Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why many consumers still #BankBlack. Also in the news: 3 reasons to choose a credit card over debit, how and why to use the Equifax free credit lock app, and how to review and dispute the salary data Equifax collects on you.

Here’s Why Many Still #BankBlack, Despite Fewer Options
Providing needed access.

3 Reasons to Choose a Credit Card Over Debit — and When Not To
Using your card strategically.

How and Why to Use the Equifax Free Credit Lock App
Locking your credit vs freezing it.

How to Review (and Dispute) the Salary Data Equifax Collects on You
Credit bureaus want your salary info.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why couples need their own slush fund. Also in the news: 5 signs it’s time to break up with your financial advisor, easy home touch-ups to bring in more buyers, and the dark reason so many millennials are miserable and broke.

Why Couples Need Their Own Slush Funds
Separate doesn’t have to mean secret.

5 Signs It’s Time to Break Up With Your Financial Advisor
What to look out for.

Easy Home Touch-Ups to Bring All the Buyers to Your Yard
Giving your home more curb appeal.

The dark reason so many millennials are miserable and broke
Social media is taking a toll.

You can do your own estate plan, but should you?

Estate planning mistakes can be expensive to fix — that is, when they can be fixed at all.

That’s the thought that haunts New York attorney Mari Galvin whether she’s creating an estate plan for a client or confronting the aftermath when people didn’t properly plan.

“People think, ‘Oh, I have a simple life,’ but you have to understand (that if) you make a mistake and you have unintended results, you can’t bring the person back to sign a new will,” says Galvin, a partner at Cassin & Cassin law firm.

In my latest for the Associated Press, why trying to save money by doing your own estate planning can cost big bucks down the line.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: More credit cards pile on rewards for mobile wallet spending. Also in the news: Dog-friendly designs attract home buyers and remodelers, new rules to help protect old Americans from financial fraud, and the reckless financial habit that will ruin your chances of ever finding love.

More Credit Cards Pile on Rewards for Mobile Wallet Spending
Perks for paying with your phone.

Dog-Friendly Designs Attract Home Buyers and Remodelers
Not your typical dog house.

These new rules will help protect older Americans from financial fraud
New protections put in place.

This reckless financial habit will ruin your chances of ever finding love
Show some restraint.

Q&A: Here are some ways you can improve your credit scores

Dear Liz: Two years ago I got out of prison after being there for nine years. I lost everything that I had. When I got out, my credit rating was 565. I recently bought a car and have made four payments so far. Can you tell me when I might have good credit again?

Answer: As long as you continue to make on-time payments, you should see gradual improvement in your scores. It’s impossible to predict how long it might take to achieve “good” scores, though. That depends on the information that’s in your credit reports, what credit score formula is used and what’s considered “good” by whichever lender is evaluating your application.

You should first make sure your payments are being reported to all three credit bureaus. Unfortunately, some car dealerships that specialize in bad-credit lending don’t report their loans, which means your payments wouldn’t be helping your scores. If that’s the case, consider getting a credit builder loan. These loans, typically offered by credit bureaus, put the amount you borrow into a savings account that you can claim after making 12 monthly payments.

Payments should always be made on time, by the way. A big chunk of your credit scores is determined by your payment history. Your low scores mean you fell seriously behind on your obligations, but even a single skipped payment can hurt. Consider putting payments on automatic so there’s no chance of a lapse.

Another large portion of your scores is determined by credit utilization, or how much of your available credit you’re using. Paying down an installment loan over time helps that ratio. So, too, does paying down or lightly using a revolving account such as a credit card. If you don’t have a card, consider applying for one. There may be a small initial hit to your credit scores, but that will fade quickly. People with bad credit often need to start with a secured credit card, which requires you to deposit a certain amount — typically $200 or more — with the issuing bank. Use only a small portion of your available credit — 30% or less is good, 20% or less is better, 10% or less is best. Pay the bill in full each month, since there’s no advantage to carrying a balance.

Another way to speed up your credit rehabilitation is to be added as an authorized user to the credit card of someone with a solid credit history. This other person doesn’t have to give you access to the card itself, but naming you as an authorized user may allow that person’s history with the card to be imported into your credit reports. Not all credit card issuers report this information, though, so the primary cardholder would need to ask. It’s also important that the other person continue to behave responsibly with credit. If the primary cardholder misses a payment or maxes out the card, your scores could be hurt, too.

You can track your progress using one of the many websites offering free credit scores. Your bank or the credit card issuer may offer free scores as well. The scores likely won’t be the same score a lender might use to evaluate you, but they should give you a general idea of where you stand.

Q&A: IRA distributions and the tax man

Dear Liz: I am 79, in fairly good health and fortunately have almost $600,000 in my IRA account. My minimum required distribution is currently about $30,000 a year, which means my IRA funds will last until I am well over 100! I realize that I can pay a penalty and draw down some of the funds but I don’t want to be pushed into a higher income bracket. Any suggestions on how I can enjoy the money while I am able?

Answer: You won’t pay a penalty for pulling more than the minimum from your IRA. That early withdrawal penalty disappeared 20 years ago, after you turned 59½. You will owe income taxes, of course, but a visit with a tax pro can help you determine how much more you can withdraw before you’re pushed into a higher tax bracket.

Q&A: Where to find financial planner fiduciary oath

Dear Liz: You often mention that a financial planner should be “willing to sign a fiduciary oath to put your interests first.” Is there a form or formatted letter available to financial planners who are willing to sign said oath?

Answer: There is. The Committee for the Fiduciary Standard, a group that promotes the idea that advisors should put their clients’ best interests first, has just such a form letter at

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What you can learn from the tax hike on Super Bowl players. Also in the news: 3 tactics to tame your credit card debt worries, could Bitcoin be the next legendary investment bubble, and six mistakes people make when hiring a financial advisor.

Super Bowl Players’ Tax Hike May Have a Lesson for You, Too
A look at Duty Days.

Tame Your Credit Card Debt Worries With 3 Tactics
Fight back against fear.

Is Bitcoin the Next Legendary Investment Bubble?
Crypto craziness.

Six Mistakes People Make When Hiring A Financial Advisor
What not to do.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What to do if the new tax law changes your paycheck. Also in the news: The smartest way to use gift cards, giving up your brick-and-mortar bank, and smart money moves for Black Americans in financial distress.

What to Do If the New Tax Law Changes Your Paycheck
What to look out for.

The Smartest Way to Use Gift Cards
How to get the most value.

Can You Afford to Give Up Your Brick-and-Mortar Bank?
Making the switch to mobile banking.

Smart Money Moves for Black Americans in Financial Distress
Fighting against income disparity.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What a travel agent can do for you that a search engine can’t. Also in the news: How one couple paid off over $200,000 in debt, 6 ways to weed out shady schools, and why your credit score may not be as good as you think it is.

What a Travel Agent Can Do for You That a Search Engine Can’t
More than just booking a ticket.

How I Ditched Debt: Setting Pride Aside and Asking for Help
One couple’s story.

6 Ways to Weed Out Shady Schools
Just because it has “university” in the name doesn’t mean it’s legit.

Why Your Credit Score May Not Be As Good As You Think It Is
So many scores.