MONEY Careers

Got an Awkward Workplace Problem? Get Help from a Career Expert

The office is fraught with uncomfortable situations. Does your colleague clip his nails at his desk? Should you let your office crush know you’re sweet on her? Does your boss ask you a little too much about your personal life? What do you do when your colleague takes credit for your work?

You face lots of sticky issues in the workplace, including ones that could affect your performance and pay. We’ve already tackled questions on friending your boss on Facebook, impressing your manager when you work far from HQ, applying for an in-house transfer, and getting a chatty co-worker to pipe down.

What’s your question? Write to us, and we’ll get experts to provide career advice. And maybe your nail-clipping co-worker will read the story and do the right thing.

MONEY Careers

Wish Every Work Day Felt Like a Vacation? For This Guy it Is.

David Harris
"We offer a great product," says David Harris. "It was a matter of getting it in front of the right people.” Benjamin Rasmussen, wardrobe and grooming by Ashley Kelly

After toiling in the tech industry for over three decades, David Harris decided to buy an adventure travel company. Here's how he did it.

For 30 years, David Harris bounced around Silicon Valley, using his sales and marketing savvy to overhaul tech companies. But in 2011 he received a sizable payout from the sale of Tumbleweed Communications, where he had been vice president—and he was ready for a change. Though his work was highly compensated, it was also high pressure. “I wanted to continue to chal­lenge myself,” he says. “But I needed to get out of high tech for my mental health.”

Around the same time Timberline Adventure Tours, a Lafayette, Colo., company offering hiking and biking trips across the U.S. and Canada, went up for sale. Harris and his wife, Kisa, had gone on many vacations with Timberline and had even become friendly with the owners.

For Harris, it was the perfect opportunity. He was looking to do something he felt passionate about, and Timberline filled that bill. Plus, he felt the business had potential beyond its current revenue: “I knew Timberline offered a great product. It was a matter of getting it out to the right people.” While details of the purchase were still being ironed out, Harris moved with Kisa (then an aerobics instructor) and his three daughters to Louisville, Colo., where they lived off investments until he settled into his new role.

Immediately after taking over in January 2012, Harris began boost­ing Timberline’s digital presence—revamping the website and developing strategies for social media and email marketing. He used skills he’d honed in Silicon Valley, only now “product overhaul” meant testing trails and putting together a “fun puzzle of trip itineraries.”

Today Timberline offers 84 tours to about 600 clients annually. Revenues hit $1.2 million in 2013, up from $850,000 in 2011. While Harris isn’t making the big bucks he used to, he’s enjoying going to a job that doesn’t feel like work. “At the end of a trip, when clients are beaming and thanking you for making their vacation,” Harris says, “it’s just such a pleasure.”

BY THE NUMBERS

$500,000: What the company cost

Harris, who bought the business with cash from the sale of Tumbleweed, drew on his sales experience to create a valuation. The owners still cared about the company, and Harris says that made it somewhat harder to negotiate them down to the price he wanted to pay.

84%: how much less Harris earns than he used to

While his family can live off the $100,000 he and Kisa bring in (she’s the VP), they’re still adjusting to the seasonality of the business, which requires intensive budgeting. Harris credits Kisa, who is “as organized as the day is long.”

240: Target number of new clients to add in 2014

Harris is proud of Timber­line’s customer loyalty— 84% of travelers in 2012 were returning—but he’d like to grow the customer base so that 40% of clients are new. He plans to introduce more trip itineraries, and he’s working on building corporate partnerships, hoping that this will help raise revenues to $2 million by 2015.

MONEY Kids and Money

Would You Spend $60 for Your Kid’s Lunch Box?

Laptop Lunches Bento Set with Sandwich and Yogurt.
PB& J in a Spiderman lunch box, or a Laptop Lunches bento set with carrots and yogurt? Laptop Lunches

In search of toxin-free, reusable, leftover-friendly lunch gear for their children, some parents are willing to pay a premium.

