The Feds Think Married Chicks Are Rich

"Don't worry honey, I'll fund your Spousal Roth IRA!"

I recently began a reorganization of my finances prompted by one evening of watching about a dozen podcasts of The Suze Orman Show back to back. Prompted by everyone’s favorite  Midwestern Folksy Financial Power Lesbian, I decided to get my money stuff organized for 2010. I am drafting will and trust documents this month.  I came up with a debt repayment and retirement savings schedule (if I stick to it, I will have about $875,000 in retirement investments by age 65 – not too bad). The hubby and I also discussed buying a home and have begun to save for the down payment.

As I was using one of those Roth IRA calculators online I noticed a link to the IRS website. On that page, I found another link to an IRS publication: Publication 590. I clicked on this link and downloaded this document in PDF. It is basically a “what’s new with retirement account tax stuff” thing that’s about 110 pages long. In it, I found some startling information about Roth IRAs. Apparently, if your tax filing status is Married Filing Separately and you lived with your spouse during the tax year, you cannot contribute to a Roth IRA if your adjusted gross income exceeds $10,000. Why is this a problem for me? Well, as some of you may know, Congress recently made some great changes to the Federal Direct student loan program. The new law established some more realistic repayment options for borrowers in this shit economy we are all living through. They now have an income-based repayment plan. But here is the catch: if you are married, you have to file your taxes separately in order to qualify for the program. I knew this before I got married. It was one of the many things I researched when deciding how marriage would affect my money. But I did not know that if hubby and I filed separately, I could not contribute to my Roth IRA. Fuck.

For those of you who don’t know, if you make under a certain amount of money (under $105,000 if you are single, or head of household, and under $166,000 if you are married filing jointly or a qualifying widow(er)), you can contribute up to $5,000 per year in a Roth IRA. Unlike a Traditional IRA where you can deduct the contributions you make off of your taxes, Roth IRA contributions are made with after tax dollars. Why is this good? It’s good because in my opinion (and according to Suze Orman) it is better to pay taxes on money now while you are young and able to work than to pay them when you are old and no longer working. Because these contributions are made with after tax dollars, any withdraws made when I retire are tax-free. I love this.

But now because I am married it seems that I have to choose between a great retirement investment that I want to keep and a student loan payment that I can afford. If we were living together but not married, this would not be the case. Let’s look at the situation more closely: I could contribute to a Roth IRA if I filed separately and made less than $10,000 per year. I ask you: what kind of married woman (other than one who is poor and probably cannot afford to save for retirement) earns less than $10,000 per year? Most likely it is a stay at home mom or someone with a part-time job. She can contribute to a Roth on her own (which she could only do if she had no other expenses except for saving for retirement), or she can qualify for a spousal Roth IRA – the money that her husband earns can be contributed on her behalf to an account in her name. The only type of spouse that fits this profile is a dependent one – usually a wife. In a really fucked up way, it seems that the federal government is rewarding financial dependence on a spouse through the tax code and punishing those spouses who earn their own money and want to keep it separate. So who are they really punishing? Married women who work. Women who do not fit the heteronormative, pronatalist idea of what wives should be doing with their time.

I am currently on a graduated repayment plan for my federal loans, which lowers the payment, but speaking as a person who makes about $17,500 less than what I thought I was going to make upon graduating from law school, I am struggling with this payment. I am especially struggling now because I also have to pay off my commercial student loan, plus a car, and credit cards that I ran up balances on during the 18 months I was unemployed after law school. If I wanted to do the income-based repayment plan and filed taxes jointly, the payment would be $1,065 per month – because they would include my husband’s income. My question is: Why??? These are not his loans. They are not his responsibility. But because the government considers married folk to be an economic unit, it doesn’t matter. They assume our money is mixed. They assume that all expenses are jointly paid for and in an increasing number of marriages, this is simply not the case. So if I file my taxes jointly, the Federal Direct Loan program thinks that I am rich and can afford a thousand dollar loan payment. Note: If I were still single with the same income, my payment under the income based plan would be less than what I now pay. So I am only eligible for mercy on my student loans if I file separately, because otherwise they think I am rich, and I am only eligible for a favorable retirement account if I file jointly because if I have enough money to file separately…they think I’m rich. That is so fucked up.

