Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Scrub these expenses from your budget in 2019. Also in the news: 3 simple strategies to max out your 401(k), how your slow cooker saves you money, and unnecessary fees to stop paying in the new year.

Scrub These Expenses From Your Budget in 2019
Hitting reset on your expenses.

3 Simple Strategies to Max Out Your 401(k)
It’s easier than you think.

How Your Slow Cooker Saves You Money
Set it and forget it.

Stop Paying Unnecessary Fees in the New Year
The most common fees and how to avoid them.

Q&A: Mysterious bank charge needs investigating

Dear Liz: The other day I went to my credit union to withdraw $1,000 to pay for my sister’s burial. The bank teller kept $90 and gave me only $910. Is that done when a person withdraws cash from a bank account? I got very angry and complained to the manager of the bank, but to no avail. He did not do anything to try and get my money for me. I am a low-income senior citizen and appreciate any kind of advice you could give me.

Answer: It’s hard to imagine any legitimate bank fee that would take almost 10% of a cash withdrawal. In any case, the manager should have been able to explain why the money was taken. If the teller stole the money from you and the manager simply didn’t believe you, calling the police may have been an option. A count of the teller’s till might have revealed the discrepancy.

Consider returning to the credit union with a friend as a witness and asking the manager to explain why the teller kept $90 from your withdrawal. If the explanation doesn’t satisfy you, you can lodge a complaint with the credit union’s regulator. The National Credit Union Assn. regulates federal credit unions and can be found at NCUA.gov. For a state-chartered credit union, contact your state’s financial services regulator.

Q&A: What to do when you’re mad at your credit card company

Dear Liz: This past summer I was traveling in a foreign country and the email alert that a credit card payment was due did not reach me. Upon returning to the U.S. and attempting to use the card, I was verbally assaulted over the phone by a credit card company representative demanding payment. I’m 80 and have never missed paying off any credit card charge at the end of the billing cycle or paid a penny in credit card interest. The card company reported the missed payment, lowering my credit score 133 points.

This is no way to run a business! I’ve cut up both cards and closed all accounts I had with this company. I had no problem getting a card from another issuer. I’d think that best practice in my case would have been a flag raised on their computers that the missed payment was unusual. A polite contact could have been made, the check would have been in the mail the next day and the company would still have a customer.

Answer: Being verbally assaulted after a one-time lapse suggests either a poorly trained representative or a company that doesn’t care much about customer service. Unfortunately, your leverage to get the missed payment taken off your credit reports pretty much disappeared when you closed your accounts. Some card issuers will make such “goodwill” adjustments to keep longtime customers, but others won’t. It’s always worth asking before you take your business elsewhere.

Now that you have your new card, please consider setting up some kind of automatic payment so this doesn’t happen again. Credit card companies typically offer the option to have your minimum payment, your full balance or a dollar amount in between pulled from your checking account. Making sure that at least the minimum is paid can prevent further damage to your credit scores.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Zap the fees that eat away at your wealth. Also in the news: Back-to-school sales for adults, the average retirement savings by age, and how to get free financial advice.

Zap the Fees That Eat Away at Your Wealth
Americans pay close to $400,000 in fees over their lifetime.

You’re Never Too Old for a Good Back-to-School Sale
Stock up on clothes and accessories.

The Average Retirement Savings by Age and Why You Need More
You can never have enough savings for retirement.

How to Get Free Financial Advice
It’s readily available.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Cryptocurrency for beginners. Also in the news: How credit card rewards made a couple’s dreams come true, when to tell your partner that you’re in serious debt, and why you should get a new bank if you’re paying fees.

Cryptocurrency for Beginners: 7 Questions to Ask
Understanding the hottest money trend.

How Credit Card Rewards Made Their Dreams Come True
Building rewards with an ultimate goal in mind.

Ask Brianna: Should I Tell My Partner I’m in Serious Debt?
When it’s time to confess.