When it comes to kids’ lunches, we’ve come a long way from PB&J, an apple, and a cookie in a brown paper bag.

Beau Coffron, of Fremont, Calif., packs his daughter’s school lunches in stainless steel containers that cost at least $20 a pop. He apportions all of her food into little compartments, making cartoon characters like Charlie Brown and animal shapes such as tigers and llamas out of the ingredients. Her sports water bottles cost about $10, and the sack to carry it all came with the lunch kits but would retail separately for about $25.

Everything is toxin-free and reusable, naturally.

What started as simply a creative way to pack lunches has become a movement in the U.S. to reduce waste from individual packaging, save money by buying in bulk, make use of leftovers, and have toxin-free food containers—and share it all on social media.

Coffron, who posts pictures of these lunches on his blog, is part of this wave of moms and dads who are willing to pay much more than the cost of a box of plastic baggies at the dollar store for these benefits.

Parents who are investing in fancy lunch gear say it’s worth the upfront costs because it lasts longer than disposable items. The annual savings from reusable items amount to an average of $216 a year, according to a study by U-Konserve, whose lunch kit runs $39.95.

While popular in Japan, Bento-style lunch gear, where a variety of food is packed in small containers or compartments in a specialized, lidded tray, is still a very small portion of $1.4 billion food storage industry, according to research firm Euromonitor International. However, the small companies that sell these products report phenomenal U.S. growth during the last several years as the trend has exploded.

Laptop Lunches, one of the oldest and biggest of these companies, launched in 2002 and now sells more than 500,000 units a year, according to the company. On the smaller end of the spectrum is PlanetBox, which sells under 100,000 units a year. Launched five years ago, PlanetBox says sales are up 150% the last two years.

Products vary from all-in-one solutions like PlanetBox, which has a $59.99 Bento lunch kit with a bag and stainless steel lunch tray, to multi-piece solutions like Laptop Lunches’ $32.99 kit. A simple Goodbyn tray with three compartments runs $8.99.

That’s a lot of cash for something that is likely to end up lost within the first week of school, which is why more manufacturers are offering customization. For example, PlanetBoxes offers magnets to put on cases and Goodbyns come with stickers so that the items are easily recognizable in the lost-and-found bin. The heft of these products makes children realize they need to take care of them, too.

Mix and Match

Investing in one expensive lunch kit might not be enough, which is why there’s some mixing and matching that goes on, parents say.

Venia Conte, based in Las Vegas, has two PlanetBox lunch kits, in case one gets misplaced or is dirty, plus a couple of LunchBots lunch kits, which run $20 for the stainless steel containers. She also uses stainless steel food thermoses, which cost around $25 each, plus $1.50 re-usable napkins from Etsy.com and various water bottles.

“When you look at their shoes, which they grow out of in six months, $50 for a lunch box doesn’t seem so bad,” says Conte, who blogs about her lunches to keep herself engaged for 180 days a year.

While the bento lunch fad has been ongoing in Japan for years, most of the companies selling these products in the U.S. emerged after the recession in 2008.

“When I started the business, parents were like: $25 for a lunch box, that’s like way too expensive. But parents are factoring that equation differently,” says Sandra Harris, founder of ECOlunchbox, whose three-compartment stainless steel kid’s tray runs $12. “Now, BPA-free is a household word,” she says, referring to the Bisphenol, a chemical that is found in polycarbonate plastics.

For Tammy Pelstring, who started Laptop Lunches, the biggest surprise has been the community that has sprung up around these lunch kits, fueled by social media. Her company started before Pinterest and Instagram, so the first thing she noticed was people posting photos on Flickr of lunches packed in her lunch boxes—thousands upon thousands of them.

“We completely hit on something,” Pelstring says. “There’s this joy that people get when you create a beautiful lunch. It feels really good.”

