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The Moneyist: My wife drinks and gambles our money away, and my adult stepchildren are deadbeats who do drugs and play video games. What can I do?

Dear Quentin,

I have been with my wife since 2008. We got married in 2015. We have one child together, and she has two children from two previous relationships.

Since we got married, my wife has been drinking heavily and gambling away all of our money, and my adult stepchildren are deadbeats who do drugs and sit around playing video games literally all day and night. Meanwhile, I go to work every day trying to keep us from drowning financially.

We literally have nothing in savings and no plan for retirement, due to the fact that no one but me seems to care. At this rate, I am going to have to work until I’m 150. Please help! I love them, but they are destroying everything.

Sincerely,

Desperate

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

Dear Desperate,

Love is an investment. It should be reciprocated.

You work, you pay the mortgage and the bills, you want to have a good life and/or a better life. But if no one in your household is there to help you achieve that goal, you need to ask yourself what you can do differently, not only what they can do differently.

You wouldn’t pour your time and money into a job or a stock or a joint venture if the other partners in that venture were actively trying to squander what you had earned. This is no exception. Your life is your own. And your stepchildren need to buck up, and move out.

If you are pulling your weight at home, they should too. The decision to marry is probably one of the most important financial decisions we make in our lifetime. Divorce is oftentimes as bad as, if not worse than, a recession. But staying in an unhappy marriage can be far more costly.

You are supporting a partner and her/your children, in addition to your own, while working and trying to have money set aside for an emergency, in addition to retirement — while all and sundry sit in their skivvies and watch you go out to work every day. And so: What price, love?

‘You wouldn’t pour your time and money into a job or a stock or a joint venture if the other partners in that venture were actively trying to squander what you had earned. This is no exception.’

Do not be a hostage to other people, and don’t become a lifelong prisoner to other people’s willful neglect of your needs. They will watch you scrimp and save while they play video games and gamble, as long as you allow that to happen. We are all responsible for the life we choose.

I advise against joint bank accounts, as you need to keep a tight rein on your income and expenditure, and make it crystal clear to your family that you have a budget. You need to stick to this, and resist being blamed for other people’s demands not being met.

As for your wife’s gambling debts, debts accumulated during a marriage are typically deemed community property in a community-property state. There are nine community property states: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

Check the law in your state regarding such debts. As New Mexico-based attorney Dorene A. Kuffer points out: “When certain losses or debts are the sole responsibility of a spouse — as with gambling — the court may take a different approach to property division.”

“Any time one spouse spends, gives away or disposes of money without the knowledge or consent of the other spouse, this can be considered ‘wasting assets,’ and gambling is an example of this type of spending,” Kuffer adds.

In an equitable-distribution state, such as New York, a judge will take into account money wasted for non-marital interests. That includes gambling and alcohol use, lavish purchases and money spent on extramarital affairs, etc. I tell you this because it’s important to know.

If your wife is not willing or ready to accept that she has an alcohol and gambling problem, and is unwilling to seek the help she needs, you cannot help her. She needs to want to help herself. You also have a child who needs a financially and emotionally stable home.

Your child should be your No. 1 priority now.

The Moneyist: ‘I feel un-American’: I was broke in my 20s, and live in fear of debt. My wife wants to upgrade our home and life. What do I do?

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

Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook FB, -0.17%  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.

By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.

The Moneyist: I received two $1,400 stimulus payments because I was also claimed as a dependent. Should I give one back?

Two questions about one too many stimulus checks:

Dear Quentin,

I’m confused. My grandparents claimed me on their 2019 taxes as a dependent. They received the third stimulus check for me. When the third stimulus checks were released, my grandparents had not filed their 2020 taxes yet, so they received stimulus money for me as their dependent.

However, I filed my own 2020 taxes, and I am no longer their dependent. The Internal Revenue Service also sent me a third stimulus check. Who should notify the IRS about this overpayment, and how? I can’t seem to find a scenario anywhere to cover this issue.

Granddaughter

Dear Quentin,

I need clarification because from what I have read, we should receive a stimulus payment for our adult dependent. She is currently on Social Security, and we claim her as a dependent. We support her needs year-round, and she lives with us.

She started receiving Social Security Disability Insurance in December 2020. We did not receive any stimulus money on payments in the first two rounds for her, but I know that was correct because the guidelines for the age of dependents has changed under the most recent round of payments.

However, she also received $1,400 in her bank account where her SSI gets deposited. Should she have received a payment? Should we have? We haven’t filed our 2020 tax return yet, and I do plan on claiming her as a dependent.

I’m thinking this is a duplicate payment and should be paid back to the IRS. I can’t find any information on what to do, or if it’s correct that the taxpayer and adult dependent will receive a stimulus check. So again, I’m thinking the IRS paid her in error.

