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Financial Guru, Lynnette Khalfani Cox Answers Your Love and Money Questions

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The economy is in a pitfall and just about everyone is feeling it. Penny pinching, wallet cinching, and frugal forming habits are taking over our lives. What's a sister to do when she's trying to have a social life, keep her man interested and keep the love burning without dipping into her savings? Essence.com went to Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, personal finance expert and author of the New York Times bestseller "Zero Debt: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom." Here's her advice on how to successfully keep love and money apart.

Q. What should you do if you're significant other gets laid off?

Lynnette Khalfani-Cox: With the economy in a recession, hundreds of thousands of people are getting laid off from their jobs every month. The unemployment rate recently hit 7.6%, and more than 11 million Americans are out of work. If your mate gets a pink slip, it's not the end of the world. But you should be prepared to do three critical things: be supportive, help get him evaluate his career options, and possibly shoulder a lot more financial responsibility. Treat him the way you'd want to be treated if you were the one who got terminated.

Q. How do you keep a new guy interested when money is tight? After all, he can't be expected to pay all the time.

Khalfani-Cox: Establish expectations up front -- and they shouldn't be over the top. If you like to be treated, and treated well, let your man know what you like, whether it's the occasional dinner out or gifts every now and again. However, if you come across as a money-hungry diva, you can expect him to consider running in the opposite direction. If you're truly interested in him -- and not his bank account, let him know that he's not expected to pay for everything all the time.

Q. Is it better for couples to set up separate or joint bank accounts?

Khalfani-Cox: Actually, it's better for couples to have both separate accounts and a joint account. You should use the joint account to pay for shared household bills -like the rent or mortgage-as well as to purchase big-ticket items, like that Plasma TV you've both been eyeing. Additionally, separate accounts can be used to develop financial autonomy, learn how to budget money on your own, and reduce financial arguments. According to PayPal's 2009 Can't Buy Me Love survey, 1 in 3 couples surveyed worldwide, and nearly 50% of those in the U.S. said they were arguing more about money because of the current economic downturn. At the same time, more than half of those surveyed said they were maintaining separate accounts. That's one way to minimize money-related battles because with separate accounts neither party has to account for every single penny nor do they have to get "permission" to make routine purchases.

Q. Things are tough for a lot of people right now. What should a sister do if her man asks if he can borrow some money?

Khalfani-Cox: The decision about whether to loan money to your man-or anyone, for that matter-really depends on a lot of factors. How close are the two of you? Is this a casual relationship, are you living together, or have you already tied the knot. Obviously, the tighter the relationship, the more consideration you'll give to a request for cash. But think also about the person's character and ability to repay a so-called "loan." Is he generally good at managing his finances, or do you hear messages from bill collectors on his phone every time you're at his place? That's not a good sign because you could be encouraging him to become financially dependent upon you. Lastly, think about your own finances. Too often, as women, we sacrifice and give to everyone around us, and put our own needs last. Don't go into debt to make a loan, even if you love him.

Q. Is this the right time for couples to look into buying a home when we are hearing so much every day about foreclosures, especially in the Black community?

Khalfani-Cox: Despite the continuing foreclosure problem in the U.S., it's a phenomenal time to buy a home. Interest rates are at historically low levels. Home prices have fallen dramatically, making more homes fare more affordable than they had been in years. Additionally, you can get some juicy tax breaks for become a homeowner. The newly-passed stimulus legislation includes a feature to offer a $8,000 tax break to home buyers. And not just first-timers, either. Lastly, real estate can be a cornerstone for building wealth. So as long as you know what you're getting into, have taken the time to save some money, and have a good credit rating, it's an excellent time to purchase a house.

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