Will Past Money Mistakes Hurt the Future?

By Mary Hunt

February 25, 2020 5 min read

Dear Mary: My husband and I are looking to buy our first home, and I'm a little nervous about applying for a mortgage. During my single days, I got myself into a heap of trouble with credit card debt and filed for bankruptcy. Since then, I've been extremely careful about spending and saving, but I'm still worried about what my past recklessness has done to my credit. Even worse, I haven't been able to bring myself to tell my budget-conscious husband about it. What can I do to make sure this doesn't ruin our chances of getting a home? — Donna

Dear Donna: You need to face this head-on. Get free copies of your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com, take a deep breath, and share it with your husband. Many lenders look at patterns of behavior, so if you can show at least six months of on-time payments, you may be in a lot better shape than you think. Ask a mortgage banker to review both of your credit files and advise you on what you can do now to improve your creditworthiness. Check out the myFico website to get your credit scores. While you're there, click on "Education" to learn how credit scores are determined. The sooner you and your husband see this challenge as "us against the problem" not "us against each other," the sooner you'll be sending out change-of-address notices!

Dear Mary: Our beloved dog, Bella, is getting older, and we're concerned about safeguarding her health. She recently had surgery that cost us $3,000. While the vet assures us she's fine now, we want to make sure we don't get hit with another huge bill. Of course, we'll do everything we can to keep Bella healthy, but we simply can't afford thousands of dollars worth of medical expenses. What can we do? — Pat

Dear Pat: Plan ahead by stashing money into a "Bella account." Call to learn your vet's policies regarding emergency services like hours, fees and discounts for cash payments. Find out what constitutes a true emergency and what can wait until the office opens.

Look into alternatives such as the humane society or university vet clinics that offer thriftier alternatives for shots and routine care. For Bella's wellness checks, keep an eye out for reduced-veterinary-service clinics sponsored by government agencies or pet stores.

Should Bella face another serious situation, I hope you will have time to get a second opinion. You might want to look into pet health insurance. Just keep in mind that most pet health insurance policies exclude preexisting conditions. And they have high deductibles and copays, too. If I were you, I would ask my veterinarian which pet health insurance company he or she uses for his or her personal pets. That should tell you a lot! I wish you many more wonderful years with Bella!

Dear Mary: For the past two years, I've watched the steady decline in value of one specific stock I own. My father has been hounding me to sell it so I can claim it as a loss on my tax returns, but I'm not sure how that works. And isn't it wiser just to ride it out until the company improves its financial situation instead of dumping everything? I hate to sell it and then see the value go up shortly afterwards. Who's right here? — Blake

Dear Blake: You are both right. If you sell the stock at a loss, your losses are tax-deductible when you itemize. But if you don't need the money right now and you believe in the future of the company, you might want to hang on. The stock could rebound. In the meantime, even though it looks like you have lost a lot, the truth is you haven't really lost anything until you actually sell the stock. Still, as you are learning, investing in the stock market is not for the faint of heart. Making sure you only invest money you can afford to lose will help to make the crazy ups and downs of the market a more enjoyable ride.

Would you like more information? Go to EverydayCheapskate.com for links and resources for recommended products and services in this column. Mary invites questions, comments and tips at EverydayCheapskate.com, "Ask Mary." This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of EverydayCheapskate.com, a lifestyle blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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