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Boomerang Graduates*

Dealing With 'Boomerang' Graduates

By Michelle Singletary

Sunday, June 3, 2001; Page H01

Look who's back.

Soon after you wipe the sweat from your brow, close your wallet and celebrate that your child has made it through college, you realize something: Your graduate is coming home, not just for cake and ice cream but to stay with you for a few months or maybe a few years.

Increasingly, adult children are returning home to live with -- or, in some cases, live off -- their parents. Jobtrak.com, an online job service for students, surveyed college students last year and found that 60 percent of them said they planned to live with their parents after graduation. Twenty-four percent said they planned to live at home for more than a year.

Some experts say the slowdown in the economy is leading to an increase in the number of these "boomerang" children. Debt may be one reason more young adults are moving back home.

Nellie Mae, a subsidiary of the better-known Sallie Mae and an originator of post-secondary education loans, reports that the percentage of college students with four or more credit cards had climbed from 27 percent in 1998 to 32 percent in 2000. The average credit card debt rose 46 percent, from $1,879 to $2,748. Nearly 10 percent of students owe more than $7,000.

And the General Accounting Office reports that a growing number of college graduates are coming out of school with more than $20,000 in student-loan debts. So what should you do if Junior or Princess wants to move back home? Charge rent? Share utility bills?

The advice on this particular topic varies greatly, as it should. But you know your child. So act accordingly.

If your adult child is living beyond his or her means, you shouldn't feel guilty about asking for a financial contribution in return for accommodations. Why should you struggle or put off your retirement while the kid happily lives life as a spendthrift?

On the other hand, if your child has always been responsible, you could use the request to move home as an opportunity to help ease into what will be a lifetime of financial obligations.

I moved back home to live with my grandmother after I graduated from college. Big Mama didn't charge me rent. "Baby, just save your money," she would say. Even so, I would slip cash into my grandmother's handbag. I paid some of the utilities and bought groceries. Big Mama was too proud to ask, but I knew she could use the help.

Big Mama also had a long list of rules. For instance, she demanded that I save a set amount of money from my paycheck every week. I couldn't park in her space in front of the house. I couldn't leave shoes under my bed (although I don't remember why). If I was going to be late, I had to call. Her house. Her rules.

Whether you are elated or reluctant about an adult child moving back home, be sure to have a conversation with your new "boarder" about the situation. To get you started, here are some pointers:

• Determine how long the child really plans to stay. Don't leave it open-ended, otherwise Junior will be 37 years old, like the slothful son in the Holiday Inn ad, still handing you his laundry.

• Unless your adult child is paying off some heavy debts or has a specific savings goal, such as buying a home, ask for some help paying household expenses. I think every able-bodied adult bringing home a paycheck should contribute monetarily.

• Establish consequences if your child doesn't honor your agreement. A friend's son moved back home and agreed to pay rent. But he always paid late. So she began charging him a $25 late fee. He started making his payment on time. Charging a late fee might seem excessive, but good bill-paying habits have to start somewhere.

• Don't let your child get too comfortable. You're a mama, not a maid. Roomies should help with household chores. Don't allow your home to be used as a hotel.

• Trust, but verify. If children say they're coming back to pay off bills or save, make sure they keep to that plan. Help them budget. Keep tabs on their progress. The ultimate goal should be to help your children become responsible, self-sufficient adults.

• Put it in writing. I know this is your baby, but in many cases the living situation should be treated like a business arrangement. Writing it down shows just how serious you are. If you see something going on that you don't like (unnecessary spending sprees, shoes under the bed), don't be afraid to amend the "contract."

• If putting your agreement in writing seems too businesslike and not warm and cozy like a mommy and daddy should be, at least have a conversation about the living arrangement. Get all expectations -- yours and your child's out in the open.

Setting up some ground rules now will make it less likely your boomerang baby never leaves the homestead.

Michelle Singletary will discuss today's column on the "Insight" program with Stephanie Gaines-Bryant tomorrow at 6:40 p.m. on WHUR (96.3 FM). She will also discuss love and money in a live online discussion at 1 p.m. Tuesday at www.washingtonpost.com. Comments or column ideas may be sent to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or by e-mail to singletarym@washpost.com.

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