Thursday’s need-to-know money news

check-credit-report-easilyToday’s top story: The email mistake that can hurt your credit. Also in the news: Tools to eliminate student debt, tax identity theft, and scams that target investors.

The Email Mistake That Can Hurt Your Credit
Unsubscribe is your friend.

2 Tools to Eliminate Student Loan Debt
Income-based repayment plans could reduce your monthly payments.

ID Tax Theft: What You Can Do To Limit The Damage
How to fight back.

5 Scary Schemes and Scams That Target Investors
Staying a step ahead of the scammers.

If You Have Poor Credit, Beware Extra Charges on Your Monthly Bills
You could be subject to risk-based pricing.

The end to file-and-suspend: Sorry about that

shutterstock_101159917In June, I wrote a column predicting that Congress eventually would do away with “file and suspend” and other Social Security claiming strategies that the Obama Administration had labeled as “aggressive.” I thought it would take years for lawmakers to act. But the end was closer than many of us thought.

The budget deal quickly moving through Congress would eliminate new file-and-suspend applications 180 days after the bill is signed into law, according to the Fiscal Times. That change could shave as much as $50,000 off the lifetime benefits of couples who were planning to use the strategy to maximize their benefits, according to Laurence Kotlikoff, co-author of the book “Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Our Your Social Security.”

If you don’t know, file-and-suspend was created in 2000 as a way to encourage people to keep working. Before that time, primary earners had to apply for their own retirement benefits before their spouses could apply for spousal benefits. With file-and-suspend, primary earners could put off actually receiving their Social Security, allowing their checks to grow, while still allowing their partners to get spousal benefits.

Spousal benefits were created with low- or non-earning spouses in mind, but financial advisors soon discovered file-and-suspend was also a good way to maximize benefits for two high-earning spouses. One could collect “free money” in the form of a spousal benefit before switching to his or her own benefit when it maxed out at age 70.

The growing popularity of the strategy pretty much doomed it. Five years ago, the Center for Retirement Research has estimated that file-and-suspend could cost as much as $9.5 billion each year. The more advisors learned about it, and the more people like me wrote about it, the more strain we were putting on an already troubled system.


A game plan for grads struggling with new loan payments

Student-LoansAn improved economy and lower unemployment should reduce the number of recent college graduates who default on the federal student loans they are supposed to start repaying when their six-month grace periods expire – as soon as November for May graduates.

Inevitably, though, some will fall behind even though there is no good reason to do so. Their credit scores will be crippled and they will risk the government garnishing their wages and seizing their tax refunds.

In my latest for Reuters, how new graduates can handle their new loan payments and protect their credit.

At MoneyWatch, the five things you should know about disaster insurance, and the IRS retirement plan contribution limits for 2016.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

images (1)Today’s top story: Money milestones to hit while you’re in your 40s. Also in the news: Post-divorce tax deductions, tricks to boost your credit score, and signs you aren’t ready to combine finances with your partner.

Five money milestones to hit while you’re in your 40s
Prepping the road to retirement.

The Tax Deductions You May Qualify for After a Divorce
Maximizing your deductions.

Boost Your Credit Score With This Great Little Trick
Tips to nudge your credit score in the right direction.

5 Signs You Aren’t Ready to Combine Finances with Your Partner
Don’t ignore the warning signs.

Should You Put Your Kids In Debt To Teach Them A Lesson?
Debt as a teaching tool.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: How to stop being afraid of credit cards. Also in the news: Personal finance lessons we wish we learned in school, protecting seniors from financial scams, and how to avoid money mistakes after losing a spouse.

Scared of Credit Cards? This Tool Could Help You Make the Leap
There’s nothing to be afraid of if you do it right.

6 personal finance lessons we wish were taught in school
Probably more helpful than trigonometry.

How to Guard Against Common Scams That Target Seniors
Protecting your loved ones from predators.

4 Money Mistakes People Often Make After a Spouse Dies
Don’t make any impulsive decisions.

Q&A: Missing 401(k) plan

Dear Liz: I have two 401(k) plans that have vanished into the night. They are both more than 20 years old and the companies I worked for have been bought, sold, merged, spun off, and nobody knows anything anymore. Between them, the accounts are worth six figures. Do you know of any way I can find out what happened to my money (and hopefully retrieve it)?

Answer: There’s no central repository for missing 401(k)s as there is for missing pensions, which typically can be found at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. So tracking down your money can be tough.

If you still have paperwork from the missing accounts, you might check with the plan providers — the financial services companies that provided the investment choices.

If that’s a dead end, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Abandoned Plan Database shows plans that have been or are about to be terminated, typically with contact information for the plan administrator.

