MONEY Careers

Make Sure a Friend’s Unemployment Doesn’t Ruin Your Friendship

Millennials and new college grads still face a tough job market, and that can create strains in your social circle. Follow this script to keep everyone happy.

You and your best friend graduated from the same college and moved to the same city at the same time. But while you landed a promising entry-level position, your friend’s been out of work for months. Even though you know that shouldn’t affect your relationship, you’re starting to feel that the two of you are drifting apart. Or maybe you’re simply sick of hearing yourself repeat the same chirpy platitudes (“I’m sure something will come up!”).

As millennials and new grads enter the job market together, one friend’s unemployment can easily become a point of tension. Landing a position is an uphill battle for some young job seekers. The unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds stood at 10.5% in June. Although that number has been on the decline, it’s still higher than the overall unemployment rate of 6.1%

“This mirrors a lot of other life-stage issues, whether it’s getting married or getting pregnant. One person is moving forward, and the other one is stuck,” says Ken Clark, a certified financial planner and psychotherapist.

The good news? You can take steps to ensure that your relationship doesn’t crumble as your friend scrambles for a job. No matter how long this stretch of unemployment lasts, here’s what you can say (or not say) to preserve your friendship.

YOU SAY: “A couple of people are coming to my place for happy hour this week—want to join?”

While your friend looks for work he or she may pull away from you or your group of friends. It’s normal—many people are embarrassed and reluctant to spend money on socializing when they’re unemployed. But if you notice your friend hasn’t been around much, try to draw him or her back into your social circle.

“A sensitive friend should take a leadership role among their circle of friends,” says Clark.

If your group of friends tends to spend a lot of money at bars or eating out, subtly push for a change. Invite a close group over for drinks at your place, or suggest a half-price movie or a free concert you can all attend. If spending time together doesn’t mean spending money, your unemployed friend may find it easier to join in.

“People have a tendency to self-isolate when they’re trying to be careful with their money,” says Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist and author of financial behavior blog The Good, the Bad and the Money. “Go above and beyond in terms of making offers to your friend.”

YOU DON’T SAY: “How’s the job hunt going this week?”

Avoid the impulse to dig for details on the job search. Trust that you’ll hear when a major development comes up.

“Stuff doesn’t change that much in a week,” says Clark. “If you’re asking more than once a month, it’s too much.”

That said, don’t stop checking in. Retreating from your friend could cause him or her to become even more isolated.

“Your presence and availability is huge for someone who’s hurting,” says Maggie Baker, a psychologist specializing in money and relationships. “The worst thing you can do is pull away.”

YOU SAY: “I could really use a running partner tomorrow.”

Be aware that unemployment can quickly give way to depression. Exercise is an easy, natural way to shake the blues. Invite your friend out for a brisk walk or run with you. It’ll give you two time to talk one-on-one and help your friend re-energize.

“Physical exercise outside is both beneficial and free,” says Clark. “You’re helping elevate her mood, decreasing anxiety, and building your relationship.”

YOU DON’T SAY: “I can give you feedback on your résumé if you’d like.”

You might want to offer to help edit your friend’s résumé or forward job listings that seem relevant. Tread lightly. Your offers could backfire if they come off as condescending.

“Just having a job doesn’t make you an expert on résumés,” says Clayman. “Don’t presume that you have the solution.”

Instead, make a gentle, broad offer to help in any way you can. Beyond that, let your friend’s reaction guide you.

“Usually if people are scrambling to find whatever work they can, they put off a very strong signal. If you aren’t seeing them ask for help, better safe than sorry.”

Read more Face to Face columns:

 

 

TIME Education

FAFSA Application Confusion Led to Some Students Getting Aid in Error

And others who needed aid didn't get it at all

Thousands of students’ federal student aid could be at risk due to a change on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.

Students’ may have input incorrect income due to the system’s requirement that families round to the nearest dollar. In many cases, the Department of Education believes students entered unnecessary decimal points and cents that went unrecognized and as a result, some students who needed federal aid were denied and others received it when they weren’t eligible.

