Q&A: When rolling your 401(k) into an IRA isn’t a good idea

Dear Liz: I have just retired. I have a 401(k) from work. Do I keep it as is or do I roll it over into an IRA?

Answer: Investment companies and their representatives like to push the idea of rollovers as the best option, but that may profit them more than it does you.

Leaving your money in your employer’s 401(k) has several potential advantages. Many 401(k)s offer access to institutional funds, which can be much cheaper than the retail funds available to IRA investors. Workplace retirement plans also offer unlimited protection from creditors if you’re sued or forced to file bankruptcy. An IRA’s bankruptcy exemption is limited to $1,283,025, and protection from creditors’ claims varies by state. (In California, for example, only amounts “necessary for support” are out of reach of creditors.)

If you retired early, you can access your 401(k) without penalty at age 55. The typical age to avoid penalties from IRA withdrawals is 59½.

You may opt for a rollover if your 401(k) offers only expensive or poorly performing options. Even if you decide to roll over the rest of your 401(k), though, get a tax pro’s advice before you roll over any company stock. You may be better off transferring the stock to a taxable account now so you can let future appreciation qualify for capital gains rates. Ask your tax pro how best to take advantage of this “net unrealized appreciation.”

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 12 African-American financial gurus to follow in 2018. Also in the news: 3 ways to screw up your investment portfolio, the fee for U.S. Passports is increasing, and watching out for fake car deals this Presidents’ Day Weekend.

12 African-American Financial Gurus to Follow in 2018
Learning from the pros.

3 Ways to Screw Up Your Investment Portfolio
What NOT to do.

Act Now Before the Fee for New U.S. Passports Increases
Make your changes soon.

Watch Out For Fake Car Deals This Presidents’ Day Weekend
Don’t get taken for a ride.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Know how and when to thaw your credit. Also in the news: How to find lost 401(k) cash and other unclaimed money, why you should listen to money podcasts, and serious financial mistakes to avoid when getting engaged.

Don’t Be Frozen Out — Know How and When to Thaw Your Credit
Credit in the post-Equifax breach world.

How to Find Lost 401(k) Cash (and Other Unclaimed Money)
Reunite with your lost money.

Why You Should Listen to Money Podcasts
A few recommendations.

Getting engaged? Don’t make these serious financial mistakes
Starting off on the right foot.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Will your relationship last? Depends on your investment. Also in the news: How 12 Olympians pinched pennies to chase gold, your guide to buying life insurance on someone else, and the financial benefit of skipping Valentine’s Day.

Will Your Relationship Last? Depends on Your Investment
Putting in the time and effort.

How 12 Olympians Pinched Pennies to Chase Gold
Inspiring stories.

Your Guide to Buying Life Insurance on Someone Else
Not as evil as it sounds.

The Financial Benefit of Skipping Valentine’s Day
Consult your partner first.

You’re married, but your assets don’t have to be

People who aren’t rich or famous typically don’t have prenuptial agreements, which are legal documents detailing who gets what in a divorce. Even ordinary folks without prenups, though, should think about how to protect their money if something goes wrong.

Planning for divorce may be cynical, but it’s also smart, San Diego certified financial planner Ginita Wall says.

In my latest for the Associated Press, how to protect your assets in case the unthinkable happens.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Are these 5 things worth credit card debt?
Also in the news:
What Millennials should consider about life insurance, 5 gas-saving “tips” that don’t work, and what to tell high schoolers about money.

Are These 5 Things Worth Credit Card Debt?
Paying off your wedding on your 20th anniversary.

Life Insurance and Millennials — What to Consider Now
Looking and planning ahead.

These 5 Gas-Saving ‘Tips’ Don’t Work
You can leave the AC on.

What to Tell High Schoolers About Money
Thinking outside the box.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 4 blunders to avoid when doing your own taxes. Also in the news: What to do if your W-2 is missing, 6 key investing concepts, and why there’s no such thing as a dumb question when it comes to money.