If You’re Paying Fees of Any Kind, Get a New Bank
Don’t pay for your banking.

Refusing to pay could hurt you more than them

Oh, the injustice of it all.

Who among us hasn’t felt abused as a consumer? We get billed for stuff we didn’t receive, or that doesn’t work, or that didn’t live up to its hype. Companies charge us unexpected fees and insist the costs were revealed in the fine print. Health insurers take customer disservice to a whole new, awful level, inexplicably refusing to pay for services they promised to cover and deluging us with impossible-to-decrypt paperwork.

It’s understandable if you feel that enough is enough. But taking a righteous stand against paying an unfair bill can boomerang on you — hard.

In my latest for the Associated Press, situations where you might be tempted to refuse to pay, and what you might want to consider doing instead.

Q&A: Professional investment management fees

Dear Liz: I have an IRA with over $100,000 at a discount brokerage. I had it in a target date fund. Due to market downturns, I got nervous and was convinced to put my investment into the brokerage’s portfolio advisory services with additional fees coming to $1,600 per year. In general, is it wise to change investments to these more professional services?

Answer: If professional management keeps you from bailing out of your investments when markets decline, then paying a higher fee may be justified. But the higher the fees you pay, the less money you can accumulate. For example, your IRA could grow to more than $600,000 over 30 years if you net a 6% return. If your fees are one percentage point higher, and you net just 5%, you’d end up with less than $450,000.

Some discount brokers, including Schwab, Fidelity and Vanguard, now offer a low-cost “robo” option that invests your money using computer algorithms. These robo options don’t offer the highly customized investment portfolios that some other services provide, but they come at a much lower cost — typically 0.3% to 0.4%. A few, including Vanguard and Betterment, offer access to financial advisors.

Q&A: Fees can do serious damage to your retirement

Dear Liz: When I changed jobs, I rolled my 401(k) account into an IRA and took it to a financial planner. He invested it initially and now has a management company watching it. So now I am paying quarterly fees to him, the management company and the IRA custodian. The fees average about $2,000 a year. I am thinking about moving my account to my current 401(k), which has lower fees.

I feel like the planner has me in way too many investments, and my returns aren’t great. My account is up about $40,000 on a $122,000 initial investment. I will be 60 this year and plan on working for another six-plus years.

Answer: If your employer accepts IRA transfers — and many do — then rolling the money into your current 401(k) could be a great way to go.

Many 401(k) plans offer ultra-low-cost investment options that aren’t available to retail investors. Many also offer target date funds that would take care of diversifying your investments while making sure the mix gets more conservative as you get closer to retirement.

Right now you’re paying above-average fees to get below-average performance. If you had put your money into a low-cost option such as the Vanguard Balanced Index Fund five years ago, your account would now be worth nearly $190,000. The expense ratio for the balanced fund can be as low as 0.08%, compared with the 1.23% you’re paying now. (Your actual cost probably is higher; you didn’t include the expense ratios of the underlying investments in your account.)

Fees matter a lot. Higher fees depress returns and can increase your chance of running short of money in retirement.

At the same time, the years just before and after retirement are crucial because you’ll be making a lot of decisions with major consequences (such as when to claim Social Security and how much to withdraw from retirement accounts). Paying 1% in fees could make sense if you were getting comprehensive financial planning advice that addressed your retirement planning needs as well as other aspects of your finances, such as insurance, taxes and estate planning. If all you’re paying for is investment management, though, you can get that for a lot less.

If your employer doesn’t accept transfers or doesn’t have low-cost options, you could consider transferring your IRA to a custodian that offers low-cost computerized investment services. These include Betterment, Wealthfront, Vanguard Personal Advisor Services and Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, among others. The all-in fee for their services, including expense ratios of underlying investments, is typically less than 0.5%.

If you do opt for less expensive investment management, you still should consider hiring a fee-only financial planner before you retire to review your plan. You can find fee-only planners who charge by the hour at Garrett Planning Network.