MONEY Ask the Expert

The Best Way to Give Your Grandkid Cash for College

140605_AskExpert_illo
Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: “My wife and I will soon be first-time grandparents and would like to make monthly investments for our grandson. What are the benefits and limitations of 529 plans? We live in N.Y., but our grandson will be born in Massachusetts.” —Joe Kostka, Fairport, N.Y.

A: If you want to help with your grandchild’s college costs, a 529 plan is the best route, says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Edvisors.com, a website that helps people plan and pay for college.

These state college savings plans have significant tax advantages. Your contributions grow tax-deferred, and withdrawals are tax free as long as the money goes toward qualified higher education expenses such as tuition or books. (If you spend it on something else, you will be hit by both income taxes and a 10% penalty.)

Since you’re funding an education account, you can contribute even more than the annual gift tax exclusion—$14,000 in 2014, or $28,000 as a couple—without running the risk of owing gift taxes. You can gift five times the annual exclusion in a single year, or $70,000 for a single person and $140,000 for a couple (but you then can’t give that child more for the next four years).

In more than half of states, if you use your state’s 529 plan you can deduct at least a portion of your 529 contribution on your state income tax return. New York offers a deduction of up to $5,000 per year ($10,000 for married couples filing jointly). Massachusetts has no deduction. To find out which states offer tax benefits, check out Edvisors’ full list.

For you to get a tax break in New York, you need to be the account holder of the 529 plan (naming your grandchild as beneficiary). But you might want to forgo the deduction and make the parents the account holder (or the child, though custodial 529 plans have other drawbacks, including no option to later change the beneficiary).

When grandparents own 529 plans, the account is not reported as an asset on the student’s FAFSA application for financial aid, but any plan distributions count as income. This can reduce your grandchild’s aid eligibility by as much as half of the distribution amount.

If the parent or child owns the plan, the account is reported as a parental asset on the FAFSA and has a minimal impact on aid eligibility, says Kantrowitz (aid is reduced by no more than 5.64% of the value of the 529). And 529 distributions are not reported as income.

The savings from the state tax deduction are small compared to the harm it could cause to your grandchild’s financial aid, says Kantrowitz.

Other Ways to Stay In Control

To keep control of the account without jeopardizing future financial aid, you have a few options. You can retain ownership of the plan until right before your grandchild takes a distribution and then switch it to your children. While New York allows this kind of account change (not all states do), you risk having to pay back the your tax savings (talk to an accountant).

Another option to minimize the hit to financial aid while still getting the tax break: Wait to take out the money until the child’s senior year of college, after the last financial aid application has been filed. The only risk is that if their expenses don’t outweigh what’s in the account, you could be stuck with leftover funds.

Best Plan Options

While you can invest in any state’s 529 college savings plan, you should opt for a direct-sold 529 plan, which usually has much lower fees than adviser-sold 529 plans do.

“The best option is to focus on a 529 plan with low fees that has an age-based asset allocation that mixes an all-stock fund, such as a S&P 500 fund, with a fund that has no risk of loss to principal,” says Kantrowitz, who prefers plans run by Vanguard, Fidelity, or TIAA-CREF. New York’s plan is run by Vanguard, while the Massachusetts direct 529 is run by Fidelity.

To help you boost what’s in the 529, Kantrowitz also suggests joining a program like Upromise. You earn rebates on everyday purchases, which are automatically put into the 529 plan you specify. Kantrowitz says a family will typically earn between $1,000 to $2,000 in rebates over the lifetime of the account.

MONEY

How To Robot-Proof Your Job

I, ROBOT, 2004.
Can one of these robots do your job? 20th Century Fox—courtesy Everett Collection

Can a machine do your job? For more of us than you'd think, the answer is probably yes. But there are ways to stay ahead of the automation curve.

If you find it hard to imagine that a robot could some day take your job, you should probably try imagining harder. A new survey finds that one in five companies has replaced workers with automation — and not just in low-wage jobs.

