the pad when putting the kids down. At night if they wake up and need to be fed (although by 1 they really don’t need night feedings unless there is a health concern) you can put the heating pad back on the bed while you are feeding baby. The crib is nice and warm rather than cold when you put baby back down. Just always turn off and completely remove the pad from the crib when baby is in it. Safety first, please.

  22. “The beneficiaries of these programs were not the students, but the tenured college faculty and staff members who have seen their pay scales skyrocket over the last 15-20 years.”

    Only a very small number of people in higher education have seen their salaries “skyrocket.” None of them would be labeled staff and only a few are faculty. It’s mostly higher up deans and chancellors. Don’t think professors are living the life of luxury.

    I really think 68 degrees is an acceptable temperature. Your body adjusts. I have a four month old, and a cooler nighttime temperature is recommended to reduce the risk of SIDS. Unless they are crying or cuddling up to you for warmth, I don’t think you need to interpret cold hands and feet as a sign you need to raise your thermostat. I actually get sick every time we go to my mother in laws where the temperature is at around 74. All that forced air bothers me.

  23. @julia: I’m currently building a site (it’s in process) and I’m using WordPress with Genesis. Get a domain & hosting on GoDaddy and it’ll do an auto-install for you, then you’ll have to buy the Genesis & template but it’s not a lot of money. Almost everything from there on is drag and drop.

    I haven’t done much yet, but if you google cooking 4 rookies, you can see how the site looks while being built.

    Another option is to use Joomla and do the online tutorials (or buy a book). It’s a full content management system – less drag and drop, more structured. I was trying to run amazon ads on Joomla and couldn’t get them to work right, so I decided to give it a go in WordPress instead mainly because I’ve worked with wordpress blogs in the past.

  24. @Jennifer: 68 is really warm enough if the kids are in blanket sleepers and you sleep in pajamas. If it’s not, buy or borrow a mercury thermometer and check that it’s really 68 in the rooms.

    I live someplace where the climate is pretty warm, and we usually don’t even close the windows until it gets down to 68 outside.

    We did notice with our kids that when it was under 65 in the house at night, they woke up more, and I’ve had friends who said that their children were more likely to wet the bed if it was that cold.

    Winter warning: babies should *not* sleep in rooms that are very warm. It raises the risk of SIDS substantially. Dr Sears recommends 68 as the ideal temperature, except in the case of premature infants. In any case, if your thermostat is working correctly 70 is certainly warm enough.

  25. Q1: When trying to complete any project that is beyond your skills the worst thing you can do is get bogged down with the details. There are great sites like odesk.com or rentacoder.com that allow you to sub out the hard part. Focus on the idea and what it will take to succeed with it, not on font sizes and sql queries. Hire a coder for $8 an hour to do that for you.

  26. Cary, take Johanna’s advice. The IBR plan will be a huge help. For the first few years while you’re in school and not making much money, your payments would be piddly. They will increase, but they’ll be much more manageable than they would be under other payment schedules and with the time-limit in there, you can be less concerned about interest capitalizing (although of course, you should be running the numbers and ensure you’re doing what is best in your situation). I realize that some people may feel as though they’re flaking out of their loans under this, but you’re the textbook case of why this plan is needed. I’m doing this plan right now, and while my payments are low for a few years as I’m starting out, I’m saving the whatever extra money I can and putting it into a higher yield savings account so it’s there when I need to start making larger payments when my income increases in a few years.

  27. Cary: like Johanna said, the about income based repaymnt (IBR) plan will help you. With your debt of $225k and income of $35k the monthly payments would be about $160. (I assume you’re single). Focus on paying down your private loan as best you can, but the public loans which is most of your debt will be much easier to bear with IBR. check out ibrinfo.org for details.

