Ask Mary

askmary

Question:
I read the headlines…everything seems to be “the worst since the great depression.” 
What defines a depression?

Answer: A depression is a recession on steroids. It is often defined as a drop in consumption by 10% or more. Others simply define it as a severe and prolonged recession with weak economic productivity, high unemployment and falling prices.
The Great Depression lasted nearly 4 years.

Question:
Is this a good time to start a business?

Answer:
This is the best of times and the worst of times. Some familiar success stories were created in bad economic times, names like Microsoft, HP, and Disney. But some businesses armed with great ideas and an otherwise winning plan never get off the ground. If you have a superior idea that is filling a need in this environment and beyond, and you have access to capital, this can be a great time to start a business. You have fewer competitors and you have access to a much stronger labor pool because of the high employment. You are also forced to be on the top of your game from your lenders, vendors and customers.

Question:
I got laid off and have a few months severance, because the job market is so bad, should I go back to school instead of looking for work right now.

Answer: Before you decide, you need to make sure you can afford it and have a firm grip on what skills will you gain. Bottom-line—what is the return on your investment? Here are 5 things to think about.

1. How long is the commitment to finish the program?
2. How will pay the bills during the program?
3. Will you have healthcare coverage?
4. What will the program give you that you don’t have now?
5. Is that skill desirable in this job market and in years to come?

Ask Mary your own question below.

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44 Responses to “Ask Mary”

  1. Mark Dudzinski Says:
    March 11th, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Hi Mary – love the website and miss the show. I too was recently laid off by my company. I am lucky to have several months severance pay. My question relates to credit cards. Should we try to pay them off or pay the minimum and put more in our savings in case the severance runs out or I have to take a lower-paying job? Thanks!

  2. Mary Says:
    March 11th, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    Hey Mark! Great question. The best scenario is to pay off the credit cards, because the interest is outrageous. I am sure you have already done this, but cut out all unnecessary spending to get those cards to a zero balance. That could mean rethinking cell phone plans and where possible try to cut down energy use. Lowering utility bills is money in your pocket each month. That said– you know your finances better than me, if you need to chip away at the balance instead of aggressively paying it down– do what you have to do. And more importantly– don’t freak over it if you have to carry a balance for a few months– we have all been there.
    The job market is super tight right now– it will get better but probably not as soon as we all would like. Taking a lower paying job is what a lot of people are doing right now. Just try to keep your skills sharp, even through extra curricular activities or non-profit work so that you remain marketable on the other-side of all of this. Bottom line– do what you have to do to get food on the table and a roof over your head right now. You aren’t abandoning career aspirations, just prioritizing.

  3. Kathy Says:
    March 12th, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Hi Mary, my husband & I invested last year. Our current portfolio is down significantly. I’m trying not to freak, keep hearing the economy will recover, etc. However, I’m also hearing that now is a good time to invest in stocks…what should we do? Give more money to our broker? We’re just very apprehensive from watching our account plummet. We are 34 yrs old, have a baby on the way, have no debt except our mortgage payment (1800/mo.) & we have a savings acct. Thanks, Mary!

  4. Mary Says:
    March 12th, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Kathy,
    A big loss is very tough, especially since you were trying to do the right thing by saving and investing. I think it is always healthy to question the people who handle your money. They should be comfortable answering your questions in easy to understand terms. In defense of your broker, the entire market is down. That said my answer to your question comes in two parts; 1) the advisor 2) the investments.
    First the advisor. A few questions to think about when judging the person handling your investments. Did they promise a certain rate of return. Anyone who does that when talking about stocks has too much in common with Bernie Madoff for my comfort. Did they talk to you about your risk appetite and how soon you may need to dip into your investments? If they didn’t– I would drop them. I like “fee only” financial advisors who do not make commissions off of the specific investment products they recommend to you.
    2) The investments. What is your time horizon for these investments? If it is 5 years or longer then stocks may be a good vehicle for you. Understand that the losses in the market over the last 6 months won’t be wiped away anytime soon. The bad economy will will take its toll on american and international companies for sometime. Some companies won’t make it– others will struggle, but there will be companies that thrive. This is where it pays to know what you are buying. What stocks or what funds does your advisor have you in and why. There are bargains in the market right now and a good argument can be made for long term investors to be dollar cost averaging into the market now. But remember cheap doesn’t mean a bargain. With a baby on the way and a mortgage, make sure you have 6-months to a years expenses in an emergency fund that is not in stocks. Kathy the bottom-line is, this is your money. If you do not feel comfortable with the losses or with the individual handling your cash, don’t invest with the person or in the investments they have you in. Keep us posted on what you decide. Thanks Mary

  5. Australia McArdle Says:
    April 2nd, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    I used my severance to payoff my credit card debt. I get enough unemployment to pay the mortgage for now. Should I still try put something away in savings even if it’s far less than what I did when I was working?