While 21% of companies overall say that they now use technology instead of humans for some jobs, the number is even higher — 30% — at businesses with more than 500 workers, according to a nationwide survey out today by CareerBuilder and Economic Modeling Specialists International (EMSI). And that trend is only expected to accelerate: According to the report, one-third of employers predict that jobs at their firms that are currently performed by humans will come to be performed by machines in the next decade.

“This has been a threat for a long time and there are many industries that need a lot less people to do the same jobs more efficiently or for less cost,” says Janet Elkin, CEO of Supplemental Healthcare, a company that recruits staff for healthcare organizations.

Interestingly — some might say ironically — working in a cutting-edge industry doesn’t necessarily protect you from this dynamic. In fact, according to the study, workers at information technology firms are twice as likely to see their jobs replaced with automation. Employers in financial services and manufacturing rounded out the top three areas with the largest number of employers “deskilling” workers. Other industries or sectors that will see a big impact: Customer service, accounting, assembly, production, shipping, distribution, and sales.

Several forces are at play. In many cases, technology has and continues to eliminate the need for workers who facilitate transactions by enabling customers to perform those transactions themselves. Think travel agents, customer service reps, and even store clerks. You see it directly if you do self-check out at your grocery store or have eaten at a Panera Bread restaurant that has replaced cashiers with kiosks.

It’s not just affecting lower wage jobs, however. Powerful software is taking on professional and white-collar jobs in accounting, finance, and even paralegal work. “When I talk to my favorite geeks in Silicon Valley,” said Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at MIT’s Center for Digital Business, in a May interview in New Scientist, “they look around and say, man, the work of a financial adviser, a junior analyst at an asset management firm, a pathologist, a hamburger flipper, I can automate that.”

Still, though technology taketh away, it can also giveth. Nearly 70% of companies that have replaced workers with automation say the new technology has also required the creation of new positions in their firms, according to the CareerBuilder survey. And 35% of companies that eliminated jobs with technology said they ended up creating more jobs in their firms than they had before automation.

“While automation may eliminate some jobs, it also creates other jobs that are higher paying,” says Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder and co-author of The Talent Equation. “One of the greatest challenges the U.S. faces today is sufficiently preparing the workforce for the influx of knowledge-based jobs that will likely result from progress in robotics and other STEM-related fields.”

So how do you put yourself in line for one of those new jobs?

  • Don’t wait for your current job to become obsolete. If you see an opportunity to make your job more efficient with technology, be the person to oversee the change and train people in how the new system works. “Make sure you’re the one who understands how it all works,” says Elkin..
  • Upgrade your skill set. If you have a job that you think a robot can easily replace, consider going back to school or investing in online courses that can help you gain valued expertise. You may need to explore alternative occupations and industries that are growing and where you can transfer your skill set, says CareerBuilder’s Jennifer Grasz.
  • Pay attention to trends in your field. Is job growth in your business accelerating or decelerating? Is this related to an economic cycle or technology advancement? Research articles online on how your occupation is evolving and develop the skill sets needed to leverage new technologies.

The survey did offer one positive sign for workers who have been replaced: It found that 35% of companies that eliminated jobs with automation hired people back because the technology didn’t deliver as expected or customers wanted to interact with a live person.

“Technology is not perfect and things often go awry,”says Elkin. “When that happens, you need a human to fix them.”

MONEY College

How Families Are Keeping a Lid on College Costs

Even though the price of a degree is steep, a new report finds that Americans are coming up with ways to limit the damage.

Despite the rising sticker price for a college education, American families are keeping higher education spending in check, according to Sallie Mae’s annual study of how students and their parents pay for college. One key reason: families are working hard to keep costs down.

This past academic year, families devoted an average of $20,882 toward a college degree, about the same amount they’ve paid for the past three years, and well below the 2010 high of $24,097.

