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321562-data-breachesToday’s top story: How often you need to change your passwords. Also in the news: The truth about life insurance, annuities, and financial aid, how to catch up on your retirement savings after 50, and the four necessities for a successful retirement.

How Often Should You Change Your Passwords?
More often than you think.

Consumers Beware: The Truth About Life Insurance, Annuities And College Financial Aid
How they all tie together.

Over Age 50? How to Catch Up on Retirement Savings
There’s still time.

4 Necessities for a Successful Retirement
It takes more than just money.

A Prescription for Financial Wellness
Getting yourself financially healthy.

Categories : Liz's Blog
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financial-toolboxToday’s top story: The best additions to your financial toolbox. Also in the news: Safeguarding your digital assets, saving money on moving expenses, and what you should look for when choosing a new bank.

10 Best Personal-Finance Tools to Better Manage Your Money
Additions to your financial toolbox.

Safeguard Your Digital Assets — In Just 10 Minutes
Ten minutes you can’t afford not to spare.

Moving on a Tight Budget: 7 Ways to Save a Ton of Money
Moving expenses don’t have to break the bank.

7 Tips for Finding a New Bank
The most important things to look for.

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Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: How to save money on your upcoming tax bill. Also in the news: Tracking your wasteful spending, how to get the best deal on car insurance, and why it pays to shop around for Medicare insurance plans.

7 Money-Saving Tips to Cut Your Tax Bill
How to make tax season a little less painful.

How to Track Your Most Ridiculously Wasteful Spending
Shame yourself into frugality.

Here’s How to Get the Best Deal on Car Insurance – Eventually
The older you get, the less you’ll pay.

It pays to shop for Medicare insurance plans
Welcome to open enrollment season.

Parents of special needs kids can bank on trusts
Providing for your child’s needs after you’re gone.

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Dear Liz: I was a volunteer for a research study at a local university. It required a blood draw done at the university’s hospital. A month later, I received a bill for the blood draw, which I questioned. I was told it was a mistake and that I was in no way responsible for costs associated with the research study. Because the hospital was installing a new billing system, I was told it would take a while to resolve and not to worry about any bills that would come to my house.

Now, three months later, the hospital has turned the bill over to a collections agency, with the amount due double the original cost. They have given me 30 days to pay up, or they will report the delinquency to the credit reporting agencies.

The university seems unable to fix the problem, especially now that the debt has gone to collections. Should I pay the bill to save my excellent credit rating? Or should I continue to fight the university and now the collections agency?

Answer: To avoid damage to your credit scores, sometimes the best course is to pay a disputed bill and then sue the creditor in small claims court. Since you have some time to fight back, however, you should do so.

The good news is that medical bills are usually placed with collection agencies on assignment. That means the hospital can take back the account if it’s sufficiently motivated to do so. Your task now is to make the hospital motivated — if not desperate — to help you out.

Write a letter outlining the facts as you’ve done here and send it to the head of the research study, the president of the university, the head of the university hospital, your local newspaper columnist and, if you’d like, your congressional representative. It’s outrageous that doing a good deed has put your credit at risk because of a hospital billing department’s incompetence. You need to stop dealing with front-line billing people, who obviously don’t have the power to help you, and bring your problem to the attention of people who can.

Categories : Credit Scoring, Q&A
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Dear Liz: I read your answer to the person who returned a car and wanted to be free of that debt. Our situation is somewhat different. My son’s father had a massive stroke and died two weeks after signing a lease for a Camry on which he made a $2,000 down payment. My grown son, who is left to deal with everything, took the car back to the dealership, and they assured him nothing further would be needed. The dealership then sold the car for $18,000 at an auction and said $8,000 is still owed on this car since my son’s father signed a legal contract.

Answer: The money is still owed. Whether the dealership will ever collect is another matter.

This debt is now part of the dead man’s estate, along with any other loans or credit accounts he owed at the time of his death. If the estate has sufficient available assets, the executor is required to pay those bills. If there aren’t sufficient assets, creditors may have to accept less than they’re owed or nothing at all.

If your son is the executor, he should hire an attorney experienced in settling estates to help him deal with these details. Nolo’s book “The Executor’s Guide” also will help him understand his duties and obligations.

Categories : Banking, Q&A
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Dear Liz: Can you please explain Social Security spousal benefits? Is there a certain length of time a husband and wife need to have been married that will qualify the spouse to get the spousal benefit after divorce? For example, if a couple has been married for 20 years and then divorces, will the spouse still be entitled to collect the spousal benefit, or is the spousal benefit only for those who stay married?

