Updated on 03.10.10

Reader Mailbag: Time

Trent Hamm

The more of life I experience, the more I realize that the most valuable thing a person has in their life is time. The cost of a book is trivial compared to the value of the time spent reading it. The cost of raising a child in terms of dollars is far less than the value of the time spent rearing the children.

Time is the one thing I wish I had more of.

I just found out that I will be unemployed come mid-August and I am just wondering what steps I should start taking in savings and job hunting until then. I am currently an Americorps*VISTA, which means that I cannot start a second job until the completion of my term (again, August). I live very simply, but only make about $800/month take-home and have about $1400 in CC debt (started the year at $4000; I’ve been working to get rid of it) Your thoughts?

Related to that, my position generally only winds up taking about 25 hrs/week, while I’m required to ‘work’ (be in the office) for 40. How would you utilize those extra 15 hours?
– Tessa

The first thing I’d do is figure out what I would like to be doing with my time come August. What exactly is the next step for you? If you don’t know, start investing those fifteen extra hours a week (and more) to figuring out what comes next for you.

Once you know, then you should be able to fill in the blanks as to how to fill your time until the change happens. It might mean building up a resume. It might mean spending a lot of time firming up old connections and relationships. It might mean applying for college or for scholarships.

In short, you need to figure out what comes next, make a plan for how to get there, then spend the remaining time executing that plan as strongly as you can. The key, though, comes from you. What do you want to do next?

My husband is irresponsible with money. I knew when we got involved that he had a student loan and some credit card debt (about $5000 dollars combined), and that he felt no obligation to pay these off. He also hadn’t filed his taxes for several years. I probably should have listened to my gut then and run for the hills, but i didn’t, and I’m not looking for marriage advice here. Once we became seriously involved, I made sure his taxes were filed. The government garnished his refunds until the student loan was paid off, and we paid off the cc debt too with the understanding that he is unable to control his spending and should not have access to a cc in the future.

He still sent away card applications from time to time and was always rejected due to his poor history, but after paying off these loans, he sent away another application and was granted a card with a $10,000 limit. Within no time, he maxed out his card, once again with no concept of having to pay off the balance.

Our mortgage is in my name ($110,000 left) , my car is paid off, his car loan is in my name($9000, he does pay this), I carry no cc debt. We have an 18 month old. We both work. We do not have much money at the end of the month. He undermines my attempts to cut down our monthly expenses (ex, if I call to cut down our cable package, he calls and has it reinstated. Or, currently he has signed himself up with *three* different 36month term cell phone contracts!) I am working on building an emergency fund (it is still quite small at the moment, but growing)…Anyway, I could not bear the thought of his cc balance sitting there with a 20% interest rate, so I paid it off with my line of credit (5%), and have taken over making these payments. Once again, the condition was that he would absolutely not have access to a credit card.

Once again, he got another card, and now has a $2000 balance, and is not making payments. I am done bailing him out. I am just wondering how his bad credit is going to affect me if he doesn’t pay this off? Whether or not we stay together, what can I do to protect myself from his debt? Is there anyway a spouse at the end of her rope can call the credit card companies and get his cards cancelled or say “Stop issuing this man cards!” If we do split up at some point, am I going to be responsible for half of his debt?
– Michelle

The important question is to consider whose names the debts are in. If he’s applying for credit cards on his own, are they just in his name? If they are and you file for divorce, they will remain his debts and are not your concern. If they’re in both of your names, you need to get your name removed from as much of it as possible if you’re considering a separation.

That being said, I think some professional counseling is in order in this situation. Clearly, there are serious trust issues going on in your relationship and your husband has some significant self-control problems. These are the types of issues that need counseling – they will not go away due to your sheer force of will.

If you care for him at all, seek help for him and for your relationship. I can’t tell from your email whether you’re beyond that point or not.

After I finished school I went to work for an outdoor education center for nine months. I loved the job but, wasn’t happy with the management so I came back to my parent’s house and found a job there. It is in a similar field but most of the work is in an office. I originally planed to stay at this job for three or four years but now the program might lose its funding. This wouldn’t affect the funding to my job but it would nearly make it pointless. My supervisor encouraged me to be on the lookout for other jobs. I sent out several resumes to some outdoor education centers and have interviews soon.

Everything is going great except that my Dad hates the idea. The problem is they pay minimum wage or just above it. Very few of these places offer health benefits but they all offer room and board. I don’t have any debt so I really don’t see much of a problem with the low pay. I also think the quality of life, free house and food make up for it.