  28. AnnJo: “The beneficiaries of these programs were not the students, but the tenured college faculty and staff members who have seen their pay scales skyrocket over the last 15-20 years”

    Nope. Income for professors rose 3-4% in the past 25 years. Thats right on par with income increases for the nation where personal income rose 3.5% from 1985 to 2010.

    Tuition has gone up since state funding has not kept up with spending over the years and more of the cost of education is being paid directly by students and less by state tax dollars.

  29. Q3 Grace: Given what you said I doubt they’d qualify for government help. If they have “good managerial jobs” then they may very well have a fairly high combined salary. That might disqualify them from modification aid. Their loan / value is too high to get help with the government refinancing program.

    Lenders are not required to participate in the government programs in general and are not required to give people modifications if they do participate. The government gives incentives and coaxes lenders but thats about it. If the bank doesn’t want to help then thats the banks decision. The banks get to decide based on what the bank thinks is more profitable for the bank. The bank is probably happy to keep getting that very high 8.5% interest as long as they keep paying it.

  30. If Linda wishes to pursue it, there is another
    route to take with credit unions. Unlike banks,
    credit unions “belong” to the member depositors.
    There is an elected board of directors. Linda
    could find out who they are and tell her tale to
    one of them. Or she could go to the annual
    meeting and tell her story to the assembled
    members and see what the director candidates say
    they will do. If other active members feel that
    Linda’s complaint has merit, the operation of the
    credit union will likely change.

  31. Q1 Julia,

    If it hasn’t already been pointed out, there are plenty of free courses (often through the community college adult ed courses) for web design and computer programming. My husband used to teach these all the time. Surprisingly, even with the bad economy and the people out of work, these classes often don’t get enough students–even though they are very, very good classes. I highly recommend people look for these classes in their area.

  32. Jennifer with the one year old: first get some information. Take the one year old’s temperature with an ear or rectal thermomenter in the morning. Regardless of the temperature of the kid’s hands, if the temperature as measured in the ear (infrared thermometer) or the rectum is normal than your child is in no danger.

    Also, human being wake up if they are truly cold. Only if your child was hypothermic when you put him or her to bed would she/he be in danger of “falling asleep and freezing to death”–and not at 68 degrees while wearing sleeping clothes. In your case, they will wake up and cry because that’s what one year olds do when they wake up in the middle of the night.

    Anyways, take their temperature.

    One more question: think of the kids in Mongolia or places like that where there is no heating at night and it’s 42F (or less!) in the yurt. How do they survive? Well, in that case the one year old probably sleeps with the parents, I don’t really know. How about traditional Inuit?

    Bottom line, 68F is not going to harm a dry, adequately clothed one year .

    I would suggest an electric sleeping pad except what if it malfunctions? A one year old cannot escape. I’d rather let the kid get a little cold than risk their safety with an electronic heating device.

  33. Linda with the credit union:

    There is no admissable explanation to excuse your credit union’s behavior. Here is a viable approach. I don’t think you should bother being nice. Be very direct and factual, but not overtly angry.

    Put your complaint in writing and direct it to the staff person who spoke to you as well as her direct supervisor.Start off the letter with praise and with your explanation of why you havealways liked the credit union (The account you gave in your letter was excellent). Now that they are feeling puffed up about how great their reputation is and what a friend of the credit unin you are, threaten that feeling with your shock and outrage at the incident which occurred.

    Detail the interaction you had with the employee in question and use his or her name. Make clear that are astonished and that it was irrepsonsible of the credit union and that individual to attempt to place the blame for their incorrect reporting and even the repsonsibility for fixing the harm to your credit rating back to you. If you ahve been applying for credit, , tell them that you are in the process of applying for credit (provide believable details here) and you are concerned that this mistake and lack of response may cause you monetary damages. If you’ve been thinking about applying for credit, say taht you had been planning to apply for a credit facility and are concerned that the false information they posted in your credit file would endanger that application. If that’s not true either, then then omit this element (implied and manifested harm to you ) of the letter.

