Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: More parents are putting limits on college help. Also in the news: Mastercard’s new rule will make some “free” trials more transparent, what you need to know about SIPC insurance, and why you should be wary of new tricks for raising your credit score.

More Parents Are Putting Limits on College Help
Limiting contributions.

Mastercard’s New Rule Will Make Some ‘Free’ Trials More Transparent
Reminding you when the trial is up.

SIPC Insurance: What It Does and Does Not Protect
Covering your brokerage.

Be Wary of New ‘Tricks’ for Raising Your Credit Score
They could end up doing the opposite.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 3 money tasks you need to do right now. Also in the news: NerdWallet’s 2019 Best Banks, how one couple ditched holiday debt, and all the tax credits you can take for 2018.

3 Money Tasks You Need to Do Right Now
Make your life much easier.

NerdWallet’s 2019 Best-of Awards: The Best Banks
Check out the winners.

How I Ditched Debt: Holiday Bills Break a Couple’s Budget
Recovering from the holidays.

All the Tax Credits You Can Take for 2018
Start making a list.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What the government shutdown means for home loans. Also in the news: How to stay afloat financially during the shutdown, how Medicare premiums could be the key to itemizing your taxes, and how to start investing right now.

What the Government Shutdown Means for Home Loans
Prepare for delays.

How to Stay Afloat Financially in a Federal Shutdown
Get ready to spend some time on the phone.

How Medicare premiums could be the key to itemizing your taxes — and saving money
Your premiums could be deductable.

How (and Why) to Start Investing Right Now
The sooner the better.

Q&A: Why do 401(k) and IRA contributions have such different rules?

Dear Liz: Can you please explain to me why the IRS allows an employee in a workplace 401(k) to contribute $19,000 but a wage earner without a 401(k) can contribute only $6,000 to an IRA? This seems grossly unfair. Why does one group get to save three times as much for retirement?

Answer: Congress works in mysterious ways, and this is far from the only weird byproduct of tax law.

The 401(k) and the IRA were created through different mechanisms.

The 401(k)’s birth was almost accidental. Benefits consultant Ted Benna created the first 401(k) savings plan in 1981, using a creative interpretation of a section of IRS code. Benna crafted the plan to provide an alternative to cash bonuses, not to replace traditional pensions — although that’s what it ended up doing.

IRAs, by contrast, were created deliberately by Congress in 1974 to provide a way for people to save independent of their employers.

Raising the IRA limit would be costly to the budget, while decreasing 401(k) limits would be unpopular, since so many people rely on them for the bulk of their retirement savings.

You aren’t, however, limited to saving only $6,000 annually for retirement. You can always save more in a taxable account. You wouldn’t get the tax deduction for contributions, but your investments can qualify for favorable long-term capital gains treatment if you hold them for at least one year.

Q&A: A required minimum distribution headache

Dear Liz: For more than four years my husband has had to take a required minimum distribution from his 457 deferred compensation plan. We have always chosen when to do that, knowing that it has to be done by Dec. 31.

This year we processed the distribution on Dec. 28 to take advantage of stock market movements. We saw the direct deposit of that transaction hit our savings account as planned. To our astonishment, we got a letter (dated Dec. 27 but received after Jan. 1) from the plan’s trustee informing us that “as a courtesy” it had initiated a required minimum distribution “on our behalf.” The letter even “assisted” us with information on how we can “establish a recurring RMD” in the future. We received a check in the mail Jan. 5 for this unnecessary and unwanted distribution.

Not only is this a duplication of my husband’s RMD for this account, but this distribution also may push us into a higher tax bracket. It also sets me up for a further increase in my Medicare B premiums because of the higher income.

I have searched but could not find any information on how to roll this back or how they could have been so bold, and under what authority they took the liberty to babysit a depositor. Can you provide any information?

Answer: Before any more time passes, put the money into an IRA and keep documentation of the “redeposit,” said Robert Westley, a CPA and personal financial specialist with the American Institute of CPAs’ PFS Credential Committee.

The plan provider likely will send a 1099-R form that includes the second withdrawal, so you’ll need this documentation to avoid taxation on the extra money. If you don’t already have a tax pro to help you, consider hiring one to help you navigate this.

Some retirement plans, including 457s, have language that allow forced distributions, since many people either don’t understand the requirement or choose to ignore it. But your husband clearly was not in that group.

Your husband can call the 457 plan provider to find out what happened and how to prevent it from happening again. Or he might just roll this 457 into an IRA at another provider.

This advice assumes that the plan is a governmental 457, which allows rollovers into an IRA. If it’s a non-governmental 457, however — the kind used for highly paid executives in private companies — the rollover option doesn’t exist and you might be stuck with a higher tax bill.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to budget for a family trip to Disney. Also in the news: How to cancel an extended car warranty, investment strategies for 2019, and 5 credit card trends to watch in 2019.

How to Budget for a Family Trip to Disney
Saving money for the Mouse.

How to Cancel an Extended Car Warranty — and Why You Might Want To
An expensive gamble.

Investment Strategies for 2019
Conquring the first quarter.

5 Credit Card Trends To Watch In 2019
Higher interest rates are on the way.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Furloughed workers face potential damage to their credit scores. Also in the news: A bill could expand the financial literacy of students, 8 budget types for businesses, and 6 practical ways to pay off credit card debt.

A big problem looms for furloughed workers — preventing damage to their credit scores
Another impact of the government shutdown.

Bill Introduced to Expand Financial Literacy of Students
Teaching more than just the basics.

8 Budget Types for Businesses
Different budgets for different needs.

6 practical ways to pay off credit card debt
Climbing your way out of debt.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to stay afloat financially in a federal shutdown. Also in the news: 5 things not to say when you’re buying a car, how to sleep for free (or nearly free) when traveling, and the average kid’s allowance rose faster than American workers’ salaries in 2018.

How to Stay Afloat Financially in a Federal Shutdown
Managing uncertainty.

5 Things Not to Say When You’re Buying a Car
Don’t tip your hand.

How to Sleep for Free (or Nearly Free) When Traveling
Alternatives to hotels.

The average kid’s allowance rose faster than American workers’ salaries in 2018
Ouch.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: NerdWallet’s best credit card tips for January 2019. Also in the news: What the government shutdown means for home loans, 5 reasons credit cards rule for family vacations, and why you should ask your student loan servicer to ungroup your loans.

NerdWallet’s Best Credit Card Tips for January 2019
New year, new cards.

What the Government Shutdown Means for Home Loans
Could the shutdown affect your loan?

5 Reasons Credit Cards Rule for Family Vacations
All about the perks.

Ask Your Student Loan Servicer to Ungroup Your Loans
Use the snowball method.

3 money tasks you need to do right now

Most financial to-do lists focus on what you need to get done by Dec. 31, but there’s also a brief window early in the new year to save yourself some significant cash.

In my latest for the Associated Press, three tasks to consider doing now.