How to Survive the Meltdown

How is the recession affecting midlife women? And what should your new strategies be to protect yourself from now on? Here, answers to your most pressing financial questions about your investments, credit, family, and work.

By Jean Chatzky
Photograph: Daniel Behar

What’s likely to become more onerous is the process of shopping for a lender. "You’ll need to do more homework," Chany says. Call the school’s financial aid office and ask for its list of preferred lenders. (Yes, there was a payola problem with a few of these lists a year or two ago, but the issues have been resolved to the best of our knowledge. Today, these lists eliminate more hassles than they cause.) Finally, know that if after you fill out your financial forms you lose your job or suffer other financial losses, you can ask the school for more aid.

Q. I have to move for my job. What should I know about selling my house?

A. It’s as simple as this: Don’t buy a new place until you sell the old one. You can always rent. If you’re short on cash, ask your company if it can subsidize your living expenses for even a few months.

Q. My kid lost his job and is coming home to regroup. Should I charge him rent? Give him money? Help!

A. Make him comfortable — but not too comfortable. There’s a reason disability insurers will cover you only up to 60 percent of your salary. They want you to have an incentive to return to work. You need to do the same for your son. Sit down and figure out what contributions he could make to the household. If he gets a part-time job (and he should), one of those contributions should be rent. Until then, he can pitch in by doing things so that you no longer have to pay others to do them, such as cleaning the house or walking the dog.

Q. Is now a good time to buy a house? Rents are rising in my neighborhood, and for sale signs are popping up everywhere.

A. As long as you plan to live in the house for at least five years (preferably 10), now is a great time to buy. If you put down at least 10 percent and keep the amount you borrow under $729,000 — the new limit for conventional mortgages — you should get a loan pretty easily, assuming your credit is good.

Work

Q. What kinds of employment will remain strong? It seems silly to try to compete with young’uns in fields involving the Internet. Where else can we go?

A. First of all, you need an attitude adjustment, notes Cynthia Shapiro, author of What Does Somebody Have to Do to Get a Job Around Here? "There aren’t the limitations for women 40-plus that there used to be. If a woman is drawn to a hot field (see "Where the Jobs Are," below), she can jump in like anyone else." The key is to let everyone know you’re looking. "You can’t sit behind your computer," Shapiro says. "You have to go to lunches, industry functions, show up at every party. Get out there so people can hear what you have to say."

Where the Jobs Are: Top 10 Growth Fields

(Projected percentage of growth, 2006 to 2016, per U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

  • 53.4% – Network systems and data communication analysts
  • 50.6% – Personal and home care aides
  • 48.7% – Home health aides
  • 44.6% – Computer software engineers
  • 41% – Veterinary technologists/technicians
  • 41% – Personal financial advisers
  • 39.8% – Theatrical makeup artists
  • 35.4% – Medical assistants
  • 35% – Veterinarians
  • 34.3% – Substance abuse/behavioral disorder counselors

Q. How do I plan for a shift from full time to part time — or should I give up this dream for the duration?

A. Now is not the moment to go part time, says career consultant Jeri Sedlar, coauthor of Don’t Retire, Rewire. If you are dependent on your income, you don’t want to convey to your employer that you’re less than 100 percent committed. That said, if the company is clearly in cost-cutting mode, it might welcome your volunteering to shift into part time, because it would save your boss a head count. Outline the case for why you’re the best person to make it work — then gear up for a six- to eight-month transition where you give more and are paid less, to prove that the new schedule is ideal for all.

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