Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to know if paying for money advice is paying off. Also in the news: 5 inconvenient truths about real estate agents, the 10 fastest-growing metro areas, and Millennials are loading up on personal loans.

How to Know If Paying for Money Advice Is Paying Off
Calculating your return on investment.

5 Inconvenient Truths About Real Estate Agents
What to know before hiring one.

Home Affordability Watch: The 10 Fastest-Growing Metro Areas
The 10 fastest-growing metro areas, ranked from most to least affordable.

Not just student loans: Millennials are also loading up on this kind of debt
Personal loans are a favorite of this generation.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 questions to ask before buying life insurance at work. Also in the news: Why credit cards should get another chance after you pay off debt, how not to get spooked by your credit card bill this Halloween, and setting up your financial accounts like you’re going to be hacked.

Answer 5 Questions Before Buying Life Insurance at Work
What to ask yourself before signing up.

Why Credit Cards Should Get Another Chance After You Pay Off Debt
The rewards are worth it.

This Halloween, Don’t Get Spooked by Your Credit Card Bill
How to avoid sticker shock.

Set Up Your Financial Accounts Like You’re Going to Be Hacked
Beat hackers to the punch.

How to fund college if you didn’t save enough

If college tuition bills are looming and you don’t have nearly enough saved, you have plenty of company. But you also have options for making it more affordable.

Four out of 10 families who hope to send kids to college aren’t saving for that goal, according to student loan company Sallie Mae. Among those who are, parents of children aged 13 to 17 have saved an average of $22,985.

That’s not enough to pay for the typical college education out of pocket. The net average cost for a year of college, after scholarships and grants were deducted, was $15,367 in 2017, according to Sallie Mae. That means a four-year degree is likely to cost over $60,000. The expense can, of course, be much higher since many elite schools now charge $70,000 a year or more.

In my latest for the Associated Press, steps to take now to secure an affordable education — and avoid crushing debt.

Q&A: Here’s why two siblings who inherited mom’s house should prepare for an ugly family feud

Dear Liz: My mother left her house to my brother and me. He wants to use it as a rental property. I have no interest in being a landlord or in ownership. He doesn’t want to buy me out, so I’d like to sell my half interest. What are the tax issues I need to prepare for, and does my brother need to sign any documents?

Answer: You should first prepare for an ugly family feud. If the property hasn’t been distributed yet, you’ll face a probate or trust contest over the house, says Jennifer Sawday, an estate planning attorney in Long Beach. If you’ve already inherited the home, you would need to go to court to file a real estate partition action. Either way, a court action typically forces a sale or arranges for your brother to buy you out before dividing the proceeds — minus all the attorneys’ fees, of course. (This is not a do-it-yourself situation, so you’ll both need to hire lawyers.)

That may be the best of bad options if your brother won’t see reason. Being a landlord involves considerable hassle and liability. You shouldn’t be forced into such a business — or any business — with a family member.

You can use the threat of legal action as a bargaining chip, since you both will net a lot less from your inheritance once the court gets involved. It makes much more sense for your brother to agree to a sale or get a mortgage to buy you out. Let’s hope he comes to that conclusion as soon as possible.

Q&A: Pension annuity beats lump sum

Dear Liz: I am 63, recently retired and have a choice. I can take a lump sum from my pension at age 65 or a monthly annuity. I am strongly leaning toward the lump sum. I know the pitfalls (I won’t be an aggressive investor, I don’t gamble, I won’t loan to family or friends, etc). My reasoning is that if my spouse and I both die before our early 80s, “they win.”

I do have relatives who live a long time, however. I am financially very careful and believe interest rates in five years will be several points higher and I can invest the lump sum conservatively and get a 5% to 7% return, and that will work for me.

Finally, I could take the monthly annuity now with no survivor benefit and at the same time buy term life insurance to cover my wife if I go. Am I missing anything significant in my favoring the lump sum?

Answer: Yes. Quite a bit.

Calculating break-even points can be an interesting math exercise, but you’re making assumptions about inflation rates and market returns, as well as life expectancies, that you can’t actually know in advance. A better approach might be to consider what could possibly go wrong. The answer: a lot.

