Reader Mailbag: Discarded Post Ideas

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. Bank ignores me!
2. Gold digging or thinking ahead?
3. Encouraging others to think frugally
4. Why saving, not investing?
5. Budgeting software
6. Finding my loans
7. Reordering checks
8. Interest-only loan problems
9. How early for retirement savings?
10. Gaming site

A great deal of the work that goes into The Simple Dollar is simply figuring out topics for posts.

My usual procedure is to sit down and just brainstorm. I’ll go through my notes for post ideas, brainstorm my own ideas, read through my personal journal, read through whatever books are inspiring me at the moment, and just generate a long list of ideas.

After that, I cull them. I go through each one and ask myself if there’s really a post in there. Is this something that might help someone? Is this something that’s potentially entertaining? Is there enough meat here to really make a full post?

It’s a surprisingly long process for each of these posts to go from nothing to what you read each day.

Q1: Bank ignores me!
I went through a divorce which was final this past November. My husband applied for and received a [specific mega bank] card during the marriage, and asked for a subordinate, not joint, card for me. When he started missing payments, [specific mega bank] reported this to my credit report – and yet didn’t come after me for the $$. They’re still reporting his debt on MY credit report. I’ve tried calling them and writing them to no avail. I followed their employees’ instructions to send them a letter asking for proof of signature card. I sent it certified nearly a year ago. Someone signed for it. They never responded to me. And yet they keep reporting his debt on my credit report, but not hassling me to pay it.

Any pointers on what to do? They trashed my credit rating last year over this, which caused my three cards to cut my credit lines and raise rates. I’d like to know my recourse against their actions. My ex-husband is responsible per court order for the account, but that doesn’t protect my credit report.
- Anna

I excised the name of the bank for potential libel reasons.

I would try two things at this point. The first is a call to customer service, where I keep escalating the call until I get some sort of resolution. Document the call thoroughly, including recording the names of each person you speak to and a general summary of the conversation. Keep escalating the call until you get somewhere.

Failing that, I would clearly document all interactions with the bank, then directly request the credit agencies, asking them to remove this information from your credit reports. Provide as much documentation of the situation as possible and make it clear that you’ve done everything you can to resolve this.

Q2: Gold digging or thinking ahead?
You often mention the importance of making sure your significant other shares the same financial discipline and goals as you when it comes to dating and eventually marriage. I was married but one of the reasons we divorced was due to his poor financial decisions which left our family in ruins and, sad to say, I deal with it still since he is often late with child support and has trouble keeping a job (the recession is not to blame here). As far as dating, all the guys I meet have no concern for their personal finances. Based on their present choices and future plans for their money, I run in the other direction. When is someone’s personal finances too superficial or reminiscent of golddigging in choosing a mate?

- Chely

I don’t think there’s anything wrong at all with avoiding someone who does not have control over their own finances as a specific trait. Where you might get into golddigging, though, is when you pair it with other traits, particularly a high income. If you’re looking at income as a minimum requirement to date you, that’s a completely different subject.

There isn’t all that much correlation between income level and financial sensibility. Some of the best financial people I know have a very low income, while at the same time I know several high income earners that are flaky when it comes to managing that income.

If you find yourself continually walking away from the people you met, though, you might want to consider a change of scenery when it comes to looking for people to date. Obviously, something isn’t adding up in the area you’re currently looking in.

Q3: Encouraging others to think frugally
I am a Human Resources Manager for a Fortune 500 company in Southern California. As you know, SoCal is a very expensive place to live. My company had to make a difficult decision to require employees to take some mandatory time off over the next few months. Although they were offered the choice to use vacation time or file for partial unemployment, I know that if the mandatory time goes on for more than a couple of months, many of my employees will suffer. Some have already depleted all of their vacation and unemployment benefits are not paid to 100% reimburse for lost wages.

As I consider how to best help everyone, it occurred to me that if this would have happened to me a number of years ago, I would be in the same situation as my employees….floating in the ocean without a life preserver. I want to get them into the lifeboat!

I am planning on scheduling meetings with the topics of: financial planning, how to cut back on living expenses (including couponing, reviewing home expenses, etc.), and would also like to recommend books for them to read.