“Even though we read stories about tuition going up, families are really holding the line on how much they’re spending,” says Sallie Mae’s Sarah Ducich, co-author of How America Pays for College. “They’re just not willing to write a blank check, and they are taking determined steps to make college affordable for them.”

They also relied less on debt. Borrowed funds covered an average of 22% of college costs this year, down from 27% the previous two years and the lowest level in five years. One of the main reasons for that, says Ducich, is that more students, especially low-income ones, were awarded grants and scholarships.

Overall, families are employing a number of cost-cutting measures, with the average family taking five different steps to bring expenses down, the report found. Among the biggest ways to trim education budgets:
  • Enrolling in two-year schools: In 2014 34% of students were enrolled in two-year public colleges, vs. 30% last year. That let them spend $10,060 less than four-year public school students did on average, and $23,843 less on average than their peers at four-year private schools.
  • Shopping by price: Two thirds of families reported eliminating colleges because of high costs. “This cost curve is something we saw jump post-recession, and it’s stayed at this high since,” Ducich says. Another 12% transferred to a less expensive school, up from 9% who did so last year. (For help finding a good education at the right price, check out our new ranking of the best college values.)
  • Changing majors: One in five families admitted to swapping majors to pursue a field that is more marketable, a trend that’s been steadily rising since 2012.
  • Lowering “fun” spending: Two-thirds of students said they cut personal spending to help shoulder college costs, vs. 60% who said the same last year.
  • Staying local: A full 69% of students opted for in-state tuition to save, and more than half chose to live at home or with relatives to cut down on housing bills.

More on how to save on college:

 

MONEY College

Yes, College Costs a Lot — But Here’s Why It’s Probably Less Than You Think

Perceptions don't jibe with reality for one simple reason: Most families don't actually pay full price for college.

For most families with college-bound kids, the sharp rise in tuition over the past two decades has been downright scary. The price of higher education has more than doubled in the last 20 years—and that’s after factoring in inflation. The full tab for tuition, room, board, and fees at the typical private four-year university was just shy of $41,000 for the past academic year; at public schools, the bill ran over $18,000. That’s a lot of money.

But, as the New York Times points out, this increase doesn’t jibe with reality for one simple reason: Most families don’t actually pay full price for college.

The number that matters most is not a college’s sticker price (the total cost of tuition, fees, room, board, books, and other expenses) but rather the school’s net price—what a student pays to attend after factoring in scholarships and grants. The federal government publishes an average one-year net price for first-time full-time students on its College Navigator site for every college.

Net price is also one of the affordability metrics MONEY used in creating our own college rankings. But with a twist: Our calculation looks at the total price of getting a degree, from freshman year through graduation, instead of a single year. So in addition to factoring in the aid a typical student will get from each school, we also considered tuition inflation and the time the typical student takes to graduate, since many need more than four years to earn their BA.

Using net price instead of sticker price—whether it’s the government’s calculation, MONEY’s, or a personalized result from a net price calculator—makes sense of otherwise nonsensical data. If college tuition and fees really rose more than 100% over the last two decades, no one but Warren Buffett’s offspring could afford to attend even a mid-priced school.

But when you look at the net price instead of the sticker price, the cost of college has risen only about 40% to 50% over the past 20 years, based on data from the College Board—half of what the sticker would lead you to believe. The cost is still high, of course, but not nearly as bad as the unadjusted numbers suggest.

The following comparison is good way of visualizing how important this distinction is.

Case Study: Columbia University

MONEY Ranking: 22

Average Time to Degree: 4.1 Years

Sticker Price of Degree: $284,029

Net Price of Degree: $206,752 (72.8% of Sticker)

Sticker-Net Difference: $77,277

Case Study: Harvey Mudd

MONEY Ranking: 7

Average Time to Degree: 4.1 Years

Sticker Price of Degree: $295,024

Net Price of Degree: $187,694 (63.6% of Sticker)

Sticker-Net Difference: $107,330

If you looked at sticker prices alone, you’d think Columbia was the cheaper school. Over the time it takes to get a Columbia degree, a student would spend $284,029 (taking into account future inflation), and $295,024 studying at Harvey Mudd, assuming he or she paid sticker price. But when you look at net price, the picture completely changes.

