Q&A: Removing a quit-claim house mortgage from your credit

Dear Liz: I recently divorced and quit-claimed my house over to my ex-wife. She has been making all the payments on time but the mortgage still shows up on my credit. Because of this, I can’t borrow as it is considered my indebtedness still. Do you know of anyway of having it expunged from my credit reports?

Answer: She will have to refinance the mortgage in her own name to get you off the loan. The contract you signed with the lender otherwise remains in force and isn’t affected by the divorce agreement.

It’s good that she’s making payments on time, since a single skipped payment could trash your credit scores.

It’s unfortunate your attorney didn’t advise you of the consequences of quit-claiming the property while remaining on the mortgage. It’s rarely a good idea to give up an asset while keeping the liability. A better approach is to separate your credit before the divorce is final. That means closing all joint accounts and transferring the debt to separate accounts in the name of the person who will be responsible for the payments. If your ex wasn’t able to get approved for a refinance, the house could have been sold so that you wouldn’t be on the hook indefinitely.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Financial-PlanningToday’s top story: Financial planning for the 21st century. Also in the news: Tips for buying life insurance with a pre-existing condition, mistakes people make when buying furniture, and the best new car deals for Labor Day weekend.

Financial Planning for the 21st Century
Catching up with the future.

7 Tips for Buying Life Insurance With a Pre-Existing Condition
Working your way through a complicated system.

6 Mistakes People Make When Buying Furniture
Pay close attention to financing.

4 best new car deals for Labor Day weekend
Getting the most bang for your buck.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 6 ways you’re sabotaging your mortgage preapproval. Also in the news: the top 10 car buying apps, how to keep from going broke when you get divorced, and your financial to-do list for September.

Stop! 6 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Mortgage Preapproval
Stop it!

10 Top Car-Buying Apps
Savings at your fingertips.

6 ways to keep from going broke when you get divorced
Protecting your finances during a difficult time.

Your September Financial To-Do List
New season, new tasks.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

1381460521Today’s top story: 7 ways to cover the cost of emergency home repairs. Also in the news: How to buy a home with a low down payment, breaking up with your credit card company, and 5 ways to save on Medicare.

7 Ways to Cover the Cost of Emergency Home Repairs
What to do when something goes kaput.

Beyond FHA Loans: How to Buy a Home With a Low Down Payment
Thinking outside the FHA box.

Are you using the wrong credit card?
Breaking up with your credit card company.

5 Ways to Save on Medicare
Mastering the Medicare maze.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

teen-creditToday’s top story: What to know about cash-back shopping websites. Also in the news: Tips to slash unnecessary monthly expenses, what you need to know about online bill pay, and the factors that affect your credit card’s interest rate.

What to Know About Cash-Back Shopping Sites
Getting rewarded for shopping!

4 Tips to Slash Unnecessary Monthly Expenses
Cutting out the fat.

Online Bill Pay: What It Is and Why You Should Use It
Making your bill paying life easier.

The Factors That Affect Your Credit Card’s Interest Rate and How to Tell If Yours Is Too High
What’s driving your rate?

5 money myths you probably believe

Managing money can be complicated, and myths are often born from people’s struggles to make it simpler. But simplistic solutions can cost you instead of saving you money.

If you believe any of these five money myths, it’s time to take a closer look at the financial realities.

In my latest for the Associated Press, it’s time for some money myth busting.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

crop380w_istock_000009258023xsmall-dbet-ball-and-chainToday’s top story: Mortgage application forms will look different next year. Also in the news: 5 times you shouldn’t use a credit card, why you should say no to 72-84 month auto loans, and why you need to stop being delusional about debt.

It’s Coming: The First Change to Mortgage Application Forms in 20 Years
An easier to understand application is on the way.

5 Times You Shouldn’t Use a Credit Card
High interest rates could leave you in a debt spiral.

5 Reasons to Say No to 72- and 84-Month Auto Loans
Long term loans set you up for years of negative equity.

Don’t be debt delusional: Quit buying stuff you can’t afford!
Time for a reality check.

Q&A: How to get rid of home-equity loan headaches

Dear Liz: We have taken several withdrawals from our home equity line of credit. Now the balance is close to $100,000. It’s the interest-only type. We don’t know how to pay off this amount systematically. Can you help?

Answer: As you’ve discovered, it’s not a good idea to pledge your home as collateral when you don’t know how you’ll pay off the debt. Home equity lines of credit can be an inexpensive way to borrow initially, but the interest-only period doesn’t last forever and eventually your payments will get a lot more expensive.

Many homeowners who tapped their equity before the financial crisis are discovering this fact — and some risk losing their homes. The initial “draw” period where you pay only interest typically lasts 10 years. After that, you can’t make further withdrawals and you’re expected to pay both interest and principal over the next 20 years. Your payments may jump 50% or more, depending on prevailing interest rates.

A better way to use HELOCs is for short-term borrowing that’s paid off well before the draw period expires. If you can increase your current payments to do that, you should.

If you can’t make pay more than your minimum, though, you’ll need to explore other alternatives. You may be able to arrange a cash-out refinance that combines the HELOC balance with your current mortgage and gives you 30 years to pay it off. If not, you can make an appointment with a housing counselor (you can get referrals at www.hud.gov) to see what options may be available to you as a distressed borrower. If you can’t restructure the debt, a short sale or a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure may be a better option than letting the lender take your home.

Q&A: Getting through to Social Security

Dear Liz: I read your article about checking your Social Security earnings record and benefits. I tried to set up an account with the Social Security Administration to track my retirement benefits (I turn 65 in December). Apparently the Social Security Administration will only text a required security code to a cellphone. I do have a cellphone but live in an area with very sketchy reception. I couldn’t get a signal the day I tried to set up the account. Do you have any suggestions about an alternate source or method for accessing my benefits?

Answer: The Social Security Administration briefly required people to use a one-time code sent to their cellphones in order to set up an online account. You weren’t the only one who was having trouble with this new hurdle, and the administration has since dropped the requirement.

People still have the option of getting and using a code if they’re comfortable doing so. This so-called two factor authentication — which uses both something you know, such as a password, and something you have, such as a code sent to your phone — is a smart idea for any sensitive online account. Banks and brokerages should offer this option to further protect customers’ security, but many of them don’t.

By the way, the Social Security Administration allows only one account per Social Security number, so you’d be smart to continue setting up your account. That will prevent someone else from doing so and making unauthorized claims or changes.

Q&A: Free credit score? Be careful

Dear Liz: As a financial planner, I am surprised you pointed someone in the direction of paying for a credit score. Your score can be accessed at several credit sites for free. Why would you want your readers to pay for something they could get free? 

Answer: As a financial planner, you should understand that “free” is a squishy concept.

Some sites do offer free credit scores in return for your private financial information, including your Social Security number. Most of these sites are committed to protecting your information — the credit bureaus they’re working with insist on that — but the sites may use your data to market financial products and services to you. As the saying goes, if something on the Internet is free, then the product being sold is you.

Many people are comfortable with that trade-off. Others aren’t. The other and perhaps more important reason to buy your credit scores from MyFico.com is that you’ll be getting numbers created from the same FICO formulas that most lenders use. The sites handing out free scores typically offer VantageScores, which is a FICO competitor. This particular reader wanted to see the auto FICO scores his lenders would use, and for that the best source is MyFico.com.