Mother

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

Dear Granddaughter & Mother,

The Moneyist column has received many letters on this issue. The $1,400 economic stimulus payment is not a loan. This third stimulus check is an advanced tax credit on your 2021 taxes, and calculated based on your 2020 taxes. You both need to decide which check was sent in error.

Mother, you should consult your daughter before claiming her as a dependent to ensure you are both on the same page. Granddaughter, you should alert your grandparents of your plans to file your own taxes, and in that case they should return the payment.

You both received one check too many because those claiming the adult as a dependent had not filed their 2020 taxes, so the IRS used previous tax filings as a guide. You obviously cannot be claimed as a dependent and file a tax return yourself and expect a payment. It’s one or the other.

According to H&R Block, you may receive a letter (CP87A) from the IRS stating that your dependent was claimed on another return. “It will tell you that if you made a mistake, to file an amended return, and if you didn’t make a mistake, do nothing.”

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

“The other person who claimed the dependent will get the same letter,” H&R Block adds. “If one of you doesn’t file an amended return that removes the child-related benefits, then the IRS will audit you and/or the other person to determine who can claim the dependent.”

You can return the money via check or money order with your Social Security number or taxpayer ID of the recipient, made payable to “U.S. Treasury.” Those who received a paper check and did not cash it can write “void” on the back of the check, and mail it back to the IRS. Read more here.

Individuals making less than $75,000 a year in adjusted gross income will receive $1,400. The payments decrease for individuals earning $75,000 and up — and they phase out completely for those making $80,000 or more and couples making $160,000 or more in adjusted gross income.

The issuance of payments has not been a straight line. One man told me he was “punished” by the government for being responsible because he filed his taxes early — and only received $200. Some taxpayers say they’ve received stimulus checks for dead relatives.

The Moneyist: ‘I cut his hair because he won’t pay for a haircut’: My multimillionaire husband is 90. I’ve looked after him for 41 years, but he won’t help my son

Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook FB, -0.45%  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.

By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.

The Moneyist: I’m 30. My wife is 34. We saved $350K and I have $350K saved for retirement. Should we pay cash for a home — or take out a mortgage and invest it?

Dear Quentin,

After finishing graduate school, my wife and I decided to pay off all our debt before buying a home, or anything for that matter.

We have been cheaply renting for the last three years, and living as if I were still a very poor graduate student. During this time, we paid off all of our debts, and even went as far as to save around $350,000 in cash.

My wife is 30, I am 34, and we are ready to take the next step. We now have two children under two who have over $20,000 and growing in each of their 529s. We are both covered by ample term life insurance, and I have an own occupation disability policy. I make about $250,000 per year.

I am very fortunate in that my employer contributes about $40,000 into my 401(k) while I contribute up to the remaining Internal Revenue Service maximum of approximately $57,000 per year. Our family HSA contribution is maxed out and grows every year.

My spouse stays home with the children now. We have a combined retirement portfolio of around $325,000. At this point, should we put a cash offer on a home, or take out a loan and invest the difference? Not having a mortgage in our 30s seems awfully nice.

Conversely, investing could bring greater long-term returns.

Sincerely,

At A Crossroads

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

Dear Crossroads,

Congratulations, paying off that debt and saving so aggressively is quite an achievement, and it’s something that few people your age get to do.

The clue is often in the question. You are already edging closer to the house. As a rule, it’s always recommended to put all of your money in one place. So if I was to suggest anything — and it’s only a suggestion NOT a recommendation — you could also split the difference and pay 25% to 50% down on a new home, and keep the remainder for investing, saving and a rainy day. Everything in moderation, even spending your hard-earned savings.

Of course, you get to live in a home of your choice in the neighborhood of your choice, and you get to enjoy that every day, as do your children. Having kids may also influence how much you are willing to spend on a home and where you are prepared to live based on the schools and the amenities in that district. It’s not just an investment, it’s a qualify-of-life choice, perhaps one of the most important choice outside of choosing a life partner.

MarketWatch Retirement columnist and CPA Riley Adams recently dealt with you very question, breaking down the pros/cons of both. The upside of stocks: “Stocks are liquid. Proven track record of success. Earn dividends. Easy to diversify your portfolio.” The downsides of stocks: “An emotional roller coaster. Short-term volatility. Capital-gains taxes.” That depends on your and your wife’s risk tolerance, and how much time you are willing and able to devote to investing.

The upside of real estate, per Adams’ advice: “A hedge against market volatility. Tax advantages. Cash flow.” And, like I said, you enjoy it every day. The downsides: “Real estate requires time and money. Your money is tied up. Tons of fees. Not easy to diversify.” And, if you are paying a mortgage, you also have to pay interest on top of the principal, which is tax deductible. Ditto property taxes. But paying that interest allows you to free up that extra cash.

