Lots of hands up in the air indicating they have questions

Ask Me Anything: Credit Reports, Storing Potatoes, Deadbeat Relatives and More!

I don’t really have a mailbag but it would be fun if I did. What I do have is a file named EC_Mailbag. That’s where I save all of the questions and letters that you, my Dear Readers, send to me. I just don’t have the time to respond personally so I love it when I get to answer your questions here.

Arms and hands outstretched to ask questions

 

Here is a quick summary of the questions I’ll answer in today’s post. You can click on one to go straight to it, or just scroll through to read all. Enjoy!

Contents

1. Is it legal for a prospective employer to ask for my credit report?

2. What’s wrong with storing potatoes in the refrigerator?

3. Please add a Print button to these articles

4. My deadbeat sister won’t repay my loan!

5. Teens and their expensive taste in clothes

6. Help with ugly, stained concrete, please!

7. How to get dingy, gray laundry white again?

 

 Q1: At a recent job interview, I filled out the application, which included a form asking for permission to obtain my credit report. I’ve fallen behind on a number of payments since I was laid off six months ago. Can my bad credit hamper my chances of getting the job? Is it even legal? Doug

Dear Doug: Yes, it is legal for prospective employers to request your credit report as part of the interview process. A credit report has become more than just a list of creditors. It’s a kind of character reference. Employers want to see how a potential employee manages his or her life. If you are sloppy with your personal affairs, can they expect the same kind of sloppiness on the job?

These days, a credit report shows lots of things other than late payments. If you’ve been evicted, had a judgment filed against you, a tax lien, or you have a civil action pending—all of that can show up. Does a potential employer have a right to know all of that? I guess you’d have to think like an employer to answer that question. At any rate, making sure you keep your credit report as squeaky clean as possible is beneficial for many reasons.

I suggest you get a free physical copy of your credit report (annualcreditreport.com, the only source for free credit reports, as authorized by federal law) to see exactly what’s on it. If there are negative, albeit true, entries, write up a simple explanation and have it available should a potential employer, landlord, even insurance agent (yes, they look, too) make a similar request in the future. Offer a simple upfront explanation.  This may help you get past that issue.

Q2: I just read a past column on keeping produce fresh longer (A Crash Course in How to Store Fresh Fruits and Vegetables) You said to not refrigerate potatoes. Why not? I have been doing this for several years. Dee

Dear Dee: When potatoes are stored below 40ºF the starch in them turns to sugar. Consequently, this affects the taste and you will also notice that refrigerated potatoes turn an ugly brownish color once cooked. The ideal storage conditions for potatoes are a dark, cool, well-ventilated place like the lowest shelf in a pantry. Too much light makes potatoes turn green. If that happens or if they spout, you can still use them. Just cut off the green spots and the sprouts before you cook them. 

Next time you cruise the produce section at the supermarket notice how the potatoes are handled: Never refrigerated and kept perfectly dry.

Again, thanks for loving these articles [posts, columns]. Knowing you’re out there reading, learning and enjoying is what keeps me going!

Q3: I love your daily posts, and have a request. Would you consider adding a Print button to your posts so we can easily print them out in a printer-friendly format? I would love that and I’m sure others would as well. Jenn

Dear Jenn: Thanks for your practical question. I’ve included a Print option for many years, now. It’s small and located at the end of every post before the comments section. It looks like this. When you click on either print or pdf you will get an option to delete paragraphs or sections you may not want to print or save. I hope that helps!

Q4: Last month, I lent my sister $500 to pay her rent since she said she was in a jam. She has yet to pay me back, but she eats out every day and gets weekly manicures. I’m seething. What can I say to get my money back?  Christy

Dear Christy: The business side of my brain suggests that you review the repayment terms in the Promissory Note she signed. The “sister” part of me says you probably didn’t think you would need that. A written agreement makes sure that everyone has the same expectations—even sisters. As it is, you expected her to pay you back complete with a mushy thank you note. Her expectations? Who knows. However, she may think you’ve got so much money you haven’t even missed it.

