Friday’s need-to-know money news

Pile of Credit CardsToday’s top story: How to fix common credit card problems. Also in the news: Why Millennials are delaying retirement savings, how to get a great deal on a car lease, and how medical debt can affect your credit score.

5 Common Credit Card Problems & How To Fix Them
Solutions to common problems.

Millennials Crushed By Debt Delay Saving For Retirement
A very costly delay.

5 Ways to Get a Great Deal on a Car Lease
Do your research.

How Medical Debt Can Affect Your Credit Score
Pay close attention to inaccuracies.

What a Fed rate hike will mean for your finances

percentageThe Fed’s decision to boost interest rates – when it finally happens – will not significantly impact your household budget, at least not immediately. Instead, take it as a signal to get your finances ready for the increases to come.

“It’s like the first snowfall,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst for “The first snowfall is not what closes roads and cancels school. But it’s a sign the seasons are changing.”

The U.S. Federal Reserve Bank typically changes the influential federal funds rate in a series of moves over time rather than all at once. The Fed’s last sequence of 17 quarter-point rate increases over two years ended in June 2006, while 10 subsequent cuts between September 2007 and December 2008 left the rate near 0 percent.

Future increases may well be more gradual given the challenges the economy faces, McBride said.

“This is going to be different than last time,” McBride said. One increase “doesn’t mean the second will be on its heels.”

In my latest for Reuters, a look at what an eventual boost in the rates will mean for your finances.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Household-Budget1Today’s top story: What to expect from your company’s financial wellness program. Also in the news: What to do if you’re being audited, big life insurance mistakes, and three absolute necessities if you’re buying a home.

What to Expect From Your Company’s Financial Wellness Plan
Taking cues from physical wellness plans.

Getting Audited? 5 Things You Should Know
Don’t panic.

10 Big Life Insurance Mistakes People Make
Plan carefully.

3 Things You’d Better Have If You’re Serious About Buying a Home
The essential checklist.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: Why you shouldn’t cancel your old credit cards. Also in the news: How to outsmart financial spies, why Millennials should automate their savings, and the biggest money worries in your state.

3 Reasons You Shouldn’t Cancel Old Credit Cards
Protecting your debt usage ratio.

12 Tips to Outsmart Financial Spies
Be the James Bond of identity theft.

A Pre-Retiree Message To Millennials — Automate Your Savings
Saving for retirement is essential, and automation makes it easier.

This is the biggest money worry in your state…
What is your state stressing out about?

Saving money aboard a Disney cruise

Mom Dad Daughter beachIn a previous post, I covered ways you can save money when booking your Disney cruise. Here are a few more ideas for saving money while aboard.

Keep it simple. A friend who took the western Caribbean cruise booked an excursion at every port—and regretted it. Excursion costs tend to be high, particularly if you book with the cruise line, and they often aren’t necessary to have a great time. We booked just one real excursion, a day-long snorkel trip, that we found using TripAdvisor. We also bought the “extreme getaway” package for Castaway Cay (a “stingray adventure” and rental of snorkel equipment, bikes and floats) which turned out to be extreme overkill. I was the only one to ride a bike, and nobody took advantage of the floats. The stingray encounter was cool, though, and Disney’s snorkel garden is not to be missed.

Another option at most ports is to simply wander off the boat and try to arrange an excursion, but our experience is that the best providers are often booked up by the time the ship arrives.

Don’t save at another’s expense. Disney adds $12 per person per day to cover tips for the people who clean your stateroom, serve your meals and keep the ship looking tidy. That added up to $336 for our party of four. You can add to this tip amount—we did—plus you’ll also need tip money for:

  • porters who help you with your bags at the port,
  • your guides on excursions and
  • the waiters who bring room service and who serve you at the adult-only restaurants.

Don’t like to tip? There’s a simple solution: don’t cruise. There are plenty of do-it-yourself vacations where you can reduce or eliminate tipping. When you cruise, though, tips are part of the package and an essential supplement to the low wages most cruise workers earn.

Beware the budget busters. Unlike most other cruise lines, Disney doesn’t charge extra for sodas at meals—but it does charge for alcohol, and that can add up fast. Visits to the spa can add several hundreds of dollars to your bill, as can professional photography and Disney souvenirs.

You can choose to eschew these extras or budget for them in advance. For example, we set a $15-per-day limit for spending for our tween daughter and her friend that they used for popcorn (movie snacks are extra), stuffed animals and pins (trading Disney pins on board with cruise employees and other guests was a favorite activity). My husband and I also bought week-long passes to the spa, which was well worth the charge of about $100 per person. We ate at the adults-only restaurants Palo ($35 per person supplement) and Remy ($85 per person) and enjoyed them immensely.

You can use your stateroom key to charge just about anything you want to buy to your room, which is convenient and dangerous at the same time. The guest services desk will give you printouts of your bill any time you ask so that you won’t be surprised by how very much these add-ons add up by the end of your trip.

Thinking about a Disney cruise? Read this.

Mom daughter cruise worldIf your kids aren’t bugging you about taking a Disney cruise, then either you don’t have kids or they can’t talk yet. The idea that any child would be immune from Disney’s marketing might is hard to fathom.