My question is: what do you suggest is the best “read” for my employees? Keep in mind that many of them are two-income households with children; and, unfortunately are still living paycheck-to-paycheck. Also, do you have any other suggestions for me about what to include in my meetings?

I know that I cannot “save” anyone who doesn’t want to be saved. But, I do believe that for those who are ready to open their minds to a different frugal life-style, the information I provide might help them get through this time, as well as allow them to enjoy less debt in the future.
- Gary

Well, besides my own book? I think it would actually be a good fit for people in your case, since I focused heavily on telling my own story of recovering from, well, living paycheck-to-paycheck while in a two income household with children, which is exactly how you describe the people you’re trying to reach.

Aside from that, I’d probably point to the book that helped me the most when it came to recovering from that very situation: Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez, Vicki Robin, and Monique Tilford.

My suggestion for your meetings is to start off confessionally. Tell them, flat out, what your worst financial moment was and then talk about exactly what you did to bounce back from that. Then make the point that many of the people in that room are probably somewhere near their own financial low point. You’ve got to tie it to their own lives or they’re not going to care.

Q4: Why saving, not investing?
I have noticed that much of personal financial advice is focused on only half of the financial equation: saving and budgeting. While this is clearly the first step toward financial independence, it overlooks the second half: investing.

I am curious what your take is on this. Pennies saved are important, but pennies saved in a coffee can are pennies that decrease in value, which is another form of waste. I would be very interested in what investment books you recommend, etc. for those of us looking beyond saving.
- Arnold

The biggest reason for that is that the vast majority of Americans do not have the financial resources with which to invest. Many of them live paycheck to paycheck. The ones that don’t often only have some savings to account for the difference. Some have money in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, but a shockingly high percentage do not.

To put it simply, investing doesn’t matter to the vast majority of the American public. It’s a narrow topic that appeals mostly to people that are either earning so much they can’t spend it or have a big frugal streak inside of them (a la Warren Buffett). The people reading this blog, simply by the fact that they’re reading it and engaged in their finances, are the exception rather than the rule.

If you’re looking for a good “starter” investing book, try The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing. I consider it the best one-shot investing book out there.

Q5: Budgeting software
Do you use a budgeting software like Quicken? If you do, would you mind sharing which one you use? What are your thoughts about them?

- Amy

I have a love-hate relationship with Quicken.

It does some things incredibly well, such as providing a good overall view of your finances, categorizing your expenses and so on.

My problem with it usually crops up when I want to do some sort of analysis of my financial situation and I find that I can’t do what I want to do. At that point, I wind up using a spreadsheet, which has always been my trusty tool for things like this.

Given the amount of time it takes to get everything set up and working well (which, in my experience, has been multiple hours each time I’ve set it up), I just don’t feel I get the bang for my buck that I should with Quicken. The money and time cost is too high for what I want from it.

Q6: Finding my loans
I’m 26 years old and have a ton of student loan debt. Since I graduated college I was never able to land a great job and I defaulted on my student loans. My credit score is shot. However I have recently landed a lucrative job and am trying to take the proper steps to restore my financial situation. Everything seems to be on track except for my student loans. The problem is I have no idea where to begin. I can’t even find them. I know they are in default and have been sold to a collections agency but I don’t know who to contact to start the process of paying them back. I dont have collection agencies calling my phone. Most of them are through citi but when i log into their website it wont list them as open loans because they are defaulted. I want to do the right thing but I need some help. Any advice is much appreciated.

- Kevin

Your first step should be to call Citi and figure out where the loans currently are.

Most likely, what has happened is that they’ve sold the account to someone else at cents on the dollar. At this point, your debt is now held by another company that may have purchased a lot of debts from Citi. This is pretty common practice.

At some point, that company will contact you – they’re going to want to recoup their investment.

Your only route to speed up this process is to track them down first, and Citi is the key to that. Call them up, get a customer service rep on the phone, and track the collection agency down.

Q7: Reordering checks
In this day and age, my wife and I rarely write checks– instead using automatic e-payments, debit, and doing most banking online. However, we do have one bill which we do need to write a physical check for, plus I understand the need to have a checkbook ready in case it’s needed. My wife’s checks recently ran out, and she had to order more from our bank. This was a one-time cost of $15! I can appreciate that it costs something to produce these checks, but even $15 is an annoyance in a world where we typically only use one check a month. I suppose there’s nothing that can be done about this, is there?