Do you think it would be foolish to go back to that type of work?
– Beth

Your father’s frustration is probably stemming from the fact that he does not see you heading down a path that leads you to financial independence. He wants to see you being at least successful enough to fly under your own power through adult life. If you take another minimum wage job and continue to live at home with your parents, you are shifting a significant portion of your life’s expenses off to your parents as well as intruding on the privacy of their adult lives. He likely sees your choice as not moving at all towards repairing that situation.

Regardless of what job you choose, you should be working on a plan to be independent and they should be in the loop about that plan. What form that takes is really up to you, your situation, your skill set, and your passions.

Recognize, though, that your parents are people, too. They’re providing for you now because they care deeply about you, but every time you drink from that well, you leave them less water.

We took up a mortgage of $200k, with $140k being fixed and $60k in what’s called a revolving credit account here in New Zealand. We thought the revolving credit facility would allow us more flexibility if we are disciplined enough with our spending.

This is how it works, the monthly repayment of the fixed mortgage are deducted from the revolving credit account. All our income will go into this account, and we can draw up to 60K from this account for our expenses. The idea here is that if we are able to keep the account in positive, we’ll not be paying any interest, but once we go negative, we will be charged interest for the credit.The 60K available in that account also serves as emergency funds for us. So far, we have managed to keep the balance at zero (i.e. no interest charges). We channel our surpluses into a saving account, and will be using them to pay off the fixed mortgage (in parts) when it’s due.

For all these, we are paying a service charge of $12.50 a month. To me, the revolving credit facility seems like another good alternative, what do you think?
– Art

It sounds an awful lot like a money merge account, something I wrote about in detail in the past.

In the United States, such accounts are generally pretty expensive and can ring you into the thousands of dollars. For that kind of cost, I don’t view such an account as being worth it unless you have little financial discipline. In your case, I think it actually might be worth it, though.

I’m not entirely sure, though, why you’re taking money out of the account and putting it into a savings account. I’m assuming that this is for extra payments on the mortgage, but if I understand the account correctly (based on my understanding of money merges and the documentation on revolving credit accounts in New Zealand), leaving the money in the account has the same effect of paying down your mortgage faster, plus it decreases the risk that you might go over your credit withdrawal limit. If that’s the case, I would put a severe cap on how much I transferred out of the account, only keeping enough to serve as a true emergency fund.

You don’t talk about Lost enough in your mailbags so I’m going to keep emailing you Lost questions until you answer one. So here goes. Who is the good guy of the series? Jacob or UnLocke?
– Kelly

Neither one is. I think you have a prison-like situation where the inmate (UnLocke) has been held in solitary confinement for a very, very long time. He’s like a rat in a cage. But does that mean the guard (Jacob) is a saint?

I still think there are two real heroes in this series: Jack and Locke. I still believe that to be the case. My belief is that Locke on the island will come back to life at the same time as Locke off the island walks again thanks to Jack’s spinal surgery, and Locke will eventually become the guardian of the island. Jack has been searching for something to fix for the entire series – he will get to fix Locke.

Or maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about and the series will end with a “Cop Rock”-esque singing montage.

My partner has about $8000 worth of credit card debt and I’ve been trying to help her figure out the best way to pay it off. We’re in the process of refinancing our mortgage (to 5.25%) and are wondering if it makes sense to wrap it into our mortgage, since she pays a higher interest rate on the credit card. She also make the monthly mortgage payment (I made the down payment, and am making the monthly payment on a second property we own, so she says it’ll still be her responsibility, as we’re keeping track of who put how much into each property). I’m skeptical, not wanting to add any more debt to our mortgage (and feeling that HER debt being added to OUR total will make keeping track messy), but can you clarify just how much this is or isn’t an okay thing to do?
– Heidi

Yes, in a strict sense, it makes sense to wrap that credit card debt into the mortgage.

The challenge comes in when you look at the self-control issues. If you guys have no credit card debt at all, will she have the spending control to resist simply charging those cards up again for purchases you don’t really need?

I’m not sure about your domestic arrangement, however. You seem to want to distinguish heavily between HER debt and YOUR debt. If this person is genuinely your partner, then that includes your finances. There is no HER debt or YOUR debt. There’s OUR debt – you deal with it together because the debt is affecting you both.

I just realized that paying extra every month decreased my minimum payment amount and not the length of the loan. (Mostly because I just started paying extra.)

My original car loan- $9,815.43 for 4 years (48 months). My original minimum payment was $252.36. I now pay $275.00 a month.

