Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to save like a superhero. Also in the news: The best way to pay for your next flight, the big mistake one-third of credit card holders are making, and warnings about Amazon third-party accounts.

Save Like a Superhero: Roth IRAs and 529 Plans
Superpowered savings.

Cash or Points? The Best Way to Pay for Your Next Flight
NerdWallet’s 2017 Travel Card Study

The big mistake one-third of credit card holders are making
Stop wasting your rewards.

Beware Hacked Amazon Third-Party Accounts
Watch where you shop.

Weekend reading: Purging paperwork, unpayable taxes and saving for college

taxesOne of the great things about being a columnist is getting access to experts who can help you with problems in your own life–under the guise of helping your readers, of course. Recently I was lucky enough to interview three smart CPAs who had great advice about purging paperwork from our lives, and have already implemented their suggestions. Paperlessness, here I come!

Another column that got a good amount of attention was one on two-year degrees that pay well. Not everyone wants or needs to go to a four-year school, and some are better off. Here are those stories plus the other columns I did for Reuters last month.

Financial records: What to keep, what to toss

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I resolve every tax season to get a better handle on my paperwork — with mixed results. This year, I turned to three certified public accountants to find out what apps, software and strategies they use to keep track of everything.
Two-year degrees can really pay off
Steven Polasck of Corpus Christi, Texas, liked math and science in high school. He considered attending a four-year college but ultimately decided to use his strengths to get a two-year degree in instrumentation from Texas State Technical College. He has not looked back. “I went to work on the Monday after graduation,” said Polasck, 27, who monitors and fixes systems at a Valero Energy Corp refinery. “The first year I made almost $80,000.”

College savings take a dive – study
Average amounts saved for college have fallen 25 percent since last year and fewer middle-income families are saving for higher education, even as parents overwhelmingly endorse its value as an investment, according to “How America Saves for College 2015,” the latest survey by education lender Sallie Mae.
What to do when you can’t pay your tax bill
Affluent clients facing a big tax bill often have one of two reactions, according to CPA and financial planner Jerry Love: They either try to avoid filing or they want to negotiate a deal. Neither is a good strategy, he said.
College watch list a ‘caution light’
Regulators recently made public a once secret watch list of 556 colleges under scrutiny for financial irregularities. But inclusion on the list doesn’t automatically mean the schools are about to fail, according to Department of Education regulators, college officials and even the reporter who triggered the release of the list with his Freedom of Information Act requests.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

22856641_SAToday’s top story: What you need to know about IRA conversions and college financial aid. Also in the news: Avoiding costly tax mistakes, tips for buying a home when you’re in debt, and five things you didn’t know about a 529 plan.

Roth IRA Conversions And College Aid: Timing Is Everything
How a conversion could affect your child’s financial aid eligibility.

Ten Tax Tips to Avoid Costly Mistakes
Pay close attention to detail.

2 Strategies for Buying a Home When You’re in Debt
The important questions you need to ask yourself.

5 Secrets You Didn’t Know About A 529 Plan
The sooner you begin saving, the better.

How TransUnion’s IPO Could Affect Your Credit Score
What going public could mean for you.

Should you bail on your 529 plan?

Education savingsLong-time readers know I’m a big fan of using state-run 529 college plans to save for higher education expenses. (Remember the mantra: if you can save for college, you should!) Money in these plans grows tax-free when used for qualified college costs and doesn’t have much impact on financial aid (which is going to be mostly loans, anyway).

But the plans aren’t created equal–in fact, they’re so diverse it’s kind of daunting to track and compare them. Investment research firm Morningstar does just that, though, and every year creates a list of the best (and worst) plans. That list gives us 529 investors a chance to compare our plans against a gold standard and consider whether we need a change.

I’ve changed plans once, from California’s then-middling plan to Nevada’s top-rated one, and was surprised by how easy it was. (We still have some money in California’s plan, which is now higher in Morningstar’s ratings.) Some people are tied to their state’s plan by tax breaks or other incentives, but many aren’t. If you’re not happy with your plan, it’s time to consider a change.

You can read more about it in my Reuters column this week, “Is it time to switch 529 college savings plans?