Friday’s need-to-know money news

The hackerBanks are watching your Facebook account, escaping a lease, and keeping your cool.

The Identity Theft Flu: 5 Ways to Stay Healthy

There’s no way to completely protect yourself from identity theft, but here are some ways to boost your financial immune system.

Using Social Media to Stop Online Payment Fraud

Your Facebook status updates could soon be used to verify your financial state.

Is Creating a Personal Budget a Good Idea?

Experts debate the pros and cons of personal budgets.

When and How to Break a Lease

Tips on how to break a lease as painlessly as possible.

Smart Ways to Slash Your Summer Bills

How to stay  cool without melting your wallet.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

FinancesFather knows best, careers that simply aren’t worth the money and the double-edged sword of frugality.

Listen to Your Father! Old-School Money Tips for Today

Financial advice that stands the test of time.

The Best and Worst Careers to Go Into Debt For

If you want to see your work in print, become an advertiser, not a reporter.

Credit Expert Answers 7 Burning Personal Finance Questions

Including tips on how to improve your credit score.

When Frugality Goes Too Far

Growing your own vegetables is a great idea. Spending $3500 on a vegetable garden is not.

Overdraft Fees Cost Bank Customers Hundreds of Dollars a Year

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found overdrawing their accounts cost customers an average of $225 per year.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

collegeHere are some of the top money stories around the Web:

How to Pay Student Loans You Can’t Afford

With interest rates on federal Stafford Loans set to double on July 1st, Credit.com’s Gerri Detweiler breaks down the four main income-based repayment programs.

The Surprising Downside of Cutting Up Your Credit Cards

While it may curb your spending, cutting those credit cards in half could hurt your credit score.

Banks Lag on Consumer-Friendly Checking Practices

After surveying 36 of 50 of the country’s largest banks, the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Safe Checking in the Electronic Age project discovered that not a single one met all of the recommended practices.

Are You Paying the iTunes Tax?

The days of tax free internet purchases could soon be over.

Paper statements may not be necessary

Dear Liz: I’m wondering how long we really need to keep bank statements, since banks now offer paperless options. My son doesn’t even open the statements anymore; he just views his account information online.

Answer: There’s nothing magical about paper bank statements. If your son doesn’t open them, he probably shouldn’t even get them. He can ask his bank to switch him to its paperless option and save some trees.

The IRS accepts electronic documents, and banks keep account records at least six years. Your highest risk for an audit is the three years after a tax return is filed, so you should be able to download statements if you need them in an audit. There might be fees involved to get these statements, however, so you’ll have to weigh the potential cost against the hassle of storing all that paper. Some people get the paper statements, scan them and shred the originals; others download the statements as they go and store them electronically.

If you don’t need bank records for tax purposes, there’s even less reason for getting paper statements. Eschewing them can reduce bank fees and will certainly save a few trees.

Roommate may be not be telling the truth about his credit

Dear Liz: I have a roommate who has truly bad credit. He has been turned down from getting a checking account at banks because his mom bounced checks on his account when he was 18 (he is now 31). What is the best way to rehab his credit? He can’t get a secured credit card because he doesn’t have a checking account. Is there a way around this?

Answer: You may not be getting the full story from your roommate. If his mom misused his checking account when he was 18, it shouldn’t still be affecting his ability to establish a bank account. Reports to Chexsystems, the bureau that tells banks about people who have mishandled their bank accounts, typically remain on file for only five years.

Your roommate should first request a free annual report from Chexsystems at http://www.consumerdebit.com and dispute any errors or old information. Even if he’s still listed in Chexsystems, he could get a so-called “second chance” checking account from several major banks, including Wells Fargo, Chase and PNC Bank. Responsible use of those accounts should allow him to graduate to a regular checking account. Then he can start the process of rehabilitating his credit.