I’ve been trying to figure out how early my auto loan will be paid off if I add extra in every month. All of the loan calculators I’ve found online that calculate don’t seem to take into account that the minimum payment amount decreases every month while my payment does not. I keep paying my original amount that included the extra. Is there a formula to figure all this out?
– Susan

It’s simple: ignore the minimum payment. Instead, calculate what your payment should be right now. Tack a small amount on top of that. Pay that amount every month, regardless of what the bill says. Soon, your loan is gone.

If the minimum payment is getting smaller, it’s because the lender wants you to pay on the loan for a longer period in order to maximize the amount of interest they get from you. They don’t mind receiving smaller payments in the short term if it means more income in the long term. Thus, they’ll show you the minimum amount you’d need to pay to stick with your original payment schedule – and if you’ve overpaid in the past, that minimum amount will be nice and small.

Ignore it. Use Bankrate’s great loan calculator and figure out when you’ll get the debt paid off if you add in some extra to each payment.

My husband and I both have student loan debt of $10k each at around 3%, and a mortgage for $140 k at 6.75%. We have the option to refinance down to 5.1% but it would cost $3,000 into the principle. We’ve been paying the mortgage for 2 1/2 years, but have no plans to ever sell. The house is a rental property that we also live in, so the amount of mortgage, taxes, and fees and repairs we pay after the rents come in is only around $400/month, therefore allowing us both to save alot. We have no other debt.

I have personal cash savings of $15k, and we have a joint cash savings of $17k. My husband has cash savings of around $5k (we only mingle part of our finances for the purposes of paying the mortgage, which doesn’t work for everyone, but works for us.) We both work in stable jobs and make ~$40 k each, although I don’t want to work in the corporate life forever. We have so much in cash because we are looking to buy another rental property this year. (we will need about $25 k for this)

We both currently have 401ks, I have $12k in mine, and my husband has $16k. I’m 26 and he is 28. I am thinking about opening an IRA and to fund it for 2009 so I can get the tax reduction. I have no idea what funds to pick from the list at Vanguard. I’m pretty comfortable with risk because this money is for retirement, but I don’t have very much time to devote to looking at my investments all the time. My 401k is just in a mix of funds that were picked based on my time until retirement. I am thinking of putting in the full amount for myself, $5,000. It should take around 6 months before we finalize a property purchase and have to come up with the down payment, so I can build that cash in my account back up.

Or would it be better for me to open a Roth IRA, or put my money somewhere else, or even pay my student loan off?? I doubt we would pay the mortgage down because we use the expenses against the income we get from the rents. My personal cash savings is earning no interest in my checking account (i know, i know, but this is why I’m working on this.)
– Danielle

First of all, funding a Roth IRA won’t get you a tax reduction, at least not today. Roth IRAs are funded with after-tax money.

Second of all, if you’re six months away from buying a property with a $25K down payment and have only $32K in joint cash savings, it is probably prudent to hold onto the cash until you have the purchase in hand. You do not want to find yourself in a position without a cash emergency fund, because when things go wrong at an inopportune moment, they can seriously snowball.

If I were to do anything with the savings, I would take $3,000 of it and refinance the loan. If you can drop the interest rate on $140,000 by 1.65%, you’ll be saving yourself a couple hundred a month in loan payments, which would pay back that $3,000 in a year or so and then leave you in better financial shape for the length of the mortgage.

Other than that, I’d sit tight until you’ve bought the property. I don’t see any major reason to change anything, assuming that the property buy is a definite thing.

Read this in your March 5 post: “…when my contract expires, I’m going to simply cancel the phone and get a pay-by-the-minute el cheapo phone.” I’d be curious to know how you go about choosing a pay-by-the-minute cellphone plan when the time comes. My husband and I would like to switch to a prepaid option as well, but each company structures their charges so differently that it’s hard for me to decide which plan would be best for us.
– Lynn

This is one of those times when I turn to Consumer Reports. What do they recommend when it comes to such pay-by-the-minute plans?

Right now, looking it up wouldn’t really help as I won’t be doing it for at least a few months yet. When it gets close, I’ll visit my library and start digging through the back issues of CR to find their most recent article about such cell phones (likely, it’ll be found in their most recent cell phone roundup). I’ll move on from there.

My choice will probably be the best “bang for the buck” phone rather than the cheapest one, at least with the “bang” being call quality. It’s not worth my money if I can’t easily place calls with the phone at my convenience, after all.

I’ve just read a document on “travel hacking” that gives tips on how to maximize your frequent flyer miles for free tickets. One of the tips is to “cycle” credit card applications where you are applying for a new Citi card (to get the American Airlines miles) every 60-90 days. It’s legal, but I wonder what it will do to my credit score. If I don’t need to apply for any loans in the near future, does a decrease in my credit score (now 790 I think) really matter? Thanks for your help!
– Jill

This will have a mild negative effect on your credit rating. However, with a credit rating near 790, I don’t think the negative effect will be strong enough to affect anything you might use your credit rating for.