It’s possible that your money was turned over or escheated to a state unclaimed property department. You can check at, the official site of the National Assn. of Unclaimed Property Administrators. NAUPA also endorses the site

Another place to check is the National Registry of Unclaimed Retirement Benefits, which is run by a private company called PenChecks that says it’s the largest private processor of retirement checks.

If you do find your money, understand that you may still have missed out on a lot of growth. Your investments may have been converted to cash, which has earned next to nothing in the last two decades, particularly after inflation.

Leaving a 401(k) account in an old employer’s plan can be a convenient option, but only if you’re willing to keep track of the money — and let the administrator know each time you change your address. If that’s too much work, you should roll the account into a new employer’s plan or into an IRA. Your retirement may depend on it.

Q&A: Lost tax return

Dear Liz: My CPA sent my completed tax return to my home address via first-class mail with no tracking number. The large envelope should have arrived in two days. Over a week has passed and it’s nowhere in sight. I am freaking out as it has all my financial data and is a gateway to fraud of every sort!

The various post office officials have really done nothing to assist in its location. I have credit freezes at all three bureaus and my bank accounts require passwords. What else can I do to try to avert disaster? I have been so distraught it has literally made me ill. And before you say it, yes, this mode of transit will never happen again.

Answer: It shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

With so much identity theft and tax refund fraud these days, it’s astonishing that tax preparers continue to send sensitive, personal information through the U.S. mail with no tracking — and in envelopes helpfully marked with the CPA firm’s name to make the returns easier for thieves to spot.

Your credit freezes should prevent identity thieves from opening new credit accounts in your name using purloined information, but they won’t stop tax refund fraud.

There’s typically not much you can do to protect yourself from this crime. People who have already been the victims of such fraud can request an “identity protection personal information number” or IP PIN from the Internal Revenue Service to prevent future fraudulent filings.

The IRS also allows residents of Florida, Georgia and the District of Columbia to request IP PINs as part of a pilot program, but residents of other states aren’t eligible.

You can try to file as early in the year as possible, but that’s no guarantee a criminal won’t file using your Social Security number first — and then it can take months to get any money you’re owed.

To help protect your bank accounts, see if your bank offers something called “two-factor authentication.” Two-factor authentication requires something you know, such as a password, plus something you have, such as a token that creates unique number codes or code that’s texted to your cellphone.

If your bank doesn’t offer this layer of protection, and only ascertains your identity with the use of security questions, strongly consider moving your accounts to another bank.

Security questions are easy to hack, as evidenced by the massive breach of the IRS’ Get Transcript service, where hackers were able to successfully answer the security questions for hundreds of thousands of taxpayer accounts.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

shutterstock_101159917Today’s top story: How to avoid debt after a divorce. Also in the news: What you need to have in your financial emergency kit, why frugal people aren’t cheap, and how attempting to save money can backfire.

4 Ways to Avoid Debt After Divorce
Building your new financial life.

Your Financial Emergency Kit
What you need to have when things go wrong.

5 Ways Frugal People Aren’t Cheap
Being smart doesn’t mean being cheap.

7 ways your attempts to save money can backfire
Why saving requires a strategy.

This Cheat Sheet Shows You How to Prioritize Your Savings and Debt
Introducing the “retirement wrapper.”

How you pay your bills may affect your credit

1436536219414Lenders are no longer just interested in whether you pay your bills or not. Increasingly, they are looking at how you pay those bills to determine whether they want you as a customer.

Credit reports now show if you regularly pay your credit cards in full every month – making you a low-risk “transactor” – or if you are a higher-risk “revolver” who carries a balance.

Some lenders use the information to determine what types of credit cards and loans to market to people, while others are starting to use the distinctions in decisions about whether to grant credit at all, as well as what rates and terms to offer.

In my latest for Reuters, a look a how lenders determine what type of risk category you fall under.

As the strongest-ever hurricane barrels toward Mexico and its remnants are forecast to bring more rain to an already flood-weary Texas, homeowners and renters should take a moment to review their coverage against the damages Mother Nature can inflict. In my latest for Moneywatch, the five things you need to know about disaster insurance.

Also in Moneywatch, the IRS has announced the retirement plan contribution limits for 2016.

Finally, in my latest for BankRate, a look at when it’s worth it to refinance a mortgage.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

hidden-fees1Today’s top story: The scary things hiding in your credit card statement. Also in the news: Life insurance terms everyone should know, strategies for avoiding ATM fees, and what everyone agrees on about money.

4 Scary Things That May Be Hiding in Your Credit Card Statements
Reading the fine print.

11 Essential Life Insurance Terms Everyone Should Know
Learning the basics.

3 Strategies to Avoid Soaring ATM Fees
Don’t pay more for your money.

The Only Things Everyone Agrees On About Money
There are a few.

Don’t Let These 10 Hidden Fees Catch You by Surprise
Be prepared.