Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 times your credit card issuer can raise your interest rates. Also in the news: 3 DIY options for making a will online, how to split insurance in a divorce, and how much you can make in the freelance economy.

5 Times Your Credit Card Issuer Can Raise Your Interest Rate
How to avoid the bump.

Making a Will Online: 3 DIY Options
Doing it yourself.

How to Split Insurance in a Divorce
Deciding who gets what.

How Much Money Can You Make in the Freelance Economy?
Setting your own schedule.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 questions when shopping for a brokerage account. Also in the news: Is a robo-advisor right for you, why higher prices are squeezing both buyers and renters, and how a wife got her family out of $40,000 in debt.

5 Questions When Shopping for a Brokerage Account
What you need to know.

What Is a Robo-Advisor and Is One Right for You?
A different type of financial advisor.

Higher prices squeezing both renters and would-be homeowners
A housing shortage in parts of America is leading to higher prices.

A ‘good wife’ who secretly got her family $40,000 in debt shares how she climbed back to even
You can climb back, too.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 401(k) mistakes for new grads to avoid. Also in the news: 6 financial questions you’re too embarrassed to ask, why you should scatter your bank accounts, and 5 facts that prove Americans don’t know anything about managing money.

New Grads, Don’t Make These 401(k) Mistakes
Plan carefully.

6 Financial Aid Questions You’re Too Embarrassed to Ask
We’ve got answers.

Why You Should Scatter Your Bank Accounts
Don’t keep it all in one place.

5 Facts that Prove Americans Don’t Know Anything about managing money
We need to get better at this.

Are you afraid to look at your finances?

Credit counselor Linda Humburg understands why many of her debt-burdened clients don’t want to open their mail. What bothers her, though, is the sheer volume of untouched bills and collection notices that some bring to their first counseling appointments.

“The shoeboxes (full of bills) don’t make my heart drop as much as the grocery bags and garbage bags,” says Humburg, counselor manager for FamilyMeans Financial Solutions in Stillwater, Minnesota.

Not wanting to confront unpaid bills is a perfectly understandable, if unfortunate, reaction to a bad financial situation. And it’s not just people in extreme debt who might be afraid to look. Many people avoid checking their credit scores or using retirement calculators because they’re afraid of what they might find.

The problem is that delaying action usually makes matters worse.

In my latest for the Associated Press, the high cost of living in denial.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 4 keys to successful debt consolidation. Also in the news: Credit card startups want to get in your wallet, financial must-do’s for newlyweds, and the best ways to get a big credit card bonus without going into debt.

4 Keys to Successful Debt Consolidation
Put those cards away.

Credit Card Startups Race for Space in Your Wallet
One card to rule them all.

Ask Brianna: What Are My Financial Must-Do’s as a Newlywed?
Starting off on the right financial foot.

The best ways to get a fat credit card bonus without going into debt
Timing is everything.

Q&A: Social Security benefits for spouses can pump up household income

Dear Liz: I have a friend who has a selfish, controlling husband. When talking with her recently, she told me she got only $300 a month from Social Security based on her work history while her husband gets $1,800. I told her she should be getting $900, half of his monthly amount, as a spousal benefit. I guess he thought if she got more it would reduce his check. I told her the $900 would be in addition to the $1,800 he gets.

She has been collecting her smaller benefit for seven or eight years. Does she have any recourse? I doubt he would take her to the Social Security office but maybe her daughter would.

Answer: It sounds like the husband’s greed has cost this household tens of thousands of dollars in lost benefits.

Spousal benefits (and divorced spousal benefits) do not reduce the primary worker’s check. This benefit, as you correctly told your friend, is available in addition to what her husband gets. Spousal and divorced spousal benefits can be up to half of the primary worker’s benefit. The amount that spouses and divorced spouses get is reduced if they start benefits before their own full retirement ages.

Your friend can’t get back the years of benefits she missed out on, but she should ask the Social Security Administration to switch her to the larger benefit. She can contact the administration at 1-800-772-1213.

The death of a student loan co-signer could have financial ramifications for the borrower. (Colleen Riemer / For The Times)

Q&A: When a student loan co-signer dies

Dear Liz: I have a friend who recently died after co-signing a student loan for her son. She was making the payments. Does that loan go to her son now to repay?

Answer: Possibly. Another possibility is that her estate is on the hook.

It all depends on the loan agreement, which varies from private lender to private lender. (We know this is a private loan because federal student loans, which have many more consumer protections, do not require co-signers.)

In many cases, nothing happens if the other borrower takes over the payments and continues to make them on time. Some lenders, however, have a contract clause that makes the balance of the loan due immediately. In the past, lenders also could consider a death to be an “automatic default” that could seriously damage the living borrower’s credit. Fortunately, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau pushed lenders to change their policies on new and existing loans so that co-signer deaths no longer trigger such defaults.

If you’re close to this young man, you should urge him to check the contract and to contact the lender.

Q&A: Deducting medical expenses racked up by another person

Dear Liz: I recall reading that an individual could deduct unlimited medical expenses for another person, as long as the provider was paid directly. Looking at IRS Publication 502, it appears that now only a “qualifying relative” (the closest I could get to eligibility) is eligible for a deduction on another person’s return. I’m asking because my sister is helping with my medical expenses, and I had hoped to give her a deduction. Her tax person is insistent that she cannot take a deduction for my expenses. I don’t qualify under the “qualifying relative” clause because she doesn’t provide more than half my support. Have I always misinterpreted this rule, or has the rule changed recently?

Answer: You’re confusing the medical deduction rules with the gift tax exemption.

The gift tax rules require givers to file tax returns for gifts in excess of $14,000 per recipient, unless the giver paid medical or tuition expenses directly to a provider (such as a hospital or college). Paying these expenses isn’t considered a gift, so your sister can pay an unlimited amount of your medical bills without having to file a gift tax return or counting those gifts toward her lifetime exclusion amount, which is currently $5.49 million. Gift taxes aren’t owed until that lifetime exclusion amount is exceeded.

Your sister can deduct medical expenses from her income taxes only when she pays them on behalf of herself, her spouse, her dependents and her “medical dependents.” Claiming someone as a dependent or medical dependent requires that she provide at least half that person’s support. Only the amount of qualifying medical expenses that exceed 10% of her adjusted gross income in 2017 would be deductible.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Caring counselor offers real help in student debt crisis. Staying away from envelope stuffing scams, make money with online surveys, and five mistakes to avoid when paying for college.

Caring Counselor Offers Real Help in Student Debt Crisis
This is how help in the student debt crisis should be.

Stay Away From Envelope-Stuffing Schemes
Don’t get scammed.

Making Money With Online Surveys: What to Expect
There’s money to be made…slowly.

Don’t make these 5 mistakes paying for college
Things to consider.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Cheated by student loan ‘Debt Relief” firm? What you should do. Also in the news: Rules rollback won’t keep defrauded student borrowers from loan forgiveness, 3 costly mistakes beginning investors make, and what to give and spend during Wedding Season.

Cheated By Student Loan ‘Debt Relief’ Firm? What To Do
Important steps to take.

Rule Rollback Won’t Keep Defrauded Student Borrowers From Loan Forgiveness
A little good news.

3 Costly Mistakes Beginning Investors Make
Ignore stock tips.

Weddings: What to give, what not to give, how much to spend
Wedding season is underway!