Disney cruises are pricier than most others for good reason, as I explained this week in my Reuters column “How to get a Disney cruise for less.” Disney markets to families but aims for a luxury experience several cuts above the bargain brands. The company also uses demand pricing, so fares tend to go up over time, not down.

We took our first Disney cruise last month after (of course) extensive research and reading just about every “tips and tricks” article I could find. We scored a decent deal on our fare, but we also made a mistake or two—so I hope you can learn from those as well.

Here’s what we learned:

Go when others can’t. Most families have to book during school breaks. If you can go later or earlier, you can get lower fares. Our fare for two adults and two tweens in a stateroom with a balcony was about $6,000 for a 7-night eastern Caribbean route at the end of August, when many kids are already back at school. The Dec. 19 sailing for the same cruise costs twice that. (Actually, fares currently range from about $9,700 for an inside stateroom to about $31,000 for a one-bedroom concierge suite).

Inside is okay. While the veranda was nice, Disney’s inside cabins may be a better deal since you’ll spend far more time outside of your stateroom than in it. Inside cabins are usually the first to sell out, though, so you’ll need to plan in advance.

Check for deals. Mousesavers, an excellent tip site for all things Disney, keeps a running list of “Great Dates” that offer especially good fares.

Consider shorter cruises. The per-night cost tends to shrink when you take longer cruises. But the 3- and 4-night itineraries can give you a taste of Disney cruising for less overall. The Caribbean and Bahamas routes include a stop at Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island in the Bahamas that’s a real highlight.

Take the bus (or a limo). Disney figured out that one of the biggest downers of cruising (and traveling in general) is dealing with the luggage. So if you book their transfer service, they’ll whisk your bags from the airport baggage claim to your stateroom while your family rides to the port on a luxury bus. The cost is $70 per person, though, so I tried to save a few bucks by renting a car. The one-way rental cost was less than $75, but picking up and dropping off the vehicle would have been a major hassle even if I hadn’t run into a massive traffic jam caused by a brawl at another rental car company. If bus travel isn’t your thing, another option to consider is a private sedan or limo. (Again, Mousesavers has recommendations.)

I have a few more tips for saving money once you’re on the ship that I’ll post later this week.


Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

401K Nest EggToday’s top story: The cost of spending your retirement money before you retire. Also in the news: How to build a high credit score from scratch, how to get over spending mistakes, and the boring secret to getting rich.

Should You Ever Spend Your Retirement Money Before You Retire?
It’ll cost you.

3 Steps To Build A High Credit Score From Scratch
A great opportunity for millennials.

Get Over Spending Mistakes With a “Money Regrets” Budget
Quit beating yourself up!

The Boring Secret to Getting Rich
Try not to fall asleep.

Q&A: Parental identity theft

Dear Liz: I have been dating my boyfriend for about eight months and he recently told me that his dad took out a credit card in his name when he was a baby. He has about $150,000 in debt because of this! This is a very serious, life-changing crime but my boyfriend is reluctant to take his dad to court. I’m worried about our future together and don’t know where to go from here.

Answer: Parental identity theft is unfortunately not uncommon — and the parents typically get away with it. Victims are reluctant to file the police reports necessary to clear their names because doing so could trigger criminal prosecutions of their family members.

If your boyfriend is not willing to file a police report, the debt is considered his and he probably will need to pay it, settle it or declare bankruptcy to move on with his financial life.

If he’s ready to hold his father responsible, the Identity Theft Resource Center at has more information about filing police reports and starting the long process of cleaning up his credit.

Q&A: Credit card useage

Dear Liz: I recently refinanced my home and one of the perks was a 0% interest credit card. The problem is that I have two credit cards and I am happy with them, but I am afraid that having a third will adversely affect my credit score. I have no plans to borrow money in the near future but I can’t shake the feeling that it is a detriment to have the card. I haven’t activated the new card and I never carry a balance on either of the older cards I use. What do you advise?

Answer: The new card affects your credit reports and scores whether or not you activate it. Chances are good, though, that the overall effect will be positive.

Yes, your scores may have been dinged a few points when the new card was issued, but over time responsibly handling multiple credit cards will help, not hurt, your numbers.

Failing to use the card, on the other hand, could cause the issuer to close it, and that could negatively affect your scores.

Just do what you do with your other cards: Charge lightly (no more than about 30% of the card’s limit) and pay the bill on time and in full. There’s no credit score advantage to carrying debt.

Q&A: State tax breaks for 529 plans

Dear Liz: You recently answered a question from grandparents who were contributing $20,000 to their grandson’s college education. You correctly told them they did not qualify fdownloador federal education tax credits or deductions because he was not a dependent. You might let grandparents know, however, that they may get a state tax break for contributing to a 529 college savings plan.

Answer: Most states that have state income taxes offer some sort of a tax break for 529 college savings plan contributions. (The exceptions are California, Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and North Carolina, according to Tennessee has a tax on interest and dividends but no 529 tax break.) In some states, even short-term contributions qualify for a deduction, so grandparents could contribute money that’s quickly withdrawn to pay qualified higher education expenses and still get the break. SavingForCollege has details on each state’s tax benefits.