So what’s my plan? I have decided that it is in my best interests to suffer now, rather than later. Why? Because I know that I will probably never be one of those really high earners – I’ve accepted that. So I have to be a slow and steady saver. I’m lucky – I have 33 years to save. And I want a tax-free retirement account to draw from when I am older. Dependence upon a spouse for your retirement is not a good financial plan. You have to make your own plans. In this regard, as in some others, I am still very “onely.” Who knows what will happen. I could end up divorced – half the people who get married do. He could die or become disabled. These are all awful things, but I think it is wise to remain in a situation where if I needed to be on my own again, I could be. And actuarially and statistically speaking, it is likely that I will be single again someday. That means I need my own retirement accounts – funded by money that I earn, my own insurance, and my own savings.

This is the challenge of the New Married Woman. The one who doesn’t follow the Wife Script laid down by the Marriage Cult. We have to figure out how to maintain  financial independence, while living interdependently in a practical sense, and resisting the financial dependence that our government and our culture is trying to force upon us. Yes, it is true that married women receive privileges from the government and from society at large – but only a certain kind of married woman.


Another Bullshit News Story About Looking For “The One”

My morning would have been perfect were it not for this morning news story that I saw while on the treadmill this morning at the gym in my apartment building. There is an enormous flat screen TV in there and others like to watch the news in addition to listening to their iPods. While rocking out to Lady Gaga at the end of my workout, the Chicago NBC affiliate, Channel 5,  ran a story about a women named Neenah who is 43 and lives in New Jersey. She decided that she would spend the year 2009 looking for a husband. She explains on her website:

52 weeks 2 Find Him is a social experiment that focuses on a 43 year-old woman’s journey to find her husband.  It is an online documentary that is shaped by Neenah’s actions and reactions, along with viewers’ participation.  What happens when a woman invites the world to become her dating coach?  Each week, we invite you to tune-in and join-in by helping with Neenah’s search, as she explores: the many methods of meeting eligible men, preparing for dates, and maintaining a healthy, romantic relationship.”

Ugh. One more time, for the cheap seats in the back: Not all single people want to be married. In fact I have been trying lately to enjoy some of the experiences I got to have everyday when I was NOT coupled, like going to the movies on my own or having the apartment to myself when he is away on business. By making your search for a husband public, I think it legitimizes the bogus idea that searching for a husband is what every other single woman should be doing. Here’s what I can tell you about having a husband: it’s good. Not life changing. Not magical. Not sacred. It’s good. Some days it is better than good, and some days it isn’t. I am sure my husband would say the same about having a wife.

I just hate these  stories. By the way, she never did find Mr. Right. And guess what? That was the story this morning – that her grand experiment had failed. The woman reading the news (I don’t call them “journalists” these days – they are mostly “Newsmodels”) even had this look of sympathy on her face, as though this was the saddest thing she had ever heard. For me, the sad part was that this story ran before the story about the President’s reaction to the underwear bomber. Would have loved to have been in the newsroom for that decision.

By the way, if you are interested, I just finished a book called The Meaning of Wife. It is an examination of the modern wife role – and check out the cover. It’s an interesting read. But parts of it will make you mad, I guarantee. It’s like Gloria Steinem once said: “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.”

What’s In a Name?

I’m back, bitches!

I moved into my Chicago apartment on LaSalle Drive and am happy as a clam. I opened my mail box for the first time this week and received three pieces of mail. The first was a bill, of course. The second and third were cards. One a belated “wedding card” (whatever) and the other a holiday card. The two cards were addressed to Mr. & Mrs. X. They were from two of my husband’s relatives (my family knows better). I wish I could blame this on the fact that these relatives are of an older generation of people who don’t get that many women keep their names now. However, they are more indicative of the status quo than we would like to believe. I recently read a survey that said 70% of Americans believe women should change their names when they marry. A whopping 50% said that it should be required by law. When I showed my husband the cards he sighed and told me that when he saw these relatives at Thanksgiving, he told them that I did not change my name when we married.

