Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Getting real about health costs in retirement. Also in the news: Watch your credit card rewards pile up with these 5 tips, learning the different types of mutual funds, and how hackers can steal your data at airports.

Let’s Get Real About Health Costs in Retirement
Making costs easier to predict.

Watch your credit card rewards pile up with these 5 tips

What Are the Different Types of Mutual Funds?
Learn the basics.

How Hackers Can Steal Your Data at Airports
Protecting more than just your luggage.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The lowdown on new tools to jump-start your credit. Also in the news: The new credit card that pays cash-back rewards for on-time payments, tuition discounts grow at private colleges and universities, and what to do in your 20s and 30s to be set in your 60s and 70s.

The Lowdown on New Tools to Jump-Start Your Credit
Learn how they work and if you should use them.

No credit history? This new credit card pays cash-back rewards for on-time bill payments
Introducing Petal.

Tuition discounting grows at private colleges and universities
Tuition costs are dropping.

What to do in your 20s and 30s to be set in your 60s and 70s
It’s never too early to prepare.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why your financial aid may plummet after freshman year. Also in the news: 3 tricks to help you shop less, how FICA tax and other withholding taxes work on your paycheck, and why you should plan to retire even if you don’t plan on retiring.

Why Your Financial Aid May Plummet After Freshman Year
Preparing yourself.

These 3 Tricks Can Help You Shop Less
Curbing an expensive habit.

How FICA Tax and Other Withholding Taxes Work on Your Paycheck
What they are and how you can change them.

Plan to Retire Even If You Don’t Plan to Retire
Plans have a way of changing.

Let’s get real about health costs in retirement

You won’t pay for health care in retirement with one lump sum. That’s the way these expenses are often presented, though, and the amounts are terrifying.

Fidelity Investments, for example, says a couple retiring in 2019 at age 65 will need $285,000 for health expenses, not including nursing home or other long-term care. The Employee Benefits Research Institute says some couples could need up to $400,000 — again, not including long-term care. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College hasn’t updated its figures recently, but back in 2010 estimated a typical couple could spend $260,000 for medical and long-term care, with a 5% risk that costs will exceed $570,000.

No wonder 45% of people in their 50s and early 60s have little or no confidence that they’ll be able to afford their health care costs once they retire, according to a survey by the University of Michigan.

In my latest for the Associated Press, a health care cost reality check.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The average credit score is rising. Also in the news: 3 money-saving tips for buying a washer, a statute of limitations on student loans, and why you should always buy airfare on a credit card.

Credit Scores Are Rising — Is Yours, Too?
Every little bit matters.

Want to Clean Up? 3 Money-Saving Tips for Buying a Washer
Don’t get hung out to dry.

Is There a Statute of Limitations on Student Loans?
The answer is complicated.

Always Buy Airfare on a Credit Card
Additional protection.

Q&A: Here’s a case where taking retirement funds early might make sense

Dear Liz: My wife and I are both retired and receiving annuity payments. In addition, we have about $1.3 million in traditional IRAs and $350,000 in another annuity that will pay us each about $1,000 per month. We are moving from Texas to Arkansas sometime in the next year. Texas has no state income tax and pretty high property taxes, while Arkansas has lower property taxes but about 6% income tax. We plan to put down about $200,000 on a new home and obtain a mortgage for about $350,000 at about 4% interest.

Does it make sense to withdraw money from the IRA to pay down the amount we need to borrow for the mortgage? I can withdraw about $90,000 without putting us into the next higher federal tax bracket, if that makes any difference, and end up saving $5,400 in Arkansas income tax at the same time.

By my calculations, the return on the $90,000 would be almost $8,000 every year in reduced mortgage payments if we took out a 15-year mortgage. If we did the 30-year loan, that savings would be over $5,000. I don’t think we’ll achieve the same returns on $90,000 leaving those funds invested as they are in bonds or cash.

Answer: It usually doesn’t make sense to tap retirement funds to pay down a mortgage, but your case may be one of the exceptions. You have enough saved that the withdrawal won’t claim a big chunk of your available funds and leave you cash-poor.

We’ll assume you’re over 59½ and won’t face penalties for early withdrawal. If that’s the case, then you’ll also be facing required minimum distributions within a few years. These mandatory withdrawals, which must start after you turn 70½, would subject at least some of this money to taxation. The question is whether you want to pay those taxes now or later, and you’re making a pretty good case for now.

Before you withdraw any money from a retirement fund, however, you should consult with a tax pro or a fee-only financial planner, or both. Mistakes made in early retirement often have irreversible consequences, so you want an objective second opinion before you proceed.

Q&A: Bad Social Security math

Dear Liz: Regarding when to begin receiving Social Security payments: I would think that people should begin taking payments as early as possible if they can invest it rather than spend it, as a lot of money is “left on the table” between ages, say, 62 and 70. Your thoughts?

Answer: That argument was more compelling a few decades ago when you could get a 7% or 8% return on an FDIC-insured certificate of deposit. These days, there’s no investment that offers a guaranteed return as high as what you’d get from delaying the start of Social Security.

The “take it early and invest” approach also ignores the longevity insurance aspect of Social Security benefits. Most people face a real risk of outliving their savings, which could leave them relying on Social Security for most if not all of their income. Maximizing Social Security benefits by delaying your application can help you live more comfortably, should that happen.

Also, starting early can cause harm to whichever spouse survives the other. When one spouse dies, one of the two Social Security checks the couple was receiving will stop. The remaining spouse will get only the larger of the two checks, which is known as a survivor’s benefit. Maximizing that benefit can help ease the shock of going from two checks to one, so financial planners generally recommend that the higher earner in a couple delay his or her application if possible.

Q&A: Tax take on inherited house

Dear Liz: In a recent column, you quoted an attorney saying that if an inherited home in a trust is sold for its value at the date of death, the trust won’t owe capital gains. We sold our family’s house in 2007 within a month of my mother’s death and the government took half. Fortunately it was a really valuable house in Brentwood, but what are you talking about? I must be missing something.

Answer: If the government took half, then estate taxes — rather than capital gains taxes — probably triggered that hefty bill.

When your mother died, the estate tax exemption limit was much lower — $2 million, compared with the current $11.4 million. The top federal estate tax rate then was 45%, compared with 15% for capital gains.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: These 3 tricks can help you shop less. Also in the news: What you need to know about Slack’s IPO, a college survival guide for your money, and how to use travel rewards for a Memorial Day Weekend getaway.

These 3 Tricks Can Help You Shop Less
Curbing your spending.

What you need to know about Slack’s IPO.
The work chat hits Wall Street.

College Survival Guide for Your Money
Surviving the unexpected.

How to Use Travel Rewards for a Memorial Day Weekend Getaway
The official kickoff of summer.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why you shouldn’t give up on public service student loan forgiveness. Also in the news: The life-changing magic of working a bit longer, why your financial aid may plummet after freshman year, and 7 thoughtful and unique graduation gifts — all under $25.

Don’t Give Up on Public Service Loan Forgiveness
The odds are slim, but still worth trying.

The Life-Changing Magic of Working a Bit Longer
It’s worth it.

Why your financial aid may plummet after freshman year
How you can prepare.

7 thoughtful and unique graduation gifts — all under $25
Celebrate without going broke.