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Daughter Needs to Let Go, Rather Than Cover for Her 'Spendaholic' Father

August 13, 2000|LIZ PULLIAM WESTON

Q: I have a 75-year-old widower father who compulsively uses credit cards. He is a recovering alcoholic with more than 20 years of sobriety, but this has been a longtime problem. Four years ago I paid off all the debts--$50,000 worth--by using most of the money he got from selling his dental practice. Within the last 18 months he has opened new accounts and has charged another $30,000. What can I do to keep him from getting run over by the Mack truck he is standing in front of? He is in complete denial and doesn't think he has a problem, even though he is barely making the minimum monthly payments. Can I get his name off credit card company mailing lists? Can I contact the credit bureaus so they will stop providing his name to card companies?

A: Unless you're willing to go to court and try to have your father declared incompetent, your options are limited. Going to court isn't a sure-fire solution, either. Heaven knows that if overspending were the only criteria for incompetence, half the American population and even our own federal government could have qualified for a conservatorship at some point.

Your father needs to be the one to take the action--not you. If he's a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, chances are he already knows about other 12-step programs, such as Debtors Anonymous, that could help him deal with his compulsion.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 15, 2000 Home Edition Business Part C Page 3 Financial Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Money Talk--The Money Talk column in Sunday's Business section misstated the government entity that requires seismic gas shut-off valves for homes. The valves are required by the city of Los Angeles.

It's good that you used his money, not your own, to bail him out the first time, but you may have just delayed the inevitable. He may need the train wreck of collections or bankruptcy to bring him to his senses. Or he may never get better.

Some older people run up huge debts because they believe they're going to die soon and the debts will somehow be "forgiven." They don't count on living another 20 years with few resources and the stain of delinquencies on their credit report.

It may relieve you to know that you and your siblings won't be responsible for his debts--his estate will. That could still leave you the hassle of negotiating with credit card companies after his death, especially if there are too few assets left to pay all the bills. That's certainly not the legacy a thoughtful parent would want to leave his children, but addicts aren't known for their concern for others.

This may sound odd coming from a financial columnist, but have you considered attending Al-Alnon? This support group for friends and families of alcoholics is based on the 12-step program pioneered by AA. While you might not learn how to stop your father, you can learn how to limit the impact of his addiction on your own life. You already spent your formative years tending to, covering for and cleaning up after your alcoholic father. It would be a shame to spend any more time repeating those old patterns.

Figuring Out One's Tax Bracket

Q: I have never known how to find out what my tax bracket is. I make $45,000 to $50,000. How does one know?

A: Your tax bracket is the same as your marginal tax rate--the rate you pay on the last $1 of income that you earn in a year. You can find federal tax rate schedules at the back of most tax preparation books, or by doing a little hunting on the Internet (or, of course, in the IRS' annual instructions booklet).

The Times has last year's combined federal and California state brackets for singles and married couples filing jointly on its Web site at http://www.latimes.com/taxes; click on "Tax Brackets" on the left side of the page. If you're looking for federal rates only, try http://www.quicken.com.

Your tax rate is determined by your taxable income--what's left after various deductions, exemptions and adjustments are made to your total income. To find your taxable income, grab last year's tax return and look on line 6 if it's a Form 1040EZ, line 24 on Form 1040A or line 39 on a regular Form 1040.

Your tax rate is also determined by your filing status--single, married filing jointly, married filing separately or head of household. If you're single, earned $45,000 last year and took the standard deduction, then your taxable income was $38,050. You paid taxes on the first $25,350 of your taxable income at the 15% rate; the final $12,700 of taxable income was taxed at the 28% rate. Your tax bracket, then, was 28%.

Gas Shut-Off Valve a Good Idea

Q: I was just reading your July 16 article about earthquake-proofing and was surprised about the reference to a seismic gas shut-off valve. Though I agree it is a good idea, I was told it is required only when selling or doing major construction on your house, such as a remodel over $10,000. Am I missing something?

A: Not at all. Los Angeles County only enforces the law when you sell or get a remodeling permit, but the valve is nonetheless required for all homes in the county and is, as you note, a darn good idea in any case.

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Liz Pulliam Weston is a personal finance writer for The Times and a graduate of the personal financial planning certificate program at UC Irvine. Questions can be sent to her at liz.pulliam@latimes.com or mailed to her in care of Money Talk, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. She regrets that she cannot respond personally to queries. For past Money Talk questions and answers, visit The Times' Web site at http://www.latimes.com/moneytalk.

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