    Say applying for and the responsibility for the responsibily for fixing this back in your lap, and that while you intially believed that this whole issue was due to an inadvertent error, their response to your bringing their attention to the matter is more akin to seems like active and wilful neglect.

    End the letter by saying “I am astonished that (credit union), which is known for its role in this community, would treat its loyal members in this neglectful fashion. I truly hope that it is what I believe it to be–an abberation. I would sinceley appreciate you letting me know what actions you will be taking to correct this error and the damage to my credit rating which it has caused.

    (Your Name.)

  34. Carla, study and retake that test and pass it. That provides proof of your capability. Then go back to the school and claim emotional hardship and plea for reconsideration. You’ve sunk $250K into your medical education and your mother was struck with cancer and you were devastated. Anyone can understand that. I’m pretty sure you could get readmission.

    As to the issue of the the loan payments and deferring them in this situation, I have no knowledge.

    It seems unlikely that the school would reject such an appeal if you are persistent.

  35. @Grace–I think the best option here is for your nephew and his wife to learn how to live on a budget. They can currently afford their mortgage so I don’t understand the hardship case. The main hardship here is self-inflicted and is their own lack of responsibility for their own finances, as far as I can tell.

  36. @AnnJo,

    One poster child doesn’t make the entire federal student loan program non-beneficial to students. No system is perfect, but the federal student loan program has benefited thousands of students by allowing them to attend college when they normally could not have afforded it, or would have been saddled with a much higher debt due to higher interest rates that are typical with private student loans. My wife attended college with the help of a Stafford loan, and would not have graduated when she did without it. She has no regrets about the loan.

    And, as people have mentioned already, college professors are simply not living the high life. Just like most middle class jobs, they’ve seen their wages increase less than the rate of inflation on average over the last 25 years.

  37. @Aaron, @AnnJo: I do think that the government is helping students by issuing/subsidizing student loans. I do not think that it helps students to make student loans almost impossible to discharge in bankruptcy. For some reason, I thought AnnJo was talking about the latter. If instead she meant the former, I retract my comment #13.

  38. @Julia. I am currently taking webpage design courses via the internet from a local college. Basically what we do each semester is read the textbook chapter by chapter and then do 1 or 2 of the chapter exercises. Here is a list of the better textbooks that I have used recently:

    - Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 Bible, Joseph Lowery (there is probably a CS5 Bible now)
    - CSS Web Site Design, Eric A. Meyer
    - The CSS Anthology, Rachel Andrew
    - Creating Web Pages with HTML, XHTML, and XML by Patrick Carey

    I have almost completed my AAS degree but there are a few other courses outside of my degree plan that I would like to learn about. What I plan to do is to go to the college bookstore and find out the name of the books used for those classes, purchase the book over the internet, and learn on my own. One other thing… as quickly as things change in the webpage design realm, be sure you are getting the most recent edition of the books.

  39. I agree with other posters that only a small percentage of college professors are raking in big bucks. It’s another story for college administrators. Also there is much more dependence now on adjunct instructors who are paid peanuts.

    In regard to computer and other credit courses, our local community college offers free tuition to seniors, maybe others do too??
    How long will this little perk last?

  40. @Kathy, Q2:

    I’m very surprised to hear the statistics that Trent provided, because my experience was such a good one! In 2005, after paying $250/month on a credit card for a year, I realized that I actually owed *more* on the credit card than I had a year beforehand. It turned out that I’d only been paying about 95% of the interest each month, and wasn’t paying it down at all!

    Since I was going through CCCS, the credit card company reduced my interest rate drastically, and I was able to pay off the credit card, my medical bills, and court fees in four short years. I have no doubt that I’d still be in debt if I hadn’t hired them.

  41. @Cary, Q9:
    Look into Public Service Loan Forgiveness if non-profit and/or government work is a possibility. After 10 years of consecutive payments while working for a non-profit/government organization, the remaining amount of your federal student loans are forgiven. This includes IBR payment plans.

