Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

shutterstock_38185810-2Today’s top story: How to tell your checking account is the right fit. Also in the news: Tips for handling holiday financial stress, financial concepts you’ll actually use, and important things to know about 529 college savings plan withdrawals.

5 Ways to Tell If Your Checking Account’s the Right Fit
Avoid excess fees.

5 Tips for Handling Holiday Financial Stress
More celebrating, less stressing.

6 Financial Concepts You’ll Actually Use
Applying concepts to everyday life.

4 important things to know about 529 College Savings Plan withdrawals
They aren’t necessarily tax-free.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

2Today’s top story: How to decide if credit counseling is right for you. Also in the news: Robots and your bank account, why insurers and banks want to know your job title, and three ways to help your kid pick the right college.

When Credit Counseling Is (and Isn’t) a Good Idea
How to decide the right approach.

This Robot Wants to Have a Word About Your Bank Account
Meet the bank tellers of the future.

Why insurers and banks want to know your job title
Your job title could determine your interest rate.

Three ways to help your kid pick the right college
Talk about finances right away.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: How to save for college without sacrificing retirement. Also in the news: Recovering from a poor credit history, 3 ways to pay off a debt in collections, and the best savings strategies for your personality type.

How to Save for College Without Sacrificing Retirement
It’s possible to do both.

Poor Credit History? There Are Ways to Recover
Making a comeback.

3 Ways to Pay Off a Debt in Collections
Getting debt collectors off your back.

Here Are the Best Savings Strategies for Your Personality Type
Are you the gambling type? Or a goal-setter?

Q&A: Best savings vehicle for a baby

Dear Liz: I recently gave birth to a little boy. I am wondering about the best savings vehicle that would offer flexibility for when family gives him money. I don’t want to tie it up in a 529 college savings plan in case he doesn’t want to go to college or has other needs.

Answer: If you want your child to have a reasonable shot at a middle-class lifestyle in the future, some kind of post-secondary education will be necessary. It may not be a four-year degree; it could be a one- or two-year training program, and a 529 college savings plan can help pay for that. Money contributed to a 529 plan grows tax-deferred and can be used tax-free at nearly all colleges, universities and community colleges as well as many career and technical schools.

You will remain in control of the account and can withdraw money for other purposes if necessary, although you would owe income taxes and a 10% federal penalty on any gains.

If you really can’t accept any limitations on how the money is used, then you can open a brokerage account in your own name and invest the money there. Putting the money in his name could hurt his chances for financial aid if he does decide to go to college.

Q&A: State tax breaks for 529 plans

Dear Liz: You recently answered a question from grandparents who were contributing $20,000 to their grandson’s college education. You correctly told them they did not qualify fdownloador federal education tax credits or deductions because he was not a dependent. You might let grandparents know, however, that they may get a state tax break for contributing to a 529 college savings plan.

Answer: Most states that have state income taxes offer some sort of a tax break for 529 college savings plan contributions. (The exceptions are California, Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and North Carolina, according to SavingForCollege.com. Tennessee has a tax on interest and dividends but no 529 tax break.) In some states, even short-term contributions qualify for a deduction, so grandparents could contribute money that’s quickly withdrawn to pay qualified higher education expenses and still get the break. SavingForCollege has details on each state’s tax benefits.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: How your house payments can unexpectedly increase. Also in the news: Why grandparents should be careful with 529 plans, why right now could be the right time to refinance your student loans, and six reasons why early retirement could be a mistake.

4 Ways Your House Payment Could Unexpectedly Go Up
Don’t get caught off guard.

Grandparents: Don’t Make a 529 Plan Mistake
529 disbursements come with some risks.

Now Could Be the Right Time to Refinance Your Student Loans
Taking stock of your student loan situation.

6 reasons early retirement might be wrong for you
What sounds like a good idea might not be.

Q&A: Uniform Transfers to Minors Act

Dear Liz: My in-laws have gifted stock to our children through the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) to help pay future college expenses. The value of the stock has increased significantly over the past few years.

We would like to sell the shares and move the proceeds into more stable investments for our children. What are our options for those funds? Do you recommend one option over another? I don’t expect them to get much need-based financial aid.

Our household income is approximately $95,000 a year. We have 529 plans for each of our three children and account currently has $6,000 to $9,000.

Answer: If you only have one child in college at a time, then you’re right that you probably won’t get much need-based aid.

If, however, your kids are close enough in age that more than one will attending college simultaneously, you may qualify for more help than you think. One way to find out is to use the EFC Calculator at the College Board website, which can give you an estimate of the amount your family is expected to contribute to higher education costs.

If your kids may get need-based financial aid, then they probably shouldn’t have money in UTMA or other custodial accounts. UTMA accounts and their predecessor, Uniform Gift to Minors Act or UGMA accounts, used to be a good way to save on taxes but changes to the so-called “kiddie tax” rules have made them less appealing.

Income from the accounts above $2,000 a year for children under 19 and full-time college students under 24 is now taxed at the parent’s rate. What’s more, these custodial accounts count heavily against families in financial aid calculations.

Often it’s best to spend down the money by the child’s junior year in high school (by paying for tutoring, a laptop, private school or other expenses that benefit the child.)

Another option is to transfer the proceeds to a 529 college savings plan, since these state-run investment accounts typically are viewed favorably in financial aid formulas. What’s more, the plans offer professional management and diversified portfolios known as “age-weighted” options that grow more conservative as a child approaches college age.

You’ll want to talk to a tax pro about what makes sense in your specific situation, especially since selling the shares all at once may trigger a big tax bill.

Q&A: 529 plans vs. education tax breaks

Dear Liz: You recently mentioned in your column that you can’t use any of the three education tax breaks — the American Opportunity Credit, the Lifetime Learning Credit or the tuition and fees deduction — for expenses paid with 529 college savings plan money. This has me wondering if those 529 plans are really worth it.

Wouldn’t you have to have a really large amount invested to have enough earnings to make it worth not taking one of the credits?

Answer: If college were cheap, that might be a problem. But most people have far more college expenses than they can write off on their tax returns.

The average net price for one year at a four-year college — the published cost minus free financial aid such as grants and scholarships — was just under $13,000 last year, including tuition, fees, room and board. The average net price was around $6,000 at two-year public colleges and $23,550 at private four-year schools.

Many people pay a lot more, as the sticker prices at colleges continue to rise.

As mentioned in the previous column, the three available tax breaks are mutually exclusive, so you can’t take more than one in any given year.

The most generous credit, the American Opportunity Credit, reduces taxes dollar-for-dollar for the first $2,000 of college expenses and then by 25% of the next $2,000 — for a total of $2,500 per student.

If your qualified education expenses exceed $4,000, as they probably will, those tax-free 529 plan withdrawals will come in handy.

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

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: How to cut your monthly bills. Also in the news: College savings mistakes, how to survive a late start in saving for retirement, and what everyone needs to know about credit scores.

6 ways to cut your monthly bills
Every little bit helps.

The Biggest Mistakes People Make Saving For College
It’s all about tools.

Starting Your Retirement Savings Late Doesn’t Mean You’re Screwed
There’s still time.

10 things everyone should know about credit scores
Deciphering the mysteries.

How to Develop a Foolproof Plan to Pay Off Debt
Create your escape plan.