Based on the average amount of aid students from each school receive, a person who enrolled in Columbia would actually spend about $19,000 more on average over four years than someone who went to Mudd. You could buy a new car with that kind of money. And often, the differences between similar schools can be even more dramatic. For instance, the difference between the net price of a degree at Columbia, the most expensive Ivy in the MONEY ranking, and Princeton, the cheapest, is about $60,000. (MONEY’s Best Colleges breaks out both the most expensive schools in our rankings here and the most affordable schools.)

So who actually pays sticker price? At private colleges, families who earn less than about $200,000 may get some need-based aid. For lower-cost public colleges, the income cutoff is typically closer to $100,000 to $125,000. And most schools will award merit grants to students with extraordinary talents or academic achievements, no matter how much their parents earn.

However, it’s important to remember the outliers. Elite universities, for example, are a totally different ball game. In general, 40% to 60% of students at top-level schools pay sticker price for their education. For example, only about half of Yale students receive grants from the school to defray the sticker price.

Conversely, there are less selective schools where almost nobody pays full price. At Ripon College, which MONEY ranked 554th, 95% of students receive scholarships from the school. Looking back to our case study, 51% of Columbia students are paying full price, compared to 29% at Harvey Mudd. Yet at No. 7, Harvey Mudd ranks higher than No. 22 Columbia, partly because it has a lower net price, but also because its graduates reported considerably higher average earnings early in their careers.

Of course, some of a college’s total cost also depends on the student. If a Columbia enrollee buys used books, cooks his own food, and makes sure to finish in four years, his final bill will be lower than it could have been. If he goes out every night and takes six years to graduate… well, under those circumstances, any school would eventually get pretty pricey.

MONEY Debt

9 Ways to Outsmart Debt Collectors

iPhone submerged in water
Henrik Sorensen—Getty Images

More than a third of Americans have debts reported to collection agencies. If you're one of them, here are the repayment and negotiating strategies you need to know.

Today’s encouraging economic news notwithstanding, plenty of Americans are still struggling with their own personal economies. According to a study released Tuesday by the Urban Institute, more than 35% of Americans have debt that has been reported to collection agencies. What’s more, the share of consumers in collections hasn’t changed, even as overall credit-card debt has decreased in recent years.

If you’re one of the many people being dunned for delinquent credit-card, hospital, or other bills, it’s easy to feel intimidated by collection agencies and confused about the repayment process. But rather than panicking and avoiding your collector’s many calls—and there will be many—here are 9 ways to gain the upper hand in negotiations and, most important, keep from paying a penny more than you have to.

1. Don’t Get Emotional

When a debt collector calls, he’s trying to assess your ability to pay and may attempt to get you to say or agree to things you shouldn’t. You’d be best served by keeping the initial call short and businesslike. Collection agencies are required by law to send you a written notice of how much you owe five days after initially contacting you. Wait to engage with them until after you receive this letter.

2. Make Sure the Debt Is Really Yours

If the debt sounds unfamiliar, check your credit reports. Request a report from each of the three credit bureaus for free from annualcreditreport.com and scan for any incorrect data. A study by the Federal Trade Commission found that one in 20 consumers could have errors in their reports, and 24% of the mistakes people reported were about a debt collection that wasn’t actually theirs. (Learn more about how to fix costly credit report errors.)

3. Ask for Proof

Once you get written notice, contact the debt collector. If you are disputing the debt because of an error or identity theft, send a letter to the collector by certified mail within 30 days of receiving your notice stating that you will not pay and why. Also notify each of the three credit bureaus by mail, explaining the error and including documentation so that the problem can be removed from your report. If you are unsure about whether you owe money or how much you owe, ask the collector by certified mail for verification of the debt. That should silence the calls for a while; collectors must suspend activity until they’ve sent you verification of the debt.