“For example, an applicant with an Income Earned from Work value of $5,000.19 who, as a result of entering both the dollars and cents would have, instead of the correct value of $5,000, a value of $500,019 used in the calculation of the applicant’s Expected Family Contribution (EFC),” an announcement dated July 18 reads. “This would likely result in an incorrect determination of the applicant’s eligibility for a Federal Pell Grant and for other subsidized aid.” The Associated Press first reported the story Wednesday.

The Department of Education believes fewer than 200,000 applicants will be impacted by the glitch. The form has since been changed and the Department is working to contact students and schools to have forms resubmitted.

MONEY Financial Planning

The One Time Raiding Your Kid’s College Savings Makes Sense

Broken money jar
Normally, breaking into your college savings accounts is a no-no. Jeffrey Coolidge—Getty Images

It's never a great idea, but in an emergency tapping funds earmarked for education beats sabotaging your retirement plans.

Lauren Greutman felt sick.

She and her husband Mark were about $40,000 in debt, and were having trouble paying their monthly bills. As recent homebuyers, the Syracuse, N.Y. couple were already underwater on their mortgage and getting by on one income as Lauren focused on being a stay-at-home mom.

“We were in a really bad financial position, and just didn’t have the money to make ends meet,” remembers Greutman, now 33 and a mom of four.

There was one pot of money just sitting there: their son’s college savings, about $6,500 at the time. That is when they had to make a tough decision.

“We had to pull money out of the account,” she says. “We thought long and hard about it and felt almost dishonest. But it was either leave it in there, or pay the mortgage and be able to eat.”

It is a quandary faced by parents in dire financial straits: Should you treat your kids’ college savings—often housed in so-called 529 plans—as a sacred lockbox, or as a ready source of funds that may be tapped when necessary.

Precise figures are not available, since those making 529-plan withdrawals do not have to tell administrators whether or not the funds are being used for qualified higher education expenses, according to the College Savings Plans Network. That is a matter between the account owner and the Internal Revenue Service.

TIAA-CREF, which administrates many 529 plans for states, estimates that between 10% to 20% of plan withdrawals are non-qualified and not being used for their intended purpose of covering educational expenses.

It is never a first option to draw college money down early, of course. Private four-year colleges cost an average of $30,094 in tuition and fees for 2013/14, according to the College Board. Since that number will presumably rise much more by the time your toddler graduates from high school, parents need to be stocking those financial cupboards rather than emptying them out.

Joe Hurley, founder of Savingforcollege.com, has a message for stressed-out parents: Don’t beat yourselves up about it.

“The plans were designed to give account owners flexible access to their funds,” Hurley says. “I imagine parents would feel some guilt. But I don’t think they should. After all, it is their money.”

Why the Alternative Might Be Worse

Keep in mind that there are often significant financial penalties involved. With non-qualified distributions from a 529 plan, in most cases you are looking at a 10% penalty on the earnings. Withdrawn earnings will also be treated as income on your tax return, and if you took a state tax deduction on the original investment, withdrawn contributions often count as income as well.

Not ideal, of course. But if your other option for emergency funds is to raid your own retirement accounts, tapping college savings is a last-ditch avenue to consider. That’s not only because you do not want to blow up your own nest egg, but because it could make relative sense tax-wise. And as the saying goes, you can borrow money for college, but not for retirement.

“If you think about it, a parent who has a choice between tapping the 529 and tapping a retirement account might be better off tapping the 529,” says James Kinney, a planner with Financial Pathway Advisors in Bridgewater, N.J.

If the account is comprised of 30% earnings, then only 30% would be subject to tax and penalty, Kinney explains. And that compares favorably to a premature distribution from a 401(k) or IRA, where 100% of the distribution will be subject to taxes plus a penalty.

Lauren Greutman’s story has a happy ending. She and her husband made a pledge to restock their son’s college savings as soon as they were financially able. It is a pledge they kept: Now eight-years-old, their son has a healthy $12,000 growing in his account.

She even runs a site about budgeting and frugal living at iamthatlady.com. Still, the wrenching decision to tap college savings certainly was not easy—especially since other family members had contributed to that account.

“We tried to take emotion out of it, even though we felt so bad,” Greutman says. “Since we didn’t have money for groceries at that point, we knew our family would understand.”