- Nate

That’s a little high for buying checks (assuming you bought several books of them), but it’s not exceptionally or ridiculously high.

Remember, when you’re buying a checkbook, you’re paying for a convenience. Those checks make the process of making certain payments much easier than before. Compare it to, say, taking out a money order – checks, in terms of both convenience and price, are a much better bargain.

Since you’ve already bought the checks, there’s likely nothing that can be done. However, there are check printing businesses out there that will undercut the banks and save you at least a little bit of money.

Q8: Interest-only loan problems
While we were dating, my husband and I–both teachers and 29 years old–each bought one-bedroom condos at the height of the real estate bubble, each with interest-only mortgages. (It seemed like a great idea at the time because everyone told us we’d be able to sell them when we were ready to move out and we had no reason not to believe them. We also qualified for mortgages well above what we could reasonably afford on a teacher’s salary. But that’s placing blame on someone else’s shoulders.) Eight months later, he proposed. We tried to sell one of the condos, but by that time, the market had slowed considerably and we were unable to sell, so we decided to rent mine. The rent we collected didn’t quite cover the mortgage payment, so each month we were losing about $600, but were still able to pay off our credit card debts and pay for our wedding and honeymoon with the rent money.

A few months later, we found our we were pregnant and decided we needed more space for our growing family. With my father-in-law’s help in co-signing a loan, we bought a three-bedroom townhouse and rented out my husband’s condo. Again, the rent for that condo didn’t quite cover the mortgage, so altogether we were losing about $1000/month in mortgage payments for houses we weren’t living in. We had no money in savings and were living paycheck-to-paycheck. A year after our daughter was born, we found our we were expecting our second child and realized that we needed to be in a better place financially. Our renters moved out, we stopped paying the mortgages on our condos, and we tried to short-sell both. Our first mortgage holders did not approve the short-sale requests, and both went to foreclosure in August.

A few weeks ago, however, we started receiving calls from debt collectors on behalf of the second mortgage holders, who are trying to recoup the $50ishK loan that each place had. Our other debts include $2500 for one car loan, $13000 for a second car loan, $10000 in student loans, our townhouse mortgage ($321000) and now these two outstanding loan amounts for about $50000 each. We have nothing in our savings account, as I have missed two months of paychecks while on maternity leave with our son and we have had to use what little we had in there to pay the bills. About 7% of our paychecks automatically get deposited into a 403b retirement account.

What should we do? Try to settle the condo-debts by taking out a second trust on our townhouse as a consolidation loan? Keep ignoring the debt collection calls until we get sued or they go away? Stop contributing to our retirement accounts until we pay down some of our debts? File for bankruptcy?

Right now we’re sticking with option two until we can figure out some sort of plan of attack. Any recommendations?
- Danielle

Without knowing all of the interest rates, I can’t tell quite how bad it is, but it looks like you might be approaching a bankruptcy type of position. Both you and your husband are young teachers, which means you’re fairly low on the teacher’s income scale, and you’ve not mentioned any other form of income. You also have two young children at home who likely require some form of child care when you’re at work. Unless all of the interest rates are extremely low, it’s not a pretty picture.

I would suggest sitting down with someone you trust and going through all of the numbers in specific, including your monthly budget. Let someone else get a full glimpse of the numbers and assess where you’re at.

It may be that cutting your retirement contributions for a while can make this work – it depends heavily on the interest rates. You really need to carefully run the numbers yourself, though.

Q9: How early for retirement savings?
I’m a recent college grad, married, age 23. My husband, who graduated last year, has an entry-level job in his chosen profession and makes around $30,000 a year. He has minimal benefits and no retirement plan. I will start a job next week for $14 an hour that isn’t specifically what I trained for, but could segue into my field. This job is considered full time temporary with no benefits. The job could become full time after 6 months but I’m trying very hard to find work in my field. Our health insurance is covered by our parents plans until age 26 (thankfully!).

Because we have no retirement plans could we fund our own? We have no debt. Our cars are in great shape and we rent. We have saved about $4,000 this year. My grandfather bequeathed me $16,000 that is in a savings account right now, which is what we’d like to start a retirement account with.