Indeed, a recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York looked at consumer preferences toward being a homeowner and how their attitudes have changed over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Survey participants were asked to rate which was the better investment — a home or financial assets such as a stocks — and what factors contributed to their choice. Some 90% of those polled said they preferred owning their primary residence to investing in the market.

Sit down with your wife, and a financial adviser and look at your options. The adviser, like a good therapist, should ask you questions and you should hold all the answers.

My multimillionaire husband is 90. I’ve looked after him for 41 years, but he won’t help my son

Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook FB, -0.86%  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.

By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.

The Moneyist: My cautionary tale — $11,000 is now in limbo after an $11 mistake on my 2020 tax return

Dear Quentin,

I wanted to share how my small oversight turned into a much larger problem. It all revolves around the timing of my family’s stimulus checks, and some inheritance from my late father in 2019.

In the first round of the economic stimulus last year, we received the full amount for our family of four. I intentionally waited to file my 2019 taxes last year, so that payment would be based on our 2018 returns. My dad passed away in 2019, and he left us just enough.

For the second round, however, I didn’t have much choice. It was based on 2019 tax returns, and there was no way around it. So our income was higher and we received $1,900 instead of $2,400. I was OK with that. But the actual amount was about of the check was $1,911, not $1,900, and therein lies the problem.

Our third stimulus is once based again on our 2019 tax return instead of 2020. I got our new Economic Impact Payment card last week, and the amount on it is only $131.04, instead of $5,600.

For round three, I wanted to rush through my taxes so the stimulus payment would NOT be based on my 2019 taxes, but rather on our more typical income that we received in 2020. We were due to get the full amount, which is $5,600 for the four of us.

But when I did my 2020 taxes, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I could get that extra $500 from the second round if I filled in the blanks correctly on my tax return. Turbo Tax INTU, -0.23%, to its credit, advised me to enter exactly the correct stimulus I got for Round 2 to avoid a delay.

I should have listened. I thought it was a safe bet to leave it at $1,900 — not $1,911. There’s my mistake. We are due a tax refund of about $5,400 for 2020, because we made a sizeable donation to charity last year with some of my father’s inheritance. I filed our taxes well over a month ago, but it still only says “received” when I check the status. I think it’s because of my $11 mistake.

Because of this delay, our third stimulus is once based again on our 2019 tax return instead of 2020. I got our new Economic Impact Payment card last week, and the amount on it is only $131.04, instead of $5,600. I’ve since learned that I can claim this money, but not until next year when I file my 2021 taxes.

So because of my mistake, I’m still waiting for our $5,400 refund, and our $5,600 stimulus payment, for up to a year. Ouch.

What say you?

Tom

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

Dear Tom,

Ouch is right.

I commend your stoicism in the face of your delay. And it is only a delay. That’s the good news.

Here are the instructions from the IRS: “If there’s a mistake with the credit amount on Line 30 of the 1040 or 1040-SR, the IRS will calculate the correct amount, make the correction and continue processing the return. If a correction is needed, there may be a slight delay in processing the return and the IRS will send the taxpayer a letter or notice explaining any change.”

Here are some common reasons the IRS may have to correct the credit: You were claimed as a dependent on another person’s 2020 tax return. You did not provide the correct Social Security number. And math errors relating to calculating adjusted gross income and (where you were hoisted on your own petard) previously-paid economic impact payments.

‘You have also touched upon one of the most challenging aspects of the coronavirus pandemic: The waiting game.’

“Taxpayers who receive a notice saying the IRS changed the amount of their 2020 credit should read the notice,” the IRS adds. “Then they should review their 2020 tax return, the requirements and the work sheet in the Form 1040 and Form 1040-SR instructions.” You can also check here for additional information to explain what other mistakes may have occurred.

You are in a fortunate position, of course. You will survive without the check. But you have also touched upon one of the most challenging aspects of the coronavirus pandemic: The waiting game. You think your stimulus check is on the way, but then you realize you filled out a form incorrectly. Or you believe that restaurants will open up again and they do, until they don’t.

Behavioral economist George Loewenstein wrote about this phenomenon in an essay for MarketWatch. “One of the things that makes waiting most unpleasant is uncertainty,” he said. “This is even true of good things. Waiting for a date or a vacation or a wedding that one is confident will happen can be mildly pleasurable, but the tiniest bit of uncertainty, and the pleasure is gone.”

You know that your stimulus check is coming. I am glad you have chosen to take pleasure in that.

The Moneyist: ‘I cut his hair because he won’t pay for a haircut’: My multimillionaire husband is 90. I’ve looked after him for 41 years, but he won’t help my son

Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook FB, -0.86%  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.

By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.