Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Lillian, Athena, and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
Eight years ago I had my college loans ($17,000) forgiven through a public service loan forgiveness program. During the time I was working to complete the required service period, I was able to defer payments, so I didn’t pay a cent of those loans! This was before I knew my now husband and his family.
The current federal loan forgiveness efforts have made me realize that he doesn’t know the details of why/how I don’t have college debt, just that I don’t. He knows it’s not because of family wealth, as I was raised in poverty. He also doesn’t have college debt, thanks to numerous scholarships and paying off what he did take out. I recently heard him make a comment during a phone call with a friend about how unfair he thinks the new loan forgiveness program is and how everyone should “have to work hard and make their payments like we did.” This attitude surprised me, as it’s not generally in line with his beliefs/support of public assistance programs. Do you think I should/need to mention to him that I don’t have loans because of previous, existing loan forgiveness programs?
—Debt Free but Not Paid Off
Dear Debt Free,
You’re right; that seems a little out of left field, given his previous belief and support of public assistance. But keep in mind, your student loan forgiveness program is not exactly the same as the one your husband and others are complaining about, so he might view it a little differently. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program was created to help those who have chosen a career in the public sector and have committed to serving for at least 10 years. You don’t make as much in the public sector as you would in the corporate world, and the government acknowledges that. We need people to serve, and this is one way the government has tried to incentivize people to go into careers such as public education. Biden’s plan is slightly different in that it targets low- and middle-income borrowers, regardless of their job.
Still, you can tell him what you overheard and share your story with him. Sometimes it’s easier for people to practice empathy when it’s someone they actually know talking about their experience. By learning from you, he may be more understanding toward others. But only you can decide if you’d like to share that with him.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My fiancé and I grew up on very frugal budgets as kids. His family started a small business, and my parents decided to go to graduate school one after the other. Both families were upper middle class by the time we were teenagers, but some things stick—like anxiety. I still check all my balances daily just in case. I’m older by almost a decade (early 40s to his 30s), so I’ve got a touch more urgency to plan for retirement.
Our earnings are solidly middle class for where we live. We own our home with a 15-year mortgage we pay a bit extra on every month. Zero other debt besides whatever groceries and such we’ve charged since the past billing cycle. I have a grown child who is self-sufficient and thriving. No plans to have any together. Fiancé currently sits on his savings like a dragon on their hoard. Besides the $1,500 I keep in the shared account from my kid’s first high school job (never used, but makes us feel safer), all my personal money is working for me in at least a small way. Even my checking account has a better interest rate than my fiancé’s savings account! I have access to an emergency fund that could buy a new luxury car! And replace our roof with whatever is left! It’s not even his day-to-day account.
What non-threatening, easy-to-use, basic services would you advise I suggest to him? We do a quarterly check-in on the state of our personal finances, but the January one is always strictly celebratory (he maxed out his 401(k) for the first time ever! I finished a two-year certification and got a raise and bonus!), and I’d like to have something actionable that doesn’t sound judgmental and isn’t a huge pain in the ass to bring to the table.
—I Just Want to Nudge Him
Dear Nudge Him,
You’re right when you say some habits just stick. That’s the case for both you and your husband. His hoarding the money in one place probably helps him feel safe, just like you feel safest after you’ve checked your accounts for the day.
Whether it’s because of his frugal upbringing or the turbulent market, he really just might prefer cash. Some people have different risk tolerances. So, while I know you want to bring actionable steps he can take to change his ways, you can’t go further until you ask him why he’s doing this in the first place. After you’ve had that conversation, you do have a few options you can share with him to help him while acknowledging the fact that he would most likely want to start slow.
If the interest rate he’s currently earning is leaving a lot to be desired, have him consider opening a high-yield savings account with an online bank. Online banks can offer higher interest rates because they have less overall operating costs, thanks to not needing brick-and-mortar locations. Great options are Capital One and Ally, which are both offering an interest rate of 3.40 percent, or Bask Bank, which is currently offering 4.25 percent.
