Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 6 college money lessons you didn’t learn in high school. Also in the news: Affordable ways to refresh your home, 5 ways not to blow a financial windfall, and the high financial cost of being gay.

6 College-Money Lessons You Didn’t Learn in High School
Lessons to take with you on campus.

Affordable Ways to Refresh Your Home
New looks for less.

5 Ways Not to Blow a Financial Windfall
You don’t need a yacht.

The High Cost of Being Gay
Marriage equaliity doesn’t equal financial equality.

Q&A: When a Social Security spousal benefit goof is suspected

Dear Liz: A family member recently lost her spouse. His monthly Social Security check was $1,800 and hers is $750. I have two questions.

First, is my understanding correct that she is able to begin collecting his monthly amount instead of her own?

Second, instead of collecting Social Security based on her earnings history, was she eligible instead to have collected 50% of her husband’s monthly benefit? If so, she was entitled to $150 more than she’s been collecting. If this is accurate, is there any recourse for collecting the additional benefit from Social Security?

Answer: To answer your first question, yes, your relative will now receive a survivor’s benefit equal to what her husband was receiving. She will no longer receive her own benefit.

The answer to your second question is a bit more complicated. Your relative may have started benefits before her own full retirement age, which used to be 65 and is now 66. When people start benefits early, they receive a permanently reduced amount whether they’re receiving their own retirement benefit or a benefit based on a spouse’s earnings. It’s possible that her reduced retirement benefit was more than her reduced spousal benefit.

Another possibility is that she started benefits before her husband. To get spousal benefits, the primary earner typically needs to be receiving his or her own benefit. (There used to be a way around this, called “file and suspend,” that allowed the primary earner to file for benefits and then suspend the application. That no longer exists.)

If your relative started benefits before her husband, she may have been able to get a bump in her check once he applied, assuming her spousal benefit was worth more than her own retirement benefit. That bump in benefits is now automatic, but if she turned 62 before 2016, she would have had to apply to get the increase, says Mary Beth Franklin, a Social Security expert who writes for Investment News.

She wouldn’t be eligible to get all the missed benefits back at this point, but she could get up to six months’ worth.

Q&A: Health sharing plans don’t work for everyone

Dear Liz: I read your column about healthcare options for couples planning for retirement today. I’ve recently learned about and signed up for health sharing. The benefits are closely comparable to traditional insurance and less expensive. If you haven’t heard about this, I think it’s worth looking into.

Answer: Christian health sharing plans are an alternative to traditional insurance, but they’re not actually health insurance. Members agree to pay each other’s medical bills, up to certain limits. Members typically must be Christians who attend church regularly and don’t use tobacco, among other restrictions. These plans often don’t cover preventive care such as mammograms or colonoscopies and may not cover mental health care, addiction treatment or other so-called “essential services” that are typically required of health insurance.

The plans can help with some healthcare costs, but the amounts that can be paid out are typically capped. That means that an accident or illness could still bankrupt you. In addition, the plans typically don’t cover preexisting conditions or limit the coverage they offer. Since few people reach their 50s and 60s without a preexisting condition or six, these plans aren’t a viable substitute for many people approaching retirement.

Q&A: Healthcare costs and retirement

Dear Liz: You usually don’t give me such a laugh, but today’s letter was from someone who’s 41 and her husband is 51. They now have $800,000 saved and want to retire early. You told them they might do better leaving the country since it will be so bad for them with health insurance.

My husband was a teacher in Los Angeles, with no Social Security. We have $60,000 in the bank and together we bring in $3,400 a month. We have Kaiser insurance that totals $2,400 a year for both. We have a house, a car, not so much money, but are happy. He’s 82, I’m 79. What planet do you live on? I guess people who have so much money can’t imagine people like us.

Answer: You’re living on Planet Medicare, so perhaps you can’t imagine what people are facing who don’t have access to guaranteed medical coverage.

Currently, those without employer-provided insurance can buy coverage on Affordable Care Act exchanges, but that option may soon be going away. Congress ended the ACA’s individual mandate, which requires most people to have insurance, so costs are expected to rise sharply.

In addition, the future of so-called “guaranteed issue” is in doubt. The ACA currently requires health insurers to accept people with preexisting conditions and limits how much people can be charged, something known as “community rating.” The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced it would not defend those provisions against a lawsuit filed by several states.

