Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
My parents did not save any money for my education, and they seem to blow any money they have saved on plastic surgery and designer bags. My country’s education system is extremely poor, and I have dreams of going abroad to escape the poverty-stricken lifestyle here. I have had that plan since I was 10, and I keep bugging my parents about my college funds. They always told me that there was no need, and that they had enough money to shell out when the time comes.
I’m graduating in under a year, and time is shrinking. I realize now that the plan I’ve been manifesting since such a young age is impossible. The education system I have does not provide examinations like SATS, IGCSEs, or A-Levels unless paid for separately from the school fees.
I don’t know what to do, because I haven’t prepared for this situation due to the constant reassurance of “everything will be fine.” I don’t even know how I’m going to get into university in my country, because I have never set my sights there, and so I don’t know what’s required. I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place, and truly I’m way in over my head.
—So Disappointed, and Rethinking Everything
I am sorry your parents have promised you one thing and have in reality done another. Our parents are human, and sometimes they make selfish choices without thinking of how they affect their children. I think you may have to put your (justified!) anger at them aside in order to move forward with this plan, at this point. You figured out a little late in the day that they truly won’t help you, but you still have time, especially if you’re willing to work for a while in between high school and college.
It’s a little hard for me to say how you can finance your education and come to the US, since I do not know where your home country is, but we have a few options you can look into. First, you must apply and be accepted to a school that is a part of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, otherwise known as SEVP. The U.S Department of Homeland Security created the SEVP to allow students based outside of the U.S a way to ensure they are receiving a quality education from an accredited school. Once a student has been accepted, they can then file for a student visa. Most visas for educational purposes are F-1.
While you cannot receive federal funding from the American government to help aid your educational pursuits, you can still qualify for scholarships, private loans and any other type of funding your country, or SEVP-approved school, may have. EducationUSA is also an important resource. With over 430 advising organizations in over 175 countries, EducationUSA is a network provided by the US Department of State that offers step-by-step guidance to make your dream a reality. Organizations in this network can also help pay for fees for tests like the ones you mentioned above. Good luck.
Dear Pay Dirt,
For years, I’ve been looking for a house to move into, as my current apartment is too small and has suffered from multiple infestations (mice, roaches, etc.). In my area, renting gets expensive, and it probably would be cheaper, or at least about the same, to pay mortgage and utilities for a house I’d own.
However, with the prices of a house being what they are, I’ve found that when I talked to someone about pre-certification, they were talking about a mortgage loan that wouldn’t buy a house in this area. A condo might be doable, but also still has some of the same issues as renting (neighbors, infestations, and so on).
Enter my mother. Years and years ago, she talked about helping me get a mortgage. She is retired and has a great credit score. She also isn’t hurting for money (even retired, she makes as much or more than I do). We got as far as talking to a financial planner, who said that it wasn’t really a good idea, because if my mom dies (she is over 70), I would lose the home and the mortgage would revert to the bank if it isn’t paid off.
Since then, we’ve found that the planner was maybe not the sharpest person (my mother changed planners when he retired, and the new person found massive issues with her portfolios), and I’ve gotten to know two other people in these kinds of relationships. Both of those have said that they don’t foresee any issues if their parents were to die…but also, their parents are younger than my mother.
Is this actually something viable? Is there are a way to write something into a will or a trust or something, to make it so I’ll be able to keep whatever house comes from this? Is this even a good idea, or should I wait to see if the market goes back down?
—Just Want Out Of This Apartment
Dear Want Out,
Sometimes financial planners aren’t the brightest bulbs in the box (apologies to any financial planners reading this—I definitely don’t mean you!), so kudos for doing your research.
Your best course of action before you move any further is to consult with a real estate attorney. Every state has different laws when it comes to inheriting property. Realistically, if you are both on the deed and mortgage as cosigners, you should be okay. However, if your mom has other children besides you, or family members who would benefit should something happen to her, you need to make sure you are protected with a will or trust. Death doesn’t always bring out the best in others, and the last thing you need to do is worry about what to do with a house when grieving. So make sure you go to an attorney who explain how to best protect yourselves when you’re ready to buy.
As a reminder, as you are deciding what to do: there is more to buying a home than a mortgage payment. While it may seem cheaper to own than rent, that’s not always the case. Houses require expensive repairs, or end up being money pits. Property taxes can rise quickly, and without warning. So when looking for a place to call your own, remember the rest of the picture, and don’t put yourself in a financial bind should something happen.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My siblings and I are about to inherit some money that our late aunt had at a well-known brokerage. Instead of just sending us checks as we’d prefer, though, the brokerage has told us they’re going to set up accounts in each of our names with our respective amounts. Can they do this? Make us their “clients” without our consent?
—This Seems Odd
First of all, I wanted to say I’m sorry for the loss of your aunt. It sounds like she cared about you and your siblings and wanted to set you up for financial success, which is great.
The brokerage is doing the usual thing in setting up accounts for you and your siblings for your respective amount, instead of cutting you a check. By law, the brokerage cannot sell, trade or do anything else with your aunt’s investments, because she is legally deceased. After proper documentation has been received (which it sounds like it has been), they transfer the investments to you and your siblings. Transferring her stocks and other assets is a lot different than liquidating, which is what you and your siblings want.
The good news is that you don’t have to keep the accounts very long. Think of this as a transitional step. Once you’ve sold off your shares, you can thank your aunt for the money, close the accounts, and be done.
Dear Pay Dirt,
A friend of my partners recently died unexpectedly and (also unexpectedly) left him a house. We’re both in our mid-twenties with no savings, okay but not good credit, student loan debt, minimum wage jobs, and a rented apartment. Neither of us has inherited anything worth anything before. Basically, he wasn’t prepared for this, and I’m no help.
The house is a few hours from where we live, so we’re definitely not going to move in, but we don’t know where to go from there. A lawyer? Some kind of financial advisor, probably, but what kind? If he sells it, he’d have more money than either of us thought we’d ever have. Renting it out would give him mortgage payments and basically double his current income. Either way it’s financially life-changing.
I’m primarily concerned with supporting him in making the best choice for himself, but we’re planning to get married in the next year or two, so I also wonder how whatever he chooses could impact me individually or our life together. How do you even start making a decision like this, and what do you do after you decide?
—We Really Want To Get This Right
Dear Want To Get This Right,
I am so sorry for the loss of your partner’s friend. A house is definitely a major item to be gifted through an inheritance, especially without advance notice, so it’s great that you and your partner are thinking it through.
First, I would make sure you had all of the proper financial and legal documentation that is needed when owning a home. In the information you provided, it sounds like the property is owned free and clear, but if not, make sure the mortgage has been properly transferred along with the deed. You’ll also need to make sure that your partner has updated the house’s information with the county treasurer’s office so that property taxes are taken care of.
Next, encourage your partner to purchase home insurance. He should also hire a home inspector to see if there are any issues with the foundation, roofing and any plumbing. Houses require upkeep, and catching costly issues now will determine what he may choose to do with the property. If the property needs substantial repairs, he may choose to not take them on, and sell as is. If the property is in good shape, he may have more incentive to become a landlord, since the cash flow would cover his own living expenses.
As for what may or may not impact you? You’ll need to see an attorney on that one. Laws vary from state to state, so it’s always best to speak to a professional when considering what assets and liabilities may be brought into a legal binding contract such as a marriage. For now, don’t co-sign anything you don’t feel comfortable with, especially if you have no legal standing, such as having your name on the deed.