Today’s top story: Tax breaks that can help pay for your kid’s college. Also in the news: How to prevent bad financial decisions in old age, when it’s time to call in a financial adviser, and the surprising answer as to whether or not you should pay off your mortgage early.
Tax breaks that can help when paying for college
See what your family may qualify for.
Preventing bad decisions in old age
Preparing for the time when you’re unable to make wise decisions.
Should You Pay Off a Mortgage Early? The Answer May Surprise You!
One of the rare occasions where paying early doesn’t pay off.
When Should You Use a Financial Advisor?
At what point should you enlist help with your finances?
3 Reasons to Check Your Credit Report Today
One in nine Americans have never checked their credit report.
Dear Liz: I have four private student loans that I would love to consolidate so that I can have one medium-size monthly payment instead of four large ones. How do I go about finding a company that will consolidate them?
Answer: If you have good credit and sufficient income — or a willing co-signer — several lenders now offer private student loan consolidation. That’s a change from the recent past, when recession-scarred lenders largely abandoned this market.
Unless you’re able to get a substantially reduced interest rate, though, you shouldn’t expect your consolidated payment to be much lower than the sum of your current payments. Your payment could even go up if the consolidation loan has a shorter repayment period.
You can start your search at cuStudentLoans.org, which represents not-for-profit credit unions. RBS Citizens Financial Group, Wells Fargo, Charter One and other banks offer consolidation options as well. Some lenders offer fixed-rate options and “cosigner release,” which enables creditworthy borrowers to remove a cosigner after a certain number of on-time payments.
Dear Liz: I’m attracted to the credit card offers that give substantial mileage bonuses for opening and using an account. Most also waive the first year’s fee. I have taken advantage of one such card, and then I canceled it before any fee was due. (I certainly enjoyed using the miles.) I hesitate to take another offer because I fear opening and closing extra accounts might have a negative effect on my credit rating.
On the other hand, I am in my mid-60s, have excellent credit and am debt-free. I also don’t plan to make any credit purchases. What’s your advice?
Answer:If you have good credit and aren’t in the market for a major loan such as a mortgage, you shouldn’t worry about opening or closing a credit card account occasionally. Yes, such actions can ding your credit scores, but the effect is likely to be minimal, especially if you have several other open accounts that you regularly use.
If you are going to open a new card with an upfront bonus, make sure you understand the fine print. Most cards require you to spend a certain amount within a certain time frame to get the extra points. Typically the bigger the upfront bonus, the bigger the required “spend.”
Dear Liz:I have a garage full of old financial records. I believe I need to keep only seven years of information for tax purposes. Is that correct? However, I have decades of receipts on house repairs and improvements since I believe there is some cumulative tax credit that might someday be important. Also, I have kept receipts on personal and household purchases in case of a loss that required an insurance claim. Am I keeping too much paper?
Answer: Yes. Here’s what you need to know.
Many tax experts recommend hanging on to your tax returns indefinitely, but you can shred most supporting documents after seven years when the risk of audit ends (unless you’re significantly underreporting income or committing fraud).
When it comes to assets such as homes or stocks, you should keep supporting documentation for as long as you own the asset plus seven years.
That includes receipts for home improvements, but not repairs. You can’t take a deduction for either home repairs or improvements, but the cost of improvements may help you reduce any taxable profit should you sell your home. In Publication 530, the IRS defines an improvement as something that “materially adds to the value of your home, considerably prolongs its useful life, or adapts it to new uses.” Examples include putting an addition on your home, replacing an entire roof, paving your driveway, installing central air conditioning or rewiring your home. You can’t include improvements that are no longer part of your home. If you install carpeting and then rip it out to install hardwood, for example, you can no longer include the carpeting cost as an improvement.
You would have to have a considerable profit for those receipts to come in handy. The first $250,000 of home-sale profit, per person, is tax free. If you’re married, that means you wouldn’t face capital gains taxes on your home sale unless your profit exceeded $500,000.
