Today’s top story: How to begin taking over your parents’ finances. Also in the news: The psychological roots of your money habits, how to buy a home when you’re self-employed, and the best and worst things to buy online.
Taking Over Parents’ Finances: First Steps
How to handle a delicate situation.
Deciphering Your Money Mindset
Getting to the psychological roots of your money habits.
How to Buy a Home When You’re Self-Employed
It won’t be easy, but it’s doable.
The 10 best and worst items to buy online
Some of these may surprise you.
Today for public radio’s Marketplace Money we talked to a guy who has a $600 a month car payment. It turns out he bought a car worth more than half his annual pay, and financed it over six years. (The segment airs this weekend, if you want to listen in.)
I no longer try to talk car guys out of their love affairs with wheels. But too often they’re prioritizing car payments over retirement savings and other more important goals.
So here, in my continuing “Rules of thumb” series, are three guidelines regarding cars:
Cars, Part I: “Buy used and drive it for at least 10 years.” I run through the numbers in my book “Deal with Your Debt”—you can save a quarter million dollars over your driving lifetime by holding on to cars for 10 years instead of trading them in every five years, assuming the cars cost about $20,000 each in today’s dollars and you finance them for five years. If you buy used and/or pay cash, you’ll save even more. Not only will you buy half as many cars, but you’ll avoid the 20% or so loss to depreciation that happens as soon as you get the keys. Today’s cars are better built and will last longer than ever before, so buying used isn’t the gamble it used to be.
Cars, Part II: “If you have to borrow, follow the 20/4/10 rule.” Make a 20% down payment so you’re not upside down as soon as you drive off the lot. Limit loans to four years and payments to no more than 10% of your income—less if you have other big debts or a fat house payment.
Cars, Part III: “The real cost to own is about twice the monthly payment.” If you’re trying to decide whether you can really afford the car the salesman is pitching, double the payment, since that’s roughly what you’ll pay for insurance, maintenance, repairs, depreciation and other costs averaged over five years. Some cars are much cheaper to own than others, obviously, but keeping the true cost in mind can help cool your ardor for a too-expensive ride. You can get more precise figures about how much a car will cost over five years by using Edmunds.com’s “True Cost to Own” calculators.
Today’s top story: How to stress test your retirement portfolio. Also in the news: Organizing your personal finances with online calculators, avoiding costly college financing mistakes, and five of the dumbest credit moves you shouldn’t make.
Stress-test your retirement portfolio
Can it withstand the pressure?
5 Online Calculators to Help Organize Your Personal Finances
No pocket protector necessary!
The Most Costly College Financing Mistakes: How To Avoid Them
Don’t pay more than you already have to.
5 Ways to Be Green With Your Money
Taking care of Mother Nature does’t have to cost a fortune.
Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I bought a fat paperback test prep book to help me study for the SAT (which, back then, was still known as the Scholarship Aptitude Test). I didn’t buy the book until after I’d already taking the SAT the first time. After studying, I took the test again–and did worse.
Not that I suffered for this experiment. I scored high enough to become a National Merit Scholar, which meant big bucks for college.
I recently asked a friend my age who was also a National Merit Scholar how he prepared for the test. He vaguely remembered being taught a few test-taking strategies in school. But that’s it.
The world’s changed in the past few decades. College is a lot more expensive and elite schools are a lot more competitive. High scores give kids an edge not just for admission but for all-important merit scholarships. Which is why SAT test prep is pretty much a given among upper-income parents. Even less affluent parents are spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars trying to boost their kids’ scores, as I write in my Reuters column this week, “Resist the urge to go overboard with test prep.” Not investing in test prep feels like a gamble that could leave your kid trampled in the dust.
These parents aren’t foolish or deluded. Scores matter, and most teenagers could use some help. My column mentions some free resources, and I highly recommend reading Debbie Stier’s book, “The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT.” Even if you can’t afford private tutors, you can do a lot to help your get your child ready for the test.
Today’s top story: How to pay off your student loan in four years or less. Also in the news: Affordable ways to help someone having a bad time, how healthy living could save you money, and an easy way to tell if you have good credit.
5 Tips For Paying Off Your Student Loans in 4 Years or Less
Shortening the lifespan of the student loan albatross.
6 Affordable Ways to Help Someone Who’s Hurting
It truly is the thought that counts.
How good health will pay off during retirement
Healthy living right now could pay off in the future.
A Super Simple Way to Figure Out If You Have Good Credit
It’s all about the credit report.
Are Reverse Mortgages a Good Idea for Retirees?
A look at the controversial mortgage program.