If we can start some sort of retirement, which one would you recommend? How much should we put in every year? Would this change if we would get “real” jobs with benefits? Or should we just chill until our temporary jobs turn into something better and our lives are more stable? Thanks so much!
- Lindsay

I would open a Roth IRA with the investment house of your choice. For the investment within that Roth IRA account, I’d choose a target retirement fund that’s closest to the year when you turn 65 (2055, probably).

As for how much to invest, I’d just invest what you can. I’d set up an automatic investment plan and start putting in the same amount each week automatically, depending on what you can afford and what your other goals are.

The simple fact that you’re getting started this early will make things much easier as you actually approach your retirement age.

Q10: Gaming site
Last week you mentioned that you were collaborating with someone on a site about board gaming. Details?

- Erik

There really aren’t many details as of yet. A friend of mine who also enjoys board games and card games as a social activity has been long discussing getting such a site going and we’re slowly progressing from the planning stages to actually creating something.

Trust me – if it goes public, you’ll all know about 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 (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. Katie says:

    Gary, I know you mean well, but I can’t help but think this is going to backfire hugely. You’re going to be seen as a representative of the company by your employees, not just as a guy trying to help. And the message that will get through is that the company is hugely cutting their pay (possibly more than two months off) and then blaming them for any ensuing problems by saying they just need to be more frugal. That is not a message I can imagine going over well.

    Ultimately, maybe some of them do need to be more frugally responsible and maybe others are fine, but that’s not really the business of their employer. Focus on making sure the employees in question are given all the help your department can give them in applying for unemployment benefits they might be eligible for or in using their PTO to cover this gap. If someone asks, by all means pass on Trent’s books. But don’t do anything that could be construed as implying “Oh, you’re only complaining about a 20% pay reduction because you’re not couponing enough.” People who are stressed out and angry at their employer are likely to hear that message where it wasn’t meant (and I don’t blame them for it).

  2. Scott says:

    At #9, I don’t think you are covered by your parent’s health insurance if you are married.

  3. Carole says:

    The couple in #8 “found themselves pregnant” twice. That is a recipe for financial disaster. They need to get serious with birth control.

  4. Johanna says:

    @Gary: My suggestion would be to bring in an outside speaker who does these kinds of “meetings” full time. Maybe check with the company you use for your retirement plan and see if they have anyone suitable. Then, leave it to that person to recommend books and materials for further reading.

    Also, the meetings should be open to all employees, but optional.

    I know that this type of thing can be done successfully, because my employer recently had to do something similar (fortunately, my job was not affected). But Katie’s right that it has to be handled delicately. And I think that presenting yourself as a personal finance expert or frugality evangelist would be a mistake. Find someone who’s done this a lot before, and have them present the message for you.

  5. Daria says:

    I agree with Gary that #9 needs to check that they have coverage under their parents plans when they are married.

  6. mjd says:

    @Anna should also contact The Consumerist (http://consumerist.com/).

  7. JC says:

    I hardly ever write checks as well. I run through a box of checks about every 3 or 4 years so I’ll typically just open up a new checking account at a different bank that gives me a free box of checks and then close the old one. While it’s a bit of a pain, it saves money on checks, and if you go to the right bank you could get another freebie (iPod or something else).

  8. Michelle says:

    #9 Lindsay – If you do open Roth IRAs, remember that there is an annual contribution limit of $5000 per working person. You said you had $16000 to invest in retirement – you contribute that entire amount in one year.

  9. Michelle says:

    #3 Gary – I concur with the others. You’re setting up a recipe for resentment if you present this yourself. But I think an outside speaker would be a very positive gesture.

  10. Pat S. says:

    Q4:
    Investing is, and should be at the top of the personal finance pyramid. I agree with Trent on this one. For most people, living within your means and keeping out of debt are the single most important things to achieve. Once there, it’s time to start thinking about investing. For some people, it makes sense to invest while simultaneously paying off debt, but only if that debt carries a low interest rate, and the family has the resources to maintain their standard of living in an emergency. But, for all too many Americans, this is a ways off, and many need to learn to crawl before they can walk.
    Pat
    http://compoundingreturns.blogspot.com

  11. Kara says:

    #1 – Also write a letter to your state Attorney General’s office describing the situation. Keep the letter brief and to the point (no more than a page), but do be specific about the fact that the bank involved is ruining your credit rating due to a debt that’s not yours. Make sure you CC the bank on the letter.

