Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: April 18th isn’t just the tax-filing deadline. Also in the news: Why so many credit cards are from Delaware, how to file a tax extension online, and lowering your tax bill with IRA contributions.

April 18 Isn’t Just the Tax-Filing Deadline
Other items to add to your to-do list.

Why So Many Credit Cards Are From Delaware
The answer may surprise you.

How to File a Tax Extension Online
Don’t delay when you need more time.

Reminder: You Have Until Tomorrow to Lower Your Tax Bill With IRA Contributions
Tick-tock.

Q&A: Investors need to stop trying to time the market

Dear Liz: My 25-year-old son is a new investor. He put $11,000 ($5,500 each for 2016 and 2017) into an IRA in a money market fund with a discount brokerage firm. He doesn’t want to get into the market yet because he thinks it is in a bubble. I’m afraid with this strategy, he could be sitting there for a long time losing out to inflation. How would you present this argument?

Answer: You might ask him when he plans to enter the market. When stocks fall 10%? 20%? More? If stocks do tumble to his target level, there are likely to be plenty of scary headlines indicating that the market could fall further. Will he be able to follow through on his plan or will he put off investing — and miss the inevitable rise that will follow?

Newbie investors, and even some more experienced ones who should know better, often think that they can time the market. They can’t. They’re better off diving in with a well-diversified portfolio and adding to it regularly without worrying about the day-to-day swings of the market. Your son won’t need this money for decades, so there’s no sense fretting about what might happen tomorrow or next week. Over the next 40 years, he’ll see significant gains — but only if he gets off the sidelines and puts his money to work.

Q&A: Co-signing a loan may affect credit score

Dear Liz: Despite having high credit card debt (about $35,000), which I am working hard to pay off, my FICO score is consistently over 765 and I have never been denied credit — until now. I was recently denied for a card because of “high debt to earnings” (I earn about $85,000 annually.) Could that be because I recently co-signed for a $15,000 education loan for my grandson? I trust him completely to pay off the loan, but is it now showing on my credit history as money owed even though it is not payable until after he graduates?

Answer: You’d need to check your credit reports to be sure, but it’s entirely possible the new loan is already showing up and affecting your scores. Your debt-to-income ratio was high even before adding this loan, though, so it’s not surprising that the credit card company balked.

It’s unfortunate that you weren’t clear about this when you co-signed, but you’re on the hook for that student loan every bit as much as your grandson is. If he misses a single payment, you could see your credit scores lose 100 points or more overnight.

If you want to protect your credit scores and have the opportunity to get good credit card deals in the future, continue to pay down your debt. Also, consider making the payments on the education loan yourself and having your grandson reimburse you. That’s really the only way to make sure a missed payment won’t torpedo your scores.

Q&A: Capital gains tax on home sale profit

Dear Liz: I recently sold a home and am trying to escape the dreaded capital gains tax. I’ve done everything I can to reduce my overall tax bill, including maxing out my retirement contributions. I don’t want to buy a more expensive home to escape the gains tax. Any thoughts?

Answer: Buying a more expensive home wouldn’t change what you owe on your previous home. The days when you could roll gains from one home purchase into another are long gone.

These days you’re allowed to exclude up to $250,000 in home sale profit from your income (the limit is per person, so a couple can shelter $500,000). In other words, that amount is tax free, as long as you lived in the home for at least two of the previous five years. Beyond that your profit is subject to capital gains taxes. The top federal capital gains rate is 20%, plus a 3.8% investment surtax if your income is more than $200,000 for singles or $250,000 for married couples.

Here’s where good record-keeping may help. While generally you’re not allowed to deduct repair and maintenance costs from that profit, you can use home improvement expenditures to reduce the tax you owe. Home improvements are added to your cost basis — essentially what you paid for the property, including settlement fees and closing costs, and that’s what is deducted from your net sales price to determine your profit.