My concern with such rampant credit card hopping is identity theft. To get each of these cards, you have to apply for a new card, which is another opening you’re giving yourself to identity theft. The threat of theft on any one application or card you have is minute, but if you have lots of cards and applications floating around out there, the chance multiplies.

Unless I’m already flying a lot and can directly save a lot of money by doing this, I would not view it as being worth the combination of time and personal risk. If you fly several times a year already as a normal course of life, then the benefits might outweigh the costs here, but if you’re only doing this to try to build up miles in case you might choose to fly somewhere someday, then it’s not worth 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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  1. Brandon says:

    “Yes, in a strict sense, it makes sense to wrap that credit card debt into the mortgage.”

    I respectfully disagree. Sure you might save a bit of money on interest in the short term, but in the long run you are building debt into your house, a secured asset. If you run into a troubled time and stop paying your credit cards, the only thing that will hurt is your credit score. If instead you cannot pay for your house, you lose it.

  2. Colin says:

    We had a standard Verizon plan with bottom-line phones (the ones that come free with a contract). Since then we’ve converted to pre-paid plan. We put $100 on each of our phones last July and pay $0.25/minute (that comes to 400 minutes). As of today I have about 170 minutes left. Do the math and that’s about $6/month each.

    Since we had non-smartphones we had no problem getting them from contract to pre-paid (ok, there were issues in getting to keep our numbers but that was due to lack of knowledge by the Verizon store folks because *no one* ever does it). So by “no problem” I really mean we didn’t have to pay any more or buy new phones.

    Neither of us likes to talk on the phone, nor do we text. This works great for us and it’s nicer not paying $70/month. Paying by the minute also makes you more conscious of spending much like paying with cash instead of a credit card.

  3. Johanna says:

    It looks like Danielle was talking about getting a tax reduction by opening a traditional IRA, not a Roth.

  4. Krista says:

    Trent, you obviously didn’t read Beth’s email – or perhaps there was more to it than you published. The low-paying job offers her a place to live – she NEVER suggested staying with her parents if she takes it.

    You’ve also made the assumption that because she’s living with her parents, she’s not paying them rent or, not paying them adequate rent. To my mind, that’s an issue separate from her career path and doesn’t give her father permission to influence her choices. It’s HIS responsibility to set the terms of her living there. If she’s meeting those terms then she is fulfilling HER responsibility and not robbing their well as you allude.

  5. tightwadfan says:

    you can get a tax credit for your Roth IRA, it is line 50 on the 1040, “retirement savings contribution credit”. I don’t know the requirements because my tax software did it automatically, but we got a $400 credit this year. I think they had it last year too, don’t remember it before that. might be part of the economic stimulus attempts.

  6. Michelle wrote that she didn’t want marriage advice so I’ll be brief and make one suggestion:
    Read Suzy Ormans,’Women and Money’. I’m not a huge fan of Suzy’s but this book is a GEM.=)

  7. Johanna says:

    The retirement savings contributions credit (10-50% of the first $2000 you contribute to pretty much any retirement account) is income-dependent. For 2009, a married couple filing jointly has to have an adjusted gross income of less than $55,500 to qualify. It looks like Danielle and her husband (who earn $40K each) make too much money to get the credit.

  8. EF says:

    I love your insight on Lost! I think the island is about all the candidates’redemption, just as much as it is about the struggle between good vs. evil. I think Jacob plays a huge role as he brought all those candidates there for many reasons. Exactly what role remains to be seen.
    We’ll see how it all shakes down soon. What a great show!

  9. M says:

    Just wanted to add to Michelle that his cc debt is his cc debt in the event of a divorce UNLESS you live in a community property state. I do, so as I was reading Trent’s response I was feeling uneasy.

    As far as practical suggestions – can you make it so he doesn’t have access to the mail? (For example, you recycle/shred the CC offers before he sees the pile of mail to reduce temptation). It sounds like you’re being smart to make sure the major bills are in your name and paid by you.

    Sounds like you’re in a difficult position, and I wish you the best of luck.

  10. Ronnie says:

    This is NOT to stir up any flames, but I have to respectfully disagree with your response to Heidi. From the context of her email, she’s in a lesbian relationship. And in most of the states here, there is a VERY real difference between YOUR and HER. This is not a marriage where legally the debt can be allocated between the partners, regardless of who incurred it and whose name the debt is in. That is a distinction that needs to be made for her, and unmarried couples living together as well.

