Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The 4 best times to file taxes. Also in the news: What’s different in this year’s tax filings, 5 traits shared by the best financial planners, and could this be the year to buy a house?

The 4 Best Times to File Taxes

Never Mind Tax Reform — What’s Different When I File This Year?

The Best Financial Planners Share These 5 Traits

Is 2018 the year to buy a house?
Could this be the year?

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 3 ways to invest in your career this week. Also in the news: How to pick stock investments, checking accounts for seniors, and using your emergency savings to pay off credit card debt.

3 Ways to Invest in Your Career This Week
Give your career a boost.

How to Pick Stock Investments
Choosing wisely.

Checking Accounts for Seniors
Know the perks.

Should You Pay Off Your Credit Card Debt With Your Emergency Savings?
Start making short-term sacrifices.

Q&A: Get your credit score ready for the home-buying process

Dear Liz: What score do you need to be approved for a mortgage? Is 520 even close? If not, how do I get that score higher quickly?

Answer: A score of 520 on the usual 300-to-850 FICO scale is pretty bad. Theoretically, you might be able to get a mortgage if you can make a large down payment, but you’ll have more options — and pay a lot less in interest — if you can get your scores higher.

That, however, takes time. You need a consistent pattern of responsible credit behavior to start offsetting your mistakes of the past. If you don’t already have and use credit cards, consider applying for a secured credit card, which requires a cash security deposit, typically of $200 or more. You’ll get a credit limit equal to your deposit. Using the card lightly but regularly, and paying in full every month, can help your scores.

A credit builder loan, offered by credit unions and the online company Self Lender, is another way to improve your credit while building your savings at the same time. The money you borrow is put into a savings account or certificate of deposit that you can claim once you’ve made 12 monthly payments. Making your payments on time helps improve your credit history and scores.

Taking a year to build your credit also would give you more time to save for your down payment and for closing costs. Rushing into homeownership is rarely a good idea, so take the time you need to get your financial life in order first.

Q&A: Ease identity theft fear by checking your credit report

Dear Liz: I am suddenly receiving junk mail addressed to my estranged brother at my house. I’ve been in this house for 15 years and have never before gotten mail addressed to him. Is it possible he applied for credit or something similar using my address? He has always had money issues.

Answer: It’s more typical for an identity thief to divert a victim’s mail to his own address than to cause junk mail to be sent the victim’s way. Still, it can’t hurt to check your credit reports via www.annualcreditreport.com to see if there are any accounts or activity you don’t recognize.

Q&A: Don’t get tripped up by invalid Roth IRA contributions

Dear Liz: A friend told me that when he takes out his required minimum distribution from his traditional IRA and pays the tax, he then puts the money in his Roth IRA. I believe since this was not earned income, this was wrong. Who’s right?

Answer: The money contributed to an IRA doesn’t have to be earnings, necessarily, but your friend or his spouse must have income earned from working to make an eligible contribution. Earned income includes wages, salary, tips, bonuses, professional fees or small business profits. Earned income does not include Social Security benefits, pension or annuity checks and distributions from retirement accounts.

Another restriction is that contributions can’t be greater than the amount of earned income. If your friend or his spouse earned $3,000 last year, that’s all he’d be allowed to contribute — not the $6,500 maximum allowed for people 50 and over.

The ability to contribute to a Roth begins to phase out when someone’s modified adjusted gross income exceeds certain amounts. In 2017, single filers’ ability to contribute phased out between $118,000 and $133,000. For married couples filing jointly, the phase out began at $186,000 and ended at $196,000.

The penalty for ineligible contributions is 6% of the ineligible amount. The penalty is owed each year the taxpayer allows the lapse without correcting the oversight. If your friend has been doing this for several years, the penalty will be pretty painful.

He could cross his fingers and hope the IRS doesn’t notice, but the error isn’t that hard for the agency to catch. The IRS would simply need to compare Form 5498, which IRA custodians issue to report contributions, to your friend’s income and the sources of that income to know whether he was eligible to put money in an IRA.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 ways to drive a car without owning one. Also in the news: Tax refund loans for early filers, the pros and cons of senior checking accounts, and the return of triple-digit interest rates on payday loans.

5 Ways to Drive a Car Without Owning One
Ditching the car doesn’t leave you without wheels.

Tax Refund Loans Give Cash Now to Early Filers
Interest free loans can get you your money sooner.

Checking Accounts for Seniors
The pros and cons of Senior Checking.

The Trump administration brings back triple-digit interest rates on payday loans.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 signs you’re getting bad financial advice. Also in the news: What a financial advisor does, how Roth IRAs can help in an emergency, and why Wells Fargo customer should check their bank accounts.

5 Signs You’re Getting Bad Financial Advice
Who’s really looking out for you?

What Does a Financial Advisor Do?
Reaching your financial goals.

How Roth IRAs Can Help in an Emergency
An emergency backup fund.

Wells Fargo Customers Should Check Their Bank Accounts
There’s been a “glitch.”

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Your best financial move is also best for the environment. Also in the news: Why you should fly first class at least once, surprising factors that inflate your car insurance rate, and the best and worst states to retire.

Your Best Financial Move Is Also Best for the Environment
Looking at your carbon footprint.

Why You Should Fly First Class at Least Once, and How to Afford It
Treat yourself.

5 Surprising Factors That Inflate Your Car Insurance Rate
Not just about accidents.

Best and worst states to retire
Did yours make the cut?

What good financial advice looks like

Good financial advice can help you achieve your life goals. Bad financial advice can cost you a fortune and leave you worse off than if you had tried to go it alone.

Unfortunately, you’re still on your own in trying to determine the good advice from the bad. The U.S. Department of Labor has delayed key portions of a fiduciary rule that would require financial advisers to put their retirement account clients’ interests first. The provisions are set to begin July 1, 2019, but it’s anyone’s guess if that will happen.

In my latest for the Associated Press, why it’s still a buyer-beware market for financial advice.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to leverage great credit without borrowing a dime. Also in the news: How to get your taxes done for free, how to hang on to more cash, and how to save for your kid’s college and still live.

How to Leverage Great Credit Without Borrowing a Dime
Capitalizing on great credit.

How to Get Your Taxes Done for Free
Examinging the offers.

To Hang On to More Cash, Let Go of These in 2018
Time to get rid of those delivery apps.

How to Save for Your Kid’s College and Still Live
The saving doesn’t have to be painful.