CREDIT UNIONS VERSUS BANKS
Dear Mary: What is the difference between a bank and a credit union? — Justina
Dear Justina: Great question! A bank is a for-profit financial business run by paid board members that’s primary purpose is to make profits for the shareholders.
A credit union is a nonprofit financial business that’s owned by its members and run by unpaid volunteer board members. In a credit union, the profits go back to the members in the form of better rates and lower fees.
To find a credit union you can join, go to MyCreditUnion.gov and click on “Credit Union Locator.”
OVERDRAFT PROTECTION SOFTENS THE BLOW
Dear Mary: When a person, who shall remain nameless, overdraws her bank account by accident, is there anything she can do to stop the chain of events and horrendous fees? — Bettye
Dear Bettye: Don’t worry. Your secret is safe with me. Banks hope you won’t fight back by requesting a courtesy credit, but you should. The minute you realize you have a problem, call the bank or go into your local branch in person.
Many banks will credit back the fee, or some of it, if it’s your first offense.
You need to move into prevention mode by setting up an overdraft protection account that attaches to your checking account. Then, to make sure you never have to use it (you have to pay it back, so it’s not some kind of gift), get into the habit of checking your balance frequently (set up your account online so you can check using your smartphone), and never let it drop below, say, $100. Ever.
BAILING OUT THE PARENTS
Dear Mary: Thanks to you and “Debt-Proof Living,” my husband and I have been debt-free for three years.
My father has recently been very ill, and my mother spilled the beans about their debt. They have two credit cards and several store cards with balances. They also have a mortgage and a car payment. I’m frustrated, disgusted and heartbroken to find out they have so much debt at their age.
My husband and I paid off one major credit card for them that had several thousand dollars on it. Afterward, my mother went out and ran the account right back up to the limit.
I’m not willing to go into debt to pay off their debt. I explained to her that with that kind of debt, they will never retire. Am I wrong? I would appreciate any advice you might have for us. — BethAnne
Dear BethAnne. Congratulations on your debt-free status! I am so proud of you, and I’m sorry to hear about your father’s illness. But that doesn’t change my response: You are not wrong. You shouldn’t bail them out by going into debt. I think you’ve discovered why paying their debts isn’t such a hot idea, either, even if that does not create new debt for you.
I would say the same thing if your mother were writing to me about you: You cannot fix anyone by making them comfortable in their misery. That only enables them to stay there. And buy more stuff.
I suggest you diligently save and invest now because the day may come that you decide you want to contribute to their day-to-day care. But even then, you will not be responsible for their debts and should not feel guilty for that.
I hope everyone reading this — regardless of age — will take stock of the way they are managing their finances and preparing for the future. The best gift we will ever give our kids is our own solvency. In that way, we will not become a financial burden to them.