Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How medical bill advocates can slash your costs. Also in the news: How two-factor authentication protects your online info, how investing apps can foil financial planning, and four credit card trends for 2017.

How Medical Bill Advocates Can Slash Your Costs
An advocate will go to bat to reduce your medical costs.

How Two-Factor Authentication Protects Your Online Info
Taking the important steps to protect your online information.

Investing apps can foil financial planning
Trusting your intuitions.

4 credit card trends for 2017 and what they mean for you
The good news and the bad news.

Your mother’s maiden name is not a secret

Your mother’s maiden name is probably not a secret. Neither, necessarily, is your high school mascot or the size of your car payment. But some banks and brokerages still pretend this is information only you would know, and that could be putting your money at risk.

So-called security questions long ago outlived their usefulness, since they can be hard for the right people to remember and easy for the wrong people to guess or steal.

In my latest for the Associated Press, why security questions are no longer the most secure way to protect your information.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to find a good tax preparer. Also in the news: Excuses for delaying retirement savings, what the TCF bank suit means for you, and why used cars usually have higher interests rates.

How to Find a Good Tax Preparer (and Write Off the Bad Ones)
Finding good help during tax season.

Excuses, Excuses When Delaying Retirement Savings
No more excuses.

What TCF Bank Suit Means for You: Defend Against Overdraft Fees
What opting in really means.

Why Used Cars Usually Have Higher Interest Rates
Guarding against risk.

Q&A: Paying an advisor vs. doing it yourself

Dear Liz: I started with a fee-only advisor 10 years ago. She moved to another company a few years after and I followed. She’s really done well for me. My question is, now that I’m getting ready to retire, should I manage my own accounts to avoid incurring commissions or fees? I don’t anticipate making any major changes to my portfolio.

Answer: If your advisor is truly fee-only, then you aren’t paying commissions on your investments. You’re paying fees to her plus fees for the various investments you own.

You can’t avoid fees. While you’re smart to want to avoid paying too much, you also need to consider the value you’re getting. Is your advisor a comprehensive financial planner who can answer your questions on most aspects of your finances, from budgeting to estate planning? Has she helped you stick to your investment plan in good times and bad? Can she serve as a watchdog as you age, monitoring you and your accounts for signs you’re at risk for fraud or bad decisions?

If you’re not getting your money’s worth, then you have two options: looking for a cheaper deal or an advisor who will give you more service.

For example, if your advisor is just providing investment management and you’re paying more than about 1% of your portfolio for her services, then you might well consider doing it yourself or turning to one of the many automated investing services that charge one-quarter to one-half a percentage point. Alternatively, you could look for an advisor who can be a comprehensive planner for the same fee, or less, than you’re paying now.

Q&A: Taking a look at the confusing world of credit scores

Dear Liz: I was recently denied a credit card and told my score was 150 points lower than what my credit reports show. Why would this be? Am I being deceived by the credit reporting agencies? It was such a low number that it’s a little hard to believe since I have been approved for other cards recently.

Answer: The creditor that denied you should have told you which score it used and from which credit bureau in addition to the actual number. Lenders employ a variety of different scores, but most use some variation of the FICO formula. Credit card lenders tend to use FICO Bankcard scores, which are on a 250 to 900 scale in contrast to the usual FICO 300 to 850 scale. Your numbers will vary depending on the version and bureau that lenders use. For example, a card company may pull a FICO Bankcard 4 from TransUnion, a FICO Bankcard 2 from Experian or a FICO Bankcard 5 from Equifax, although many issuers use the latest version, which is FICO Bankcard 8.

If that isn’t confusing enough, FICOs aren’t the only scores in town. The scores you get directly from credit bureaus, for example, typically won’t be FICOs. You may have been looking at VantageScores or at a proprietary score. The free scores offered at many websites tend to be VantageScores, which are on a 300 to 850 scale but may not be the same as your FICOs.

If you want a clearer snapshot of where you stand before applying for credit, you can pay $20 at MyFico.com to see a bunch of your FICO scores from a single credit bureau or $60 to see FICOs from all three bureaus.

You may not be able to determine in advance which score from which bureau a lender uses, however. You also should understand that whether a score is good enough may depend on the lender and on the product. Many lenders require higher FICO scores for their better credit card deals, for instance. Sites that track credit card deals may give you some idea of how high your scores generally need to be to get approved, but there are no guarantees.

Your best course is to make sure all your scores are as good as they possibly can be. That means, among other things, paying your bills on time, not letting disputes turn into collections and using your credit cards lightly but regularly. You don’t need to carry a credit card balance to have good scores, and you should try to use 30% or less of your available credit limit at any given time. Finally, apply for credit sparingly, and don’t close credit accounts if you’re trying to improve your scores.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to prep (or not) for President Trump’s proposed tax changes. Also in the news: You could be owed money in the Western Union fraud case, why inauguration rental hosts could get a tax break, and 4 ways your expenses can skyrocket when having kids.

How to Prep (or Not) for Trump’s Proposed Tax Changes
How these changes could affect you.

Western Union Fraud Case: Are You Owed Money
A new website has been set up for victims.

Inauguration Rental Hosts May Get Tax Break
A federal tax code could save hosts money.

Thinking of Having Kids? 4 Ways Your Expenses Can Skyrocket

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 financial goals to set in 2017. Also in the news: What you should do with rising home equity credit rates, simple tasks to prepare you for tax season, and 7 ways to prepare for an unpaid maternity leave.

5 Financial Goals to Set in 2017
Short-term and long-term.

Home Equity Line of Credit Rates to Rise; What Should You Do?
Assessing your options.

These Simple Tasks Prepare You for Tax Season
Getting your documents in order.

7 Ways to Prepare for an Unpaid Maternity Leave
Creating a less stressful maternity leave.

Navient student loan lawsuit

Federal regulators just smacked the student loan servicer formerly known as Sallie Mae with a lawsuit accusing it of all kinds of bad behavior. This is a big deal, since the company, now called Navient, handles billions of dollars of loan payments for about one out of four borrowers. The New York Times said the accusations were “eerily similar” to the systematic failures during the foreclosure process.

Read on to find out more about the lawsuit and what to do if you’re struggling with education debt:

Feds Sue Student Loan Giant Navient: What Borrowers Need to Know

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What happens when you can’t repay a payday loan. Also in the news: How to upgrade your old car with new-car tech, why women may face retirement shortfalls despite the closing pay gap, and the biggest complaints about 401(k)s.

When You Can’t Repay a Payday Loan
Preparing for the consequences.

5 Ways to Upgrade Your Old Car With New-Car Tech
You don’t need a new car in order to have the bells and whistles.

Pay Gap Closing but Women May Face Retirement Shortfall
Good news and bad news.

The Biggest Complaints About 401(k)s
Know what you’re dealing with.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to prepare financially for your death regardless of your age. Also in the news: The best industries for starting a business in 2017, how insurance companies use your driving record as a crystal ball, and 5 practical steps for creating a retirement backup plan.

How to Prepare Financially for Your Death (No Matter How Young You Are)
Making important decisions.

5 Best Industries for Starting a Business in 2017
Time to start working for yourself.

Your Driving Record: Insurance Companies’ Crystal Ball
Analyzing your behavior.

5 practical steps for creating a retirement backup plan
Always have a Plan B.