I don’t blame you for being upset, but is $500 worth destroying your relationship? That’s what will happen if you let your anger turn into bitterness. You need to accept that she may never pay you back. Once you stop seething, say to her, “Let’s figure out a repayment schedule that’s comfortable for you.”

In summary, do everything you can to work it out, and then write it down. If she ever pays you back, consider it a bonus. And the next time you decide to lend money to anyone, put your expectations in writing—before you write the check.

Q5: Now that school has started, I dread the thought of clothes shopping for the kids. We don’t have unlimited funds and I won’t go into debt for new clothes. But my teenage daughters have very high expectations. They have certain brands they insist on and I just don’t know how to handle this. Any ideas you could offer would be greatly appreciated. Belinda

I have just the idea to answer your question. Go to the bank and withdraw the cash you have earmarked for school clothes. Get two envelopes and put half of the money in each. Now tell your girls you’re taking them out to lunch. Really build this up, but don’t give away your secret. Act excited. They’ll be so curious to know what’s up with mom!

At lunch, explain to them that you are so proud of the way they are growing into young ladies, and that you trust them more than they might believe. In fact, you trust them so much you are going to allow them to do their own clothes shopping for school.

Next, reveal to them your shortlist of rules. These should include any dress codes their school enforces, as well as your own. Make sure they understand these rules completely. You will have to be very specific and very detailed because kids always look for loopholes. For example, if you have a length requirement for skirts, state that in “inches from the floor” rather than saying “not too short.” Hand them their envelopes and tell them this is their money to spend on clothes. When it’s gone, that’s it until next spring (or next fall … whatever you decide).

Your girls will be in shock. Should they ask for guidance, be there. But don’t take over and for goodness sake don’t comment on their choices, provided they have not broken the rules. And if they do buy things that are not allowed, in the trash or back to the store they go.

Consequently, you will be surprised just how your girls change their standards when it’s “their” money they’re spending. Good luck. I think you are going to be pleasantly surprised just how well they will do.

There is so much more I would love to tell you about building financial literacy in children. That’s why I suggest you read my book, Raising Financially Confident Kids. Keep an eye on your mailbox because I’m sending you an autographed copy.

Q6: Five years ago we replaced our entryway steps and now the concrete has developed green/brown stains from dead, wet leaves, etc. How can we remove these stains? Bud

Dear Bud: The leaf stains are caused by tannins, the same type of compounds that are found in grapes and make wine taste “dry.” Tannin stains on outdoor concrete may not permanent, but they can be difficult to remove. Fresh stains often go away on their own, provided they are exposed to the powerful bleaching action of the sun. Fresh stains are easier to remove than older stains. Powdered detergents that contain bleaching agents that remove organic stains like food, blood and plant material can effectively clean old, stubborn stains from concrete surfaces, according to Concrete Network.

Here are the steps to follow, making sure you have placed a tarp over nearby plants to protect them from cleaning products. Always test a small, inconspicuous area of the concrete before you apply the cleaner to the stain:

  1. First start by washing leaf debris from the concrete with a power washer.
  2. Then apply Cascade powdered dishwasher detergent to the stain while the concrete is still damp. Let the detergent sit for a few minutes.
  3. Next scrub the stain with a stiff non-metal brush.
  4. Finally, rinse all the soap off the concrete with the power washer.
  5. If needed, add more detergent and repeat the cleaning and rinsing process if the stain is still there.

For extremely tough stains that cannot be completely removed following the steps above, continue to the next level:

  1. First mix 1 cup liquid chlorine bleach with 2 gallons of water in a bucket.
  2. Then apply the mixture to the concrete and let it sit without drying for five minutes.
  3. Finally, scrub the stain vigorously with the brush and rinse off the bleach mixture with a power washer.
  4. To avoid conspicuous bleached areas, clean the entire concrete surface instead of spot-cleaning the stain.

Caution: Never mix chlorine bleach with anything other than water.