Related: 4 Reasons You Shouldn’t Be Saving for College Just Yet

MONEY College

Here’s How to Get Your Parents to Pay for Your Kids’ Education

Grandma opening coin purse
Getty

A 529 plan can help grandkids with their education -- and provide a tax break for Grandma and Grandpa.

Many grandparents want to help their grandchildren pay for college, but don’t know the best ways to do that. Good news: They can make those contributions while reaping financial advantages for themselves.

Nearly half of grandparents expect to contribute to their grandkids’ college savings, with more than a third expecting to give $50,000 or more, according to a 2014 Fidelity Investments study. That generosity can also be channeled toward significant tax and estate planning benefits for the grandparents.

Enter the 529 plan, a college savings investment account that provides tax-free growth as long as the money is put toward tuition and most types of college expenses such as fees and books. What’s more, grandparents can score their own financial perks, said Matt Golden, vice president of college savings for Fidelity Financial Advisor Solutions.

Grandparents can use 529 accounts to reap tax deductions or reduce the value of their taxable estates.

Furthermore, 529 plans have limits that might be comforting for grandparents who worry that their grandchildren might spend the money frivolously, or that they might end up needing it themselves. Grandchildren must use the funds only for certain college expenses, such as tuition and books. What’s more, grandparents can keep the money if they need it, subject to penalties and taxes, say advisers.

Working the Angles

For financial advisers, conversations with clients about these issues can build trust, said Charles Wareham, a Hartford-based adviser specializing in college funding strategies. Wareham’s firm holds Sunday brunches for parents and grandparents to teach them about college funding. The events have become relationship-builders, he said.

One way to showcase 529 accounts is by highlighting their advantages over other savings strategies.

“Many grandparents give EE bonds for holidays and birthdays, which can hurt more than help as far as tax purposes,” says Wareham.

For example, grandchildren who receive Series EE bonds as birthday gifts can later be socked with federal income taxes on the interest if they don’t use the funds for college, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

A 529 plan, in contrast, provides for tax-free distributions for college. It also allows grandparents to give the funds to another grandchild if the intended recipient does not go to college or need the money.

Grandparents may also be eligible for state income tax deductions when they make 529 contributions – they are available in 34 states and the District of Columbia, according to FinAid, a website about financial aid. They can also take required minimum distributions from their IRA accounts and transfer those funds to the 529 plan, where they can continue to grow tax-deferred, Fidelity’s Golden says.

Savvy advisers can compare plans from various states and help their clients find the best ones, though usually tax breaks are only available to people who invest in their own state’s plan.

A 529 plan is also a unique way for grandparents to reduce the value of their estates: they can contribute up to five years’ worth of allowable gifts in one year without triggering federal gift taxes. That means clients filing jointly can invest $140,000 in one lump sum per grandchild.

One caveat: 529 accounts could make a grandchild ineligible for financial aid, says Golden. That is because the money, once withdrawn for the beneficiary, counts as income that schools use to determine financial aid awards. But grandparents can avoid the problem by waiting until the recipient’s junior or senior year to hand over the money, when students may not need as much aid, Golden says.

MONEY Debt

Have You Conquered Debt? Tell Us Your Story

Have you gotten rid of a big IOU on your balance sheet, or at least made significant progress toward that end? MONEY wants to hear your digging-out-of-debt stories, to share with and inspire our readers who might be in similar situations.

Use the confidential form below to tell us about it. What kind of debt did you have, and how much? How did you erase it—or what are you currently doing? What advice do you have for other people in your situation? We’re interested in stories about all kinds of debt, from student loans to credit cards to car loans to mortgages.

Please also let us know where you’re from, what you do for a living, and how old you are. We won’t use your story unless we speak with you first.

TIME Thailand

And Then There Was the College Lecturer Who Gave Out Grades in Return for 7-Eleven Coupons

Inside A 7-Eleven Store Ahead Of CP All Pcl Full-Year Results
A customer exits a 7-Eleven convenience store, operated by CP All Pcl, in Bangkok, Thailand, on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. Dario Pignatelli—Bloomberg/Getty Images

“She might have thought it was ordinary practice,” said her boss

A university lecturer in Thailand has been caught offering top grades in exchange for 7-Eleven coupons, or stamps, redeemable at the convenience store chain for small gifts or discounts.