Technically, you might do better investing the money than collecting the annuity, but there are so many ways you could wind up losing. You could pick the wrong investments, or the markets could turn south for an extended period. You could be defrauded or become the victim of an unethical advisor.

(Sure, you’ve got all your marbles now, but who says you’ll keep them? Even the smartest people can get fleeced, and any cognitive decline over the years could make you a sitting duck.)

The fact that you have longevity in your family is another big factor in favor of taking the annuity, because you can’t outlive the money. That should be a concern, in any case, because according to the Society of Actuaries there’s a 72% chance that one member of a couple will live to age 85 and a 45% chance that one will live to age 90.

If your spouse is a woman and not several years older than you, she’s likely to outlive you. Does she want to inherit the responsibility of managing this money?
Speaking of your spouse, get an independent, fee-only advisor’s opinion before you consider waiving the survivor’s benefit on any annuity.

A term life insurance policy may not last as long as you need it to, and will be expensive at your age. It will be vastly more expensive if you try to renew it down the road.
If you don’t or can’t renew it, your spouse could face a drastic drop in income at your death as one of your two Social Security checks goes away and the pension income stops. Surely, your partner deserves better than that.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Experian flaw just revealed PINs protecting credit data. Also in the news: When little student debt becomes a lot of trouble, how to put your money where your politics are, and what’s in the tax bill that just passed the House.

Experian Flaw Just Revealed PINs Protecting Credit Data
A serious security breach.

When a Little Student Debt Becomes a Lot of Trouble
You’ll be surprised by who defaults.

How to Put Your Money Where Your Politics Are
The best ways to make political donations.

What’s in the Tax Bill That Just Passed the House?
It could change the way people save for retirement.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How not to inherit Mom’s timeshare. Also in the news: Why bundling insurance doesn’t automatically mean savings, why your financial advisor has a financial advisor, and 12 documents to prepare now for your heirs.

How Not to Inherit Mom’s Timeshare
Limiting liability.

Will You Save Money Bundling Insurance? Not Always
When bundling isn’t saving.

Why Your Financial Advisor Has a Financial Advisor
Even experts need experts.

12 Documents to Prepare Now for Your Heirs
Making a difficult time easier.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Travel survival secrets for introverts. Also in the news: How to live with your credit card’s low limit, the pros and cons of a rent-to-own home, and how to protect yourself after Facebook’s recent hack.

Shh! Introverts Share Travel Survival Secrets
Self-care in a noisy world.

How to Live With Your First Credit Card’s Low Limit
Earning increases over time.

Is a Rent-to-Own Home Right for You?
A look at the pros and cons.

How to Protect Yourself After Facebook’s Recent Hack
Locking down your private information.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: A look at the past three months of housing trends. Also in the news: A new app to help apply for financial aid, how to avoid magical thinking when it comes to retirement planning, and what to know about freezing and unfreezing your credit.

3 Months, 3 Housing Trends: Rates Rise, Prices Slow, Millennials Buy
What’s happening in housing.

Ready to Apply for College Aid? A New App’s on Tap
Financial aid at your fingertips.

Don’t Let Magical Thinking Jinx Retirement Planning
You’re not going to win the lottery.

What to Know About Freezing and Unfreezing Your Credit
Know the pros and cons.

How not to inherit mom’s timeshare

Timeshare owners James and Barbara Ruh enjoy their annual vacations in Hawaii, but they don’t want their daughters to be obligated to take over the contracts when they die. So the Ruhs, who are attorneys with offices in Santa Barbara, California, and Edwards, Colorado, created a trust to hold their timeshare interests.

The daughters, who are co-trustees with their parents, can keep the timeshares, sell them or abandon them after the parents’ deaths, Barbara Ruh says. The trust is designed to prevent the timeshare resort developer from going after their daughters for any unpaid or ongoing costs.

“If our daughters do not want the timeshares, they will not be liable individually for any fees,” Ruh says.

In my latest for the Associated Press, a variety of options to assure nobody’s getting an obligation they don’t want.