Ask Me Anything: Credit Reports, Storing Potatoes, Deadbeat Relatives

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.

Dear Mary: At a recent job interview, I filled out the application, which included a form asking for permission to obtain and review 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 under federal legislation, which allows employers to conduct credit checks of potential employees. However, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington all limit the use of employment credit checks.

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.

Dear Mary: I just read a past column on keeping produce fresh longer where you said to not refrigerate potatoes. Why not? I have been doing this for several years. — Dee

Dear Dee: When potatoes are stored below 40 F, the starch in them turns to sugar. Consequently, this affects the taste. And you may have noticed that refrigerated potatoes turn an ugly brownish color once cooked. The ideal storage condition for potatoes is a dark, cool, well-ventilated place, like the lowest shelf in a pantry or basement. Too much light makes potatoes turn green. If that happens or if they sprout, 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!

Dear Mary: Last December, I lent my sister $500 to help 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.

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Mary Hunt