  6. Mary Says:
    April 6th, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Australia,
    By all means continue to save. Unemployment compensation does not last forever and whatever cushion you can create for yourself the better off you will be. Try to maintain 3-6 months in expenses in an emergency fund. Now that you do not have credit card debt, try to keep it that way. The other bit of savings to think about is stashing some cash for retirement. One thing you may want to investigate (after you have that emergency fund) is a Roth IRA. Tax rates are the lowest they will be in our lifetime. (They will have to go up in the next few years to pay for all the gov spending). That makes a Roth IRA attractive, you pay the taxes on the front end and get the tax benefit on the back-end. Its not for everyone — so do your homework and consider meeting with a financial professional. Good luck with the job search and thanks for writing! -Mary

  7. Carrie Says:
    January 24th, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    Your TV show today, Sunday, Jan 24, 2010 is there a tape available?

  8. Keysha Says:
    February 7th, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    I am looking for some financial advice and financial planner!!! I am 9 months behind my mortgage working part time, applied for a modification several times, credit is bad, home value depreciated in value and unable to sell right now…do not have a savings … I could go on and on… want to know where to start! Please offer any suggestion!!!

  9. Mary Says:
    February 18th, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    email us by hitting the contact tab and we will get you the information. Thanks for watching!

  10. Mary Says:
    February 18th, 2010 at 7:05 pm

    Keysha,
    You are in a tight spot. But email me by clicking on the contact us tab and we will try to get you some information. Thanks for the comment!

  11. H. Morton Says:
    March 6th, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Hi Mary, I am watching your show tonight (March 6th) on WPVI channel 6 in Philly. I was very interested in the Discount Gourmet Grocery stores, but when I put in the town that I live in (and I put in Montgomery County) nothing came up. I know you aren’t supposed to promote a specific store, but what store did that woman go to? Those were great deals!!!

  12. Mary Says:
    March 11th, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    Thanks for watching! Here is the info you requested. Good luck!
    BB Grocery Outlet ( It’s located in the Manufacturer’s Outlet Mall in Morgantown, PA, just off the Pennsylvania Turnpike)
    6180 Morgantown Rd #208
    Morgantown, PA 19543
    (717) 786-3210

  13. leso. troutman sr. Says:
    June 27th, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    i would like to get into penny stock but i dont know how to go about it. thank’s les troutman sr.

  14. Sheila Redmond Says:
    July 24th, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Hi Mary I am in the process of creating a small nonprofit organization to work with senior citizens. I did not plan to have a large collection of board members. I did not plan to make it too large. Is that possible? Also is it easy to receive grants for this kind of business?

  15. ABell Says:
    August 23rd, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Mary,

    I just wanted to say that your show is excellent. I am a physician and consider myself fairly savvy when it comes to money. At first I thought your show was geared towards beginners. But after watching a few episodes I realize you have carefully included components that are appealing to both veterans and beginners. Steve Forbes interview, peer to peer lending, prosper.com, interview with the journalist who had interviewed many top economists, I could go on. Several of the concepts on your show are ideas that I would have to read a wide range of sources to learn about. You clearly do your homework and I am sure it is exhausting. But the resulting program speaks for itself. Ingenious! This should be a required program for all people 10-100. Best wishes for continued success.

  16. marie Says:
    September 4th, 2010 at 9:19 am

    I am looking for a loan for $4500 and my credit is in the 500’s. I need to payoff some debts on my credit report to bring my scores back up. I am a secretary for a government facility. I have direct deposit with my credit union. Do you know of a loan company that would work with me? I have some other details to the story but don’t want to go into detail unless it’s private.

  17. Janel Says:
    September 8th, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Mary,

    My mother is fan of the show and recommended that I contact you. She mentioned that you were discussing software on the show and I’ve been checking your site but haven’t found anything. I volunteer at a homeless shelter that provides various services to families; we recently acquired a small grant to purchase reading software for the children. Can you recommend a reasonably priced, effective reading program that we can purchase? The children are approximately 3-12yrs in age and the funds are somewhat limited, but we have a few computers we can load the software on. THANK YOU!

  18. Anne Kasper Says:
    October 13th, 2010 at 10:59 am

    Hi Mary :)

    Any advice you can give me on dealing with a home warranty company? I’ve been paying premiums for more than four years and now my heating & air conditioning unit broke. I’ve gotten three quotes of upwards of $5,000 to replace it – but HomeSure only wants to give me $700. I’ve filed a complaint with the BBB in Florida.