Now some may think this is not a big deal but I do. It’s one in a series of assumptions that people have been making since I got married. They think that I will change my mind about not wanting children now that I am married. They think that I will “settle down” now that I am married, whatever that means. They assume that I cook for my husband. His mother has asked him more than once whether I cook for him and my mother even suggested that I do as a way to get him to eat healthier. My husband is a grown man. He is capable of taking care of himself and whether or not he is eating healthy is his responsibility, not mine. Besides, I only enjoy cooking for one. Cooking for more than one person takes too long and is too big of a time commitment. Call me selfish. Fine. Furthermore, my husband and I are two separate people. We do not like the same food. I don’t enjoy meat very much – he loves meat. I like various herbs and spices that he hates. We both do our own grocery shopping and cook our own food. I am not his mother. He is an adult. He was making his own food before I came along – why do people think this would change just because we are married?

So what’s in a name? A lot. This female name-change crap is a loaded issue. It is a representation of the NEW person that you are supposed to become when you marry. The assumption that I should now be known as Mrs. X is the Marriage Cult saying: “You’re doing it wrong.” Singlism is also part of the Marriage Cult. You are berated and pitied for being single, but when you do marry, the Cult shames or annoys you into silently acquiescing to a Stepford-esque marital persona that is designed to make everyone else comfortable, despite the fact that it is the furthest thing from an authentic version of you. There are things you are expected to do, wear, feel, think and buy in order for the community to feel that you are a real married couple.

To the above I respond: The Marriage Cult can kiss my Name-Keeping ass!

Too Busy to Blog

I will not be posting much on this blog over the next few weeks. I am trying to focus on my weight loss blog and am also in the process of writing a book. The book is on an entirely different subject matter, but I am spread too thin these days…between two blogs, full time work, and a book in the works, something has got to give!

I am trying to decide whether I want to discontinue this blog completely. It seems odd to keep writing it now that I am not longer single in the legal sense. But for now I am just taking a break…Be well.

Wife is the Word…It’s Got Groove, It’s Got Meaning

My husband was admitted to the hospital Thursday night with chest pains. I dropped him off at the entrance to the emergency room and he was sent to triage where they took his vitals. I parked the car and ran into the ER to find him and make sure he was alright.

I uttered this declaration to the triage nurse: I’m his wife. And just like that, I was allowed to go back and be with him throughout the entire process, save for the ex-rays and ultrasounds. I was also able to fill out his insurance information for him while he was examined, which I would not have been able to do if we were not married. He’s fine, thank goodness. They think it was probably a esophageal spasm, which can sometimes mimic the symptoms of a heart attack. Whew!

Now I am sure that there are hospitals that let girlfriends or domestic partners have the same privileges as married couples. But if they did not, a person would have no legal ground to stand on to force them to do otherwise absent a law giving a person the right to be with their partner in a medical emergency.  My point is simple: In a hospital emergency, there are only 4 words that mean anything: spouse, parent, child, or sibling. Other than adoption, marriage is the only way to create a “next-of-kin” relationship with someone that is not a blood relative. Unfortunately we have not yet reached the Promised Land where all couples have equal rights – I hope we get there someday soon.

Rate Your State Part 11: The Empire State

Ah…New York. I went to college there and lived there for 4 years after, in the city so nice they named it twice! The State of New York has an interesting history. It was originally established as a Dutch trading post. The English took it over after the Second Anglo-Dutch War in 1667. It’s Dutch origins is why most of the oldest blue blood families of New York were Dutch: The Roosevelts, The Vanderbilts, the Dykemans, etc…Harlem was named after the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands and was a small agricultural town in the 1760s. Remember that for a long time, New York’s heavily populated areas really extended only as far at about 23rd Street. Prior to the late 1800s, development further north included Central Park, built in the 1850s or so and large mansions and brownstones where the wealthy lived.

Anyhoo, New York recognizes gay marriages from other states, and sometimes the family court has recognized domestic partnerships for both gay and straight couples when dividing assets after a relationship’s conclusion. However, unmarried folks, you need a will because “life partner” doesn’t mean shit if your beloved dies with no will.

It’s a cryin’ shame. In this case instead of I Heart NY, I would have to say: “Unmarried? Wanna inherit your partner’s goods without a will? Fuhgeddaboutit!”

Our Lost Lion of the Senate

I know this really doesn’t have anything to do with the subject matter of this blog, but I thought it deserved mention. What can I say about the death of Senator Edward Kennedy?  A punk-ass rich kid who, somewhere along the way, decided to grow up and became the tour de force of the American Left. Great man. Great statesman. For videos of some of his best speeches, check out this HuffPo link.