Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Being a loyal customer can score you free food. Also in the news: The average retirement savings by age, what to buy (and skip in September, and where your $100 goes furthest in the United States.

When Being a Loyal Customer = Free Food
Perks are plentiful.

The Average Retirement Savings by Age and Why You Need More
Do you have enough?

What to Buy (and Skip) in September
Finding fall bargains.

Want the most for your $100? Avoid San Jose
Consider West Virginia.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Don’t make this common – and costly – credit card mistake. Also in the news: Paying by credit card will increase college costs, free credit freezes, and when to buy travel insurance.

Don’t Make This Common — and Costly — Credit Card Mistake
Even a day late can be costly.

To Make College Cost Even More, Pay by Credit Card
Interest rates can be even worse than through student loans.

Free Credit Freezes: Time to Rethink Your Protection?
Credit freezes will be free for everyone starting September 21st.

When to Buy Travel Insurance
When is it worth it?

Why your kid should help pay for college

I recently heard from the parents of yet another high school senior who turned down a huge scholarship from a good college to attend her “dream school,” which of course has lousy financial aid. Now her parents are scrambling, trying to figure out how to pay for it .

This madness must end.

Asking teenagers to pay the whole cost of a four-year college degree probably isn’t realistic or smart. Kids may be cut off from financial aid, since need-based help is largely based on the parents’ resources. The debt they accumulate may be crippling, and students who try to pay for school entirely on their own are more likely to drop out.

But the open bar approach isn’t wise, either. Setting limits and requiring a kid to pay at least part of the cost can actually lead to better grades while protecting parents’ finances.

In my latest for the Associated Press, why parents should set clear boundaries about how much they’ll pay for college.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to plan a vacation without getting into debt. Also in the news: How to save money and drive safer by plugging into your car’s computer, 9 expenses to pack in your moving budget, and 3 people show how they got control of their college debt.

How to Plan a Vacation Without Getting Into Debt
Sticking to your budget.

Plug Into Your Car’s Computer to Save Money, Drive Safer
Using the onboard diagnostic panel.

9 Expenses to Pack in Your Moving Budget
Don’t forget the minor details.

3 people, 3 ways of getting control of college debt
What you can learn from their approaches.

Q&A: How to ensure that assets end up with an heir — not that person’s spouse

Dear Liz: What would be the ownership status of assets covered in our will and our retirement accounts when our heirs and beneficiaries receive them? In the case of married heirs, do the asset ownership laws of their state of residence dictate whether inheritance proceeds get held individually or jointly? In addition to having a candid conversation with our kids, we are debating the need for and risk associated with a revocable living trust to provide some assurance that our wishes be honored for our direct descendants to receive and manage any proceeds.

Answer: Inherited assets can be kept as separate property, even in community property states where assets acquired during marriage are typically considered jointly owned. Keeping property separate requires some vigilance, however. If an inheritance is deposited in a joint account, or joint funds are used to improve a separately owned house, those assets could become marital property.

Even if your heirs are scrupulous about keeping property separate, their spouses may ultimately inherit should your heirs die first. If those spouses remarry, the assets could wind up with another family, rather than with your grandkids.

If you want your assets to ultimately get to your grandchildren, there are a few ways to do that, such as bequeathing assets directly to them or through generation-skipping trusts. You can use either a will or a revocable living trust.

You’d be smart to talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about what you want and the best way to achieve those ends.

Q&A: Big severance creates a tax problem

Dear Liz: My husband is being laid off with a severance package equal to seven months’ pay. What’s better for tax avoidance in California, a 529 college savings plan contribution or investing in an IRA?

Answer: A 529 college savings plan contribution won’t save you taxes in California. There’s no federal deduction for such contributions, and unlike most other states, California doesn’t offer a state tax break, either.

Your husband can contribute up to $5,500 to IRAs for each of you, plus an additional $1,000 per person if you’re 50 or over. Whether the money will reduce your 2018 tax bill depends on your income and whether you’re covered by workplace retirement programs.

If your husband had a 401(k) or similar plan, he would be able to deduct his contribution only if your modified adjusted gross income as a married couple filing jointly is under $101,000. A partial deduction is available until the tax break phases out at $121,000.

If you aren’t an active participant in a workplace plan, however, higher income limits apply. Your husband can make and deduct a spousal IRA contribution for you as long as your joint modified adjusted gross income is under $189,000. A partial deduction is available until the tax break phases out at $199,000.

Even if you’re able to reduce your taxable income with such contributions, you’ll still probably owe a sizable tax bill on this severance. Please consult a tax pro about how much of the money to put aside and whether you’ll need to make any payments before next year’s tax deadline.

Q&A: Getting spousal benefits after divorce

Dear Liz: When I retired at 63, my husband had been on Social Security for several years. We had been divorced about six months at that time. Should I have been bumped up to his benefits? We had been married for 42 years.

Answer: You wouldn’t get an amount equal to his benefit if he’s still alive — that’s called a survivor’s benefit, and it’s only available after his death. But you could get a spousal benefit of up to half of his check if that amount is larger than your own retirement benefit.

Both spousal and survivor benefits are available to divorced spouses if the marriage lasted at least 10 years. Neither benefit reduces what your ex or any subsequent spouses get.

You should call the Social Security Administration at (800) 772-1213 to see if you qualify for a larger check.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Plug into your car’s computer to save money and drive safer. Also in the news: How to reset retirement plans to weather a downturn, the easiest way to earn 6,000 Rapid Rewards point, and why you should pay off all of your debt before investing in stocks.

Plug Into Your Car’s Computer toonboardney, Drive Safer
Your on-board computer can tell you a lot about your driving habits.

How to Reset Retirement Plans to Weather a Downturn
Making the adjustments.

Quite Possibly the Easiest Way to Earn 6,000 Rapid Rewards Points
All it takes is a newsletter.

Pay off all your debt before investing in stocks
Credit card debt is the worst.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What to buy and skip in September. Also in the news: 5 times to stash your cash and pay with plastic, what college freshman need to know about their student loans, and how to choose the best approach to managing your investments.

What to Buy (and Skip) in September

5 Times to Stash Your Cash and Pay With Plastic
Protecting your purchases.

What College Freshmen Need to Know About Their Student Loans
A whole new world of financial obligation.

How to choose the best approach to managing your investments


It’s all about streamlining.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why your parents’ money guru may not be right for you. Also in the news: Home loans with 3% down for 2018, what hotel credit card upgrades mean for your bottom line, and how the student loan grace period works.

Your Parents’ Money Guru May Not Be Right for You
Striking out on your own.

HomeReady and Home Possible: Loans With 3% Down for 2018
What you need to know.

What Hotel Credit Card Upgrades Mean for Your Bottom Line
Sweet new perks.

How the Student Loan Grace Period Works
Interest will still accrue.