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Archive for Thursday, August 20, 2009

Recession heightens financial dilemmas

August 20, 2009

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— The recession is proving to be as stubborn as a toddler who won’t go to bed. The longer it slogs on, the more your nerves are frayed.

Understandably, some people have become more indecisive in making financial decisions. It’s hard for people to determine whether to hold on to their savings, buy what they need or want, or pay down debt. During a recent online discussion, I received lots of questions from chat participants trying to sort all this out. Here are some decision dilemmas:

Q: My husband is about to enter his fourth year of law school, of which three years have been paid for by his company. Unfortunately for us, they’ve stopped paying. We’ve taken out a loan to pay for his final year.

Now my husband’s car decided to cause problems, forcing us — at least a year before we planned — to buy a new car. This is our last month of car payments on my car, and December is the last month we owe money to the seller of our house for items we purchased from him. The monthly payments we were paying on my car and to our seller were going to go toward a celebration vacation in 2010. We’ve been carpooling to work here and there and I’m fine with it, except for the days he has classes. What would you do?

A: First, I wouldn’t buy a new car. I would buy a used car. Second, if you can get by with the one car, take the two debt payments you were making and put that money into a savings account so you can make a hefty down payment or even pay cash for the second car. Finally, the vacation should be put on hold. You can still take time off — just find an inexpensive way to relax.

I’m a firm believer in the “buy new, drive it into the ground” club, but unfortunately an irresponsible driver destroyed my 11-year-old car. Insurance paid me $2,000 for it. Prior to the accident we were saving to buy a house and have a down payment fund of $25,000. Our credit union approved us for a $15,000 auto loan, but we’re having trouble finding a car that fits our needs at that price. Should we get a higher loan or spend more money from the down payment fund?

I suggest you join another club — the “buy used, drive it into the ground” club. You are about to take on a huge expense of a home. I would buy a reliable used car for $10,000 or less, taking the money from the fund set aside for the home down payment. Then I would quickly build that account back up. But touching $25,000 would be hard for a lot of people, especially in a market where home prices have declined.

So if you don’t want to tap the home down payment, change your car search criteria. You may not get the car you “want,” but it will prevent you from taking on a lot of debt. If you are going to take the loan, borrow as little as possible. Do some research and you can find a reliable, fuel-efficient, used — or new if you insist — car for less than the approved $15,000. There are several Web sites that can help in your search — edmunds.com, kbb.com, consumerreports.org.

I conceived our son (almost 2) after a year of fertility treatments, mostly covered by insurance. We’ve been trying for No. 2 for almost eight months without success. So, it’s on to in vitro fertilization (IVF), which is not covered by insurance. Is it fair to my son to spend $20,000 on IVF for a chance at a sibling? We have the money (as well as a rainy-day fund, retirement accounts, 529 plan, etc.) but could certainly use it to pay for his college.

It appears you are good at saving, so even if you spend the $20,000, you have the discipline and the time to save again.

I just paid off my credit card debt. I will be moving back in with my parents to save on rent (I’m 30). I still owe undergraduate and graduate school loans ($100,000) and don’t have any savings. Should I pay off loans or go for the savings? Or both?

Build up a small emergency fund and pay down the debt. Since you will be living at home, save about a month’s worth of whatever living expenses you do have. Then live as frugally as possible so that you can pay off the $100,000 in student loans. Additionally, sit down with your parents and let them in on your plan. Periodically, let them see how you are paying down your debts. They deserve to be kept in the know about your progress since they are allowing you to live rent-free.

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