    Credit/banking issues are hot button issues these days and you might get some rapid attention if they see that you’re going to push this as far as you can. I got a CC company well known for taking advantage of bad credit situations to completely remove all record of their account from my credit rating this way – after they triple reported me as a charge off for an account that I closed and paid.

  12. Mari says:

    Q8: I don’t know too much about bankruptcy, but since the father-in-law co-signed the most recent mortgage, wouldn’t he be held responsible for that debt? If so, then they need to pursue an option that does not impact him.

  13. Rachael says:

    For posters #2 and 5, it is possible that she is married and still covered under her parents insurance. My employer will cover married adult children until they are 26, but they will not cover their spouses or grandchildren.

  14. Henry says:

    #9 Lindsay – I’ll second what Michelle said about the contribution limits. However, if you invest in a Roth IRA before the cutoff in April, you can put 5k in for 2010 and still make a 5k 2011 contribution. Whatever you wind up doing, make sure that money is earning some money preferably in a high interest savings account.

  15. valleycat1 says:

    Q3/Gary – I agree with the others to handle this delicately. Another idea would be to poll the employees to see what kinds of information they want or need to get through the tight fiscal times given the reality of forced furlough days, and whether they’d prefer individual help or group meetings. Your company’s culture & size would then dictate whether it’s better to bring in objective outside presenters (not people selling their own product), accumulating a lending library of good books & other resources, or make it more personal.

  16. arthi says:

    #Q2:
    It is never Gold Digging, to want to protect your financial future.

    Love doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice good sense. I really appreciate that you check for good financial sense in a prospective mate.

    If personal finance is very important to you (which is very good) and not to the people you date, then you might want to sacrifice a few other traits, like good looks etc.

    I have a friend who is such a sweet person, but has gone bald early, and it caused him and his family endless distress since it took him a long time to find someone to marry. His plight has made me sensitive to men like him who are good, but do not have good looks.

  17. Ryan says:

    The new healthcare law has made it mandatory for insurers to allow children to remain on their parents’ plan until they turn 26, unless they are offered health insurance from their own employer.

    http://www.healthcare.gov/law/provisions/youngadult/index.html

  18. SwingCheese says:

    @Carole: It seems kind of harsh to call two children a “recipe for financial disaster”. The problem here is the condo mortgage and outstanding debt, not the presence of the kiddos.

  19. Kevin says:

    @SwingCheese:

    Having the kids certainly didn’t HELP their situation. While I agree with the folks who say you shouldn’t wait for your finances to be “perfect” before having children (because they’ll never be completely perfect), I also don’t think you should have kids if their net worth is going to be higher than your own.

    These people have made a real mess of their finances, and it’s going to have a real impact on their kids’ quality of life, whether its having to forego proper clothing and food, or activities, or even way down the road, being required to support their aging, penniless parents in their old age.

    You don’t have to be rich to have kids, but you should at least have things under control. These folks were in a mess, and went ahead and had a kid not once, but TWICE.

  20. Sheila says:

    @Nate- My bank gives me free checks. I bank with USAA and that is just one of the many reasons that I love them.

  21. Rebecca says:

    Um, pregnancies do happen even when correctly using a reliable birth control method, or even 2. It happened to us.

    And just because parents are still struggling to fix their financial mistakes doesn’t mean they aren’t taking care of their kids. “proper” food can be made healthy and inexpensive from scratch at home and perfectly good clothes can be found second hand.

    These parents aren’t on the verge of retiring penniless. Its a long road, but it is possible to turn this around. Yes it will be very hard for a while and require determination to stick with it and get out of debt, but it is possible.

    We are doing just that.

  22. Des says:

    I am thoroughly confused by the answer to question #4. You say that no one has money to invest, but the minute your expenses are less than your income you have money to invest. Yes, for most people that is going to be “investing” in paying off their high-interest consumer debt. But if those same people do that for long enough eventually they are going to come to “what now” as far as where to put their surplus.