Keep in mind that the IRS accepts electronic records. If you’re concerned about tossing paperwork you might later need, consider scanning everything first and maintaining a backup copy off site, either in the cloud or in a safe-deposit box.
Chances are good your insurer also accepts electronic records and scans of receipts, but call and ask first. Keeping receipts for insurance purposes is a good idea, as long as you cull the ones for items you no longer own.
But Apple’s new payment system has the potential to sidestep the bad guys and someday, perhaps, make breaches a thing of the past, according to LowCards.com’s Bill Hardekopf.
Apple Pay, announced Monday, allows people to pay for stuff with their phones, but your credit and debit card numbers won’t live there. The system generates unique tokens that are used instead. No longer would your sensitive financial information be sent into the ether, to be stored in insecure databases.
You can read more at “Could Apple Pay Be the End of Data Breaches?“
Today’s top story: What to do when debt collectors harass you for someone else’s money. Also in the news: Online tools to help manage your money, what the new FICO 9 credit score could mean for those about to apply for mortgages, and seven ways you’re misusing your credit cards.
Help! I’m Getting Debt Collection Calls for Someone Else
How to convince relentless debt collectors you’re not the person they’re looking for.
4 Online Tools to Manage Your Money in the 21st Century
There’s an app for that.
What FICO’s New Credit Score Formula Means for Home Buyers
The new FICO 9 could change your mortgage prospects.
7 ways you’re using your credit card wrong
Some of them may surprise you.
More seniors on hook for student loans
Over 700,000 families headed by someone 65 or older still carry student debt.
Today’s top story: How to build your retirement nest egg on a small salary. Also in the news: Why Millennials are rejecting credit cards, tips on how to decide between saving money and paying off debt, and eight faster ways to pay off your student loans.
How to Plan for Retirement When You Don’t Make Much Money
Increasing the size of your tiny nest egg.
Why Millennials Are Rejecting Credit Cards
The massive amount of student debt is playing a big role.
5 Questions to Help You Decide Whether to Save or Pay Off Debt
What to do with your extra cash.
8 Ways to Pay Off Your Student Loans Faster
The quicker the better.
How to Balance a Fun Life With Your Financial Goals
You know what they say about all work and no play.
Today’s top story: How customizing your budget could be the key to success. Also in the news: Preparing yourself financially for a career change, products to make your teenagers money-savvy, and Home Depot confirms a months-long credit data breach.
How to Do a Budget: Customization Is Key
Tailoring your budget could be the key to its success.
5 Ways to Financially Prepare to Go After Your Dream Job
Getting ready to take the big leap.
4 Bank Products to Make Teens Money-Savvy
Prepare your teen to make wise financial choices.
Home Depot Confirms Computer Data System Breach
Retailer offers one year of free credit monitoring to customers.
6 Smart Ways to Use a Credit Card
Keeping yourself out of trouble.
More than half of Americans—56 percent—say they’re falling behind financially, according to a new national survey by the Pew Research Center.
That’s not surprising, given that a recent Census Bureau study concluded that most Americans are worse off financially than they were before the recession, despite gains in the stock market and home prices.
Which is why Donna Freedman’s latest piece for Get Rich Slowly, “Why I voluntarily slashed my salary,” is a timely read.
Like the rest of us who wrote for MSN Money, Donna faced a big drop in income when the site pulled the plug on original content. Rather than try to recoup what she’d lost, though, Donna made a conscious decision to live on a lot less.
Donna’s situation is Donna’s. Yours is probably quite different. But I’m always inspired reading what she has to say about the benefits of a more frugal, conscious life.
That doesn’t mean I think that status quo is okay. The ever-widening gap between rich and poor is not okay. The huge debts young people take on to get educated is not okay. The fact that most people’s finances can be seriously and permanently upended–by a layoff, a divorce, a death in the family–is not okay.
It’s also not okay to keep blaming individuals for what are clearly huge economic trends. Overspending on credit cards did not trigger the Great Recession.
But if you’re living with less, Job One is figuring out how to make that work, at least for now. Job Two may be pushing for change.