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‘It is daunting to think about what the consequences will be.’ With no new stimulus deal, much of America’s temporary financial safety net is set to expire Dec. 31

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The prospect of another stimulus package before Election Day is uncertain, even as the White House and Democratic leaders kept talking Wednesday.

What is certain for now, however, is that many Americans who are struggling financially will soon see their temporary financial safety net end unless lawmakers intervene.

A wide range of financial assistance programs designed to help people stay in their homes, stay current on their student loans, keep their lights on and meet other financial obligations during the pandemic-induced economic downturn are scheduled to end on or before Dec. 31.

“It is daunting to think about what the consequences will be for families, individuals, businesses, our economy when the COVID-19 protections and financial assistance are no longer available,” said Jack Gillis, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, a research, service and advocacy organization promoting consumer interests.

If no deal materializes soon, a stimulus package — or at least some aspects — could conceivably pass in the lame duck session after Election Day and extend some of the deadlines.

But for now, here are the looming expiration dates people are looking at when it comes to protections on past-due rent, unemployment benefits, utility bills, student loan payments and more.

Eviction moratoriums for renters

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a nationwide eviction moratorium in September. Health officials argued that people losing their homes could exacerbate the coronavirus pandemic, as displaced renters could be forced to move into more crowded living conditions with family or shelters.

Those protections only last through the end of the year. The CDC’s order ends on Dec. 31, meaning that starting in January of next year, landlords can resume evicting tenants.

The CDC recently clarified that landlords can take their tenants to court over missing rent payments in the meantime. In these cases, a judge could evict a tenant, but under the CDC order they would be allowed to remain in their home until the end of the year, at which point sheriff’s deputies could be ordered to escort them out.

The CDC’s eviction moratorium doesn’t offer blanket protection to all tenants. Renters have to notify their landlords proactively with a signed document to be covered by the order. And property owners have continued to evict tenants who did not take this step.

Renters who live in properties with federally-backed mortgages have additional protections if the property’s owner receives forbearance. The Federal Housing Finance Agency has barred landlords from evicting tenants for nonpayment of rent while in forbearance on Freddie Mac
FMCC,
-1.31%

  and Fannie Mae
FNMA,
-0.99%

 loans.

Both Fannie and Freddie have portals where renters can search to see if their property is covered by these protections. Here is Fannie Mae’s portal and this is Freddie Mac’s portal.

Some states and localities across the country have issued their own moratoriums on evictions since March. Under the CDC’s order, those moratoriums take precedence over the national one if they are more proactive. Many of these eviction bans have already expired, but in some states they will remain in place into next year.

California’s moratorium, for instance, lasts until the beginning of February, while New Jersey has prohibited evictions until two months after the state declares that its health emergency is over. Colorado recently enacted a 30-day eviction moratorium.

Mortgage forbearance and foreclosure moratoriums for homeowners

Under the $2.2 trillion CARES act passed in March, homeowners with federally-backed mortgages — which includes loans backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the FHA, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture — can request up to a year’s worth of forbearance on their home loan.

The legislation required mortgage servicers to provide an initial forbearance period of 180 days, at the end of which borrowers could request an extension of 180 days. The bill did not require that borrowers show proof of financial hardship to qualify.

Because many homeowners initially requested forbearance back in the spring, their initial forbearance periods will end soon. If they still cannot afford to make their monthly payments, they need to request an extension from their loan servicer. Otherwise, the servicer will move to set up a repayment plan.

Homeowners should know they aren’t expected or required to make all of their missed payments at once. They can work with their servicer to set a suitable repayment plan, which could include an adjusted interest rate or longer loan term.

In August, the Federal Housing Finance Agency and the Federal Housing Administration both extended their moratoriums on foreclosures until the end of the year. These protections apply to any homeowners with federally-backed mortgages.