  11. Kara White says:

    My husband and I use TracFone. We love it. We use our phones very infrequently (like 10 min between the two of us), and this service is perfect for our use. The problem we found with some of the “name brand” services (verizon, t-mobile, ect.) was that they all charged a “per day” amount and a “per minute” amount. For example, you have to pay $0.99 to use the phone at all for that day, and then you have to also pay how much ever per minute. This adds up. The service we use does not charge the “per day” fee. It also has very good coverage. So that’s what we use! hope this helps.

  12. Mule Skinner says:

    For Tessa: Use the 15 hours a week for planning your next step and lining up the next job. If appropriate, you might work on self-study for the next job.

  13. bethh says:

    It sounds like Michelle should let her husband default on this latest card – at least it’ll ruin his credit so he can’t open any more cards. She should also keep an eagle eye on her own credit report and accounts, because it sounds like her hubby has some issues that could easily lend themselves to identity theft and fraud.

    A regular IRA may or may not be an appropriate choice for Danielle, but the helpfulness of your answer drops when you miss that level of detail. Good thing your readers are here to jump in!

    Beth clearly stated the job offer pays minimum wage AND provides room & board. I can still see her dad being concerned – yes, this kind of adventure is fun for now, but is it moving her toward a long-term career? Perhaps it is, but I think it’s a valid parental concern.

  14. Johanna says:

    Michelle: You bailed your husband out on the condition that he would not get another credit card. He did not keep his part of the deal, so you should not keep yours either. If he hasn’t maxed out his new credit card yet, can you transfer at least some of his old debt from your line of credit to his new card? That should at least keep the banks from issuing him any more credit.

    Just from reading what you’ve written, the impression I get is that your husband’s actions go beyond mere irresponsibility – it sounds almost like he doesn’t actually grasp the concept of his spending decisions having consequences. I’m not a doctor, and I don’t presume to diagnose anyone with anything over the internet, but have you looked into the possibility that his behavior is the result of a condition that can be treated?

  15. reulte says:

    Michelle – my heart goes out to you since I suspect you married my ex-husband! You need to check with a lawyer to find out if you are responsible for his debt. You may find yourself responsible for all of it. He needs psychological counseling. You need to let go of him and save yourself and your child. Love is very hard to nourish through resentment. I wish you the best of luck and a d*mn good attorney!

  16. Todd says:

    I want to second Kara’s opinion. I love TracFone. I’ve never spent even $10 a month on it, and I’ve never had any problems with the quality of the calls. Of course, I generally use less than 30 minutes in a month, so I’m a very low user.

  17. Steve says:

    Do any of the prepaid plans allow free calling to other family members? That’s the 90% use case of my wife and I.

    Michelle is going to need some outside help. As far as I can tell, one of two things has to happen: Either she gets divorced, or she takes control of her entire family’s finances, with some mechanism for preventing her husband from getting credit. She can’t do the latter against his will, she has to get some buy-in from him. And if he continues to subvert – it’s hard to see any way around option 1.

    At least Heidi and her partner are on the same page. But you really need to break out of your “relationships mean 100% joint finances” blinders. My wife and I have 100% joint finances – but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do things!

    I think the biggest issue with the “travel hacking” card hopping is not identity theft! Every time you get a piece of non-junk mail you are taking a small risk of identity theft – but it’s still rare. The hit on the credit score is real and guaranteed. In fact the biggest problem is, frequent flier miles are so near worthless nowadays that you can accumulate miles all day long and still not be able to get a ticket because they only have one or two, on dates you don’t want to travel to places you don’t want to go. By the time you earn enough for an unrestricted award, the miles required have gone up. By the time you get an actual ticket – you would have been better off just getting some cash back and buying it. It’s just not worth it. I am not saying turn down miles you get for flying anyways – but going out of your way more than the very slightest for some worthless miles is, well, probably not worth it.

  18. Courtney says:

    I was going to say exactly what Ronnie said, in response to Heidi’s question.

    In response to pre-paid cellular: We stayed with Verizon when we switched from contract to pre-paid. This let us keep our phones and phone numbers. We are on the 10 cents-per-minute + 99 cents per-day of usage, which works out to about $29/month for two of us (we were paying $80/month under our contract). @ Colin (#2) Be careful that you don’t lose a bunch of minutes in July! It sounds like you only have four more months to use up almost half of your minutes, because they expire a year after your purchase them if you do the $100 reload.

