Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

o-CREDIT-REPORT-facebookToday’s top story: Tips on improving your credit score by Labor Day. Also in the news: How to get credit bureaus to remove errors from your credit report, the money moves college graduates should make, and how to decide between a credit card or a personal loan.

How to Improve Your Credit Score By Labor Day
Boosting your score over the summer.

5 Ways to Get Credit Bureaus to Remove Errors From Your Report
Be persistent.

Top 5 Money Moves to Make After Graduation
Don’t let your student loan debt overwhelm you.

Credit Card vs. Personal Loan: Which One Should I Get?
The pros and cons of both.

Catch The Company Stock Tax Break While You Can
The window is closing on a little known tax break.

Q&A: Breaking even with Social Security

Dear Liz: This is in regard to the reader who created a spreadsheet that he thought showed the advantage of taking Social Security early. I retired at age 62 and am now 69 and have not yet started drawing my benefits. I have never done a spreadsheet to determine the relative advantage in waiting to draw on my personal benefits; I’ve simply assumed there is no advantage or disadvantage, actuarially. That is, whether I took benefits beginning at age 62 or waited, as I’m doing, the total amount I would receive would be the same if I lived an average life expectancy. Given the fact that my wife would be drawing my benefit if I die first, however, it’s clear that my waiting to age 70 to draw my benefits works to our joint advantage. Am I right?

Answer: In the past, the Social Security Administration advised people that they would receive roughly the same amount by starting reduced benefits early as they would by waiting to receive larger amounts, assuming they lived an average life expectancy.

These days, though, longer life expectancies at age 65 mean that most people will live past the “break even” point where waiting for enhanced benefits results in more money over a lifetime than starting early. The break-even point is in one’s late 70s. Men have a 60% chance of living to age 80 and women have a 71% chance, according to the Society of Actuaries.

When you’re married, you need to think in terms of two life expectancies, because the chances are even better that one of you will live past the break-even point — perhaps well beyond.

With married couples, there’s an 88% chance at least one of you will live to 80, a 72% chance of at least one spouse living to 85 and a 45% chance one will live to 90.

Because a surviving spouse will have to get by on just one Social Security check — either her own or one equal to what her spouse was getting — maximizing at least one benefit makes a lot of sense.

There’s also the idea that Social Security should be used as a kind of longevity insurance. The longer you live, the more likely you are to use up all your other assets, so a bigger check can mean a much better standard of living.

Q&A: Lost tax payment

Dear Liz: I just received a letter from the IRS informing me that I missed a quarterly tax payment last September with several resulting penalties. I made that payment with a check from a securities trust account that I don’t closely monitor, so I didn’t realize the check hadn’t been cashed. The check was placed in a pre-addressed envelope with the IRS payment notice, stamped and deposited at the post office and has never been seen since. Do I have any recourse, and should all payments to the IRS be sent by certified mail with receipt required?

Answer: Electronic payments are typically the best and safest method for getting money to the IRS. Electronic payments generate a digital trail that shows the money leaving your account and landing at the IRS.

If you insist on paying with checks, use certified mail, return receipt requested. This paper trail isn’t a sure way of proving your case — after all, you could have mailed an empty envelope — but at least you’d have something to show the IRS.

Still, you shouldn’t give up hope of getting the penalties waived, said tax pro Eva Rosenberg, an enrolled agent who publishes the Tax Mama site. You can request a penalty abatement based on “reasonable cause,” Rosenberg said. According to the IRS site, “Reasonable cause relief is generally granted when the taxpayer exercised ordinary business care and prudence in determining his or her tax obligations but nevertheless failed to comply with those obligations.”

The IRS may say that you didn’t exercise “ordinary business care and prudence” since you didn’t use certified mail. But you can make the counter-argument that you’ve consistently made previous estimated tax payments this way without incident and this is the first time you’ve encountered a problem.

Rosenberg said the key to prevailing is to keep trying. The IRS may reject your first and second attempts to get a penalty waived but acquiesce on the third, she said.

“Don’t give up after the first two rejections,” Rosenberg said.

One more thing: Given the high rates of identity theft and database breaches, closely monitor all your financial accounts. That means checking them at least monthly, if not weekly. If you have more accounts than you can adequately monitor, consider consolidating accounts.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

8.6.13.CheckupToday’s top story: It’s time for your midyear financial checkup! Also in the news: Credit card vows for newlyweds, how your credit score could affect your auto insurance rates, and the surprising affects of credit card debt.

A Guide to Your Mid-Year Financial Checkup
How’s your year going so far?

6 Credit Card Vows Every Newlywed Couple Should Make
Saying “I Do” to a budget.

Study: Credit scores impact auto insurance
A low score could mean higher premiums.

5 Weird Ways Credit Card Debt Can Hurt You
Where you’d least expect it.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: Money moves that could kill your retirement. Also in the news: How to stress test your budget, how to build long-term wealth while renting, and how to prepare your parents for financing their long-term care.

9 Money Moves That Could Kill Your Retirement
Avoid these at all costs.

Stress-Test Your Budget with a “Financial Fire Drill”
Putting your emergency plan to the test.