Dear Liz: I wish to add a little more information for the retired individual who had trouble getting approved for a home equity loan because he had no regular income (although he had plenty of assets). I’d suggest consulting a mortgage broker, not a bank. An independent broker is not captive to one set of policies. My broker suggested that I set up automatic withdrawals from my IRA to show that I had income in addition to Social Security. Once this was done and I met all the other credit requirements, I closed on a refinance in less than 30 days at a very good interest rate. Then, I discontinued my automatic withdrawals and went back to taking my funds as needed. I learned to use a qualified mortgage broker many years ago after a divorce and not having a job. I could not get a mortgage on my own, but my mortgage broker did and at very good terms. Each time I’ve used a broker, the process went smoothly and was stress free.
Answer: Many people don’t realize that lender policies differ quite a bit. In this case, mortgage buyers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have clarified that mortgage lenders can calculate a retiree’s income based on his or her assets, but not all lenders are willing to do the extra work these loans require.
People who are W-2 employees with solid income histories and great credit scores probably don’t need help finding a loan, because plenty of lenders will want to compete for their business. When your situation is outside the norm, however, a mortgage broker may be able to track down a lender when others balk. The National Assn. of Mortgage Brokers at http://www.namb.org offers referrals.
Dear Liz: I am trying to help my retired parents refinance their home. Currently they are paying over 8% interest. (This loan should be illegal.) The problem is their credit score, which is around 536. They had a tax lien in 2004 (it has been paid off for over four years) and some minor credit card issues. The total card debt is less than $1,000. I see several bad footnotes on these cards. Some of the cards have a balance of less than $100. What is the best and fastest way to help them get the mortgage they deserve?
Answer: Your parents don’t have a single credit score. They each have their own scores. Mortgage lenders typically get FICO scores for each borrower from all three credit bureaus, for a total of six scores. Lenders look at the middle score for each person and typically base rates and terms on the lower of those two middle scores.
If that number is indeed 536, your parents have serious, recent credit problems. You may not think an unpaid credit card is a big deal, but it is to credit scoring formulas, which are designed to help lenders gauge a borrower’s risk of default. People with unpaid bills are far more likely to default on a new loan than people who pay their bills on time, and their respective credit scores reflect that reality. What people “deserve” isn’t a factor. How they handle their credit accounts is.
What you’re calling “bad footnotes” are likely records of late payments and perhaps charge-offs and collections activity. Those typically can’t be erased, but your parents can stop the ongoing damage to their credit by paying their bills on time and paying off any overdue bills to their credit card companies.
If the accounts have been sold to collectors, the process gets trickier. Paying off collections typically won’t help credit scores, but lenders usually want these accounts paid off before they will make a new loan. Your parents can try negotiating to have the collection accounts deleted in return for payment, but they won’t be able to erase the late payments and other negative marks reported by the original creditor.
Once they start handling their credit accounts responsibly, their credit scores will start to improve. The improvements will happen slowly, though, and they may well miss the opportunity to refinance at today’s low levels.
We saw that just recently with a USA Today columnist who quantified exactly how much you need to save for retirement (his answer, via an analysis by T. Rowe Price: $82.28 a day). Lots of people didn’t like that the number was an estimate, an average, and that their own mileage may vary.
But many more people don’t have the patience, knowledge or energy to sort through all the potential factors for every financial decision. Sometimes, they just want an answer.
Over the next few days, I’m going to share the most helpful rules of thumb I know. They aren’t going to apply to everyone in all situations. But if you’re looking for guidelines (or guardrails), there are a starting point.
Let’s start with retirement:
Retirement comes first. You can’t get back lost company matches or lost tax breaks, and every $1 you fail to save now can cost you $10 to $20 in lost future retirement income. You may have other important goals, such as paying down debt or building an emergency fund, but you first need to get started with retirement savings.
Save 10% for basics, 15% for comfort, 20% to escape. If you start saving for retirement by your early 30s, 10% is a decent start and 15% should put you in good shape for a comfortable retirement (these numbers can include company matches). If you’re hoping for early retirement, though, you’ll want to boost that to at least 20%. Add 5-10% to each category for each decade you’ve delayed getting started.
Don’t touch your retirement funds until you’re retired. That pile of money can be tempting, and you can come up with all kinds of reasons why it makes sense to borrow against it or withdraw it. You’re just robbing your future self.
Keep it simple–and cheap. Don’t waste money trying to beat the market. Choosing index mutual funds or exchange-traded funds, which seek to match market benchmarks rather than exceed them, will give you the returns you need at low cost. And cost makes a huge difference. If you put aside $5,000 a year for 40 years, 1 percentage point difference in the fees you pay can result in $225,000 less for retirement.
Today’s top story: What you need to save every day for a comfortable retirement. Also in the news: The three tax buckets, the 10 commandments of savings, and four boring but essential money conversations.
$82 a Day Is the Average Savings for a Comfortable Retirement
$82.28 to be exact.
What Pre-Retirees Should Be Asking About Taxes
Introducing the three buckets.
The 10 Commandments of Saving Money
Thou shall follow these rules.
4 Boring Money Talks You Need to Have
Boring but necessary.
How to Find Financial Assistance for Your Down Payment
Don’t let your down payment hold you back.