  19. SC says:

    I think Trents comment for Heidi was correct in that the advice seemed more of personal advice, than financial advice. As in, if someone is truly your partner, you shouldn’t view finances as two separate things from each other, but should view your money as their money, and vice versa.

    Or, her debt isn’t Heidi’s debt legally speaking, but at a personal level it effects both of them.

    It could be flipped around this way, a lot of husbands and wives, who legally speaking do share the finances, still often, on a personal level, describe the income they earn, as MY money, and their spouses income, as HIS/HER money. Or two people who aren’t married might budget all their money together and talk about their money, even if it is in two separate bank accounts, as OUR money.

  20. Charlie Park says:

    For anyone interested in finding out more about the “tax deductions on IRAs (including Roths)” question, there’s more info here: http://www.hrblock.com/taxes/tax_tips/deductions_credits/saverscredit.html?ttiptitle=Saver%27s%20Credit

  21. Sara says:

    I have Virgin Mobile, and I’m pretty sure it’s the cheapest cell phone service available (as long as you use very few minutes). It’s $.20/minute, and you have to add $20 to your account at least every 90 days. If you do automatic billing (either by credit card or Paypal), you only have to add $15 every 90 days, which makes it $5/month + tax. Of course, you only get 25 minutes for that $5, so it may not be the best deal if you use a lot of minutes.

  22. laura says:

    “wring” not ring

  23. Ryan says:

    @17 Steve,

    I believe AT&T prepaid allows free mobile to mobile. So if your family members use AT&T, it might be a good deal. I believe Verizon does too, but I’m not 100% sure on that.

    Concerning Michelle,

    There is WAY more than just a financial issue going on. I’m guessing you know that already though. Something is just wrong when someone pays off debt and immediately opens a new card and spends $10,000 dollars!

  24. et says:

    Heidi – It is never a good idea to pay off unsecured debts (credit cards) with a secured debt (house loan or home equity line of credit). Ask yourself if you’re willing to potentially lose your home in order to save some interest – in the worst case scenario that something happens down the road and that house payment can’t be made. The recommendation in comment # 6 would be useful to you too.

    Michelle – What Molly on Money @ #6 said. Adults should not be bailing other adults out – especially if good faith assistance is taken advantage of. If the credit cards are in his name, it shouldn’t effect your credit. If he’s continuing to get more credit cards against your wishes, then you really need to close your eyes to that & let him deal with it, however badly. But if you add his debts to your credit card or line & something happens to your situation so you are unable to pay it off, then you have taken the responsibility & it will effect you. In some cases you might be on the hook for his (depends on state laws), but you have to decide whether you bite the bullet now & cut your losses, or hang in & get deeper in the hole.

  25. Leah says:

    Beth, I’m also an environmental educator. I have to say a few things:

    1) this type of job can be a good stepping stone to becoming a classroom teacher or community educator. Most of the people I’ve worked with have gone on to become teachers.

    2) You CAN spin this job into better opportunities, but it takes time and effort. I’ve got 1.5 years of experience at short-term stuff, and I’m moving into better jobs now. Still, it takes about 3 years or more of experience, depending on your area, to move into full-time, permanent positions that are benefited. I don’t have one yet, but I do finally have a job making $12 an hour (but no room/board included, which is fine, because I prefer my own apartment and cooking).

    You could also spin your experience into national park service jobs, which again pay a bit more.

    Honestly, as long as you’re taking care of your bills, I think your parents should stay off your back. I’ve been doing this for two years now, and I haven’t yet moved back home or borrowed anything from my parents. My mom also hassles me about the money, but I tell her to let me find my own path. I’m still not 100% sure this is the career I want, but I am building good experience that will still help out in future jobs.

  26. Amy H. says:

    As others have pointed out above, whether Michelle is legally liable for debts her husband incurred/incurs while they are married depends on what state they live in. If they live in a community property state, like California, she is on the hook for half the debt he incurs while they are married, no matter whose name it’s in. Michelle should talk to a lawyer.

  27. skywind says:

    “The important question is to consider whose names the debts are in. If he’s applying for credit cards on his own, are they just in his name? If they are and you file for divorce, they will remain his debts and are not your concern. If they’re in both of your names, you need to get your name removed from as much of it as possible if you’re considering a separation.”

    I’m an attorney in Florida, which is not a community property state. It is an equitable distribution state, which means Michelle would be equally liable for her husband’s debts (and he for hers) regardless of whose name they are in. Removing his name doesn’t help. She needs to see a lawyer in her state ASAP, and it’s my opinion that everyone considering marriage needs a prenup, especially if you’re going into a situation where you have concerns about your partner’s finances. You can’t change another person, but you can protect yourself.

