Monday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: The most important personal finance rules. Also in the news: How to hack away at your student loan debt, what couples need to know about their finances before moving in together, and how to prevent a tax audit.

The Most Important Personal Finance Rules Never Change
The rules that matter most are the ones that never change.

Hacking away at student loan debt
Chipping away at the albatross.

Moving in together? Read this first
Laying all the financial cards on the table.

25 Ways to Prevent a Tax Audit
How to avoid the excruciating experience.

Q&A: Mistaken address leads to debt collection

Dear Liz: A debt collector says I owe a small debt from a store credit card I opened about six months ago. The wrong address was on file, so I hadn’t received any documentation at all. After opening the account I had called the store customer service line to arrange a payment, but the representative told me I had to wait for my account number and card in the mail. It never showed up, obviously, because of the wrong address issue. I understand that it was still my responsibility to pay this, but I called the store and then the bank that issued the card and got no response. Do I have any right to dispute the collection or at least catch a break?

Answer: The Fair Credit Billing Act requires that when accounts are opened, lenders send written notice about the account holder’s right to dispute errors, said credit expert Gerri Detweiler. Lenders are also supposed to send you statements when your account has activity (such as a balance due).

You could make the argument that the lender violated federal law by sending the information to the wrong address, Detweiler said, and that your credit scores have suffered as a result.

Yes, you should have contacted the store again after the card failed to arrive, but the lender should have fixed the problem and called off the collector once it was notified.

You can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at http://www.consumerfinance.gov and it will contact the lender to try to resolve the dispute. You’ll be able to log into the CFPB site to track the progress of its investigation.

You also should get copies of your credit reports and dispute any negative information related to this account, including any collections activity, said Detweiler, who writes about credit and debt at Credit.com.

Should the lender balk at removing the derogatory information from your credit reports, you can hire a consumer law attorney (referrals from http://www.naca.net) to press your case.

Q&A: Spousal benefits and Social Security

Dear Liz: I am divorced. If I apply for Social Security spousal benefits at age 62, based on my former spouse’s work record, can I continue to collect it if I get remarried? I understand that I cannot switch from spousal to my own benefit if I start early. But if I remarry, do I continue to collect spousal benefits or do I get nothing?

Answer: Spousal benefits based on an ex’s work record end when you remarry. (Some people think they can continue spousal benefits if they marry after they reach age 60, but that’s not true. Only survivor benefits for widows and widowers continue when a recipient remarries after age 60.)

When you file for spousal benefits before your own full retirement age, you are deemed to be applying for both your own benefit and your spousal benefit, and essentially given the bigger of the two, said economist Laurence Kotlikoff, founder of MaximizeMySocialSecurity.com. If the spousal benefit was larger and you remarry, the Social Security Administration looks at your benefit compared to your spousal benefit based on your new spouse and again gives you the larger of the two.

Understand that your benefit will be deemed to have started when you first applied for benefits. So rather than growing almost 7% each year between age 62 and your full retirement age, which it would have had you put off filing, it will effectively grow only at the rate of inflation.

That’s why it’s usually a better course to wait to file until your own full retirement age. Then you have the option of filing a restricted application just for spousal benefits, leaving your own benefit alone to grow (at 8% annually between full retirement age and age 70). You can switch to your own benefit when it maxes out at age 70.

Q&A: IRA’s and 401(k)’s

Dear Liz: You answered a reader who asked whether to contribute to her IRA, her Roth IRA or her regular or Roth 401(k) account. I thought that if you have access to a 401(k) at work, you couldn’t make a contribution to an IRA or Roth IRA.

Answer: That’s a common misconception. You can contribute to an IRA even if you have a workplace plan. What you may not be able to do is deduct the contribution. The tax deduction depends on your modified adjusted gross income and phases out in 2015 between $61,000 and $71,000 for singles and $98,000 to $118,000 for married couples filing jointly.

You also may be able contribute to a Roth IRA if you have a workplace plan. Contributions to a Roth are never deductible, but your ability to contribute phases out between $116,000 to $131,000 for singles and $183,000 to $193,000 for married couples filing jointly.

Want to protect yourself from tax return theft? You can’t.

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailA surge of bogus tax return filings has highlighted a grim truth: We can’t protect ourselves from this rising threat.

An underfunded, understaffed IRS manages to thwart many attempts, but still sent more than $5 billion in refunds to identity thieves in the 2013 tax year. Most state tax agencies aren’t nearly as sophisticated in detecting fraud, which is why the bad guys seem to be targeting them this year.

The core problem is that the key to your tax refund–as well as to your credit and your health records–is your Social Security number, which was never intended as an all-purpose identifier.

Even if you’re vigilant in protecting your  number, you’re still at risk, because a lot of companies aren’t so vigilant.

Court Ventures, now a subsidiary off Experian, sold an unknown number of records including Social Security numbers to identity thieves from a database of 200 million files. Anthem’s breach exposed 80 million people’s records. And they’re hardly the only ones. The US Postal Service, University of California Berkeley, the Oregon Employment Department, dozens of hospitals and medical centers–the list of places Social Security numbers have been stolen goes on and on and on. (Check out the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse chronology of breaches, showing more than 1 trillion records have been compromised.)

You may be able to beat the thieves to your tax refund by filing early–but that boat has already sailed for many victims.

Read more in my Reuters column, “Why identity thieves are targeting your tax return.”

Friday’s need-to-know money news

love-and-moneyToday’s top story: How to fall in love with your finances. Also in the news: Filing your taxes for free, the worst money mistakes you can make in the name of love, and how you can create a will for your social media accounts.

To Fall in Love With Your Finances, Do This
It’s like Match.com for your money.