How Renters Can Build Long-Term Wealth, Too
Investment alternatives can help.

Steps to Prepare Your Parents for Financing Long-Term Care
How to have a difficult conversation.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

homebuyerToday’s top story: How buying a home can give your credit a boost. Also in the news: What really happens when you default on your student loans, why it’s important to protect your digital assets, and what happens to your budget when your parents move in.

How Buying a Home Can Help Your Credit
Your mortgage can give your credit a boost.

What Really Happens When You Default on Your Student Loans
Consider the consequences.

Forgetting Digital Assets Like Facebook Can Create Lawsuits After Your Death
While not tangible, digital assets have value.

The Financial Picture When Your Parents Move In
Your budget is about to change.

What To Do When Debt Collectors Start Calling
Deal with them head on.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: A guide to student loan debt for new college grads. Also in the news: What parents should teach their kids about finances, what to do before hiring a financial adviser, and major money mistakes made by seniors and retirees.

The New Grad’s Guide to Student Loan Debt
Congratulations! Time to pay up!

11 Financial Words All Parents Should Teach Their Kids
Get them on the right path early.

4 things to do before hiring a financial adviser
Research is key.

Major money mistakes for seniors and retirees
Fraud can wreak havoc on seniors’ finances.

Don’t Touch the Minibar! How to Avoid 10 Annoying Hotel Fees
Don’t even breathe near it.

Q&A: Investment advice websites

Dear Liz: I invest in real estate and have a secure pension, but I also have a managed stock account worth about $250,000 and would like to get more involved in investing that.

Can you recommend some good books on how the market works and perhaps a couple of good middle-of-the-road websites? Everything I see is either overly bullish or bearish.

Answer: The principles of sound stock market investing aren’t exactly “click bait” (Web speak for catchy links that generate views and advertising income). So you’d be smart to read a few books that have stood up over time.

Legendary stock picker Warren Buffett says “The Intelligent Investor” by Benjamin Graham is “by far the best book about investing ever written.” Graham is considered the father of value investing, which involves focusing on the underlying performance of companies rather than on speculating in their share prices.

Buffett also says, however, that the vast majority of investors are better off taking a passive approach — one that involves buying and holding low-cost index funds that seek to match the market rather than beat it.

To understand why, you should read “A Random Walk Down Wall Street” by Burton G. Malkiel, which discusses how the active approach to investing typically fails and drives up costs that doom a portfolio to underperform.

Although both books have been updated recently, they were first published in 1949 and 1973, respectively. A must-read book published this century is Jason Zweig’s “Your Money and Your Brain,” which uses discoveries in neuroscience, behavioral finance and psychology to explore how we mess up investing and finance and how we can do better.

If you’re looking for a website with solid investing advice, explore Kiplinger, a personal finance publisher in business since 1920.

Q&A: Filing and Suspending Social Security

Dear Liz: I was told by a staff person at our Social Security office that because I am seven years older than my husband (he is 58, I am 65), the “file and suspend” wouldn’t work for me and that because I am waiting until 70 to claim benefits, it was a non-issue.

Is that correct? How does the “lump sum” option figure into the equation? How quickly would I have to file and suspend not to be penalized for the process?

Answer: The “file and suspend” option allows you to file for your Social Security benefit and then immediately suspend that application.

The suspension means your benefit continues to earn delayed retirement credits that boost the amount of your checks 8% each year until age 70, when your benefit reaches its maximum. The file and suspend option is available only once you’ve reached your full retirement age (which is currently 66 but which is rising to 67 for those born in 1960 or later).

There are two main reasons to file and suspend. The first is to allow your spouse to claim spousal benefits based on your work record. The second is to give you the option to change your mind.

If you file and suspend, then discover you need the money, you can either start benefits at the larger amount you’ve earned with delayed retirement credits, or give up those credits and instead receive a lump sum payment of benefits back to the date you suspended your application.

There’s no reason for you to file and suspend for spousal benefits since your husband would have to be 62 before he could file for those checks. By that time, as the Social Security representative points out, you’ll be close to age 70, when you plan to start your benefit anyway.

You could still file and suspend as an insurance strategy — in case you need the money later. If that’s your plan, then doing so at your full retirement age of 66 would give you the option of requesting the largest possible lump sum if you do change your mind.

Decisions about when to start Social Security benefits and how to coordinate benefits when you’re married (or divorced, or widowed) can be extremely complex.

Please read the information the AARP provides on its site about maximizing Social Security benefits and consider using one of the available calculators to explore your options. AARP and T. Rowe Price have free calculators, and you can find more sophisticated options for $40 at sites including MaximizeMySocialSecurity.com and SocialSecurityChoices.com.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: What you need to know about the huge US data breach. Also in the news: What lenders are looking for, checking in on your financial health, and making sure your extra student loan payments are going to the right place.

The Massive U.S. Government Hack: What You Need to Know
Four million current and former federal employees are at risk.

Lenders Look at More Than Just Your Credit Score
What lenders are looking for.

6 Telltale Signs You’re in Great Financial Health
Taking your financial temperature.

Make Sure Your Extra Student Loan Payment is Applied Correctly
Make sure it’s going to the principal, not the interest.