When health insurance is unavailable or unaffordable, it doesn’t matter if you have $1 million or more in savings. A hefty retirement fund can disappear in a few months without coverage.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to make June’s Fed rate hike work for your savings. Also in the news: What the Fed rate hike means for your CDs, how to save money on wedding music, and making it easier for your loved ones to figure out your finances if you die.

How to Make June’s Fed Rate Hike Work for Your Savings
Time to reevaluate your savings?

June Fed Rate Hike: What It Means for Your CDs
Look for a little bump.

To Save Money on Wedding Music, Scratch the DJ and DIY
Create the ultimate playlist.

Could your loved ones figure out your finances if you died?
Making things easier during a difficult time.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why brand loyalty makes some blind to retail cards’ flaws. Also in the news: The good, the bad and the budget of destination weddings, how to save on central air, and what to know about your insurance when you’re on vacation.

Why Brand Loyalty Makes Some Blind to Retail Cards’ Flaws
Your favorite store card could come with a whopping interest rate.

Destination Weddings: The Good, the Bad and the Budget
Exchanging vows on vacation.

The Cost to Install Central Air and 3 Ways to Save
Staying cool for less.

What to Know About Your Insurance When You’re on Vacation
What is and isn’t covered.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How 1% savings hikes can spice up retired life by $1 million. Also in the news: 7 ways to save at Disneyland, why you shouldn’t let a down payment scare you from buying a home, and how Millennial men and women invest differently.

1% Savings Hikes Can Spice Up Retired Life by $1 Million
The earlier start, the better the boost.

7 Ways to Save at Disneyland — No Magic Required
Keeping your money away from the Mouse.

Don’t Let a Down Payment Scare You Off
Help is available for first-time buyers.

401(k) investing: How Millennial men and women invest differently
It goes back to childhood.

Beware of hidden taxes in retirement

Your taxes in retirement may be a lot more complicated than taxes while you’re working.

Social Security checks may or may not be taxed, depending on your income. You’ll pay federal income taxes on most retirement plan withdrawals, but additional state taxes depend on where you live. Tax rates on investments can vary as well.

In my latest for the Associated Press, what to expect when you hit retirement age.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Nondeductible IRA – for when you’re too rich for a regular one. Also in the news: How to get more bang for your beauty buck, how to know if your pet will dig a subscription box, and the 2018 FAFSA deadline is approaching.

Nondeductible IRA: For When You’re Too Rich for a Regular One
No more deducting your contributions.

How to Get More Bang for Your Beauty Buck
Staying on trend and on budget.

How to Know if Your Pet Will Dig a Subscription Box
Content is key.

The 2018 FAFSA Deadline Is Approaching
June 30th.

Q&A: What to do when a financial advisor doesn’t act in your best interests

Dear Liz: I hired a fee-only financial advisor a year ago. The advisor’s firm also included a CPA who prepared my 2017 tax return.

My tax liability was 100% more than what I paid via my W-2 withholding because the advisor traded constantly, incurring short-term capital gains. He authorized 45 trades in a three-month period. My capital gains for 2017 were more than I have ever earned annually in my 40-plus years of filing returns, yet the overall gain in my account was negligible.

I am 67 and soon to be retired. I do not believe he was acting in my best interests as his client. Is there any action I can take?

Answer: If you’re considering legal action, you’ll need to consult an attorney. If you want to take your beef to a regulatory agency, you can start by contacting the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

Just because an advisor is fee-only does not mean he or she is competent or is a fiduciary (someone who is legally required to put your best interests first). Most advisors are held to a lower standard of “suitability,” which basically means their recommendations can’t be unsuitable, given the client’s situation.

Giving an advisor authority to make trades in your account is risky business. When you don’t know an advisor well, it’s better to start with a non-discretionary account that requires your approval for any trades.

If the advisor earns your trust, you can consider switching to a discretionary account that allows trading — but first you should have an investment plan that makes clear, in writing, what your goals for the account are, what investments are appropriate and how often the advisor expects to make trades.

Most people are best served by passive investment strategies that seek to minimize fees and match various market benchmarks. Attempting to beat the market with frequent trading is usually futile, and costly. That’s especially true in taxable accounts because short-term capital gains are taxed at regular income tax rates, while investments held long term can qualify for lower capital gains rates.