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Dear Liz: My wife and I are both 59. We expect to retire in two or three years. We would not take Social Security until probably 67 because we will not need it when we retire. But would our Social Security benefits be less because we do not work for those five years before applying to Social Security? Is Social Security affected at all by the last few years of income or simply by the total lifetime deposits into the system?

Answer: Your Social Security benefits are based on your 35 highest-earning years. So if you’ve worked more than 35 years, a few years at the end of your career in which you earn less or don’t earn anything at all shouldn’t affect your benefits.

While you’re researching your options for claiming Social Security, check out the “claim now, claim more later” strategy that would allow one of you to claim spousal benefits while allowing his or her own benefit to grow. It’s one of a number of strategies available to married couples that can significantly increase the amount of Social Security benefits over a lifetime. Another important factor to consider is that one of you is likely to survive the other, perhaps by many years, and will have to get by on a single check. You should make sure that check is as large as it can be to lessen the chances the survivor will face poverty in old age. You can find more information about Social Security claiming strategies at the AARP site (aarp.org).

Categories : Q&A, Retirement
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Friday’s need-to-know money news

Sep 19, 2014 | | Comments Comments Off

selfie_bannerToday’s top story: Could the dreaded selfie stop credit card theft? Also in the news: The pros and cons of tuition reimbursement insurance, tips on how to avoid losing value on gift cards, and Home Depot’s credit card breach is the biggest one yet.

Could Selfies Stop Credit Card Fraud?
Could having your picture on your credit card deter thieves?

Is Tuition Reimbursement Insurance A Good Investment?
Protecting your investment in your child’s education.

7 Tips to Avoid Losing Gift Card Value
Depending on where you live, gift cards may never lose their value.

Home Depot Breach Bigger Than Target’s
56 million credit cards are at risk.

Stop Treating Money Like Your Master, Start Treating it Like a Tool
Don’t give money more power than it’s worth.

Categories : Liz's Blog
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“England is sinking. Scotland is rising.”

Sep 18, 2014 | | Comments Comments Off

DSC04008The narrator of the museum documentary we were watching in Edinburgh was referring to the geology of the United Kingdom, not its economy or politics.

Yet the phrase resonated somehow. Since devolution, when the Scottish Parliament was established after nearly 300 years of British rule, the Scots have definitely taken their own way.

One thing travel can do is help you better understand the world, and I understood Scotland a bit better after learning some of its history this summer. Its union with England was mostly supported by wealthy landowners, merchants and investors who wanted access to England’s colonies. The common people were not so enthralled. After that came the Highland Clearances, when tenant farmers were booted off their traditional holdings so that wealthy landowners could raise sheep instead. The evictions came with little notice and left a lot of suffering in their wake.

So maybe it’s not surprising that many Scots are suspicious of any system–political, social or economic–that favors the rich at the expense of regular people.

While England slashed public benefits after the financial crisis, Scotland restored tuition-free college education for its residents and added free long-term care for its elderly. (Actually, in-home care is free. Care in nursing homes is means-tested.)

As a result, Scotland is moving closer to the European model, where long-term care is at least in part funded by the government in many countries and where college education at public universities is free or very low cost.

These outlays might surprise people who believe the stereotype that Scots are tight with their money, but a Scotsman explained to me that what his people really like is good value for their money.

Renewable energy is a big thing in Scotland, too. The Scots surpassed their goal of 31% by 2011 and its 2020 target has been boosted from 50% to 100%. Again, that’s more like Northern Europe than the rest of the U.K.

Now Scotland is on the brink of deciding whether it wants to be independent. The U.K.’s prime minister, David Cameron, has promised Scotland more control if it stays with the union. So either way, it looks like Scotland may continue to rise.

 

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Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Sep 18, 2014 | | Comments Comments Off

Image9Today’s top story: The must-have personal finance apps. Also in the news: The financial implications of caring for a loved one, how to stay safe in the cloud, and what really happens after your credit card is stolen.

6 must-have personal finance apps
Apps to put on that shiny new toy of yours.

The Financial Implications of Being a Caregiver
How to handle the financial implications that come with caring for an elderly parent or relative.

Staying Safe in the Cloud
There are ways around having to give your personal information.

What Really Happens After Your Credit Card Is Stolen
Besides causing you stress.

5 ways to make your lousy 401(k) plan stellar
Give your retirement plan a boost.

Categories : Liz's Blog
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Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Sep 17, 2014 | | Comments Comments Off

847_interestrates1Today’s top story: The importance of understanding interest rates. Also in the news: Protecting your identity while shopping online, the pros and cons of retirement annuities, and what you should ask before paying your medical bills.

Misunderstood Money Math: Why Interest Matters More Than You Think
Understanding the complicated world of interest rates.

8 Ways to Protect Your Identity While Online Shopping
While you’re shopping for deals, hackers are shopping for you.

Who Benefits From Retirement Annuities
The pros and cons of a retirement annuity.

6 Questions You Should Ask Before Paying Any Medical Bill
Analyze every single penny.

The Right Way to Tap Your IRA in Retirement
RMDs can trip you up.

Categories : Liz's Blog
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Regulators sue for-profit college chain

Sep 16, 2014 | | Comments Comments Off

DrowningCorinthian Colleges–which includes the Everest, Heald and WyoTech schools–has just been sued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for what regulators call its “predatory lending scheme.”

The CFPB alleges that the for-profit college chain exaggerated students’ job prospects to get them to take out private loans to cover its schools’ high tuition costs. The bureau says Corinthian then used illegal debt collection tactics “to strong-arm students into paying back those loans while still in school.”

The Bureaus wants the courts to halt these practices and grant relief to people who have taken out more than $500 million in private student loans.

As I wrote in my Reuters column “What to do when your college shuts down,” Corinthian is in the process of closing or selling its schools as part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education. People who have federal student loans have a shot at getting their debt discharged when a school closes, but those with private student loans are often stuck with the debt, even if they get no value from the education.

If you or anyone you know attended a Corinthian school, getting educated about your options is key. (The CFPB posted information for current and former students here.) So is alerting the CFPB if you feel you were deceived about the value of your education or your career prospects. You can file a complaint here.

 

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Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Sep 16, 2014 | | Comments Comments Off

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: How paying your credit cards early and often can protect your credit score. Also in the news: How to save your kids from spending their 20’s in debt, six home renovation mistakes to avoid, and tips on getting the best car loan.

Charge a Lot? Pay Early and Often to Avoid Score Damage
Your score will thank you for it.

5 Ways My Parents Saved Me from Spending My 20s in Debt
How to do the same for your kids.

6 Home Renovation Mistakes That Could Cost You
DIY isn’t always the cheaper route.

5 tips to get the best deal on a car loan
Don’t be afraid to shop around.

Can You Raise Your Credit Score 100 Points in a Month?
That’s a tough one.

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Monday’s need-to-know money news

Sep 15, 2014 | | Comments Comments Off

22856641_SAToday’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.

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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.

Categories : Q&A, Student Loans
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Q&A: Mileage bonus credit cards

Sep 15, 2014 | | Comments Comments Off

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.”

Categories : Credit Cards, Q&A
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