Under these orders, mortgage servicers are barred from pursuing new foreclosure actions against homeowners and evicting households. homeowners whose mortgages aren’t backed by the federal government can be foreclosed on or evicted.

It is not yet clear whether the federal agencies will extend these moratoriums into 2021; however both agencies have extended their bans on foreclosures multiple times.

Unemployment benefits for gig workers, independent contractors and other nontraditional workers

Before the CARES Act, self-employed workers, freelancers, gig workers and independent contractors were all ineligible for unemployment benefits. With the CARES Act, however, these workers became eligible for the $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits, which expired in July. They were also eligible for state unemployment benefits that were calculated based on the average weekly unemployment benefits in their state.

These state-level benefits, known as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, expire Dec. 31. Come Jan. 1, more than 11 million Americans, including wedding photographers, Airbnb hosts and Uber
UBER,
-3.52%

  and Lyft
LYFT,
-3.10%

  drivers, will see their benefits reduced to zero.

“It’s a grim cut off for those counting on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance,” said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the liberal-leaning Century Foundation.

The only way many of these Americans could still qualify for unemployment benefits is if they “have a history of W2 work,” Stettner said, meaning that they worked a “traditional” job where their employer reported their earnings to the government. That is also the main way of proving that you qualify for unemployment benefits.

There is an appetite on Capitol Hill for making sure these types of workers continue to receive some form of unemployment benefits, said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy organization focused on workers’ rights. “But financing it would be tricky,” she added.

Paid time off for employees coping with coronavirus and child care issues

A federal law enabling paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave is expiring at the end of the year.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act applies to people who have to stay away from their job because they have to quarantine. The law also applies to workers who need to stay home to take care of a loved one, like a child who’s suddenly stuck at home because of a school closure.

Pay amounts depend on whether the leave has to do with medical reasons or family care. For example, someone who is taking sick leave can receive up to $511 daily and $5,110 in total, according to the Department of Labor. A worker can also receive up to $2,000 in a two-week period for child care under one part of the law, and an additional $10,000 for another 10 weeks of leave under another part of the law. Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees can apply for exemption from the law if they can say granting leave will jeopardize business operations.

A range of state and local laws might also kick in for workers looking for paid time off, but experts note coverage under those statutes are not a given.

Protections against having utilities disconnected

At one point, 35 states implemented moratoriums blocking utilities from shutting down gas, water and electricity for non-payment. As of late October, 17 states and Washington D.C. still have moratoriums in force — but 13 of those moratoriums will expire at or before December 31.

Though many moratoriums are coming to a close, experts say cash-strapped consumers still have ways to avoid shut-downs. One way is apply for financial assistance to defray utility bills through the federally-funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Another way is to call the utility directly to see what sort of payment plan or deferral can be arranged.

“In general terms, if someone is in arrears or facing a shutoff, the first step is try to work out a payment plan with the utility,” Gillis said. “Paying something shows good faith. In the case of service provided by an [investor-owned utility], it could be useful to call and see what the state public utilities commission or public service commission has to say.”

Payment pauses on student loans

President Donald Trump extended the pause on payments and collections for some federal student loans through Dec. 31.

The pause, which was part of the CARES Act, was originally set to expire on Sept. 31, roughly one month before the presidential election. Advocates have worried the extension won’t be enough to provide borrowers with meaningful relief.

As of September, the economy had only recovered about 11.4 million of the 23 million jobs shed during the pandemic. Without a significant uptick in employment, it’s unlikely that borrowers will be in a much better position to repay their student loans in January than they were in October, advocates say.

That’s in part why many are urging policymakers to consider some form of student debt cancellation as part of a coronavirus relief package. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said that if he’s elected, he would immediately cancel $10,000 in student loans for borrowers. Congressional Democrats have gone even further; Senators Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer have urged the next president to immediately cancel up to $50,000 in student debt.

Advocates have also urged for any coronavirus relief package to include more borrowers. Right now, at least $165 billion in federal student loans are excluded from the payment and collections pause, according to Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of Savingforcollege.com.