4. Resist the Scare Tactics

Some debt collectors may try a range of tricks to get you to pay up, but it’s important to know your rights. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, collectors cannot use abusive or obscene language, harass you with repeated calls, call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., call you at work if you’ve asked them to stop, talk to a third party about your debt, claim to be an attorney or law enforcement, threaten to sue unless they intend to take legal action, or threaten to garnish wages or seize property unless they actually intend to. If the agency commits a violation, file a complaint with the FTC and your state Attorney General, and consider talking to an attorney about bringing your own private action against the collector for breaking the law.

5. Be Wary of Fees

Typically, the contract you agreed to when you took out the loan or signed up for the line of credit states how much interest a collector can charge on your debt. Most states have laws in place capping the amount of interest agencies can tack on. Check the balance the original creditor listed as “charged off” on your credit report. If there is a big increase in the amount the collector wants, consult your original contract. Your verification letter may also give you more info about how fees are calculated. If you believe the debt has been inflated, reach out to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which might be able to resolve your issue with the collector.

6. Negotiate

Collection agencies will push you to pay the full debt at once, but if that is not an option for you, tell them how much you can afford to pay and ask if they will settle for that amount. If they accept these terms, get confirmation of the deal in writing before you pay. This way, you avoid any miscommunication about the total to be paid and time frame for the payments.

7. Call In Backup

If you and the debt collector can’t reach an agreement and it appears likely they will take you to court, consider hiring an attorney. While the fees and costs of doing so may be prohibitive, the collection agency is more likely to drop the case in favor of easier targets, a.k.a debtors without attorney representation.

8. Know the Time Limits

Creditors may imply that court action can be taken against if you don’t pay up, and while that’s true, there is only a certain window of time—typically three to six years—in which a creditor can sue you over the debt. While you’ll still owe the money, and collectors may still call about it, creditors cannot take you to court over it once it’s past your state’s statute of limitations. Statutes vary widely by state and type of debt, so check your state’s specific rules if the collector is calling about older debts.

9. Don’t Get Tripped Up By Your Own Good Intentions

Collectors can’t legally “re-age” your debt by giving it a new delinquency date, but you can inadvertently extend the statute of limitations or restart the clock in some states by making a payment on old debt, agreeing to an extended repayment plan, or even acknowledging that the debts is yours.

More Help for Conquering Debt:

3 Simple Steps to Get Out of Debt

7 Ways to Improve Your Credit

Which Debts Should I Pay Off First?

 

 

MONEY Careers

How to Make Sure Your Next Raise is Bigger than 3%

Rulers in bar graph
Make sure you know how your boss measures success. Laura Flugga—Getty Images

Your year-end review isn't as far off as you might think. And if you want more money, you should think ahead toward that all-important meeting, says career coach Caroline Ceniza-Levine.

In my 20-plus years working in HR-related roles, I have never met anyone, management or staff, who looked forward to performance review season.

So, chances are, you aren’t thinking ahead to your annual year-end sit-down with the boss. It’s only July after all. There are months to go until your review, and you’ve got an overflowing list of priorities to complete before the year is over.

But you might want to put some review preparations on that to-do list—and pretty high up—if you want a promotion or a bigger-than-average raise for next year. You need time to find out what your goals should be, to create a portfolio of your accomplishments, to fill any performance gaps, and to plan for what you want from your manager. It takes time and effort to do all of these things, which is why the middle of the year is the best time to start getting yourself ready for that end-of-year review.

