Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to break free from credit card inertia. Also in the news: How to travel like a minimalist and save big, paring down the price of a move to a new state, and the 401(k) fees you need to know.

How to Break Free of Credit Card Inertia
Evaluating your cards.

Travel Like a Minimalist and Save Big
Avoid the tourist traps.

Pare Down the Price of a Move to a New State
Cutting costs each step of the way.

401(k) Fees You Need to Know
Tracking the fees charged by your mutual fund manager.

Q&A: If you’re putting money in a 401(k) and an IRA at the same time, be ready for the taxes

Dear Liz: I recently returned to a regular 9-to-5 job after freelancing for several years. I contributed the maximum amount to an IRA while self-employed and continued to do so after starting my new job. I was surprised to learn when doing my taxes this year that I could not deduct my IRA contributions because I was also contributing to my company’s 401(k) plan.

Other than increase my 401(k) contributions at the expense of future IRA funding, are there any actions I can take?

Answer: The ability to deduct IRA contributions when contributing to a workplace retirement plan phases out once your modified adjusted gross income reaches certain limits. For single filers, the deduction starts to phase out at $63,000 and disappears at $73,000. For married couples filing jointly, the phase-out is from $101,000 to $121,000.

Your next move depends on your goals and situation. If you’re primarily concerned with reducing your current tax bill and you’re likely to be in a lower tax bracket in retirement, as most people will, then you should funnel more money into your 401(k) rather than funding your IRA.

If, however, you expect to be in the same or higher bracket in retirement, or if you want more flexibility to control your tax bill in your later years, consider contributing to a Roth IRA in addition to your 401(k). Roths don’t offer an up-front deduction, but withdrawals in retirement are tax free. Also, unlike 401(k)s and traditional IRAs, there are no minimum required withdrawals in retirement.

There are income limits on the ability to contribute to a Roth IRA. For single people, the ability to contribute phases out between modified adjusted gross incomes of $120,000 to $135,000 in 2018. For married couples filing jointly, the phase-out is between $189,000 and $199,000.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The 3 reports you haven’t frozen yet. Also in the news: United halts the transport of pets in cargo holds, how to protect your 401(k) from rising interest rates, and how much your personal data is worth on the dark web.

The 3 Reports You Haven’t Frozen Yet
Beyond the Big 3.

United Halts Transport of Pets in Airplane Cargo Holds
Protecting your pets while flying.

Protect Your 401(k) From Rising Interest Rates With This Plan
Interest rates are on the rise.

Spooked by the Facebook privacy violations? This is how much your personal data is worth on the dark web
A Facebook account is cheaper than you’d think.

Q&A: At retirement, should you roll your 401(k) into your IRA? Think about these factors

Dear Liz: I turned 70 last week and therefore I am leaving my part-time job after about 13 years. No big deal, but now that I am retiring I have a 401(k) worth about $60,000 and an IRA that is somewhere around $50,000. Should I roll my 401(k) account into my IRA or just let it sit there collecting dust? I do understand that at age 70½ I am supposed to start withdrawing some of the funds, but am not sure how much. It seems 70 years creeped up on me.

Answer: Years have a nasty habit of doing that.

You mentioned that you’re retiring because you’ve achieved a certain age. Few jobs have mandatory retirement ages, though. If you don’t retire, you can continue putting off required minimum distributions from your 401(k). You would still have to take minimum distributions from your IRA, unless your employer allows you to roll that money into your 401(k) plan.

But we’ll assume you’re happy with your decision. Rolling your 401(k) into your IRA isn’t necessarily the best option. What you should do next depends on the details of both accounts.

Most large-company 401(k)s allow retirees to take regular distributions, including required minimum distributions, from the plans. These plans also tend to offer low-cost institutional funds that may be a much better deal than those you can access as a retail investor with an IRA. If you’ve got a good 401(k) that allows retirement distributions, there may be no need to move your money.

If your employer’s plan doesn’t allow such distributions, don’t automatically assume your current IRA provider is the best choice, especially if it’s a full-service brokerage or insurance company. Compare the fees of the investment options with what’s available from a discount brokerage. Transferring all your retirement money to a lower-cost provider can help you keep more money in your pocket.

Calculating your required minimum distributions isn’t difficult. The IRS has tables on its website, and in Publication 590, to help you figure out how much money to withdraw. Various sites have calculators as well.

One caveat: If you keep your IRA and 401(k) separate, you’ll have to calculate required minimum distribution separately for each account and withdraw those amounts from each account, says Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for taxes and accounting at Wolters Kluwer. That’s different from the rules when you have multiple IRAs. When you have more than one IRA, you calculate the required minimum distribution based on the total of all your IRAs but are allowed to take the distribution itself from any one of them.

Q&A: When rolling your 401(k) into an IRA isn’t a good idea

Dear Liz: I have just retired. I have a 401(k) from work. Do I keep it as is or do I roll it over into an IRA?