    “Investing” doesn’t have to be synonymous with stocks and real estate. In fact, I read that if you have less than $1,000 to invest the #1 best place in in consumables – meaning, stock your pantry with sale items. If you get shelf-stable products for 30% to 50% off, that is essentially your rate of return.

    Focusing on creative ways to invest small amounts of money would be very helpful to the large group of people that fall between debt-laden and “people that are…earning so much they can’t spend it”, as you say.

  23. Lucas says:

    Q5:

    A very good budgeting only program is YNAB (You Need a Budget). You can download a free trial (15 day I believe) from their website and try it out for yourself. My wife and I have been using it for almost 2 years and it has completely changed how we handle money. It can be somewhat confusing to setup, but the forums are a great place for answers and they also have free webinars answering any questions that you might have.

  24. Marsha says:

    It became law in May 2010 that health insurers must let children under 26 stay on their parents’ health insurance policies. It doesn’t matter where the children live, if they are married or not, or if they are in college full-time or not.

  25. Patty says:

    Q8 Needs to check the laws in her state. Some states allow collections to come after the gap from a forclosure or short sale but some states don’t require that. Even in states that don’t require it the collection agencies will still try to recoup some of the money which may or may not be the case here.
    Q9 You can invest some for retirment as mentioned above but keep an emergency fund stashed in a semi liquid/high yield savings account. This will be especially important if/when you or your spouse change jobs in the future and to bridge the gap for any unexpected expenses..

  26. leahbird says:

    I second Lucas’ (#19) recommendation of YNAB for a good budgeting software. My husband and I recently began using it after using iBank for a couple of years and the budgeting tool is a lot more intuitive and easier to use. Plus, there is an iPod/iPhone app that you can purchase, if you have such a device, to allow you to know your budget when you are out and about, as well as enter purchases to your various accounts to always know your balance. At $60 (plus $10 for the iPod app), we think the software was well worth it!

  27. AK says:

    Q2

    As far as I know, the definition of “gold digging” is looking for an old rich man, marrying him and hoping he’ll die ASAP so you will get the inheritance. A good relationship is based on a number of shared values – finances included. If you don’t share the value of good financial decisions, then you’ll most likely not share other important values as well. You’re smart for not making the same mistake twice.

  28. Amy C. says:

    Q8: the second mortgage holders have more of an incentive to come after you because the first holder at least got the asset to satisfy part of the debt, but the second holders got nothing. Depending on your state, the second debtholder (either the lenders or a collection agency) will have a certain period of time to sue you on the unpaid debt. I am a lawyer and I recommend doing nothing until then. Do not acknowledge the debt; do not take their calls. They made a bad investment. They still have to comply with state and federal regulations on debt collection. In my state, they have six years to sue you and get a judgment against you, which can be renewed every six years. You should talk to a lawyer about the statute of limitations on debts in your state to get more info. However, IF THEY SUE YOU, contact a lawyer IMMEDIATELY. Most likely, they will settle for 10% of the amount owed. That’s the going rate in my area (Las Vegas), which is the hardest hit in this recession. (You could also be liable for taxes on the amount that was written off–but these amounts will be way less than $100k of negative equity). Good luck and don’t beat yourselves up about this. You can’t delay having children and leading your lives because you, like everyone else, mistakenly thought that homes would always appreciate.

  29. Amy C. says:

    Q8: A previous commenter is correct that in some states the second holders are left without recourse when the home is sold for less than the first mortgage, so the second holders may not be able to sue you at all. Again, check with a lawyer. But in response to another previous comment, the fact that your in-laws co-signed on your townhome does not affect the condo debts at all–unless you had a co-signer on one of those second loans too.

  30. Des says:

    RE: Danielle Q8 –

    Normally, I would agree with Trent that you sound like you’re heading for bankruptcy, but since your father-in-law co-signed, it will affect his credit and that is not fair to him (nor would you want to burn that bridge.)

    I would suggest going to your library and checking out Total Money Makeover and Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey. He suggests a very good plan for how to pay debts like these when you literally don’t have enough each month to cover all your bills. It will be a long road, but it can be done.

    Also, you must be doing very well as young teachers to be making enough to borrow $300k for a townhouse. My teacher friends all make less than $30k a year and would be very jealous.

