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Liz Pulliam Weston, Published October 16 2011

Money Talk: Going back to school may hinder more than help

Q: I’m 64 and have a master’s degree in education but can’t find a job. Is it too late to go back to school? I was thinking of majoring in occupational therapy.

A: It’s never too late to go back to school – but it is possible to spend too much doing so.

The good news is that occupational therapy is a fast-growing field with many job opportunities. The bad news is that you typically need a master’s degree to be an occupational therapist, and master’s programs (as you know) aren’t cheap.

Plus, your age is a factor to consider. Getting hired after 50 is tough, regardless of your field.

So rather than invest a ton of money in a master’s program – or worse yet, borrow to fund this education – consider becoming an occupational therapy assistant. This field is relatively high-paying and usually requires an associate’s degree, which you can get at a low-cost community college.

Before you begin, though, you should research the job opportunities in your area to make sure demand is high enough that your age will be less of a factor.

Q: I need help. I am getting ripped off by a company that advertises on television. The company bills your credit card for stuff you didn’t order. They need to be exposed and stopped. Can you help me? They don’t even have an email address to contact, and they seem to be ruthless. How can they be allowed to advertise on TV and fool the public? It is sick! I tried to cancel, and they said it was already shipped.

A: You have far more faith in television advertisers than you should. Just about anyone can buy advertising time, including scam artists, as long as their check to the station or channel doesn’t bounce.

Call your credit card company and let them know you’ve been scammed. Then create a paper trail: Follow up with a written letter asking that the charges be removed, your account closed and a new account opened with different numbers, because the scammer may try charging you again.

In the future, you should regard all advertisers, whatever the medium, with skepticism. If you’re purchasing from a company for the first time, at a minimum you should research its return policy and make sure it has multiple ways to be contacted in case there’s a problem. An Internet search that combines the company’s name with the word “scam” also can be illuminating.

Q: This is a response to your answer to the reader who asked why home refinancing wasn’t simpler. All the reasons you cite are the same ones that banks cite. But they are all irrelevant for refinances conducted by the same lender.

I am assuming two things about the reader’s situation: 1) They haven’t been late on any payment, let alone missed one, and 2) they are seeking to lower an interest rate that is higher than current market. If so, then it doesn’t matter if the house is in poor condition, if the person’s income has declined or even if the person has a job.

While the new tighter standards are relevant to new loans, the bank already has this one, and it’s in the bank’s best interest to make sure it remains a good loan. If a keystroke refi with a lower interest rate helps ensure that, then why not?

A: If it were in banks’ best interests to make sure their home loans remained in good standing, we probably wouldn’t be in the real estate mess we’re in today. Banks would have been far more willing to refinance or modify loans than they have been.

In fact, most banks don’t hang on to the loans they make. The loans are sold to investors, and the bank becomes the loan servicer, essentially just processing the payments.

Once you understand that, you understand that a refinance is, in fact, a new loan that must meet the criteria of the investors that will eventually buy the loan. Today, the vast majority of home loans are purchased by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two taxpayer-owned entities that already have billions of dollars in bad loans on their books. They aren’t interested in adding any more.


Liz Weston is the author of “The 10 Commandments of Money: Survive and Thrive in the New Economy.” Questions for possible inclusion in her column may be sent to 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604 or via http://asklizweston.com.