MONEY

Sonia Sotomayor: A spender, not a saver?

Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor

When you’re nominated to the Supreme Court, your life becomes an open book, and details of every public move or transaction you’ve made are scrutinized, including the state of your personal finances. Last week, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor submitted a 172-page document (with another 129 pages of supporting information) in response to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire. Two pages contained details on Sotomayor’s financial holdings and net worth.

It’s a modest accounting. Though she earns nearly $200,000 a year as a federal judge and from teaching, after 17 years on the federal bench, Sotomayor has just $32,000 in savings, nearly $16,000 in credit card debt and another $15,000 in outstanding dental bills. Most of Sotomayor’s net worth is in real estate. Her apartment in Greenwich Village is worth $997,500 (with a $381,775 mortgage) and she owns one-third of a condo with an estimated $20,000 value. She also lists $108,000 worth of autos and other personal property, leaving her with a net worth of about $740,000. There is no mention of other savings or investments, so it doesn’t appear that Sotomayor has much saved for retirement.

So, where is all her money going? She’s divorced and has no children, but according to the White House, Sotomayor has been generous with her income, helping her 82-year old mother as well as family and friends financially. Federal judges do have one advantage over most working stiffs, which may have allowed Sotomayor to be more generous with her money and not worry about saving: Once appointed, federal judges are like tenured professors and can continue working as a judge at full salary as long as they want. When Sotomayor does retire, she can count on a generous federal pension based on her salary and years of service.

Sotomayor doesn’t have overwhelming debt, and perhaps she purposely stayed away from investing in securities to avoid financial conflicts in her position as a judge. Still, it does raise the question of whether she should have more saved. Harvard economics professor Gregory Mankiw says his “grandmother would have been shocked and appalled to see someone who makes so much save so little.” Mankiw, who has written about consumers as “savers” or “spenders”, said Sotomayor is firmly in the spender category after reading Sotomayor’s financial disclosure report for 2007, which showed that Sotomayor’s main financial holdings were a Citibank savings and checking account with less than $115,000.

What do you think Sotomayor’s personal finances say about her? Do you think someone with a decent six-figure salary should be saving more? Do you ever help out family and friends instead of saving more for your own retirement? Tells us what you think.

- Donna Rosato

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