I am a retired senior with about $400,000 in CDs, IRAs and stocks (now falling quickly). My youngest son had accumulated enormous “living” credit card debt while in graduate school. He was earning a starvation stipend as a post doc, while living expenses in Cambridge, Mass., were astronomical: for example $800 + $350 per month for one room and utilities. Consequently, he charged everything else on credit cards. When he finished the program, he had a $25,000 in debt (plus enormous school loans now due), and it seemed as if the only choice was bankruptcy. (He knew the school loans had to be paid.) It also took him quite a while to find a teaching position in academia. He was quite despondent about the whole thing by that point, and had never asked me for any help — so I volunteered to take over the credit card debt. (I’m not sorry about this, as he has been quite heroic about being responsible for his own education, has had much and still has enough on his shoulders.)

OK, I’ve paid the debt down to about $15,000. Interest on it is 9.9 percent. I still have a mortgage of around $100,000 at 5.5 percent. Social Security income plus interest income plus stock dividends amount to about $30,000 per year.

Question is: Should I take my required minimum distribution from my IRA early in 2008 to pay off a chunk of the credit card debt? I would not want to take a distribution of, say, more than $7,000 to put toward this credit card. The IRA is in a “super money market fund” that earns about 5 percent.
L.Z.

Weston, Conn.

L.Z.,

We all love our kids and want to help them any way we can. I have three kids of my own — I know how you’re feeling. But, you are a retired senior. You have to live off this money. You are not in a financial position to help your son with this kind of debt. You can help him month to month, but don’t take out a large chunk of your money to throw at this. I’m not saying your son has to file bankruptcy. He needs to find additional forms of income — sell stuff or get a second job — and start paying down this debt. He can do it — he’s obviously a hard worker.

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