Answer: Spousal benefits are available to divorced spouses as long as the marriage lasted at least 10 years. But you have to be unmarried to get benefits based on an ex’s work record. If you remarry, those benefits end.

The amount you get as a spouse or divorced spouse can equal up to half of what the primary earner gets. As with other Social Security benefits, however, your checks typically will be reduced if you start benefits before your own full retirement age. Starting spousal benefits early also precludes you from later switching to your own retirement benefit, even if that benefit would be larger.

Categories : Banking, Q&A, Retirement
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Halloween CashToday’s top story: Can your budget survive a serial killer? Also in the news: Hidden money lessons in scary movies, financial discussions you should be having with your kids, and the lesser known factors that determine your car insurance rate.

5 Budget ‘Serial Killers’
Can your budget survive?

5 scary Halloween movies with hidden money lessons.
Norman Bates has some advice for you.

7 Tough Money Topics You’re Not Discussing With Your Kids — But Should
Conversation starters.

The Lesser-Known Factors That Determine Your Car Insurance Rate
Don’t get taken for a ride.

Categories : Liz's Blog
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avoid-pitfallsToday’s top story: Retirement planning pitfalls you need to avoid. Also in the news: 2014 scariest credit cards, protecting yourself against credit card hacks, and three proposed changes to Social Security.

The Five Scariest Retirement Planning Pitfalls
Try to swing right over these.

2014’s scariest credit cards
How terrifying is a 36% interest rate?

7 Ways To Protect Against Credit Card Hacks
You can’t afford not to protect yourself.

Congress Proposes Three Changes To Social Security That Make Sense
For a change.

5 Things You Own That Cost More Than $500 a Gallon
You’ll never look at eye drops the same way again.

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Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: How to come back from a financial crisis. Also in the news: Simple ways to save for a house, tips on how to avoid ATM fees, and why you may be paying more for your home repair costs.

How to Bounce Back From a Financial Crisis
Slow and steady.

10 simple ways to save for a house
Every bit helps.

5 Ways to Avoid ATM Fees
Don’t give the bank any more than you have to.

Why You Soon May Have to Pick Up More Home Repair Costs
Your homeowners insurance deductible may be on the rise.

3 Spooks That Can Haunt Your Credit
Time for some ghostbusting.

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seniorslaptopMany people have trouble saving anything for retirement. But I hear from a fair number of people who are looking beyond 401(k)s and IRAs for more tax-advantaged ways to save.

Many have maxed out their 401(k)s at work, or had their contributions limited because they’re considered “highly compensated employees.” Some don’t have a workplace plan at all, while others want to save more than IRAs allow. Even catch-up provisions–which allow people 50 and over to contribute an extra $5,500 to 401(k)s and an extra $1,000 to IRAs–aren’t enough for some of these super savers.

So here are options for those who have maxed out and caught up:

Opt for an HSA. Health savings accounts, which are coupled with high-deductible health insurance plans, offer a rare triple tax advantage: contributions are tax deductible, gains grow tax-deferred (and can be rolled over from year to year), and withdrawals are tax free if used for medical expenses. Withdrawals are also tax free in retirement, which makes HSAs a potentially better vehicle for saving than the much-loved Roth IRA. (Some say yes, others no.) Speaking of which:

Consider a back-door Roth contribution. If you make too much money, you can’t contribute directly to a Roth. There is a workaround, according to IRA guru Ed Slott, that takes advantage of the fact that anyone regardless of income can convert a traditional IRA to a Roth. You can read more about the strategy here and the potential drawbacks here.

Start a side business. Small business owners are spoiled for choice when it comes to tax advantaged plans. The options range from SEP IRAs to solo 401(k)s to full-on traditional pensions (and baby, you can save a ton of money in those—as in hundreds of thousands of dollars annually). Talk to a CPA about which plan makes the most sense for you.

Use a 457 plan. These deferred compensation plans are often available to state and local public employees as well as people who work for some nonprofits. Like a 401(k), you’re allowed to contribute pre-tax money. Unlike a 401(k), you don’t get slapped with early withdrawal penalties if you take the money out before age 59 (although you will owe income taxes).

Contribute to a regular brokerage account. There’s no upfront deduction, but investments held at least a year can qualify you for favorable capital gains tax rates. This, by the way, is typically a much better option than variable annuities, which tend to have high costs and limited tax advantages for most people.

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