When a class at Kalasin Rajabhat University, in northeast Thailand, complained to the lecturer about the selling of test scores, she rebuked them, and someone in class filmed her doing so.

From the conversation, it appears that 25 coupons earned a one-grade bump, with one student shelling out 400 coupons for an A+, reports the Bangkok Post.

“Khanittha got 17 points in psychology class. She gave me stamps,” the teacher says on the video. “Then, I gave her A+. Do you think you got that grade by your own brain?”

Thailand boasts some 7,000 7-Elevens nationwide — the third-largest presence for the chain after Japan and the U.S.

On Tuesday, the Council of Rajabhat University Presidents of Thailand — known by its unfortunate acronym CRUPT — ordered an investigation.

“Teachers should never exploit their students for any purpose,” said CRUPT president Niwat Klin-Ngam.

Despite suspending the lecturer, who worked for the university’s pre-school education department, acting Kalasin Rajabhat University rector Nopporn Kosirayothin said there may be extenuating circumstances.

“She might have thought it was ordinary practice,” he said. “Judging from what I heard, some lecturers at other places also exchange grades for some beer.”

[Bangkok Post]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 15

1. With the $3 billion annual cost of fighting piracy at sea, we could invest in economic and infrastructure development on the Somali coast to take down piracy’s root causes.

By Anja Shortland and Federico Varese in The Conversation

2. Simply by letting students understand their financial aid picture earlier, we can improve college access and post-secondary options for low-income students.

By Fawn Johnson in National Journal

3. The story of ISIS, which has seemed to be all about religion and military developments, is actually mostly about politics: access to government revenue and services, a say in decision-making, and a modicum of social justice.

By Jessica Tuchman Mathews in the New York Review of Books

4. Giving a supercomputer “life after retirement” means investing in the future of technology in Africa.

By Jorge Salazar at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, UT-Austin

5. Europe has a role – and a responsibility – to stay engaged as the U.S. ‘rebalances’ toward China.

By Joseph S. Nye in Project Syndicate

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

MONEY College

How to Judge a College By Its Career Services Office

ESPN "This is SportsCenter" campaign with Bucky the Badger, the official mascot of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, by Wieden+Kennedy.
Will your child's dream school land him his dream cubicle? Wieden+Kennedy

The placement office is now one of the most important stops on the campus tour.

With loan-burdened students and parents increasingly demanding that a BA lead to a J-O-B, colleges are beefing up their placement services. This year, for the first time since the financial crisis, the typical career office—which has struggled with caseloads of about 1,500 undergrads per staffer—­enjoyed a boost in operating budget instead of a cut, the National Asso­ciation of Colleges and Employers (NACE) reports. “We’re about to experience the golden era of career services,” says Thomas Devlin, director of UC Berkeley’s career center.

To ensure that gold enriches your kid’s job search, look for colleges with good answers to the following questions. Just be sure to temper sales spiels with feedback from students and alumni, plus data from sources like Payscale.com.

How is the office staffed? The best career offices have caseloads of fewer than 1,100 undergrads per counselor, allowing at least one staff hour per student per year. Expertise matters too. “It’s a bad signal if a school doesn’t have someone dedicated to encouraging employers to recruit,” says Andy Chan, vice president of career development at Wake Forest. Each office should also have a person who specializes in connecting students with alumni, as well as an expert in technology and social media (like LinkedIn).

What services are offered? Employers prefer to recruit at campuses where students come to interviews prepared and book meetings only for jobs they’d actually consider, says Dan Black, president of NACE and Americas director of recruiting at professional services firm EY. So confirm that the school works with students one-on-one to narrow the
ir career focus and coaches them for interviews, he says. And ask if there are formal ways of networking with alums, like shadowing or mentoring; if academic departments also work on career skills; and what help is offered to grads, whether it’s simply job listings (eh) or counseling (better).

When does career prep begin? Studies show that the sooner students start working on career preparedness, the better they do in the job market. Ideally, the college will be equipped to work with students during their first or second year. Since underclassmen tend to steer clear of career services, though, some schools are experimenting with ways to motivate young’uns to think about vocations. Willamette University, in Salem, Ore., for example, requires freshmen to create a résumé before registering for sophomore classes.