Old check may still have value

Dear Liz: You recently answered a question from a reader who found an old refund check that couldn’t be cashed. You pointed out that checks typically must be cashed within six months or they’re worthless. But your reader should check the unclaimed-property department of his state. Each state has laws that all companies must follow that typically require them to turn over or “escheat” amounts from uncashed checks, dormant checking accounts, unclaimed utility deposits and other accounts. The consumer should write a letter to the company that issued the check (sent certified mail) with a copy of the front and back of the check to find out whether they escheated the funds. The consumer should also check Unclaimed.org and talk to the state that the company is based in along with his current state. Please encourage him to keep the check and not give up. Unclaimed-property laws are not well known, and they are there to protect the consumer.

Answer: Thanks for your suggestion. Not all companies follow the laws regarding unclaimed property. If this company had, it presumably would have referred this customer to the appropriate unclaimed-property department when he called asking for a replacement check. Still, checking the state treasury departments on Unclaimed.org is relatively easy and certainly worth a try.

Old check is probably worthless

Dear Liz: Twelve years ago I hired a moving company. I must have overpaid them, because in January 2001 I received a refund check for $235. I misplaced the check and didn’t find it until 2003. Ever since then I have made a number of phone calls asking for a replacement. All my calls were to no avail. Can you help?

Answer: No. You typically have six months to cash a check. If you miss that time frame, you can ask the issuer for a new check, but it is usually under no obligation to accommodate you. Trying to deposit an old check can often result in a “returned check” fee from your bank when the check is stopped or returned unpaid.

How to set up savings “buckets”

Dear Liz: You’ve written about how helpful it can be to have “savings buckets” or separate savings accounts earmarked for different goals such as vacations, property tax payments and so on. I have been trying to do this myself, but every bank I find charges so much in fees that it would cost more money than I would save. Either that, or they tie the savings accounts to a “free” checking account that has a high minimum balance. Can you please pass along any information about free savings accounts that have no minimum balance? I cannot use Internet banks because I cannot deposit cash when I have $5 or $10 in my pocket that I would take to the bank.

Answer: Actually, you can. Internet banks can be linked to your checking account at a brick-and-mortar bank. You can take your money to the bank, then transfer it to one of your savings accounts at the Internet bank. Unlike traditional banks, Internet banks such as ING Direct, Ally and FNBO don’t have balance minimums or monthly fees. You can set up several savings accounts without paying extra fees.

You still need a low-cost checking account, of course. You should be able to find one at a local credit union.

Now available: My new book!

Do you have questions about money? Here’s a secret: we all do, and sometimes finding the right answers can be tough. My new book, “There Are No Dumb Questions About Money,” can make it easier for you to figure out your financial world.

I’ve taken your toughest questions about money and answered them in a clear, easy-to-read format. This book can help you manage your spending, improve your credit and find the best way to pay off debt. It can help you make the right choices when you’re investing, paying for your children’s education and prioritizing your financial goals. I’ve also tackled the difficult, emotional side of money: how to get on the same page with your partner, cope with spendthrift children (or parents!) and talk about end-of-life issues that can be so difficult to discuss. (And if you think your family is dysfunctional about money, read Chapter 5…you’ll either find answers to your problems, or be grateful that your situation isn’t as bad as some of the ones described there!)

Interested? You can buy this ebook on iTunes or on Amazon.

Weak bank? Maybe it’s time to move your money

Dear Liz: I have all my money (less than $150,000) in one small bank. I love my bank, but Bankrate.com’s Safe and Sound report shows the bank having only a single star. I asked someone at the bank about it, and this person said the rating wasn’t important. Is it?

Answer: Of course it is. Your deposits are under the $250,000 limit protected by the FDIC, but a weak bank can fail, which can be disruptive to depositors. The bank that takes over typically doesn’t have to abide by the policies or interest rates promised by the failed bank. If regulators can’t find another bank willing to take over, you may have limited access to your money for a few days until your deposits are refunded to you.

A bank with “very questionable asset quality, well below standard capitalization and lower than normal liquidity” — phrases Bankrate.com uses to describe your institution — probably isn’t the best place to have your money.