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Dear Pay Dirt,
So I started a part-time evening job to clear off some serious credit card debt. I get off at 10 p.m. and start my main job at six in the morning. My co-workers are all teenagers or college students and no one has a car but me. Several bike or take Ubers, which is ridiculous since the roads aren’t safe and the job doesn’t pay much.
I have a truck. Dropping off everyone at their door means I don’t get home until past 11:30 p.m. So I figured out a route that would let me drop the majority of my co-workers in a safe zone- like a 7-Eleven parking lot and they get home from there. I don’t ask for money. I know how hard it can be. I don’t understand the entitlement. Several of my co-workers think I am obligated to pick them off on my off days and one particular princess told me that making her walk in the rain from the gas station to the tail end of her apartment complex was me begging to get her raped. I gave her an umbrella that she never returned.
I am at my limit. I greatly emphasize with my supervisor since she reminds me of my mom—a single mom working her tail off. She doesn’t need to get calls at 10 p.m. from parents bitching about picking up their kids at a scheduled time. She works wonders with me. There are a few thankful co-workers I don’t want to screw over but the whiny ones are getting to me. Help?
Dear Free Ride,
Helping people is great until it… isn’t. One day you’re helping someone catch a ride home, then suddenly, you’re driving a 14-passenger van with scheduled drop-off times. You’ve helped a lot of people, but now it’s time to put some boundaries in place, so they don’t keep taking your umbrella (and kindness) for granted.
I’d suggest taking a break from giving rides for a month. You said it yourself, you’re at your limit. This will give you some space from the situation to see if it’s something you still want to do in the future. Given the fact that many of them are teens, I’d give them time to make other arrangements instead of cutting them off right away. Let them know that you’ve recently had to make some new transportation arrangements and, for the unforeseeable future, won’t be able to provide rides home. Tell them that you’ll continue to help for two weeks to give them time to come up with alternative arrangements but after that, no more 7-Eleven visits. If you do want to continue to help out a few later on, they need to help you come up with a plan that works for everyone, including you.
As for their parents bothering your boss? That’s not on you. It’s up to her if she answers late-night calls from angry parents about transportation issues. Most jobs do not offer their employees transportation, although some do offer vouchers or stipends. Also, most employers don’t deal with their employees’ parents, especially if they are 18 and over. While there are times and places to feel guilt, this isn’t one of them.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I am 55 years old and have constant anxiety about money. I’m not even sure why I am writing except, perhaps, to receive some reassurance that I’m doing fine or some tips and strategies about how to assuage financial anxiety. I grew up poor, but am doing quite well now (I think)—but I cannot get rid of this near-constant anxiety about finances. I make $80,000 gross/year. I have zero consumer debt. I own my home outright. I have $625,000 in a 401(k). I own a rental home that I rent out at below market rate which nets me about $500/month after all expenses/taxes are paid. My kids are all done with college and are debt free. Additionally, I have a partner whose financial situation is the same. Objectively, this seems to me like I’m in a fairly good position to work eight to 10 more years and then retire comfortably. Subjectively, I anxiously monitor my finances constantly. I constantly (twice a week) enter my numbers into various online calculators, I constantly read articles on “have you saved enough for retirement,” I log in to my Mint account to track everything, etc. It’s too much, but I can’t help it. Reassurance? Advice?
Dear Financially Anxious,
Growing up without a lot of money can leave you feeling anxious, worried, and compulsive when it comes to managing your finances as an adult. Your brain is trying to keep you safe by staying hypervigilant. A therapist can help you work through that anxiety and provide you with actionable steps for minimizing it in your daily life. There are professionals who specialize in financial therapy. You may find it easier to secure a therapist who’s in your health insurance network. But the Financial Therapy Association’s directory is another place to start.
In the meantime, find a certified financial planner to go over your entire portfolio with you. I truly believe you are financially healthy for the next stage in your life. But I also know that sometimes hearing the same thing from a professional can provide peace of mind.
One of my oldest friends, “John,” is getting married soon, and I’m returning to my hometown to act as a bridesmaid. My mother asked me where the wedding was being held, and I thought nothing of it until she told me that she plans on driving to the church, 40 minutes away from her home, to stand outside and possibly “find a seat in the back” to watch the wedding!