  31. Martin says:

    Q2 Is it all the guys you meet or all the guys you meet and are attracted to who are at issue? People fall into patterns. My BIL was complaining on how he couldn’t meet any “decent” woman. I asked him what he meant by decent, and then asked where he was looking. To make a long story short any woman he defined as decent would be a rarety at the types of places where he was looking. When I explained this to him he got a really puzzled look, and couldn’t seem able to imagine looking elsewhere because that’s where he was comfortable looking. It had gotten him what he wanted earlier in life, but now that his views of what he wanted had changed, his pattern of where he expected to find what he wanted had not, and he couldn’t connect the two. He’s still single 20 years later.

    So what I’m saying is that maybe you’ve changed what you want out of your dates, but you’re still likely going to the same places, dressing to attract and being attracted to a similar “style” of guy, and essentially following the old familiar patterns which got you what you had before but you now say you don’t want. Isn’t one definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results? I know it may not be easy but something has to change.

  32. getagrip says:

    Q3 Gary, kudos for trying to help. I will chime in with others that it may be better to bring someone in to provide some guidance than to try and do it yourself. An outside person, while seen and on the company dole, is at least a little independent and won’t be the kind of target you would be as a representative of the company.

  33. Rache G says:

    Q6: I am a financial counselor at a University and often deal with this question.

    If the loans you speak of were federal loans you can go to nslds.ed.gov to see who holds the loans at this point. You will need to click on the numbers located on the left hand side to have the loan open and provide contact info on the current servicer.

    If your loans were private loans, often times working with the original lender is often not beneficial as they can’t tell you where the account went. In these instances and even when you don’t have loans in collections pulling your credit report will give you the most accurate report of where your accounts are and who to contact about repayment.

  34. Aryn says:

    Q1 – file a dispute with the credit bureaus. They may be able to remove the negative marks, or at least attach your statement to them.

  35. jim says:

    Q2 Chely: Is OK to prefer a mate who is gainfully employed and responsible with money. That is not goldigging.

    Q3 Gary: Offering free financial planning classes is fine. But I wouldn’t tell them how they ought to be frugal. If the HR director of my company suggested that I take up couponing after they just cut my wages then I would not take it very kindly. Sorry, I understand your heart is in the right place, but I think it might backfire and hurt moral especially if its not communicated right. The employees who are already frugal may especially hate it. My employer is not my nanny and they don’t need to tell me how to spend my wages which they just cut. just my 2¢

  36. jim says:

    Q7 Nate : $15 isn’t bad. You can order checks from third parties for a little cheaper. A box of 125 checks via Walmart is around $9. Or you could handle the need for an occasional check by using your banks bill pay service or just getting a money order instead.

  37. Ryan says:

    I would love to see a board game site.

  38. deRuiter says:

    Dear Q2. You have to fish in a pond where your choice of fish lives. If you want to meet deadbeats and profligates, continue looking where you found the first one. If you want to meet and socialize with smart, hard working, go getters, JOIN THE LOCAL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND THE REGIONAL CHAMBER OF COMMERCE. Besides business help, the chambers offer social events, daytimes and evenings, for members. Usually these are held at a member’s business, with snacks, soft drinks, and time to meet other people who have businesses or jobs. You can network for your business, and also meet like minded people for friends and possible long term relationships. At Chamber functions, you’re pretty sure everyone you meet gets up and goes to work each day, has some financial savvy, and is most likely an upright citizen. It’s better than trolling in bars or at rehab centers.

  39. Laura says:

    Definitely agree with the others that Gary should hire an outside party to do “the talk”. Nobody wants to hear this from the person doing the layoffs.

  40. Sharon says:

    ANN – you need to find out the name of and write to the President of Mega bank and the matter will be handled. That’s what I had to do when they mixed me up with a customer with the same name and affected my credit report. the matter was handle tootsweet and they even wrote a letter of apology. At this point skip customer service as they can’t help, they’re not empowered to do that.

  41. Sharon says:

    Thank-you Rachel (#33)…
    You can find your loans by doing exactly as ahe says. Don’t wait for them to find you because they will find you by garnishing your wages…

  42. Steve in W Ma says:

    @q4, Andrew Tobias’s The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need is probably the best general personal finance book ever written. Belying the title, it actually covers things like budgeting and insurance and basically tells you that you aren’t going to beat the markets to just pick a good diversified strategy and stop obsessing.