  28. deRuiter says:

    Dear Michelle, The only thing you NEED is marital advice. Your husband is not going to change, you’re going to live your whole married life in debt / bankruptcy cycle. If you like him with his bad spending better than you want financial peace, stay with him. If you tire of living in deep debt /bankruptcy the rest of your life, dump him. There’s no fixing this man, he doesn’t respect you, he doesn’t want you and your child to be financially secure, and he doesn’t care about you enough to stop spending. The choice is yours. You know how to manage money on your own, you don’t need financial advice. Michelle, you saw these red flags before you married him, and you married him anyway, thinking you could “fix” him, a very female trait. None of us can “fix” another person. Anyone thinking of marrying a financial disaster to “fix” or “help” him / her, GET THEM TO FIX THEIR FINANCIES BEFORE YOU GET MARRIED AND TAKE ON TTHE OTHER PERSON’S DEBT.

  29. Katie says:

    Re: the car loan. I think you might have missed that the loan may be for a fixed amount, regardless of early pay-off. If so, paying extra isn’t going to lessen the overall amount that must be repaid. Some car loans are that way and when my young adult son got a car loan last year I made him aware of such shenanigans and he was certain to get one with no early payment penalty.

  30. getagrip says:

    @ Michelle I echo the advice with respect to others that you must speak with a lawyer in your state to determine if you are going to be responsible for the debt. I would also suggest that if you don’t have a clear idea of where the money is being spent, particulalry if it isn’t being spent on things you can physically see and match the value of spent money, you hire a Private Investigator after talking to a lawyer. There is a very good chance the financial problem is greater than you imagine in that you may only be seeing the tip of the iceberg.

  31. Steffie says:

    Michelle, I feel for you. I was married, signed the tax form and was on the hook for 25k after the divorce and he stopped working. There was no innocent spouse clause back then. Please get a trusted friend of your own to talk to and start to make plans. See the lawyer etc but make sure that you and your child can be safe in your home if/when your husband finds out what you are doing. You don’t know what kind of reaction this will elicit from him.

  32. Kevin says:

    Rolling credit card debt into a mortgage is a bad idea. Sure, a 5% mortgage is less interest than a 20% credit card, but if you take 15 years to pay it back (the length of the mortgage) rather than 2 years (if you were seeing the credit card bill every month), then you actually end up paying MORE in interest.

    Rolling it into the mortgage takes it out of sight, and out of mind. You don’t feel any pressure to pay it off more quickly. Furthermore, with the space you freed up on your credit card, you’re much more likely to go back into debt on it. Leaving it on the card keeps it at the forefront of your attention, making you more likely to focus on paying it off. It also discourages you from piling even more debt onto the card (since its already nearly maxxed out).

  33. Kevin says:

    @Michelle: “Our mortgage is in my name”

    Whoa – that sent up a HUGE red flag for me! Nevermind whose name the mortgage is in, whose name is the *DEED* in? This could be a major problem in a divorce proceeding. You may be forced to split the asset (the house) with him, but you’d get stuck with the entire mortgage (since it’s not a marital asset/liability). Before you do anything else, I would ensure that his name is NOT on the deed, or get him to cosign onto the mortgage debt. Note that given his shoddy credit history, they may require you to refinance in order to add him to the loan, and the new loan terms might not be nearly as favourable as your current terms (higher interest rate, requiring PMI, whatever).

    Regardless, if his name is on the deed (but not the mortgage), you may have placed yourself in an enormously vulnerable position here, financially speaking. I’d get that rectified immediately.

    Even though you explicitly requested otherwise, I agree with the others who said what you really need is relationship advice, not financial advice. Financially, you’re on the Titanic. There are no tips that can save you from the financial disaster that is unfolding in your life. You need to get your relationship straightened out, or cut your ties before he takes you down with him.

  34. Karen says:

    I heart Lost!!!! Good point about Jack fixing Locke – hadn’t thought about that.

  35. reulte says:

    Michelle – another point.

    IF you get divorced and even if his debts don’t follow you or become your responsibility legally, you will still be pursued by collection agencies. I don’t know the legality of it — but I still consistantly get dunning notices for my husband’s debts after 6 years and moving three times overseas(as part of my job).

    I had a pre-nup as well as a post-nup – which is a pre-nup for after you’re married – which you might want to see a lawyer about particularly if you chose to remain with your husband.

  36. cynthia says:

    Dear Michelle,
    Your story was mine, but the numbers would be higher. I am now a single mom and my standard of living, savings rate and peace of mind are much better. My ex makes no financial contribution to our child, but this is better than the financial drain he was during our marriage. I do believe that all people can change, but I don’t think that people change just because we need them to. I wish you and your family the best, but think that you need to protect your child, too.