They’re also warning of a wave of administrative and financial headaches once student loan payments resume. Borrowers have been victim to a host of errors during the payment and collections pause, including, in some cases, continuing to have their wages garnished during the pandemic and experiencing a ding on their credit score.

A break on payroll taxes

With stimulus talks at a stalemate in late summer, Trump signed an executive order allowing employers to temporarily stop deducting 6.2% from an employee’s paycheck for Social Security taxes. The deferral is in place from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31 and it applies to people making under $104,000 annually.

It’s up to employers to decide whether to arrange a deferral for their employees. But one expert noted that if a paycheck is larger now because it’s forgoing the tax, it’s going to be smaller starting next year. That’s because the worker’s 6.2% tax obligation will be back in effect — and they will also be paying the deferred taxes from September through December.

Favorable terms for 401(k) withdrawals

The tax code typically discourages people who tap their 401(k) plans early, assessing a 10% penalty on the withdrawals of anyone who’s under age 59 and one-half. But the CARES act put aside the early withdrawal penalty through Dec. 31. The same law allowed people facing hardship from the pandemic to withdraw up to $100,000 this year from their IRA or 401(k); if they pay back the amount in three years, the account holders can avoid paying income taxes on the retirement money they tapped this year.

Experts caution the interim tax consequences can be complicated, but those twists may be a small price for people who need the money now.

Leslie Albrecht contributed to this report.



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Is it ethical for cruise lines, venues, schools or Broadway to restrict entry to people not vaccinated against COVID-19?

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It has begun.

Travel and entertainment could be limited for those who choose not to get vaccinated. Venues are left with a moral quandary: Should they refuse patrons? Some colleges have already introduced a mandatory vaccine policy for in-person classes, and public schools are closely watching their states’ lawmakers to see if similar policies will be introduced there. Is that fair?

Although airlines are not requiring passengers get vaccinated, many countries are asking travelers for proof of vaccination for entry. But there have been tests. This week, the first fully vaccinated flight took passengers from Florida to New York to reunite families. Those on board said they wanted to do everything within their power to reduce their risk of exposure.

Restaurant workers in New York are required to get a vaccine: A former employee at the Red Hook Tavern in Brooklyn, N.Y., was fired for refusing to get vaccinated. But the people who eat in restaurants do not require a vaccine. Vaccinated workers are protecting themselves and the patrons, but who are unvaccinated patrons protecting?


‘Restaurant workers in New York must get a vaccine. But the people who eat there are not. Who is protecting whom?’

Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Royal Caribbean
RCL,
-3.16%

and other lines all require adult passengers to be vaccinated before boarding. In fact, investors reacted positively to Norwegian Cruise Line’s
NCLH,
-1.04%

 move to require vaccinations for passengers last month.

In the fall, private and public schools will also ask whether children aged 12 to 15 should be vaccinated. Public schools will follow state guidance; all 50 states have some kind of vaccine mandate, although no U.S. state has yet made the coronavirus vaccination mandatory; only 44 states and Washington D.C. grant religious exemptions, and even fewer colleges do.

While some institutions are restricting in-person college tuition to vaccinated students, there is no legal precedent to know how courts will view a dispute between an unvaccinated student and his or her college. As one attorney previously told MarketWatch: “If a student chooses to come to an institution, they agree to abide by the rules.”

Broadway audiences, like cruise-line passengers, tend to skew older. On Tuesday, Charlotte St. Martin, president of the Broadway League, the industry’s national trade association, told The Daily Beast no decision had been made on mandatory vaccination cards for audience members, “but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be considered.”

The bottom line: Passing on the vaccine goes against the advice of both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, and makes the goal of herd immunity all the more elusive. It’s hard to blame cruise lines, colleges and possibly even theaters for restricting access to the unvaccinated when governments implement the same policies at their borders.

