Friday’s need-to-know money news

Wills-in-TexasToday’s top story: Ranking the cheapest cars to insure. Also in the news: Why you need to have a will, the financial perks of downsizing, and how much money you need to save monthly to reach your retirement goal.

Ranking the Cheapest Cars to Insure
Being a smart shopper.

Prince Had No Will, Reports Say — But You Should
Don’t let the government inherit your estate.

The Financial Perks of Downsizing
Going small can mean a bigger bank balance.

This Retirement Calculator Tells You How Much to Save Monthly to Reach Your Goal
How close are you?

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Delete "MISTAKE"Today’s top story: How to avoid money mistakes after a spouse’s death. Also in the news: A retirement reality check for homemakers, how to downsize the smart way, and the hidden costs of credit card rewards.

Money mistakes to avoid after a spouse’s death
Treading carefully through difficult times.

7 Step Retirement Reality Check For Homemakers
Being part of the retirement planning process is essential.

6 Tips to Downsize the Smart Way
Simplifying your life can become expensive.

Rewards Credit Cards Can Be Costly, Report Finds
Those free rewards can come at a price.

5 Things You Must Consider Before Borrowing Money
Hidden dangers may lie ahead.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

mortgage2Today’s top story: How getting a mortgage just became easier. Also in the news: Downsizing to save your retirement, handling major financial disruptions, and how to avoid or minimize bank fees.

4 Ways Getting a Mortgage Just Got Easier
The process has become slightly less stressful.

Can Downsizing Save Your Retirement?
Smaller living can protect your retirement.

How to Handle a Major Financial Disruption
Prepare in advance.

9 Ways Consumers Can Avoid or Minimize Bank Fees
Banking is getting very expensive.

5 Things You Should Never Do With a 401(k)
Protect yours for the long term.

Q&A: The tax implications of downsizing

Dear Liz: My mother just turned 75 and wants to downsize from her four-bedroom house. My father passed away six years ago. She owns her home outright, and at the time of my father’s death the value of the house was estimated at $1.2 million. Right now she has enough income from retirement accounts and investments to live comfortably. She could even buy another smaller property if need be. As the executor of her estate, I’m trying to help her decide what to do with the house. She could let another family member live in it who couldn’t pay rent but could help with upkeep; she could rent it out for market value; or she could sell. We see advantages and disadvantages with all three options. What do you think?

Answer: If she hasn’t already, your mother needs to hire a good estate-planning attorney who can help her evaluate her options. Consulting a fee-only financial planner and a tax pro may be a good idea, as well.

If she sells, your mother could face a sizable capital gains tax depending on where she lives. Federal law allows a certain amount of capital gains on the sale of a primary residence — $250,000 per person — to be excluded from income, but after that, capital gains taxes apply.

The gain would be the difference between the home sale proceeds and your mother’s tax basis in the home. At least half of the home received a “step up” in basis to the then-current market value when your father died. If your mom lives in a community property state, such as California, both halves of the property would have received this step up at his death. Any increase in value since then would be subject to capital gains tax (minus, again, the $250,000 federal exclusion).

There’s another tax issue to consider. If she dies owning this house, her heirs would get a tax basis equal to the property’s value at her death. In other words, regardless of the state where she lives, none of the house’s appreciation during her lifetime would be taxable.

The tax issues alone shouldn’t dictate what your mother does. But she should be aware of them to make an informed decision about what to do next.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: Could your bad credit score leave you homeless? Also in the news: How your wedding could boost your credit score, the pros and cons of debt consolidation, and how living small could save you big money.

Could a Bad Credit Score Make You Homeless?
Landlords are taking a closer look at potential renters credit scores.

How Smart Wedding Spending can Lift Your Credit
Not going overboard could boost your credit score.

Debt Consolidation: When It Helps, When It Doesn’t
The advantages and disadvantages of consolidating your debt.

Live Small, Save Big: What You Can Learn from Minimalists
How living with less could save you more.

Checkout 51 Saves You Grocery Money Without Clipping Coupons
A new app lets you upload your grocery receipts for instant rebates.

Downsizing: Be realistic about the value of your stuff

Dear Liz: We are in our 60s and looking to downsize. We’re living in an apartment now and don’t like it, so we want to buy a small house. Also, our finances took some serious hits in the recent economy and we’re trying to rebuild. But in trying to sell our possessions, we’re learning that people want us to discount the item beyond belief or even expect to get it for free. People talk about using Craigslist and EBay to generate cash but it looks like a waste of time. Do you know of other options?

Answer: Your two goals are somewhat in conflict with each other, so you need to clarify which is more important. Is your primary aim to shed your excess stuff so you can get on with your life? If that’s the case, then your focus should be on getting rid of what you don’t need rather than squeezing top dollar from it. If it’s more important to harvest the maximum value from these unwanted items, you’ll need to invest more time and effort in marketing your goods.

It may help your decision-making to get a reality check on the value of your stuff. If you believe that you have some quality items — antique furniture, rare collectibles or expensive artwork — you could hire an appraiser to give you an idea of their market value as well as some ideas where these items could be sold.

Consignment stores and auctions can sell your stuff, although you typically have to split the proceeds. Another possibility if you have quality items is to hire a company that specializes in estate sales to sell your things. These companies also typically take a hefty percentage of the sale proceeds — often 30% or more.

If what you own is mostly mass-produced, though, you’re unlikely to recoup much of what you spent. Many people erroneously cling to the idea that their possessions are worth what they paid for them, or at least something close to that. In fact, that purchase price is what economists call a “sunk cost,” which can’t be recouped. The best you can do is get fair market value for your items. “Fair market value” doesn’t mean the price you think is fair; it means what a willing buyer would pay a willing seller when neither is under any duress to buy or sell.

Craigslist and EBay are two marketplaces that can give you a pretty good idea of what those values might be.