  19. Mary Says:
    October 13th, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    Anne,
    I am so sorry to hear about your situation. Do you know what is written in your policy concerning replacement of HVAC or any other major system?
    Thanks for the question. I want to help you get results.
    Mary

  20. Anne Kasper Says:
    October 21st, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    The contract stipulates that I’m responsible for modifications to duct work and electrical. Do you have an e-mail I can send you a copy of the e-mail I sent to their President, Senior Dispute and Senior Sales Managers. It has copies of my complaint with the BBB, Attorney General, PUC and mention of contact with you. According to Action News :) we’re heading for a cold snap and my unit is down. Any help or advice you can give on how to get an expeditous resolution out of these criminals would be greatly appreciated. BTW – you rocked when you spoke at our Ally Toastmaster’s meeting.

  21. Mary Says:
    October 22nd, 2010 at 8:27 am

    Anne,
    Just hit the contact button at the top to email. What is the BBB telling you? I want you to have heat this winter!
    Thanks!
    Mary

  22. Lesley Bean Says:
    November 27th, 2010 at 4:43 am

    Really enjoyed the show tonight, particularly the piece on using social media to reach buyers.

    My question isn’t financial in nature but rather curiosity — why does the show use such horrible introductory music/sound effects? For awhile I didn’t watch the show because the music was so grating and irritating. It really takes away from your credentials as an experienced money person.

    Just one person’s opinion!

  23. Mary Says:
    December 3rd, 2010 at 11:14 am

    Lesley,
    Thanks for the comment. I appreciate you effort to watch despite the music! I’ll let the folks know it gets two thumbs down from you. Anyone else feel the same way?
    Mary

  24. Andre Says:
    September 9th, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Mary. Please have a Wikipedia page created for you.

    I’m moved after watching you for the firrst time today
    with jim Rodgers in 2008-9 interview.

    I’d like to learn more about how you became who you are!

    Kindly
    Andre Ferchau
    Be Well

  25. Aya, Says:
    October 13th, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    I am looking for a job as a Bank teller, but I only have high school diploma whit no previous experience plus English is not my first language. So I’m wondering if you can give any tips that can help me find a job.

    Thank you!

  26. Sophy chhim Says:
    November 5th, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    I live in my sister home for the past two years. I am paying the rent, taxes, home insurance, Hoa fee and now I would like to take over the home loan. Is there an easy way to do this by having the loan change over to my name or do I need to find a realtor? Please help.

  27. Mary Says:
    December 19th, 2011 at 11:44 am

    I am looking to transfer my company 401 (of which I am no longer employed by) to a traditional IRA then a partial to a ROTH. These are the steps I need to follow as per the financial institution. My question is, they had sent me a 50+ page document to read before I make any move. I have read thru most of it, but am not a finance person. I am nervous about moving forward with this. Should I be or is this the norm?

  28. Mary Says:
    January 10th, 2012 at 7:27 am

    Start by talking to your bank’s branch manager. Then set out to get the skills required. If you need an advanced degree you can often do it online or at a community college for less. Set your goal and then get informed on what is needed to achieve it.

  29. Mary Says:
    January 10th, 2012 at 7:29 am

    You do not need a realtor – you do need to be added to the deed and then to secure the financing. Start talking to mortgage lenders about securing a loan for the balance of your sister’s loan. You may also want to hire a real estate attorney to make sure the transfer of title is done correctly.

  30. Mary Says:
    January 10th, 2012 at 7:34 am

    Generally this is a very straight forward move. The number one thing you want to be sure of is the tax implications for the rothIRA. You pay the taxes now- get the tax benefit later. Just make sure you can handle the taxes “now” part. An agent should be able to clearly tell you what the steps are in plain english. As a safety, talk to an accountant about the move before you actually do it. Reams of paper work are not unusual in the financial services industry and you are smart to read through it- not enough folks do. But the rolling over of assets like this is very commonplace. But when you are ready make sure you feel you are working with a firm that is guiding you in plain english- if not pick another company to handle the rollover. You DO NOT have to stay with the company that had yourcompany’s 401k- shop around for the firm that treats you the best and educates you the most.

  31. Ivy Says:
    January 15th, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I caught a short bit about your new show and it said that you could print the blank budget form and I can’t seem to find it. Can you send me one or the link. Thanks

  32. Mary Says:
    January 16th, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    Thanks Ivy. Here you go!
    http://livewellnetwork.com/We-Owe-What/feature/Creating-a-Budget/8505263

  33. Peggy Rosser Says:
    January 26th, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Hi Mary,

    I am a single parent and I would like to work part-time from home evenings and weekends, any suggestions? I work full time M-F, 8:30 to 5:00 p.m.