Q7: What can I do to make my white sheets, duvet cover, towels, socks, T-shirts and even delicate items that have become yellowed or dingy gray, white again? Linda

Dear Linda: Great question. Here is one of my favorite stain recipes:

  1. First pour 1 cup Super Washing Soda and 1 cup Cascade automatic dishwashing powder into a large pail, bucket or another large container like an ice chest, which works well.
  2. Next add the hottest tap water you can get. (I usually boil water in a tea kettle, pour that in, then finish filling with HOT tap water.)
  3. Then stir until both seem to be fairly well dissolved. Add the stained and or yellowed item(s) immediately while the water is still HOT, making sure everything is saturated.
  4. Cover if possible and allow to soak anywhere from a couple of hours to overnight.
  5. Finally, wring out and launder as usual.

Note: You can do this in your top-loading washing machine to skip that wringing out step, provided you have the option to pause or stop the cycle to soak, and then proceed in the morning.

UP NEXT:

Genius Laundry Hacks and Tips You’ll Wish You’d Known Sooner

How to Get Rid of The Dreaded Toilet Bowl Ring

WD-40 to the Rescue for Every Problem Around the House


Ask her anything? Generally, Mary selects questions with universal appeal and a high likelihood that others have the same or similar questions. Keep watching for yours to show up in a future post And here’s a hint: Well-written, complete messages with a clear situation and question get special consideration.

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10 replies
  1. lgj
    lgj says:

    I know of at least one local grocery store that refrigerates their bags of potatoes…I waded thru a lot of freshly restocked bags once for the one with the least condensation inside so the potatoes would last longer. Shame on them!

    Reply
  2. Nichole
    Nichole says:

    RE Kids clothes. Once they learn how EXPENSIVE things are, one might coach them into exploring resale/thrift/eBay/the like to stretch that budget. I have found jeans that retail for over $150 new for 3 bucks a pair. Sometimes the tags are still on them. Dress that sell for 300+ for $19 and were worn once or twice. Yeah, someone else wore them, but it’s nothing a little wash can’t fix. Aside from Undergarments and shoes, our household rarely buys new, and we’re often asked how we can ‘afford’ our designer wardrobe on our income. We don’t. We buy second hand.

    Reply
  3. Donna I Jenkins
    Donna I Jenkins says:

    Jenn asked about a Print button on your articles and you explained that you’ve had one for years at the end of the article and just before the comments section. I have scoured the entire article, comments, everything and cannot find either the Print or PDF buttons. Am I doing something wrong? For years I’ve been playing around with Copy and Paste, but it takes so long. I would love the Print feature if i could just find it. Thanks for your help!

    Reply
  4. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    Looked this up b/c we are involved in hiring. Thought I would share:
    At least ten states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington) have passed laws prohibiting employers from pulling credit reports at all or restricting how and when employers may use them to make hiring or other job decisions. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), more than 20 states are currently considering similar legislation. At least ten states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington) have passed laws prohibiting employers from pulling credit reports at all or restricting how and when employers may use them to make hiring or other job decisions. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), more than 20 states are currently considering similar legislation.

    Reply
  5. Terri
    Terri says:

    RE: lending money. One of my coworkers is very good with money. His sister in law asked to borrow money because her husband lost his job. He asked her all the questions a bank would ask (how much do you need, what weekly payments can you afford, what other financial obligations do you have?) She decided not to borrow the money, and everyone avoided an uncomfortable situation.

    Reply
  6. Suzanne Patterson
    Suzanne Patterson says:

    I wish that I could remember where I first heard this very useful bit of advice, but it’s been many years ago now. It’s to never lend money you can’t afford to give away. Having a kind and generous heart is a good thing, but not if you or your family must do without because you lent money that will never be repaid. Requiring a signed promissory note is good money management. But many people, especially family or close friends, will ignore it, and then you’ll be faced with the decision to either let it go as a lost cause or take legal action. Neither of those choices is appealing. So I stick to that good advice I heard years ago. I’ve had to say no at times, but also was able to say yes to a request for a loan when I knew that never being repaid wouldn’t hurt my family. And it’s worked out well for us.

    Reply
    • Michelle
      Michelle says:

      I do the same. I only lend money if it’s an amount I’m willing or able to lose should the recipient choose not to repay. I tell them it’s a loan, but in my own mind I consider it a gift. Then, if they actually repay, it’s a win-win.

      Reply

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