Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Ditching debt while budgeting for a baby. Also in the news: What to do if Hurricane Florence hits your home and/or mortgage, five people who are crushing student debt, and what you can learn from the last financial crisis to help you with the next.

How I Ditched Debt: Changing Habits, Budgeting for a Baby
A shift in priorities.

What to Do If Hurricane Florence Hits Your Home, Mortgage
The Category 4 storm is heading towards the Carolinas.

Meet 5 People Who Are Crushing Student Debt
Tips from the masters.

Here’s what you can learn from the last financial crisis that will help you with the next
Planning ahead.

Got an hour? Chalk up 4 quick financial wins

Sometimes money is like technology. Getting stuff done — whether it’s updating an operating system or moving a bank account — often takes longer than it should.

There are some money chores, though, that can be done a lot faster than you may think. In my latest for the Associated Press, four financial tasks that take less than 15 minutes each.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What to do if Hurricane Florence hits your home, mortgage. Also in the news: How to choose a college major with loan debt in mind, the pros and cons of product subscriptions, and the 10 cities where Millennials have the most debt.

What to Do If Hurricane Florence Hits Your Home, Mortgage
Things to do immediately.

Razors, Makeup, Hot Sauce — You Can Subscribe to Almost Anything. But Should You?
Are the discounts truly worth it?

These 10 Cities Are Where Millennials Have The Most Debt
San Antonio leads the way.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to size up your property tax assessment. Also in the news: How to never miss a credit card payment again, what it takes to retire early, and how to save money by embracing the ‘pain of paying.’

How to Size Up Your Property Tax Assessment
Don’t be caught offguard.

How to Never Miss a Credit Card Payment Again
Automate your credit life.

Dreaming of an Early Retirement? Here’s What It Takes
Never too early to get started.

Save Money by Embracing the ‘Pain of Paying’
Cash can hurt.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Don’t be afraid to test-drive your car salesperson. Also in the news: How your net worth compares and what matters more, 5 family vacation planning tips learned on the fly, and creative strategies for lowering your debt-to-income ratio.

Don’t Be Afraid to Test-Drive Your Car Salesperson
Switch when you need to.

How Your Net Worth Compares — and What Matters More
It’s just a just a high-level picture of your financial life.

5 Family Vacation Planning Tips I Learned on the Fly
Stay on budget while still having fun.

Try these creative strategies for lowering your debt-to-income ratio
It could be the deciding factor when applying for a loan.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 4 ways to get a sales price when there isn’t a sale. Also in the news: What to buy and skip in September, why your kid’s after-school job may mean tax homework for you, and why your credit card debt is worse than your mortgage debt.

4 Ways to Get a Sale Price When There Isn’t a Sale
It can be as simple as just asking for one.

What to Buy (and Skip) in September
Skip the televisions.

Your Kid’s After-School Job May Mean Tax Homework for You
When to file a return.

Your Credit Card Debt Is Worse Than Your Mortgage Debt
The difference between good and bad debt.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Want to become a millionaire? These choices can get you there. Also in the news: Use points and miles on ordinary expenses, being partners in finances and life, and how to shore up your savings against inflation.

Want to Become a Millionaire? These Choices Can Get You There
The road to a million.

Go Ahead, Use Points and Miles on Ordinary Expenses
Leave some wiggle room in your budget.

Be Partners in Finances As Well As in Life
Understanding the big picture together.

Inflation Erodes Your Savings. Here’s How to Shore Them Up
Don’t be caught short.

Q&A: How to avoid the costly Medicare mistake that too many people make

Dear Liz: My husband retired last year at 74. He had originally signed up for Medicare Part A and Part B. But during his employment, he cancelled Part B because of the company’s private health insurance. When he retired, we used COBRA to continue that insurance coverage for our family. (I’m not Medicare eligible, and we have a son.) Our COBRA coverage ends in a few weeks.

My husband was told he has to wait until January 2019 to enroll in Part B and will not have coverage until July 2019. He is ineligible for VA benefits and has costly medical expenses. I was able to get an Obamacare plan because coming off COBRA triggers a special enrollment period for me, but he cannot get coverage because he is Medicare eligible.

What a dilemma. No one told us when he retired that he should get back on Part B right away and not take the COBRA offered. Now, when he does get Part B, he will also pay a 20% premium penalty each month for life. We are shocked that the system works like this. Any ideas how to get out of this mess?

Answer: Your husband isn’t alone in misunderstanding the importance of signing up for Part B after retirement. Unfortunately, there’s probably no remedy.

For those who don’t know, Medicare Part A is the hospital coverage that’s provided to people 65 and older. They don’t pay premiums for this coverage. People do, however, pay premiums for Medicare Part B, which covers doctors’ visits and other medical costs. Those who are still working and covered by an employer’s plan often forgo Medicare Part B. Once their employment ends, though, they’re expected to sign up for Part B within 8 months or they pay a 10% premium for every 12 months they failed to sign up. They also have to wait for the regular Medicare enrollment window to roll around, which can leave them exposed to some hefty medical bills in the meantime.

“This is the biggest mistake people make and seriously this rule needs to be changed,” says Carolyn McClanahan, a physician and certified financial planner in Jacksonville, Fla.

There is a process known as “equitable relief” that allows people to request immediate enrollment and the waiving of the penalty, but you have to prove that the failure to enroll was the result of “error, misrepresentation or inaction” by a federal employee or anyone authorized by the federal government to act on its behalf, according to the Social Security Administration. So it’s not enough to inadvertently make a mistake. You have to prove you were misled. You can read more here: https://www.medicarerights.org/PartB-Enrollment-Toolkit/Equitable-Relief.pdf

Q&A: Waiting your way to better retirement benefits

Dear Liz: You recently wrote, “When you apply for Social Security now, you’re ‘deemed’ (considered by the Social Security Administration) to be applying for both your own benefit and any available spousal benefit. If a spousal benefit is larger, you’ll get that, and you can’t switch back to your own later.”

I turn 62 in August and recently visited the Social Security Administration to apply for benefits. I worked for 20 years and earned a benefit of $1,400 a month if I waited to apply at 66. Since I was applying at the earlier age of 62, my benefit is lowered to about $1,000 a month. Half of my husband’s benefit is $1,300 a month but I was told my only choices are to take $1,000 at the earlier age of 62 or wait another four years and take my full benefit at $1,400.

What makes me incensed is that had I not worked at all, I would be eligible to take the higher amount of $1,300 spousal benefit at 62. This makes no sense!

Answer: No, it doesn’t, and it may be because you’re misunderstanding what you were told.

Your spousal benefit is half of your husband’s benefit only if you wait until your own full retirement age, 66, to take it. Social Security benefits are reduced if you start early.

If his benefit is currently $2,600, your spousal benefit now would be about 35% of that, or $904. Since your own benefit reduced for an early start is $1,000, you would get the larger of the two checks, or $1,000. If you wait until your full retirement age, you’ll get a substantially larger check — and it will still be bigger than your spousal benefit.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 people who are crushing student debt. Also in the news: Skipping student loan forbearance, what it takes for early retirement, and 5 things to avoid buying during Labor Day sales.

Meet 5 People Who Are Crushing Student Debt
How you can follow their lead.

Skip Student Loan Forbearance — Do This Instead
Forbearance should be a last resort.

Dreaming of an Early Retirement? Here’s What It Takes
Better start saving.

5 things to avoid buying during Labor Day sales this year
Skip these “sales.”