Why should those who choose not to get vaccinated be denied access? Writing in the Miami Herald, Jacob M. Appel, director of Ethics Education in Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, turns question around: Why should the vaccinated restrict their movements, and refrain from group activities, to protect those who refuse to get vaccinated?

Hardcore holdouts

The share of adults who want to “wait and see” before getting vaccinated — a category that has been gradually shrinking as the rollout continues — remained virtually unchanged last month (15%) compared to March (17%), according to Kaiser Family Foundation research. Republicans have been more reluctant to sign up for the vaccine, but that is slowly changing.

Perhaps talking openly about concerns, misinformation, resisting the urge to blame people for being hesitant, and refusing to toss around vaccine hesitancy as the latest political football has help, along with encouraging people to get their information from reliable, peer-reviewed journals. And, yes, perhaps the private sector has played a role too.

Vaccine rollout has not been a straight line. The 10-day federal pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson
JNJ,
-0.82%

 vaccine due to concerns over blood clots in a tiny percentage of the people who had received the one-dose vaccine only helped to harden the resolve of some people who were hesitant or unwilling to get vaccinated, health officials told the Wall Street Journal.


‘The ultimate goal is to crush the coronavirus as previous vaccines have wiped out smallpox, polio and measles.’

In the U.S., nearly 35% of the total population is fully vaccinated and over 46% have received at least one shot. On one side of the vaccine debate are health officials who decry the “pathologically narcissistic culture” in the U.S. and bemoan the luxury of declining a vaccine while millions of people around the world, particularly in hot spots like India and Ethiopia, are crying out for more vaccine doses.

On the other side are holdouts with ideological reasons, religious beliefs, medical conditions, concerns over side effects or who are just plain needle shy. Many will not be assuaged until the vaccines have 100% effectiveness or zero chance of side effects (as opposed to 0.00009%, in the case of the serious blood clots associated with the J&J vaccine).

Others who cry foul at being denied access to venues may cite a wrinkle in the moral and legal debate: That the vaccines from Johnson & Johnson, the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership
PFE,
-1.28%

and Moderna
MRNA,
+0.28%

 are all issued under emergency-use authorization, a faster process that’s less rigorous than full Food and Drug Administration approval.

That is a red herring for hardcore vaccine holdouts. Emergency-use authorization is used exactly for circumstances such as this — a global pandemic like COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS and, according to the FDA, “chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats including infectious diseases.” The backdrop to this public-health crisis: At least 582,791 Americans are dead from this disease.


‘Who would want an elderly relative to take a cruise unless everyone, staff and passengers, were vaxxed?’

But it’s understandable that people would have questions. “The first time the FDA issued an EUA was in 2005 for an anthrax vaccine, but just for military personnel. In 2009, the FDA issued the first EUA for civilians, so that Tamiflu could be given to infants during the H1N1 pandemic,” professors Christopher Robertson and Jeremy Greene wrote in a recent piece for The Conversation.

During the early years of the AIDS pandemic, protesters called on the FDA to speed the rollout of medication. Remember, AIDS effectively had a nearly 100% fatality rate. Very few people survived those early days before the arrival of antiretroviral therapy. Today, COVID-19 vaccines have a mountain of data, and strict safety guidelines for emergency-use authorization.

The ultimate aim is to crush the coronavirus as previous vaccines wiped out smallpox, polio and measles. But it requires participation. If you don’t want a vaccine, know that you put yourself and others at risk of contracting the virus. Brief flu-like side effects may be off-putting for some, but what is that compared to a patient struggling to breathe with the help of a ventilator?

If there were a fully vaccinated-only restaurant in my neighborhood? People would line to book a table, and likely marvel at their bold stance and, yes, the financial risk they would be taking. Who would want an elderly relative to take a cruise unless everyone, staff and passengers, were vaxxed? In 2021, one person’s conviction — however well meaning — could be another’s death sentence.