Answer: Investment companies and their representatives like to push the idea of rollovers as the best option, but that may profit them more than it does you.

Leaving your money in your employer’s 401(k) has several potential advantages. Many 401(k)s offer access to institutional funds, which can be much cheaper than the retail funds available to IRA investors. Workplace retirement plans also offer unlimited protection from creditors if you’re sued or forced to file bankruptcy. An IRA’s bankruptcy exemption is limited to $1,283,025, and protection from creditors’ claims varies by state. (In California, for example, only amounts “necessary for support” are out of reach of creditors.)

If you retired early, you can access your 401(k) without penalty at age 55. The typical age to avoid penalties from IRA withdrawals is 59½.

You may opt for a rollover if your 401(k) offers only expensive or poorly performing options. Even if you decide to roll over the rest of your 401(k), though, get a tax pro’s advice before you roll over any company stock. You may be better off transferring the stock to a taxable account now so you can let future appreciation qualify for capital gains rates. Ask your tax pro how best to take advantage of this “net unrealized appreciation.”

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Resolving to slim down your credit cards in the new year. Also in the news: Why you need a Roth IRA even if you have a 401(k), how to reach your 2018 travel goals with credit card rewards, and what to know about the major cryptocurrencies besides Bitcoin.

This New Year, Resolve to Slim Down Your Credit Cards
Taking a look at balance transfer cards.

Why You Need a Roth IRA — Even If You Have a 401(k)
Unique benefits.

How to Reach 2018 Travel Goals With Credit Card Rewards
Maximizing your miles.

What to Know About the Major Cryptocurrencies Besides Bitcoin
Etherium, Litecoin and more.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: College degrees can be a bargain abroad. Also in the news: Open enrollment time, how to finance a car at 0% interest, and 3 ways to protect your retirement savings from a market crash.

College Degrees Can Be a Bargain Abroad
Considering international universities.

Open Enrollment at Work: Get Ready to Get Choosyst
Finding the best plan.

How to Finance a Car at 0% Interest
Getting the best rate.

401(k) uncertainty? 3 ways to protect your retirement savings from a market crash
Protecting your future.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why you need a 401(k) in your 20s. Also in the news: How being lazy can help you save money, the new rules of credit card point etiquette, and how to spot financial infidelity.

Yes, You Need a 401(k) in Your 20s — Here’s Why
Paving the long road.

How Being Lazy Can Help You Save Money
Automatic banking can help.

New Rules of Credit Card Points Etiquette
When to use your points.

How to Spot Financial Infidelity
Noticing the signs.

Q&A: Saving for retirement also means planning for the tax hit

Dear Liz: I’m 40. We own our house and have a young daughter. Through my current employer, I’m able to contribute to a regular 401(k) and also a Roth 401(k) retirement account. My company matches 3% if we contribute a total of 6% or more of our salaries. Are there any reasons I should contribute to both my 401(k) and Roth, or should I contribute only to my Roth? My salary and bonus is around $80,000 and I have about $150,000 in my 401(k) and about $30,000 in my Roth. Thanks very much for your time.

Answer: A Roth contribution is essentially a bet that your tax rate in retirement will be the same or higher than it is currently. You’re giving up a tax break now, because Roth contributions aren’t deductible, to get one later, because Roth withdrawals in retirement are tax free.

Most retirees see their tax rates drop in retirement, so they’re better off contributing to a regular 401(k) and getting the tax deduction sooner rather than later. The exceptions tend to be wealthier people and those who are good savers. The latter can find themselves with so much in their retirement accounts that their required minimum distributions — the withdrawals people must take from most retirement accounts after they’re 70½ — push them into higher tax brackets.

That’s why many financial planners suggest their clients put money in different tax “buckets” so they’re better able to control their tax bills in retirement. Those buckets might include regular retirement savings, Roth accounts and perhaps taxable accounts as well. Roths have the added advantage of not having required minimum distributions, so unneeded money can be passed along to your daughter.

Given that you’re slightly behind on retirement savings — Fidelity Investments recommends you have three times your salary saved by age 40 — you might want to put most of your contributions into the regular 401(k) because the tax break will make it easier to save. You can hedge your bets by putting some money into the Roth 401(k), but not the majority of your contributions.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: You could be overspending with credit cards. Yes, you. Also in the news: Your excuses for not contributing to a 401(k) are dwindling, which is the best way for you to zap your debt, and how millennials can prepare for the next financial crisis.

You Could Be Overspending With Credit Cards. Yes, You.
Keeping your spending in check.

Your Excuses for Not Contributing to a 401(k) Are Dwindling
No more excuses.

Different Ways to Zap Your Debt: Which Is for You?
Finding the best way to conquer your debt.

How millennials can prepare for the next financial crisis
Preparing for the inevitable.