Are internships a priority? On-campus recruiting by prestigious employers is definitely a good sign, but few undergrads get jobs that way, says Bob Orndorff, associate director of employer relations at Penn State. Meanwhile, at least 24% of internships lead to job offers, NACE reports. “Employers are looking for recruits with rele­vant experience,” Orndorff says. So find out how the school helps arrange internships and what percentage of students get them. The more students doing paid internships, especially, the better.

Hire Ed

___________

WATCH: Was your college’s career services office any help?

MONEY 101: How to start saving for college

MONEY Student Loans

WATCH: Why Illinois is Suing Over Student Loans

Illinois is suing debt consolidation companies for allegedly fraudulent student loan practices.

MONEY Budgeting

3 Ways to Inflation-Proof Your Life

140710_HO_Inflation_1
Jason Hindley

The official inflation rate is low, but your personal CPI may be high. Keep it grounded with these moves.

Since the Great Recession, inflation has been unusually low, inching along at well below the 3% historical average. And over the past 12 months, the consumer price index has clocked in at a ho-hum 2.1%. But you are not the U.S. economy, and the costs of being you haven’t stagnated.

In some cases, that’s a good thing. If you’re in the market for a new TV or computer, for instance, you’ll pay dramatically less than you would have five years ago (see chart, below). Yet during the same period, prices of many of the biggest and most common expenses families pay, from child care and health care to key grocery items, have shot up. Meanwhile, in real terms, salaries are stuck in molas­ses, so consumers have roughly the same income as they did before Lehman Brothers collapsed.

Use these moves to keep price increases from eroding your paycheck.

Costs of Raising Junior

Strategy: Let Uncle Sam help. Diapers, summer camp, and orthodontia may be budget killers. But the biggest strain on parents comes from two expenses: child care (up from an average $87 a week in 1985, adjusted for inflation, to $148 now) and college (tuition and fees for state schools: up 27% in real terms since 2008).

Tax breaks can help you reduce those costs. Got children under 13? Sign up at work for a dependent-care flexible spending account to use pretax dollars to pay for up to $5,000 of child-care bills, says J.J. Burns, a Melville, N.Y., financial planner. That saves you up to $1,400 in the 28% bracket.

Your company doesn’t offer the FSA, or your costs exceed the limit? Claim the child-care tax credit on your 1040 for up to $3,000 in bills for one kid, $6,000 for two. A married couple filing jointly with adjusted gross income (AGI) over $43,000 can write off 20% of bills up to these amounts.

As for college, saving via your state’s 529 plan may put money back in your pocket, says Savingforcollege.com founder Joseph Hurley; check “What’s the Best 529 Plan for Me?” to see if that’s true for you. Contributions grow tax-free and are fully or partly deductible in 34 states and D.C. (withdrawals are tax-free in every state). Plus, once your child is in school, you may qualify for the American Opportunity Tax Credit on tuition and fees worth as much as $2,500 and a deduction of up to $2,500 on student-loan interest.

Everyday Expenses

Strategy: Find a cheaper substitute. If you grilled hamburgers this Fourth of July, then you already know about skyrocketing meat prices. And that’s not all: The prices of car insurance, butter, milk, and eggs have all risen at double or triple the CPI. For gas, make that sevenfold.

Solution? Substitute a lower-cost item or supplier that can fill the same need. Trade T-bones for chicken breasts—the price of which has tracked inflation the past five years. Reach for a glass of wine (down 2% over the past five years) instead of a bottle of beer (up 9%).Then take the strategy wider. Carpool to work or use public transit to save on gas. And shop around for a cheaper auto insurer.

Health Care Costs

Strategy: Comparison-shop. Workers’ contributions to health care premiums have climbed 26% in real terms since 2008, based on data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Prescription: Compare prices, which vary widely even in-network for doctors, services, and drugs. By logging on to your insurer’s web tool you can save thousands on MRI and CT scans, specialists, and physical therapy.

Also, to avoid big bills later, take advantage of free preventive care like physicals, which most plans must now offer, says Katy Votava, president of Goodcare.com, a health-plan consultancy. You can’t do much better than paying zero.

What's cheaper

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