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I bought my parents’ house at below-market rate — my sister wants me to give her $50K to build my mother an annex. Is that fair?

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My mother turns 81 this year. For years, she and my sister talked about building an annex onto my sister’s house so my mom could move in with her. My mom promised to pay for the addition.

Together, they hired an architect and decided to start construction. I was not consulted on any of this. As the pandemic set in, my sister’s contractor told her that lumber prices would rise, so she purchased lumber and kicked off the project.

Of course, when she went to my mom for the money to finance the addition, my mom didn’t have it. So now my sister has a bunch of lumber sitting on her lawn, and no money to pay the contractor.


‘To complicate matters, my stepfather decided he wanted to stay in their house, and not move to my sister’s house.’

It would have been easy to finance all of this by selling my parents’ fully paid-off house. But to complicate matters, my stepfather decided he wanted to stay in their house, and not move to my sister’s house.

So we came up with the idea of my getting a mortgage to purchase my parents’ house from them. My parents would split the money from the sale. My mom’s half would go to finance the addition to my sister’s house where my mom will live, and my stepdad’s half would be used to pay me market-rate rent so he could stay in their house for at least 15 years.

Unfortunately, I was unable to borrow as much as we needed. My parents lowered the price of the house below market value and gave me a gift of equity so that I could qualify for the loan.

When we set up trust accounts to manage the proceeds of the sale, my mom’s trust got $350,000 to pay for construction on the addition to my sister’s house, and my stepdad’s trust got $41,000 — not even enough to pay mortgage, taxes and insurance for 17 months, let alone 15 years.

COVID has, of course, sent construction costs skyrocketing. My sister has informed me that she now doesn’t have enough money to complete construction on the addition for our mom. In her mind, because my parents’ home was appraised at $800,000, my mom’s trust should get $400,000 from the sale.


‘My parents reduced the price of the house below market value and gave me a gift of equity so that I could qualify.’

In order to make up this balance, I would have to give her the remaining $41,000 from my stepdad’s trust (leaving him with nothing for rent), plus another $9,000 from my own pocket, and then I would have to come up with cash to make the mortgage payments on my own.

I get that my sister, through no fault of her own, doesn’t have the money to finish the addition — but I used every last scrap of my credit to finance the purchase of my parents’ home, and now I’m faced with there being no proceeds to finance the rent for my stepdad.

We are fighting about this pretty hard, and it’s bringing up a lot of resentments. My sister feels I’m being selfish because I got our parents’ house for a “song.” I feel resentful, because I never wanted the house and have constrained myself financially so the three of them could have what they wanted — and now I’m being asked to stretch myself even more.

There are arguments on both sides. My sister gets all the cash now to invest in the house she owns, which will go up in value. I get all the equity in our parents’ house, which is a great long-term investment, but one that leaves me cash poor and struggling in the short term.

Both parents have retirement funds, but my mom won’t contribute more to the building project, and I don’t have the heart to charge my stepdad additional money for rent when he’s already gifted me so much equity in the house.

How do we make this fair? Should I give my sister $50,000?

Signed,

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear No Good Deed,

There has been a lot of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul going on, but it looks like Peter and Paul’s resources have run dry, along with everyone else’s bank accounts. You all appear to have created a problem for yourselves and one another. In fact, this addition was a solution to a problem that did not exist. There are so many wrenches in the works, you are going to run out of wrenches.

The original plan was flawed in that your sister — and now, ultimately, you — are faced with the task of housing your parents under two different roofs. You are bending over backwards to help your parents, but your stepfather is staying put, and your mother’s finances did not support this grand plan. The people you are trying to help are not participating fully in the process.

Before I give you one solution, I have a few observations: Your sister and your mother hatched this plan together. They both need to take responsibility for that. Your stepfather refuses to cooperate with the plan. He needs to cop to that. You were presented with an opportunity to help and, yes, hopefully make some money. You need to own that.