IRS Free File 101 – How to File your Taxes for Free
Why pay for the privilege of paying.

7 Worst Money Mistakes People Make in the Name of Love
How to protect both your finances and your love life.

You Can Now Create a Will for Your Facebook Profile
Leaving a digital legacy.

What “secret millionaires” can teach us

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailThis column first appeared on DailyWorth under the headline “Lessons from secret millionaires.”

Eugenia Dodson grew up on a Minnesota farm, the daughter of poor Swedish immigrants. Her childhood poverty affected her so profoundly that even in her old age, she refused to replace a stove with only one working burner — even though by then she was worth tens of millions of dollars. Dodson, who left nearly $36 million to the University of Miami when she died in 2005 at age 100, is just one of many secretly wealthy people who live quiet, frugal lives and then leave unexpected fortunes to charity.

I’ve been collecting stories of such secret millionaires for years now. Some are men, though the women interest me more, as females usually earn less, invest more conservatively and wind up poorer in retirement. These women break that mold. Here’s what we can learn from them.

They’re not born rich

Secret millionaires can be farmers, school teachers or, in Dodson’s case, a hairdresser. Dodson eventually opened her own beauty shop after she moved to Miami in the 1920s at the urging of a high school friend, according to her attorney, Donald Kubit. She made it through the Great Depression living simply and frugally, habits she continued through her life. “I had no idea when I met her that she was a woman of such wealth,” says Kubit, who met Dodson in her nineties.

Buy and hold works

Secret millionaires are often heavily invested in stocks — the one type of investment that consistently beats inflation over time. Many favored well-known, blue-chip companies. Margaret Southern, a retired teacher of special-needs children in Greenville, S.C., preferred household names like 3M, General Foods and Heinz that paid dividends, according to a story about her in the Greenville News. Southern reportedly liked having the dividend checks to buy whatever she wanted. When Southern died at 94, she bequeathed $8.4 million to the Community Foundation of Greenville to benefit children and animals.

Let it grow

Long lives mean that even small amounts invested over time have the decades they need to grow into real wealth. (As an example, $10,000 can grow to $100,000 in 30 years with an 8 percent average annual return, which is a typical long-term gain for stocks. In 40 years, that $10,000 would grow to $200,000. In 50 years, you’d have nearly $500,000.) You can’t control how long you live, but you can take advantage of long-term compounding by starting to invest as early as you can and leaving the money alone to grow.

These secret millionaires tend to be pretty vital, too: Elinor Sauerwein of Modesto, California, painted her own house, mowed her own lawn and harvested her own fruit from atop a ladder into her nineties, according to an ABC News report. Sauerwein left $1.7 million to the Salvation Army.

Don’t live too poor

Living below your means is essential to growing wealth, but it is possible to go overboard. Helen Dyrdal of Renton, Washington lived with broken furniture and wore tattered clothes, leaving her best friend with the impression she was impoverished, according to a KOMOnews.com report. Dyrdal was actually worth more than $3 million, which she left to Seattle-area charities when she died at 91.

Eugenia Dodson, meanwhile, was desperate to find a cure for diabetes, the illness that killed her two brothers. That’s why she gave two-thirds of her fortune to the University of Miami’s Diabetes Research Institution Foundation. (A lung cancer survivor, Dodson left the other third to the university’s cancer research center.) But she wasn’t able to give money away during her lifetime, Kubit says.

“She would have been treated royally by her charitable beneficiaries,” Kubit says. “But she was always afraid that she might need the money.” If Dodson, Dyrdal and other secret millionaires had been able to address their fears about money, they may have died a bit less wealthy — but they might have been happier. The best part of money is enjoying it while you’re alive, even if you want to benefit others when you die.

Please check out my other DailyWorth columns here.

 

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: The money questions you need to ask before popping THE question. Also in the news: The importance of renter’s insurance, why online tax filers need to pay attention to the fine print, and how to answer your child’s tough money questions.

Getting Serious? Five Important Money Questions to Ask
The questions to ask before you pop the question.

Here’s the Cheap Insurance That Could Save You Money
If you’re a renter, this one’s for you.

Online Filers: Pay Attention to the Fine Print!
You could be signing away important protections.

Tough Money Questions Kids Ask, and How to Reply
How to be appropriately honest.

5 Tips for Tackling Your Student Loans as a Couple
It’s better than going it alone.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story : How to avoid annoying mortgage hurdles. Also in the news: A financial health checkup, how to keep your online tax returns safe, and what to do if you win tonight’s Powerball jackpot.

4 Annoying Mortgage Hurdles & How to Overcome Them
How to have all your ducks in a row.

The 4 Most Important Money Issues That Determine Your Financial Health
Time for a temperature check.

Tips for Keeping Online Tax Returns Safe From Thieves
How to protect your money and your information.

What You Should Do If You Win the Powerball Jackpot
Besides fainting from shock.

10 Simple Money-Saving Tips That Carry A Big Bang At The End Of The Year
Small actions that could lead to big savings by the end of the year.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: Deciphering your free credit scores. Also in the news: How to keep your frequent flier miles from expiring, the terms first-time homebuyers need to know, and why you should pay with a credit card, not debit, when renting a car.

How to Make Sense of All of Your Free Credit Scores
Know your range.

How to Prevent Your Miles from Expiring
Don’t let your miles go to waste.

10 Terms First-Time Homebuyers Should Know
Knowing how to talk to lenders.

Pay for Car Rentals With Credit, Not Debit, to Keep Your Score Intact
How to avoid a hard inquiry on your credit report.

How to get your teens on the right retirement track
It’s never too early.