    Your money or YOur Life is great too but too idiosynchratic for some people. If I were picking a book for a random average person I would suggest Andrew Tobias’s over Your Money or Your Life.

    @q5,

    Budgeting software: YNAB is the best. I would choose it over quicken any day because its focus is on how you manage your BUDGET, not just all your account registers like Quicken does.

    @ q9,

    YOu guys have a good start at the age of 23.

    As a guideline, for a couple, I would say that you should aim for $20,000 saved per year between the two of you, in combined retirement and nonretirement funds. A large portion of that money may be invested.

    Until you get to that level, keep a lid on discretionary spending.

    This is advice I would give to someone who hasn’t worked out really clear long term financial goals. Keep your spending down until you can put away 10K per person per year. After that, consider increasing your “standard of consuming”.

  43. tall bill says:

    Danielle Q8; Do NOT mix debt between your townhouse and the 2 condos. Even in this economy, the townhouse is likely to be loosing equity, making a equity loan unlikely & placing you in a position on paying for 3 properties upside down in value. When it’s all said and done, you may find your family living with the inlaws for a bit to get back on your feet. Seek out professional help like others have suggested. You’re not alone in that someone popped the American Dream Balloon. Good luck.

  44. Steve in W Ma says:

    @Q1, Bank Ignores Me,

    This could be grounds for a lawsuit, since you have proof that they have been informed of your situation and they have caused demonstrable harm to you through their actions. Feeling litigious?

    Even if you aren’t, in any case, a letter from a lawyer’s office to the legal department of a bank will likely get you quicker action than repeated pestering of an incompetent customer service department. If you don’t want to pay for a lawyer, draft a letter yourself and send it directly to their legal department.

  45. Amanda says:

    Q7: My bank will print out 10 checks if I walk in and request them.

    Q8: You might trash the credit of your in laws, who co-signed your current home, if you file for bankruptcy.

  46. Steve in W Ma says:

    @ Q6,

    I suggest just walking away from those loans. They are already in default and repaying them will not improve your credit score. You, in fact, no longer owe that money to the people who lent it to you, as they have written most of it off as a business loss and sold the rest to a collections agency.

    After 5 or so years of nonpayment, you become no longer liable for the debt.

    Don’t make a single payment towards it, even if the collections agency calls you. You have a particularly strong position because you also likely don’t have any assets that can be attached, or or a home that a lien can be placed against. They essentially have no leverage.

    People will tell you it’s immoral but I’m going to give you the advice I’d give one of my friends: You’ve already taken the credit hit, you might as well get something in return. Just don’t pay them and don’t acknowledge them.

    if you’re going to go this route you better learn how to talk to collections, what to say, and what not to say. I’ll sign off here and let you do your own research.

  47. Steve in W Ma says:

    @Q6, “However I have recently landed a lucrative job and am trying to take the proper steps to restore my financial situation”

    Sounds like you already have restored your financial situation.

    As to the advice give to call Citibank and ask them to track down your loans, consider the possibility that all that will do is serve as legal acknowledgement that you owe the money and reset the clock on your debt.

    Leave Citi alone.. Let sleeping dogs lie. And let barking dogs bark, if they start barking. You only have only maybe 3 years until those debts are no longer even legally collectable.

  48. Steve in W Ma says:

    @ “These people have made a real mess of their finances, and it’s going to have a real impact on their kids’ quality of life, whether its having to forego proper clothing and food, or activities, or even way down the road, being required to support their aging, penniless parents in their old age.”

    So what. The kids have the most important thing–their life.

  49. Amber says:

    @#47-49 . Steve, I think you are misinformed! Student loans are not like other loans…they dont just go away. Sure after 7-10 years they will be underlying on your credit report..but they will still be there and will affect you financially for the rest of your life. With student loans in default a request for a FHA home loan will be denied. In addition they stay with you until the day you die and failure to repay results in garnishment of wages, tax offset of up to 100% of what you owe (including social security and disability) and litigation against any of your assets! No one should put themselves in this position on purpose, its financial suicide. Federal student loans are backed by the US department of education and are comparable to debt of child support and IRS debt..being the only 3 entity’s that can take taxes or garnish without going to court.

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