Q&A: Parents paying a child’s private student loans

Dear Liz: My husband and I are paying my youngest son’s private student loans. My husband is paying two loans and I’m paying three. I have plans to retire next year. Should I tell the lenders after I retire and give my loans to my son to take over?

Answer: If these are private student loans, then you and your husband probably co-signed them with your son. That means you’re equally responsible for the debt and can’t just walk away without consequence.

Some lenders do release co-signers if the student borrower is creditworthy. The lenders typically don’t volunteer information about this option, so your son would need to request it. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a form letter your son can use to ask for information about the process.

If that doesn’t work, your son may be able to refinance or consolidate the loans with a new lender to get your names off the loans.

All this assumes your son is willing and able to take over this responsibility. If he’s not and you stop paying, your credit scores will suffer and you could face collection actions.

Q&A: The insecurity of bank security questions

Dear Liz: I recently opened an account at a bank that boasted “multi-factor authentication,” but I looked into the claim and it turns out the bank is using passwords plus answers to security questions, such as the name of your first pet, as the “multi-factor authentication.” I expect you know that the real multi-factors are something you know, like a username and password, something you have, like a code that has been sent to your phone or email, and something uniquely inherent to you, like a fingerprint. Clearly, this bank is misrepresenting its “multi-factor authentication.”

Answer: If there was any doubt about how insecure security questions are, it should have been settled with the hack of the IRS’ Get Transcript service. The criminals gained access to 700,000 taxpayer accounts by correctly answering multiple questions with answers supposedly known only to the affected taxpayers. In reality, the answers to many security questions can be purchased from black market databases or simply found by perusing people’s social media accounts.

If your financial institutions are still using security questions to identify you, you should demand to know why. If the institution doesn’t offer at least two-factor authentication (a password plus a code), you should consider putting your money somewhere else.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

o-CREDIT-REPORT-facebookToday’s top story: How to buy your kid a good credit score. Also in the news: What keeps us awake at night, what low-income families lose by not having bank accounts, and finance lessons Baby Boomers could learn from Millennials.

How to Buy Your Kid a Good Credit Score for $200
Starting them off on the right foot.

Money, Safety and Privacy Keep Us Awake at Night
What we worry about when we try to sleep.

Low-Income Families Are Most Likely to Skip the Bank Account — and Pay the Price
Losing interest and protection.

5 Finance Lessons Baby Boomers Could Learn From Millennials
Taking advice.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to save for 2017 and 2057 at the same time. Also in the news: What new prepaid debit card rules mean for you, life insurance strategies for families with special needs children, and the high cost of using an ATM.

How to Save for 2017 and 2057 at the Same Time
Saving for the immediate and long-term future.

What the New Prepaid Card Rules Mean for You
Easier to understand terms and more security.

A Life Insurance Strategy for Families With Special-Needs Children
Making sure your loved ones are taken care of.

You won’t believe average cost of using an ATM
The crazy cost of accessing your own money.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

common-retirement-mistakesToday’s top story: How to tell if your 401(k) is a dud. Also in the news: How to find unclaimed property, great tax deductions for retirees, and how to sneak more savings into your budget.

How To Tell If Your 401(k) Is a Dud
Reviving your retirement fund.

Are You Owed Money From a Forgotten Bank Account?
You could have unclaimed property.

5 Great Tax Deductions and Credits for Retirees
Maximizing your deductions.

How to Sneak More Savings Into Your Budget
You won’t even notice it’s gone.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

2Today’s top story: How to decide if credit counseling is right for you. Also in the news: Robots and your bank account, why insurers and banks want to know your job title, and three ways to help your kid pick the right college.

When Credit Counseling Is (and Isn’t) a Good Idea
How to decide the right approach.

This Robot Wants to Have a Word About Your Bank Account
Meet the bank tellers of the future.

Why insurers and banks want to know your job title
Your job title could determine your interest rate.