  37. Ellen says:

    Michelle – Something else you can do is pull your free credit report from one of the 3 major companies to see whether any of your husband’s accounts are showing up – that would tell you where you stand right now. (You can get 1 free one per quarter, or pay a nominal fee to pull all 3 at the same time, if you want.) I believe you may be able to ask the 3 reporting companies to attach a note to your individual file that is a disclaimer of any knowledge of or responsibility for accounts he has set up in his name – which would be seen by creditors who pull your report. Since you already have your mortgage set up & your car is paid off, for the immediate time being you don’t need to worry too much. #35’s idea of a post-nup agreement would be a more official kind of disclaimer notice, and might serve as a wake-up call to your husband that you’re through giving him a free ride.

  38. SLCCOM says:

    I have a Tracfone. As long as you make the annual minutes purchase the old minutes DO roll over. All of them.

    Michelle, I hope you can get out of this tangled mess without too much financial, emotional and legal damage! You may have married a con man, too, but in any case you are in a serious fix. Everyone has given you great advice. There is no shame in making a mistake. The shames lies in staying with the mistake, and repeating the same mistake.

  39. Pattie, RN says:

    Michelle, please listen to all the voices here telling you the same thing: YOU DON’T HAVE A MONEY PROBLEM, YOU HAVE A MARRIAGE PROBLEM. I am a very strong believer in the importance of marriage and two-parent families, but it this case, you ARE a single parent with TWO children already. Please put up a huge fence between his finances and yours, for the sake of you and your helpless daughter. Try counseling, but you husband seems stuck in adolescence; rebelling against his “new mommy”….you. And while you are working this out, be VERY carefull not to get pregnant. Life as a single parent of one child is VASTLY easier than from with two kids to balance—-with a deadbeat, noncontributing ex!

  40. GayleRN says:

    Michelle, there is an awful lot of money that as near as I can figure is not well accounted for. Start looking for where it is going. Best bets are another woman or an addiction such as gambling or substance abuse. Meanwhile, stash money where he can’t get at it, very literally. I eventually found the other woman, who eventually took him for all he was worth. I separated my finances from his really fast. I also found that it is very easy to notify the bank, credit card companies, and all brokerages, administrators of retirement plans etc, by phone that divorce papers had been filed. This instantly froze every account. He couldn’t access anything of mine or anything that was joint. Since I was the only one with an actual paycheck I simply started another checking account after the papers were filed. Oh, and stash some actual cash somewhere. I ended up with $10K stashed in my work locker for a while.Good luck.

  41. Jane says:

    About the “travel hacking.” I’m a very frequent flyer, not just elite but lets say super elite on one airline, mini elite on another. When you get to my status there is no reason to get a frequent flyer credit card. Heck in the last 18 months I’ve gone on 2 round trip domestic flights, “paid” for one more in May and have “paid” for my mom to come down and pet sit in an emergency and still have over 150,000 miles. (The mom visit was unexpected business trip while the pet nanny was on her yearly vacation, they like to drive down to me usually.) Two of those trips have been at the last minute, ie. less than 48 hours before I reserved. I think the credit cards are really aimed at people who fly some but don’t fly all that much. In that case, you are better off just getting a general rewards card that is not connected to a specific airline or a cash back card and putting the cash in a flights fund. Before I moved to my current position where I fly so much I had gotten a rewards card with the intention of using it for flights, I found that I ended up going with the cash back option because I would always look at the cost of flying first since it always was less that $300 or so just paid for the flight.

    As far as black out dates, again if you are elite they disappear so can’t tell you about it.

  42. Lily says:

    Lost: Since subscribing to Netflix I’ve been watching Lost streamlined to my computer. It’s fascinating and addicting. Just finished series one and can’t get enough of it! Glad to see Trent is a fan, too.

  43. Sarah says:

    In response to Heidi and the other readers who commented: While for a relationship it maybe be debt that both of them have to contend with, Heidi is not legally responsible for it. By being unmarried, her partner’s debt is not her responsibility. If they roll it into the mortgage, it becomes Heidi’s responsibility and also throws off the calculations of how much house they each own. As much as people in a relationship have to consider the whole financial picture, owning property when you are not married puts you in a business relationship and if she is not comfortable adding personal CC into their shared assets, there are legal reasons backing her up. If you are married, you take on your partner’s debts, but you also automatically get a stake in the assets. If you are unmarried, none of that happens automatically and can be much more difficult to suss out.

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