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‘I planned to buy new tires for the winter’: I didn’t get a stimulus check because I owe back child support. It’s so morally wrong. Will I get one this time?

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Dear Moneyist,

I have 2 kids and I pay child support. I have one daughter who I didn’t know about until she was 5 years old. My arrears for child support have kept me down most of my life.

My credit score never goes past 515. I have a hard time making ends meet, so I applied for the $1,200 stimulus check in September. I was under the impression that I would receive this much-needed money. I planned to buy new tires for the winter. ( I still don’t have new tires.)

The Moneyist:My husband, 67, wants to leave his $2 million estate and home to his disabled daughter and his sister’s kids. Can he do that? I could outlive them

I feel like this relief fund should be exactly that: A relief fund for all Americans. I was hoping that, no matter what debt was owed, Americans could receive this COVID-19 economic stimulus payment. But — no! Minnesota’s child-support program took all the money.

The government could have left me with at least some of this money, but it took all of it. This is so morally wrong and unfair. Please help!

John

Dear John,

I feel for you: You are playing catch-up with child support for a daughter that you didn’t know you had fathered. It’s a complex and imperfect system, and of course it would have helped had you been informed earlier that you had a daughter.

I commend you for doing your best to pay your way and take care of your child. Just because you are behind on child-support payments, that does NOT make you a dead-beat dad. The mother of your child did not inform you when she had her child. That is the hand you were dealt and, by fathering this child, that is also the hand you also dealt yourself. The good news is you should receive the $600 stimulus check. Unlike the first round, it will not be withheld due to back child support.

In the eyes of the government, the financial burden should not be shouldered by one parent alone, and “how was I supposed to know that I fathered a child?” is not typically enough to relieve the father of the financial responsibility of retroactive payments. It just doesn’t wash. This is where you must also take a hard look at your own part in this situation. You were there, you fathered this child, and whether that was intentional or not, you must be held accountable in the eyes of the law.

The Moneyist: ‘I’m lucky to get by on $75,000 a year’: The $600 stimulus program doesn’t sound reasonable to me. Why am I left out?

It’s also worth remembering: If you were the mother of this girl, you would feed and clothe her, take care of her 24/7, pick her up from kindergarten and drop her off, and adjust your work schedule to ensure that you can fulfill your responsibilities as a working parent, while progressing in your career. You would raise your daughter to the best of your ability, help her with her homework, and ideally provide an example of how to be a productive and responsible member of society.

The one person that must take priority in cases such as yours is the child, and that is how it should be. You didn’t buy new winter tires with the $1,200 stimulus last summer, but maybe take heart in the fact that the mother of your child may have been able to buy her a new pair of shoes.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

Want to read more?Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here

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‘I could live on my Social Security and still save money’: This 66-year-old left Chicago for ‘calming’ Costa Rica — where he now plans to live indefinitely

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Editor’s note: This article was first published in September 2019.

A school break changed 66-year-old Martin Farber’s life forever.

In 2007, his daughter — who at the time was attending Illinois State University — decided she wanted to spend a college holiday volunteering in Costa Rica and staying with a local family, he explains. She came home raving about the experience, so, in 2008, Farber — who at the time was living in Evanston, Ill., just outside Chicago, and selling cars — took his first trip there.

“It was a big surprise to me — bumpy roads, dogs barking in the streets,” he says. “I wasn’t enamored at first.”

But as his daughter began traveling there more and eventually moved there for a year, he took additional trips to Costa Rica. It quickly grew on him — in particular, the people. “The Costa Rican people are warm, open and friendly. I felt less invisible in a strange country in a strange town where I didn’t speak the language than I did in Evanston.”

And the more time he spent there, the more it impacted him: “On one of my trips there, I thought: My daughter’s life makes more sense than mine,” he says. “There was nothing wrong with my life, but I felt that my life was out of context with who I’d become. … I would have bills and make money to pay them, but that had ceased to be satisfying,” he recalls. “I knew I needed to change my life — there was no more joy in what I was doing.”

What’s more, when he’d return from his Costa Rica trips, people noticed. “I would come back, and my friends and therapist would say: You seem better after you go,” he says with a laugh.

A view from the hot springs near Martin Farber’s home in Costa Rica.


