Thursday’s need-to-know money news

refinancingToday’s top story: Mortgage refinance options for people with bad credit. Also in the news: The best cell phone deals for July, steps to financial independence, and 10 personal finance headscratchers.

Mortgage Refinance Options for People With Bad Credit
Hope is not lost.

Best Cell Phone Deals in July
Time for an upgrade?

Five Essential Steps to Financial Independence
Step by step.

10 personal-finance headscratchers that show we’re irrational
Not thinking clearly.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

types-of-scholarshipsToday’s top story: Most families don’t plan ahead for college costs. Also in the news: The Brexit effect on mortgages begins to fade, the pros and cons of partial payments, and common money mindsets that are holding you back.

Most Families Don’t Plan Ahead for College Costs, Study Finds
High school graduation is just around the corner.

Brexit Effect Fades; Loan Applications Fall
The Brexit effect on mortgages begins to fade.

Does Making Partial Payments Help?
Is paying someting better than paying nothing?

Common Money Mindsets That Hold You Back
Breaking out of old misconceptions.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

o-BOOMERANG-KIDS-facebookToday’s top story: Why not all debt is bad. Also in the news: An explanation of benefits from your health coverage, why your boomerang kid may be sabotaging your retirement, and why it’s time to have the talk about estate planning.

Not All Debt Is Bad
Debt is getting a bad rap.

Check Your Health Coverage With an Explanation of Benefits
Understanding what you’re entitled to.

Everybody Dies. It’s Time to Have the Talk
Avoiding financial disaster.

Your boomerang kid may be sabotaging your retirement
The Bank of Mom and Dad.

Think Twice Before Rolling Over a 401(k)

think-twice-before-401k-rollover-story-570x225-2Wall Street has done a remarkably thorough job of brainwashing investors into rolling their old 401(k) accounts into individual retirement accounts.

IRA rollovers are certainly a better option than cashing out, which is the stupidest thing you can do with a 401(k) account other than not fund it in the first place. But moving money from a workplace retirement plan to an IRA when you switch jobs or retire can be a really lousy idea.

In my latest for Nerdwallet, why you need to think twice before rolling over a 401(k).

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Credit report with score on a desk

Credit report with score on a desk

Today’s top story: Understanding your credit card’s free FICO score. Also in the news: The difference between a soft inquiry and a hard inquiry, surviving Social Security with a minor cost of living adjustment, and how apps can both help and hurt your finances.

To Understand Your Credit Card’s Free FICO Score, Get Your Credit Report
How your credit card use factors into scores.

What’s the Difference Between a Soft Inquiry and a Hard Inquiry on My Credit Report?
Which ones affect your credit score?

Social Security survival strategies with COLA only at 0.2%
Surving a stagnant cost of living increase adjustment.

How Apps Can Help (and Hurt) Your Finances
Could your apps lead you to spend more?

Q&A: Tips for divvying up your retirement investments

Dear Liz: With all the investment options offered in 401(k) plans, how as a contributor do I know where to place my money?

Answer: Too many investment options can confuse contributors and lower participation rates, according to a study by social psychologist Sheena Iyengar of Columbia University in cooperation with the Vanguard Center for Retirement Research. The more options, the more likely participants are to simply divide their money evenly among the choices, according to another study published in the Journal of Marketing Research. That’s a pretty random method of asset allocation and one that may not get people to their retirement goals.

As a participant, you want a low-cost, properly diversified portfolio of investments. For most people, that means a heavy weighting toward stock funds, including at least a dab of international stocks. Your human resources department or the investment company running the plan may be able to help with asset allocation.

Some plans offer free access to sophisticated software from Financial Engines or Morningstar that can help you pick among your available options. Once you have your target asset allocation, you’ll need to rebalance your portfolio, or return it to its original allocation, at least once a year. A good year for stocks could mean your portfolio is too heavily weighted with them, while a bad year means you need to stock up.

If that feels like too much work, you may have simpler options. Many plans provide a balanced fund, typically invested 60% in stocks and 40% in bonds, that provides automatic reallocation. The same is true for target-date funds, which are an increasingly popular choice. Pick the one with the date closest to your expected retirement year. If you’re 35, for example, you might opt for the Retirement 2045 fund.

It’s important, though, that you minimize costs because funds with high fees can leave you with significantly less money at retirement. The average target-date fund charged 0.73% last year. If you’re paying much more than that, and have access in your plan to lower-cost stock and bond funds, choose those instead.

Q&A: No wedding, no Social Security benefits

Dear Liz: I’m a female who has been with her male partner for 20 years. We are not married. In the event one of us dies, is the other entitled to the partner’s Social Security benefits? Or do we have to be legally married to qualify for benefits?

Answer: Your genders don’t matter. Your marital status does. To get Social Security benefits based on the other person’s work record, you need to make it legal.

Marriage offers hundreds of legal, financial and estate-planning advantages, and Social Security is certainly one of those. With married couples, lower-earning partners may qualify for bigger benefit spousal benefits than the retirement benefits they would receive on their own work records. After a death, the surviving spouse gets the larger of the couple’s two benefits. Social Security makes up more than half of most elderly people’s income, so this is no small deal.

Q&A: Fiduciaries can help with estate trusts

Dear Liz: I enjoyed your recent column about spendthrift trusts. You’re right that when parents assign the job of trustee to one sibling for the benefit of another sibling, it creates a hazardous situation that often results in a court battle. The appointed professional trustee should be a neutral party. You recommended a bank or trust company to fill the bill.

However, there is a third and often better option: a licensed professional fiduciary. There are about 600 in California. We are independent fiduciaries licensed by the state to manage clients’ assets in trusts and estates.

Professional fiduciaries will take the smaller trusts and estates, since banks and trust companies usually require a minimum of $1 million to $2 million under management before accepting a trust or remainder estate. Banks and trust companies also typically charge fees based on the amount of money under management, whereas California Licensed Professional Fiduciaries normally charge on a time-incurred basis.

Fiduciaries also give the beneficiary an annual accounting. A case I have now came to me when the sibling trustee failed to account for money spent for nine years.

Answer: Thanks for highlighting this option. Licensed professional fiduciaries aren’t available everywhere, but certified public accountants also can serve this function. The attorney who drafts the trust may have recommendations.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

150309_BlogToday’s top story: Why Americans should care about Brexit. Also in the news: Other insurance benefits you can count on, why millions of Americans prefer their credit card statements on paper, and simple budgeting strategies that can bring real results.

3 Reasons Why Americans Should Care About ‘Brexit’
It’s not just Europe’s problem.

The Other ‘Insurance’ Benefits You Can Count On
Insurance outside the box.

Millions of Americans prefer their credit card statements on paper
Old habits die hard.

Five Simple Budgeting Strategies That Can Bring Real Results
Simple savings can bring in big bucks.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

air-miles-cardToday’s top story: The worst airports in the U.S. for summer travel. Also in the news: 3 smart money moves to make buying a home easier, creating a money map to make sense of your financial plan, and five signs it’s time to shop for a new credit card.

The 10 Worst Airports in the U.S. for Summer Travel and How You Can Cope
Plan ahead.

Make Buying a Home Easier With 3 Smart Money Moves Now
Save money early and regularly.

Create a Money Map to Make Sense of Your Financial Plan
A big picture view.

5 Signs It’s Time to Shop for a New Credit Card
Loyalty doesn’t always pay.