Doing Your Own Taxes? Pros Say Avoid These 4 Blunders
Getting it right the first time.

What to Do If Your W-2 Is MIA
You have options.

6 Investing Key Concepts — in Plain English
Understanding the basics.

Don’t Let the Fear of Looking Stupid Lead to Money Mistakes
There’s no such thing as a dumb question.

Q&A: A ‘poor man’s trust’ may be a poor estate plan

Dear Liz: I am 85 and my wife is 76. We have a house free of mortgage worth about $1 million. We have market investments above $4 million and life insurance of $1 million. We do not have a trust, just a will. Our financial advisor says that we do not need a trust because we have named both of our grown children as beneficiaries on all of our accounts and on the deed to our house. Please advise us if a trust is needed in our situation or if we are fine the way things are set up.

Answer: If your financial advisor is an estate-planning attorney, he or she may be correct. Otherwise, you’d be smart to seek out a lawyer experienced in these matters to review what you’ve done.

Naming beneficiaries on financial accounts, and on deeds in states that allow that, can allow those assets to pass to heirs without going through probate. So-called transfer-on-death accounts and deeds are sometimes called “the poor man’s trust.” You’re far from poor, though, and a living trust may be a better option for distributing your wealth because there are many ways the current arrangement could go wrong.

The surviving spouse, for example, could change the beneficiaries. You both may be of sound mind now, but there’s no guarantee you’ll remain so. Fraud experts can tell story after story of caregivers, relatives, friends, advisors and romantic interests persuading a vulnerable older person to change beneficiaries in favor of the interloper. A living trust that bypasses probate can include language to prevent your children from being completely disinherited.

Another potential problem: paying funeral costs and the expenses of settling the estate. If everything does go to the kids at the survivor’s death, the executor may have to go after them to return some of the money.

This column isn’t long enough to detail all the other ways transfer-on-death arrangements can misfire, so you’ll want to make an appointment with an experienced estate-planning attorney soon.

Q&A: Building an emergency fund beats out building credit

Dear Liz: I am trying to raise my credit scores, which are very low. I have one negative mark on my account from a paid collection and I just got my first secured credit card. I have a bit of extra money right now and I’m wondering what’s the best way to use it to raise my scores. Should I get another secured credit card from a different issuer, get a secured 12-month loan through my financial institution or something else?

Answer: People rebuilding their credit often overlook the importance of an emergency fund. Having even a small amount of savings can keep a financial setback, such as a decrease in income or an unexpected expense, from causing you to miss a payment and undoing all your efforts to boost your scores. You can start with just a few hundred dollars and slowly build the fund over time.

Adding an installment loan can assist with building credit as well, but a secured loan may not be the best option if money is tight. The cash you deposit with the lender as collateral for the loan won’t be available again until you pay off the loan. Consider instead a credit-builder loan, in which the money you borrow is placed in a savings account or certificate of deposit to be claimed when you’ve finished making the monthly payments, typically after one year. That means you can keep the cash you already have for emergencies. Credit-builder loans are available from some credit unions and Self Lender, an online company.

You’ll want to make sure both the credit card issuer and the installment loan lender are reporting your payments to the three credit bureaus. If your accounts don’t show up on your credit reports, they’re not helping to build your scores.

In addition to making payments on time, you’ll want to avoid using too much of the available credit on the card. There’s no bright line for how much to charge, but typically 30% or less is good, 20% or less is better and 10% or less is best. Use the card lightly but regularly and pay it off in full every month because there’s no advantage to carrying a balance.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 2018 US Olympians open up about their money struggles. Also in the news: Tax forms to know about before filing your return, how to keep your tax preparer from hating you, and 10 cities where taxpayers receive the fattest refund checks.

2018 US Olympians Open Up About Money Struggles
Star athletes paid very little.

Tax Forms to Know About Before Filing Your Return
The most popular forms, explained.

How to Keep Your Tax Preparer From Hating You
Come prepared.

10 cities where taxpayers receive the fattest refund checks
Did yours make the list?