You’ll need receipts plus credit card or bank statements to prove what you paid. Improvements must “add to the value of your home, prolong its useful life, or adapt it to new uses,” according to IRS Publication 523, Selling Your Home. Examples of improvements include additions, remodels, landscaping and new systems, such as new heating or air conditioning systems. You can include repairs that are part of a larger remodeling job, but you can’t include improvements you later take out (such as the cost of a first kitchen remodel after you do a second one).

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Only 1 in 10 Americans are at Peak Financial Health. Also in the news: How to dodge stock market scams, when a tax refund means bankruptcy, and millennial parents face the reality of baby costs.

Only 1 in 10 Americans at Peak Financial Health
Where Americans are falling short.

How to Dodge Stock Market Scams
Protecting your investments.

When a Tax Refund Means Bankruptcy
Using a refund as a budget tool or a chance at a fresh start.

Millennial parents face the reality of baby costs
Babies are both adorable and expensive.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to save like a superhero. Also in the news: The best way to pay for your next flight, the big mistake one-third of credit card holders are making, and warnings about Amazon third-party accounts.

Save Like a Superhero: Roth IRAs and 529 Plans
Superpowered savings.

Cash or Points? The Best Way to Pay for Your Next Flight
NerdWallet’s 2017 Travel Card Study

The big mistake one-third of credit card holders are making
Stop wasting your rewards.

Beware Hacked Amazon Third-Party Accounts
Watch where you shop.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What student loan borrowers need to know about the Navient lawsuit. Also in the news: 5 ways to avoid blowing your tax refund, how to prepare financially for a baby, and spreading your tax refund across multiple accounts.

Navient Lawsuit: What Student Loan Borrowers Need to Know
Navient is facing three lawsuits.

5 Ways to Avoid Blowing Your Tax Refund
Using it wisely.

Baby on the way? Here’s how to prepare financially
Preparing for parenthood.

The IRS Will Split Your Tax Refund for You
Spread your refund across multiple accounts.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: These 4 tax bills can surprise, but you can be ready. Also in news: Can’t pay your taxes? Here are 6 ways to cope. Why stay-at-home spouses should buy life insurance, and how to avoid blowing your tax refund.

These 4 Tax Bills Can Surprise, but You Can Be Ready
Be prepared.

Can’t Pay Your Taxes? Here Are 6 Ways to Cope
Don’t panic.

Why Stay-at-Home Spouses Should Buy Life Insurance
Guidlines for the right policy.

5 ways to avoid blowing your tax refund
Spending it wisely.

Are you financially healthy?

Traditional financial literacy efforts haven’t been a rousing success. Research from Harvard Business School shows that even Americans who are taught personal finance in school don’t seem to save more or manage credit better than anyone else.

That’s why many experts concerned about Americans’ money habits — including regulators such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and financial think tanks such as the Center for Financial Services Innovation — are promoting the concept of financial health.

In my latest for the Associated Press, what you can do to improve your financial health.

Q&A: What to do about heavy credit card debt

Dear Liz: I have a lot of credit card debt and am just able to make minimum payments. I feel like after doing this for four years now that I am not getting ahead. I will be 61 this summer and don’t have much saved for retirement. My rent keeps going up along with other expenses. I have an 11-year-old car that is in need of maintenance but don’t have the funds to do it. My question is, what would happen if I walk away from the credit card debt? Will I be facing garnishment?

Answer: Yes, you could be sued and face wage garnishment if you simply stopped paying your debts.

You could consider a debt management plan offered through a credit counselor, which could lower the interest rates you pay. You can get referrals from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling at www.nfcc.org. But you’d be making payments for the next five years or so, when you could be putting that cash toward your retirement.

A Chapter 7 bankruptcy, by contrast, would take a few months and legally erase your credit card debt to give you a fresh start. Bankruptcy is often the best of bad options when you can’t make progress on your debts. Consider meeting with both a credit counselor and a bankruptcy attorney so you understand all your options.