Martin Farber

So in 2014, he packed up and moved to Orosi — a picturesque, lush small town with waterfalls and hot springs a little over an hour’s drive from San Jose — promising himself he’d stay for two years. It’s been five, and he now plans to stay in Costa Rica indefinitely. (Though Farber notes that, to him, “it’s not a retirement; it’s a chance to lead a new and different life.”)

Here’s what his life is like, from costs to health care to residency to everyday life:

The cost: While many expats spend way more living in Costa Rica, Farber says: “I could live on my Social Security and still save money.” He says “a person can live on $1,200 per month, two people on $2,000.” The key, he says, is to live more like he does and as the Costa Ricans do — in a modest home, eating local food and purchasing local goods.

Indeed, Farber himself spends just $300 a month for rent (he rents a home from a friend who moved recently and gave him a good deal), roughly $225 a month on groceries and just $50 a month total on water and electricity (the temperate climate in Orosi means you rarely need heat or air conditioning). The veteran Volkswagen
VOW,
+0.96%

 
VLKAF,
+0.98%

salesman saves money by not owning a car (those over 65 ride municipal buses for free), which can be a significant expense in Costa Rica; for his cellphone, “I pay as I go … roughly $10 may last me a couple weeks or more,” he says, adding that “many people handle there their cellphones this way. You can get them recharged anywhere.”

His major expense is travel: He goes back to the U.S. to visit his mother in Florida several times a year and lately has spent part of the summer in Chicago helping out a friend with a dealership there. He also spends a good amount of money on health care. He says that while flights can be had for as little as $350 roundtrip during offseasons, the cost can be much higher the rest of the year.

In the saddle.


Martin Farber

Health care: Farber, who has permanent resident status in Costa Rica, says he pays about $90 per month to participate in the country’s health-care system — adding that the health care he’s received has been very good. (A 2018 study of health-care quality and access in more than 190 nations ranked Costa Rica No. 62.)

When he developed a detached retina, though, he paid for the procedure out of pocket so that he didn’t have to wait for the required surgery, he says — adding that the entire procedure cost him about $5,000. “I would have had to have waited four days,” he says, if he had not paid to expedite matters. “That might have been fine, but it might not.” And he adds that the quality of care depends on where you get it in the country.

Lifestyle: Though Farber says that he “moved here with no goals and no agenda,” he’s found plenty to do. “I take Spanish lessons two days a week for two hours a day. It’s been great. I never thought I would acquire a usable language in my 60s,” he says. He also rides his bike all around the area, does some writing and belongs to a community group that undertakes projects to improve the area.

And he often simply takes in nature, which he says has been an essential part of why he feels calmer and more relaxed in Costa Rica than in the U.S. “I live at 3,000 feet but in a valley surrounded by coffee fields and lime trees and water. At night, if I open the windows, I can hear the river rushing by,” he says. “It is very calming … hundreds of trees everywhere … you know the Earth is alive.”

The historic Iglesia de San José de Orosi.


iStock

Cons: “I don’t want to overglorify. It’s not without its problems,” Farber says of Costa Rica. “There are social problems and downsides.” He notes that crime and petty theft can be a problem (“I am cautious,” he says of his approach) and seem to have increased since he moved there, and adds that he misses out on some cultural things because of where he lives. And, he says with a laugh, “I can’t order Thai food at 9 at night.” But, he adds: “These are trade-offs — in the afternoon, I get to walk in the coffee fields and see flocks of parrots.”

Residency: To qualify for Costa Rica’s pensionado visa, expats must prove that they have a pension of at least $1,000 coming in each month. (Here are the details of that program.) Once you have lived in Costa Rica for three years, you can apply for permanent residency. Farber used a lawyer to help him figure out the ins and outs of residency options; his entire path to permanent residency took about a year, he says.

The bottom line: “After five years I am still amazed and surprised that I made the decision to lead a life I never thought I would,” he says. And while he may not stay in Orosi forever — “the town doesn’t have an ambulance, [and] I don’t know what it will be like to be 80 there,” he says — he does plan to stay in Costa Rica in no small part because of the people and sense of community. “I have the feeling that life is good here,” he says. “It’s hard sometimes, but we are all in it together.”



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