In the summer of 2001, my former boss had to write me a letter of recommendation, after deciding to retire her long-running syndicated Washington Post column on personal finance. That was one of my favorite roles, reporting for Jane Bryant Quinn’s Post column, monthly for Good Housekeeping and as needed for Newsweek. I chased down information for two Post columns a week and figured my way out of one financial maze after another. During those critical years in the nation’s economy (1998-2001), I learned who to call and what to ask on a dizzying array of personal finance topics.
So I took it as a huge compliment when Jane called me “a pit bull in tracking down information.” That’s really when Dori on the Dime began, although I didn’t realize it at the time. The idea was introduced in July 2009, when I was celebrating over lunch with wealth manager Julie Jason, whose award-winning book on retirement income planning I helped edit.
That was shortly before the global financial crisis became a personal financial crisis for me, and I was forced to put aside Julie’s idea for a personal finance column. News assignments and book contracts had started to dry up, adding to the unpaid cost of helping loved ones that had drained me financially. After debating whether to use my money, or the government’s, to pay my bills, I decided to apply for early benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
Eighteen months later, I was on the brink of landing a fulltime job at a national newswire service in Washington, D.C. I grew giddy at the thought of restarting my lagging retirement savings, after reading on the SSA’s website about the delayed retirement credit. The credit would allow me to suspend benefits, while growing at the annual rate of 8%. Even with paying income tax, I would come out ahead, because Social Security benefits would be growing by leaps and bounds and I could max out my retirement savings to the limit allowed by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Ecstatic, I grabbed a calculator and did a happy dance all the way to La La Land.
Then I called Social Security to double check what I had read. Alas, I was mistaken. You can’t qualify for the delayed retirement credit if you’ve been collecting for more than a year; I had been collecting for six months beyond the deadline.
Angry and upset, I called back to complain that the information on the website wasn’t all that clear. After holding on for an hour and eighteen minutes, and repeating the reason for my call, the representative, after the briefest of silences, said—in a voice that could freeze ice cubes in July—that the agency didn’t have the time to explain everything on its site. “That’s why you have to call us,” she said, before hanging up.
That call kicked Dori on the Dime into gear. I didn’t like the representative’s answer, or the tone of her voice.
Managing your financial life takes time. It takes time to get a straight answer about this month’s cable TV bill or a “surprise” medical bill or the reason for your shrinking 401(k) balance—time that busy consumers often don’t have.
That’s where I can help. I’ve written personal finance stories and edited books for years on saving, managing and investing your money, but I still have a personal finance question or two of my own every week to track down—and I like holding on the phone until I get an answer. As a self-employed freelance writer who’s paid for her own health care for years, and a single, never-married Boomer whose future isn’t padded with a million dollars or a comfortable pension, I have a lot of questions every week about these finance topics, and others.
I’m not a financial adviser, but I think that what I learn will help you with whatever personal finance question you’re trying to sort your way out of. So send me your questions—please! I’ll be sharing what I find out with you every Monday morning, so that you can make your way forward into the week—and on with the rest of your life.