Three ways to help your kid pick the right college
Talk about finances right away.

Borrowing your way out of debt

how-are-debt-consolidation-loans-handledMany people who take out loans to pay off credit cards and other obligations wind up worse off, with more debt and more stress than before they applied. Some people, though, successfully use debt consolidation loans to turn a bad financial situation around.

In my latest for the Associated Press, a look at debt consolidation loans and how to keep yourself out of the debt trap.

Q&A: Social Security survivor’s benefit

Dear Liz: My husband will retire next spring but has wisely decided to not collect Social Security until he is 70. I have been retired for several years and have been collecting my Social Security benefits, which are significantly less than what his will be because he was the higher wage earner. Should he die before age 70, would I still be able to claim, as his surviving spouse, his larger benefit, even though he would not have started collecting it yet? The information I read only talks in terms of the higher wage earner already collecting Social Security benefits before his or her demise.

Answer: Even if your husband dies before starting Social Security, you can collect the larger benefit he’s earned, including any delayed retirement credits from putting off his application.

Those delayed retirement credits increase his benefit, and yours as the surviving spouse, by 8% each year between his full retirement age of 66 and age 70. That can make a huge difference in the quality of life of the surviving spouse, who has to get by on a single check after the other partner dies.

Q&A: Paying credit card debt after death

Dear Liz: I am 80 and I have a substantial amount of credit card debt, approximately $30,000. What becomes of this credit card debt in the event of my death? Will it become a future liability for my two sons or will this eventually become a bad debt for the credit card company? I would hate to see this become a financial burden for my sons.

Answer: Any credit card balances you leave behind will be a liability for your estate, not for your sons — although the debt could reduce any inheritance they get. Creditors have to be paid before any remaining assets are distributed. If you don’t have enough assets to cover the bill, creditors will get a proportionate amount of whatever’s left after paying your final expenses. Any remaining debt will be a write-off for the creditor, and your sons typically wouldn’t get anything.

You didn’t ask for help dealing with this debt, but you shouldn’t assume you can just tread water until you die and leave it for someone else to sort out. Your life expectancy at age 80 is another eight years if you’re male and nearly 10 years if you’re female, and you could live considerably longer. If overspending or medical bills led to the debt, you could accrue a lot more before you’re done. If you rack up so much debt that you can’t make the minimum payments, your interest rates could skyrocket and you may have to fend off collection calls.

You should at least discuss your options with an experienced bankruptcy attorney and with a nonprofit credit counselor.

Q&A: Spouse balks at wife’s franchise-financing scheme

Dear Liz: My wife has an MBA and essentially has been a homemaker due to having a disabled child. She would like to go back to work and has asked me to cosign a $1.5-million loan to buy a franchise. In addition, she would like to use all the savings we have —$140,000 — for a down payment. I am afraid to do this as it took over 20 years to get the emergency fund collected. She earlier suggested using my 401(k) retirement fund for this business. My fear is that she will not be able to manage this business well and I will have to add this onto my own job. The business may fail and all the money would be lost. She is so mad at me and will not talk to me. Please help me with this.

Answer: Your wife understands that her long absence from the workplace makes it unlikely that she will ever see the kind of salary that an MBA normally earns. So she’s decided to bypass regular employment in favor of entrepreneurship.

If there were a decent chance of her succeeding, this enterprise might be considered a gamble. Given the circumstances, however, it’s almost certain to fail. If you commit every spare dollar to the down payment, where will you turn when the business needs additional infusions of cash, as most businesses do in their early years?

There are other businesses she could start and other franchises she could buy that wouldn’t require committing such a huge chunk of your resources. The fact that she’s clinging to this one idea doesn’t speak well of her ability to make good business decisions. Even worse is that when you expressed perfectly rational fears about her scheme, she responded by refusing to speak to you. It’s definitely time to make an investment, but it should be in couple’s therapy rather than in a business.