    Thanks,

    Peggy R.

  34. Mary Says:
    January 31st, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Peggy,
    This is a great opportunity for you to take stock on your skills and find out what you can do from home. For example, If you have writing skills you may be able to freelance during your down time. You get the idea. I know people who operate call centers out of their home. You will need a computer and high speed internet access. The two companies that I am aware of are west.com and alpineaccess.com.
    Good luck!
    Mary

  35. Kathy Says:
    February 10th, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Hi Mary,
    Quick question, husband is retired, I’m semi retired. We’re almost out of debt except for the mortgage. Is it better to sell, take the $275k equity and rent until I retire (2 – 5 years) then buy smaller, or stay in the house and still pay the mortgage? We’ll need to buy a car with in a year or so. That will take all our savings while we still have a mortgage. We won’t have much to save for emergency fund or vacations if we stay in the house.
    Thanks,
    Kathy

  36. Mary Says:
    February 15th, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    Kathy,
    There is a lot more I would need to know before I weighing in. Here is what I want you to think about – is your current home the place where you want to retire? If not and if your local real estate is in decent shape- then it may be worth considering. Assuming you do want to sell- try to get answers to these questions: 1) what are similar homes in your neighborhood selling for? ( a local realtor can give you the answer) 2) Assuming you get the price you want for your home – how much will you have left after paying settlement costs which include realtor commission (usually 6%) local and state taxes (if applicable), loan payoff, and any closing fees? 3) what will you do with the lump sum you get after closing to make sure you are protecting that nest egg?
    There are a lot of costs associate with selling a home. If you are planning to move into a similar one in a few years the expense may not be worth it. But if you have your eye on something more affordable, this could be a good choice for you.
    Selling before you “have to” is always a smart idea. You are in control of the process.
    Kathy, I know there are a lot of questions here- but you can easily get the answers to all of them. Feel free to email me by hitting the contact button on the navigation bar.
    Good luck!
    Mary

  37. tony p Says:
    February 27th, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    ihave about $40,000 in credit card debt my wife just started working agin part time after 3years we are just making it we have used most of our savings just to stay afloat iam working but just got hurt and on workers comp I have two kids in college we pay our bills on time we have had a few emergencies where we had to use our credit cards in the past year right now we can only pay the minunmums dont know how long we can go on we have a morgtage shoud i get one of the companies that consolidate your credit and mke one payment and negotiate with the credit companies could you help i dont want to loose my house

  38. tony p Says:
    February 29th, 2012 at 7:53 am

    i have submitted a question #37 it says waiting for moderation what does this mean?

  39. Mary Says:
    March 3rd, 2012 at 5:39 am

    Tony, You are right to reach out for help. If you are looking to negotiate with the credit card companies or to consolidate I suggest you get professional assistance. I have seen the non-profit credit counselors do some excellent work. You can find one by going to their website nfcc.org
    here is a link to finding one near you. http://www.nfcc.org/firststep/firststep_01.cfm
    Stay away from the for-profit agencies. I would waste no time in setting up an appointment.

  40. Mary Says:
    March 3rd, 2012 at 5:39 am

    Tony check out the reply dated 3/3

  41. L. chandler Says:
    March 23rd, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    Mary, I watch your show We Owe What and it seems married couples are featured all the time. Do you have singles featured on your show. How does one apply for a chance for your assistance? On the web site I only see this section for comments but find no other information on how to get on the show. Would you point me in the right directions?

  42. Mary Caraccioli Says:
    March 29th, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Thank you for the note! We have two upcoming episodes that are either singles or couples with no kids. If you would like me to work with you please let us know. See below to learn how to apply. – All the best, Mary
    http://livewellnetwork.com/We-Owe-What/feature/Apply-to-be-on-We-Owe-What/8505156

  43. Ruth Says:
    January 21st, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    Hi Mary, I just saw We Owe What? on Sat., Jan.19. 2013 where you offered advice to the Kussman Family and wondered if you can divulge the website on which Melody’s store was setup for selling her original artwork & what setup fees were involved? Thanks for this blog & answers: I’d also like to work from home, am going to check out aforementioned websites. Thanks again.

  44. Mary Caraccioli Says:
    January 24th, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Hi Ruth,
    Thanks for watching! The website is etsy.com
    Each listing is about 20-cents. Here is a link to their fee page. http://www.etsy.com/help/article/2144
    Good luck with your project!
    Have a great day,
    Mary

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