Letters: My parents won't talk about money with me

A U.S. Postal Service letter carrier prepares to place letters in a mailbox.

A lot of us are just getting back to work after the holidays. But if we're going  be able to pay the bills for those gifts and vacations, we'd better get back in the swing of good money management. So, we've invited Los Angeles Times consumer columnist David Lazarus to the program to remind us to get our fiscal houses in order.

Emily from Seattle wonders what Lazarus thinks about SmarterBucks, an online checking account that allows you to earn rewards that help you pay down student loans. He's a fan.

"SmarterBucks is a rewards program, kind of like you use your credit card and you get airlines miles, for example. Same deal," says Lazarus. "The whole idea here is let's address student debt. Right now we have more than a trillion dollars in student debt. That's more than Americans owe in credit card debt. So it's an astounding amount. Chipping away at that can be very, very difficult. The beauty of SmarterBucks is every time you go out and use this SmarterBank card a little bit of the money -- in the form of a reward -- goes towards a student loan of your choosing."

Lazarus also advises Emily to be mindful of her student loan debt and be proactive about it -- "in any handling of debt, the trick is to stay on top of it and have a game plan."

Jeff from New Jersey is executor of his parents' will. He had a tough conversation with his parents about their future and money, but it wasn't received well. Jeff's parents think he is a "vulture" -- waiting for them to die so that he can get all their stuff. He wants more advice on how to broach the topic of money with them.

"First of all, there is the conversation. You did exactly what you should be doing -- not just as the executor, which gives you some skin in the game -- but also as a good kid," says Lazarus.  "As your parents get older, you want to ensure that they have laid all the groundwork for all that is to come. It's a very important and mature conversation that we should all have and I'm sorry that dad didn't take it so well.  I don't think it's Jeff's fault at all. I think it's good that he did this and his dad clearly put a line in the sand and said, 'I don't like it. I think you're being invasive.' That's the other side of this. You're the executor of the will. You're not his legal guardian. You do not have power of attorney. The bottom line when it comes to their financial issues is -- you have to back off."

Lazarus says even though that advice might seem reckless or irresponsible and even though Jeff is doing the right thing, his parents have their own life to live at this point.

For more advice on retirement, click play on the audio player above.

About the author

In more than 20 years in public radio, Barbara Bogaev has served as the longtime guest host of NPR’s flagship program Fresh Air with Terry Gross, as well as host of APM’s news and culture magazine, Weekend America and the weekly national documentary series, Soundprint.

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