What to do now to make sure your review will pay off:

Confirm goals and metrics

Do you know what your company goals are, and are you working on the right things? With so many companies restructuring, it’s highly likely that strategic goals for the business have changed. If you’re not sure you’re in alignment, meet with your boss now—you don’t have to wait for an official review—to discuss what you should be working on. You also want to confirm how success will be measured. Even if you’re a salesperson, it might not just be sales dollars. The company might prioritize the number of new customers you’ve brought in, the extent to which you’ve expanded business with existing customers, how well you’ve sold a specific new offering or the profitability of each sale. Get a copy of the performance review form to give you a clearer idea of what will be measured and how.

Itemize accomplishments to date

Are you doing well on what you are working on? Calculate the results of your efforts where they can be quantified. Collect testimonials for intangible accomplishments like customer service or team collaboration. Gather supporting documents, such as recent presentations or summaries you have put together. With measurable results, referrals and recommendations, and samples of your work, you now have a portfolio to show what you specifically have contributed.

Fill in gaps

What do you need to focus on in the next 30, 60, and 90 days leading up to your year-end review? Compare your accomplishments to-date with company goals and metrics to see if you have been focusing on the things your boss and senior management value. If you have neglected something—a client, an initiative—then block out time on your calendar now to fill these gaps specifically. Of course, you want to maintain your performance in other areas, but don’t forget whole objectives and projects that may be key priorities. You want a review that shows you got all of your work done.

Plan your ask

What do you want your next steps to be? Is there a specific project or client you want? Do you want a promotion or above-average raise? Once you have made efforts to ensure that your review runs smoothly, you can start thinking about the other reason for this process—to plan for the future. Plan now what you will ask for, so you can drive the discussion towards that end goal: “…and all of this is why I deserve that 5% raise!”

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart®career coaching. She has worked with professionals from American Express, Condé Nast, Gilt, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, and other leading firms. She’s also a stand-up comic. This column will appear weekly.

Read more from Caroline Ceniza-Levine:

How to Network in Just 5 Minutes a Day

How Making a Friend in HR Can Help Your Career

10 Easy Ways to Make Yourself More Hireable

Your Career is Your Biggest Asset. 5 Ways to Protect It

MONEY College

Why Your College-Bound Kid Needs to Meet Your Financial Planner

Parents showing jars of money
Jamie Grill—Getty Images

Sheltering children from tough money choices now can lead to unhappiness later on.

When I schedule a meeting with parents to talk about college costs, I always ask if the student will be attending the consultation.

About 80% of the time, the parents say no. Their usual response: “He’s too busy,” or “We would rather not include her.”

That’s a big mistake.

What I do is help estimate the final costs that the parents will be facing, taking into consideration projected financial aid, merit awards and the family’s current resources. Those costs can vary widely, from $5,500 a year to attend a community college while living at home to over $70,000 per year to go to a private college such as New York University.

Students should be involved from the start, so they can understand the financial issues that their parents will be facing. Students need to see the great disparity in cost outcomes among the different colleges on their wish list.

When I meet with the whole family, we can narrow down the types of schools that would be affordable to the parents as well as meet the academic and social needs of the student.

That way, we can avoid a situation in which a high school student, ignorant of any financial implications, pursues whatever college he is interested in. Then, in April of his senior year, when all of the acceptances and awards arrive, his parents review the options and say, “We can’t afford any of these.”

At that point, the only choices are for the student to attend a school he’s not happy with (such as a local college commuter school), or for the parents to go into deep debt in order to finance an education they cannot afford.

So I try my best to convince the parents to invite their student. Perhaps the parents are trying to shield their finances from their children. Eventually, however, the kids will be part of the parent’s estate planning. The earlier the children know about the parent’s financial situation the better. If a family limits the college search to the types of colleges that meet all needs (financial, academic, and social), then the only outcome in senior year will be a happy one for both the parents and the student!

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Paula Bishop is a certified public accountant and an adviser on financial aid for college. She holds a BS in economics with a major in finance from the Wharton School and an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley. She is a member of the National College Advocacy Group, whose mission is to provide education and resources for college planning professionals, students and families. Her website is www.paulabishop.com.

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