But you are not responsible for your sister’s hasty financial decisions. So where does that leave you? My solution, as far as there is one to all of this real-estate maneuvering, is to treat the $50,000 as a gift to both you and your sister, and to give her half ($25,000). You are taking the risk and the financial burden of owning this home, so any appreciation you have is fair game.

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 group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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My wife’s brother, 60, lives with his mom. He thinks the house belongs to him. What should happen after my mother-in-law dies?

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Dear Quentin,

My wife’s mother is 90 and in poor health. She requires 24/7 assistance. Her husband passed away about 20 years ago. She is still a wonderfully positive person, but the reality is that time is catching up to her.

The oldest son, 60, still lives at home. He recently retired from his job as a physical trainer at a local community college and has limited income, which I surmise is a small pension supplemented with Social Security.

For years, this living arrangement seemed strange to the four other siblings, but it became a blessing in disguise when their mother had a stroke 15 months ago. He provides daily care for her with the assistance of daytime care assistants, as well as my wife, who helps out three days a week.


‘He recently retired from his job as a physical trainer at a local community college and has limited income.’


— Concerned Brother-in-Law

Of the other four siblings, three are well-educated, successful professionals in their last decade of working careers, and one is the housewife of a retired successful professional. I believe all, except the son who lives at home, have planned very well for their retirements.

That’s not to say they wouldn’t want their fair share. My wife and I do not need any inheritance to enhance our retirements, and I will respect my mother-in-law’s decision without question.

My father-in-law left investments that now exceed $1 million, while the home is estimated to be worth around $600,000. The will divides all assets equally among siblings. The son who lives at home has slipped into the mind set that the contents of the home are his.

You can imagine some of the questions swirling among some of the siblings.

I went through the loss of my own mother. I was the trustee of her estate, and there was significant inequality in distribution. I know it can be stressful and divisive among siblings to deal with this subject.

The questions on the minds of the siblings are: Should they let him have the house or rent it? Should they make him pay for the house? What’s the right thing to do?

Concerned Brother-in-Law

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear Brother-in-Law,

I can imagine the questions circulating from house to house. But what they want, and what they think should happen, and what they think of their brother living at home is largely irrelevant.

Even if she were your mother rather than your mother-in-law, I would say the same thing: Of course, accept her decision. It’s her house, they are her possessions and it’s her money. No one — not even the son who lives at home — is entitled to it. Anything she decides to leave her family as an inheritance should be seen as a gift and, yes, the respective fortunes and living situations of her children may very likely be taken into account.


‘I suspect that there were many other times it was helpful for him to be there, at a time when none of his siblings had reason to notice.’


— The Moneyist

There is one area where she may need help: Making sure that she does not leave a mess behind where the siblings are forced to have a summit to decide what to do about their less-wealthy sibling who has lived in the family home all his life. He may or may not have the funds to buy his own home with his share of the inheritance. Alternatively, your mother-in-law could decide to leave him slightly more than his siblings to help him do this.

There are so many moving parts, and each family member will no doubt wonder how their mother’s will affects their own fortunes. They have, as you say, seen firsthand the advantage of having a sibling living at home in adulthood, and have watched him step up and help his mother after her stroke. But I suspect that there were many other times it was helpful for him to be there, at a time when none of his siblings had reason to notice.

There is no right or wrong answer. He appears to be the only financially vulnerable member of the family. All of this could and/or should be taken into account. Given that it has been his home and he has no other home, a life estate is one option. That way, the grandchildren can all benefit from the inheritance at a future date. Alternatively, assess the value of the entire estate and what it would take for him to have a smaller home.

The most important thing is to have a plan, and to not leave your brother-in-law homeless. Those two priorities should be mutually compatible.

The Moneyist: My boyfriend talked me into depositing my paychecks into his bank account, and paying for a car in his name. What can I do?

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 group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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