Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Smart ways to rein in holiday spending. Also in the news: Budgeting before Black Friday to prevent costly regrets, why you should check travel prices before Black Friday, and 7 things not to buy on Cyber Monday.

Smart Ways to Rein In Holiday Spending
Keeping your expenses in check.

Budget Before Black Friday to Prevent Costly Regrets After
Don’t go in without a plan.

Check Travel Prices Before Black Friday
You could be missing out on deals.

7 things NOT to buy on Cyber Monday
Not all sales are created equal.

Q&A: What to do when your bank gets picky about accepting a power of attorney

Dear Liz: My husband’s brother had a stroke and is now incapacitated. My husband needs to take over his finances. The bank will not accept the durable power of attorney that they set up 14 years ago because it is “too old.” Another bank asked me if it was set up less than six months ago, because that would avoid problems. How can you do the right thing if there are so many obstacles?

Answer: Banks and other financial institutions have gotten so persnickety about accepting powers of attorney that some states have passed laws forcing them to do so — and yet people still report having problems, even in those states!

Many institutions want you to use their own forms, which may not be possible once someone is incapacitated. Even if the person is willing to fill out the form before the fact, using a financial institution’s power of attorney can create problems if the language in those forms contradicts the person’s other estate planning documents. Then there’s the sheer hassle factor, especially if the person has accounts at multiple banks and brokerages.

You may be able to break through this logjam by hiring an attorney to contact the bank. You can get referrals to lawyers experienced in this issue from the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

Q&A: When to merge 401(k) accounts

Dear Liz: I have $640,000 in a previous employer’s 401(k) and $100,000 in my new employer’s plan. Do you recommend I merge the two? Both funds offer similar investment options. My only motivation is based on simplifying paperwork during retirement, although there may be other advantages I am not aware of.

Answer: The choice of investment options matters less than what you pay for them. If your current plan offers cheaper choices, rolling your previous account into your current one makes sense if your employer allows that.

If the previous employer’s plan is cheaper, though, leaving the money where it is can make more sense. Once you actually reach retirement age you can decide whether to consolidate the plans or roll them into an IRA.

IRAs give you a wider array of investment options, but keeping the money in 401(k) accounts has other advantages. Larger 401(k)s often offer access to cheaper, institutional funds that aren’t available to retail investors in their IRAs. A 401(k) may offer more asset protection, depending on your state’s laws, plus you can begin withdrawals as early as age 55 without penalty if you no longer work for that employer.

Q&A: Many factors go into rental choice

Dear Liz: You recently answered a reader who didn’t want to keep and rent out the home she inherited with her brother. You mentioned that if he refused to buy her out, she could go to court to force a sale.

Another option is to hire a property management company to provide a buffer between the siblings but also between them and the tenants. The house will provide a healthy income to both bro and sis.

Answer: Actually, we don’t know that. While Mom-and-Pop landlords can make a tidy profit with single-family homes in some areas, just breaking even is hard in others. In many high-cost areas of the country, rents aren’t enough to cover the considerable costs of ownership, especially if the property still has a mortgage.

Even if it’s paid off, the house could need extensive repairs or be damaged by future tenants. Vacancy rates could be high in that area, and the property management company would still need to get paid. The siblings also will need additional liability insurance to protect against being sued.

The sister could get a much better return from investments that require a lot less from her. Mutual funds don’t call to tell you the roof is leaking or the furnace needs replacement.

The home could turn out to be immensely profitable and still be a bad investment for a sister who’s an unwilling business partner and who resents the brother who refused to buy her out when he had the opportunity.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Shopping or skipping Black Friday. Also in the news: Notes from a disabled traveler, how to save money on a cross-country road trip, and how to locate the investment fees you’re paying.

Black Friday: Shop It or Skip It?
The pros and cons.

What I’ve Learned as a Disabled Traveler
Flexibility is key.

How We Saved Money on Our Cross-Country Road Trip
A look at the trip budget.

How to Locate the Investment Fees You’re Paying
Inside the fine print.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 tax tips for military members and veterans. Also in the news: How to save $500, how Black Friday prices stack up, and what student loan debt does to people.

5 Tax Tips for Military Members and Veterans
Tracking your expenses.

How to Save $500
Every bit helps.

How Do Black Friday Prices Stack Up?
Real savings or holiday hype?

What student loan debt does to people
It’s not pretty.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Don’t leave credit card rewards on the table when dining out. Also in the news: How to move forward after a financial setback, the best Black Friday TV deals, and when to opt out of the target-date funds in your 401(k).

Dining Out? Don’t Leave Credit Card Rewards on the Table
Earning money back for every meal.

How to Move Forward After a Financial Setback
Getting back on track.

Best Black Friday TV Deals, 2018
The most screen for your money.

When to Opt Out of the Target-Date Funds in Your 401(k)
It depends on your goals.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Think twice before paying for accident forgiveness. Also in the news: What to do when a fund in your portfolio closes, 5 Black Friday credit card strategies to add to your list, and how to get your finances in order.

Think Twice Before Paying for Accident Forgiveness
How much to pay for a mistake you might never make?

What to Do When a Fund in Your Portfolio Closes
ETFs are dying off.

5 Black Friday Credit Card Strategies to Add to Your List
Using your cards smartly this season.

How to Get Your Finances in Order
Prioritizing is key.

Smart Ways to Rein In Holiday Spending

The holidays are a huge deal in the Weston household — and every year, the expenses threatened to gallop out of control.

Keeping the holiday joyous and less stressful means keeping a firm rein on our spending. In my latest for the Associated Press, what we do, as well as smart frugal tips from others.

Q&A: Using your home’s equity to pay off credit card debt is a dumb move

Dear Liz: My ex-husband is a self-employed carpenter who just turned 64. He’s gotten a bit over his head with his credit cards. He tried for a home equity loan since he has plenty of equity and high credit scores. His mortgage lender says he doesn’t make enough money and that he needs a co-signer.

He owes only $50,000 on the house and needs about $40,000 to pay off his bills. Why should he be punished for working hard all these years? This is crazy and stupid. Is a reverse mortgage the way to go for him?

Answer: Possibly, but it’s concerning that he has so much credit card debt. Too often people who tap their home equity to pay off debt wind up worse off in a few years. They don’t fix the problem that caused the debt in the first place, so they continue to overspend — but now they have less of a home equity cushion to fall back on in case of emergency.

That’s especially true with a reverse mortgage. These loans allow people 62 and over to borrow against their home equity without having to make payments or repay the loan until they sell, move out or die. However, any amount they borrow and don’t repay will grow over time, typically at a variable interest rate. People who use reverse mortgages to pay off debt early in retirement can wind up unable to access their equity later, when they may need it more.

The lender isn’t trying to punish your ex for working hard, by the way. It’s saying he doesn’t appear to have enough income to pay his mortgage, cover the new loan payments and take care of his other bills. Your ex may think the lender’s standards are too strict, and it’s true many lenders are more reluctant to lend to the self-employed. He may find another lender that’s more cooperative if he shops around. But that huge amount of credit card debt indicates a serious problem that needs fixing, and another loan may not be the answer.

Since your ex feels comfortable sharing financial details with you, you might suggest that he discuss his situation with a credit counselor (the National Foundation for Credit Counseling offers referrals) and with a bankruptcy attorney (the National Assn. of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys). Each can assess his situation and offer different potential options he could consider.