    This doesn’t help with the private loans but is a great option depending on your career.

  42. @Aaron and Johanna, I don’t doubt that student loan programs have helped some individual students, just as they have destroyed the financial lives of others like Cary. What we will never know, because no government program is ever subjected to this evaluation, is whether ON BALANCE they have done more harm than good, or vice versa. Such programs are always judged on their intentions, and never their results.

    The cost of higher education has ‘enjoyed’ a more dramatic surge than even the cost of health care in the last couple of decades. But while that effect in health care is seen as a problem, in higher education it is hardly even mentioned.

    @Jim, I spoke of TENURED faculty (or tenure-track). The oppression by universities of their non-tenure track teaching staff is terrible, but not relevant to my complaint. It is only the low pay of non-tenure-track employees that results in the lower stats you cite.

  43. @AnnJo: Are you saying that it would somehow be better if the whole student loan business were turned over to private lenders? If so, how?

  44. @Cary, Q9
    I hoped a good answer would come up, and I think (as usual) the commentators have given you great advice. I wonder, and this is just a wonder if you might have a case against the college’s finance department. If they have any fiduciary responsibility to who they are advising. If you are telling a 18yr old to pay 200k for a 4 degree, you should be put in jail and the company hiring you should be held responsible.

  45. @Bill
    I wondered the same thing, but then I saw an article on the website “The Consumerist.” I tried to post the link, but my comment has been in moderation since yesterday morning. It was an article about how student loans are the gateway to personal debt slavery. The federal government actually makes more money off of student loans that default since the gov’t owns the collection company that works to retrieve defaulted loans. Since this company tacks on additional interest and fees the gov’t gets a “second bite” of the apple. So there’s no reason for the gov’t to intervene on behalf of the students and no reason why schools can’t give financially irresponsible advice…it’s the same as when credit cards take advantage of “legally responsible” eighteen year olds…

  46. We use a space heater in our baby’s room as well. That way we’re not heating a lot of square feet that doesn’t need to be warm. Ours is a small heater with a fan and a thermostat. I keep it up on a dresser. I usually keep it at 73 or 74 and his hands are never cold. It does an amazingly good job on a large room with 13 ft ceilings. Our daughter transitioned to a bed at about 2 years old and started using covers, so it won’t be forever.

  47. Regarding cold rooms for babies: central heat is a very new invention. It is true that throughout most of human history and in much of the world today, babies routinely sleep in very cold rooms and are just fine. However, they are not sleeping in a crib by themselves in another room- they are sleeping with the parents, sharing body heat. If not sleeping with parents, children are often sharing beds and body heat with siblings. If you don’t want your kids to share a bed, you can heat just a bed safely and effectively with a nice heat pack. Probably a hot water bottle is a bad idea with twin boys, but you can buy or make heating pads filled with cherry stones or corn which you microwave and put under the covers. This way, you’re not involving electric devices under the covers, and you can keep the heat much lower.

  48. re: website learning
    Don’t go to school!!!!!
    Dreamweaver is a good option, but the BEST way I’ve found to learn almost any software is lynda.com (I’m not affiliated with them at all). I learned more in one of their series of videos than I did in an entire college course dedicated to the same content. They have courses in dreamweaver, html, css, jquery, EVERYTHING you’ll need to get started.

  49. @Grace: Do they want to change? Have they asked for help? Until they do, refinancing is not going to help them. From the sounds of it they spend more than they make. Refinancing will buy them time but they won’t have learned anything. They need an education and a plan, and most importantly, the desire to change.

  50. Thanks for the space heater suggestions. We have a small ceramic space heater that doesn’t get too hot on the outside so we’ll try that. I just couldn’t imagine myself sleeping comfortably in a 55-60 degree house without layers of blankets, which isn’t much of an option for squirmy babies. Heating their room separately is a great idea. Thanks.

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