Friday’s need-to-know money news

mortgage2Today’s top story: Why debt-to-income ratio matter when buying a house. Also in the news: Crucial insurance changed to make after divorce, how to manage your finances when you’re separated, and a bill in congress that would remove credit report strikes after four years.

Debt-to-Income Ratio Matters When You’re Buying a House
How to improve your DTI.

5 Crucial Insurance Changes After Divorce
Things to address immediately.

Managing Your Finances When You’re Separated
You may be apart, but your money is still together.

This Bill in Congress Would Remove Credit Report Strikes After Four Years
Significant changes could be ahead.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

1594411528_1512b1aad5_zToday’s top story: Insurance changes to make when you retire. Also in the news: Deciding between whole life and term life insurance, protecting your credit card points, and the pros and cons of balance transfer credit cards.

5 Insurance Changes to Make When You Retire
It’s a whole new ballgame.

Should I Get Whole Life Insurance or Term Life? Financial Experts Weigh In
Deciding what works best for you.

Crooks Want Your Credit Card Points — Here’s What to Do
Protecting your points.

The Pros and (Mostly) Cons of Balance Transfer Credit Cards
Money saver or money pit?

6 Things Detroit’s Bankruptcy Can Teach You About Money
Tips from an unexpexted source.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

mortgage2Today’s top story: What to do when your employer is acquired. Also in the news: Tips for selling your home this summer, surprising things about cellphone insurance, and how to avoid retirement calculator mistakes.

5 Steps to Take When Your Employer Is Acquired
Tips for uneasy times.

Simple Tips to Sell Your Home for the Right Price This Summer
Summer could be the perfect time to sell.

4 surprising things about cellphone insurance
Reading the fine print.

Using These Retirement Calculators The Wrong Way Could Cost You Thousands
Complicated calculations.

Q&A: How much liability insurance do you need?

Dear Liz: In a previous answer to a question about liability insurance, you indicated that people should normally have enough insurance to cover their assets. Which assets should be included, as it is my understanding that some assets are exempt from creditors, such as 401(k)s and IRAs? Also, how are future earnings or future annuity payments for retirees taken into account when trying to determine how much liability insurance to carry? Should one essentially cover the present value of their future income for 10 years? Twenty years? Life?

Answer: As indicated in the previous column, there’s as much art as science in determining appropriate liability coverage. Liability insurance pays the tab when you face a lawsuit or similar claims. Some people sleep better at night with high policy limits, while others would rather deploy their money elsewhere.

Liability insurance is relatively inexpensive, so getting a lot of coverage typically won’t break the bank. But you also need to make sure you’re adequately covered for disability and long-term care, which you’re more likely to need than your liability insurance.

You’re correct that workplace retirement plans such as 401(k)s are protected from creditor claims. So are IRAs, up to $1 million. Each state has different rules about other property, but typically a certain amount of home equity is protected as well. In Texas and Florida, this so-called homestead exemption is virtually unlimited. In other states, the amount protected is relatively small. (In California, it can be as small as $25,575, according to legal self-help site Nolo.) Similarly, states are all over the map in how they treat annuities.

Social Security income, by contrast, is safe from creditors except Uncle Sam. The federal government can take a portion of your Social Security check if you’ve defaulted on federal student loans, for example.

Financial advisors typically focus on net worth, rather than incomes, when recommending appropriate levels of liability coverage. If you’re a high earner with few assets, though, you might want to take your future income stream into account. Exactly how much can be a discussion between you and your advisor or insurance agent.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

file_161555_0_tax refundToday’s top story: Using your tax refund to secure your future. Also in the news: Frequent overdrafters lose hundreds in fees, what to do before age 40 to retire comfortably, and how viewing your budget as a circle instead of a list can provide more flexibility.

5 Ways to Use Your Tax Refund to Secure Your Future
Protecting what you have, while still having a little fun.

Heaviest Overdrafters Pay a Week’s Wages in Fees, Study Finds
Creating a vicious circle.

10 Things to Do Before Age 40 to Retire Comfortably
Tick tock.

View Your Budget as a Circle Instead of a List to Be More Flexible
Giving yourself a little breathing room.

Q&A: How much liability coverage is enough?

Dear Liz: We are looking to get umbrella insurance coverage to increase the personal liability limits on our homeowners and auto policies. Is there a rule of thumb on how much umbrella coverage is appropriate? Enough to cover one’s entire net worth? Or a portion thereof? Granted, no amount of coverage would prevent a lawsuit exceeding that coverage. We have never had a liability claim but are looking for an extra degree of safety and peace of mind. The house (no mortgage) is worth about $2.5 million and we have financial assets of an additional $3 million. The maximum our carrier offers in umbrella coverage is $5 million, with a premium under $1,000 a year.

Answer: Walking the line between prudence and paranoia isn’t easy when you’re trying to predict the risk of being sued.

A report by ACE Private Risk Services noted that most auto and homeowners liability coverage maxes out at $500,000, but 13% of personal injury liability awards and settlements are for $1 million or more.

That means the vast majority of lawsuits result in six-figure payouts or less, but a spectacular few can cost more.

Insurance experts say trial attorneys typically settle for a liability policy’s limits. There are exceptions, though, particularly if the person being sued has substantial assets and income but not a lot of coverage.

One rule of thumb is to get liability coverage at least equal to your net worth, with a minimum of $1 million. A $5-million policy in your case would not be overkill, but you should discuss your situation with an experienced insurance agent to get a better assessment of your risk and options.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailToday’s top story: Protecting your assets from a car accident. Also in the news: Why having a single credit card just for bills can make fraud less disruptive, big tax breaks for homeowners, and last-minute moves to trim your tax bill.

How to Protect Your Assets in the Event of a Car Accident
Paying the heavy price of someone else’s accident.

Having a Just-for-Bills Credit Card Makes Fraud a Little Less Disruptive
Keeping the chaos contained.

7 big tax breaks for homeowners
The amount of money you can save may surprise you.

Last-Minute Moves That Can Trim Your Tax Bill
The clock is ticking.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

estate planningToday’s top story: The 10 keys to proper estate planning. Also in the news: What types of insurance everyone should consider, why you need to review your car insurance policy, and how to choose the right budgeting software.

10 Keys to Proper Estate Planning
Protecting yourself and your family.

3 types of insurance everyone should consider
More protection for youself and your family.

Why Your Car Insurance Shouldn’t Be As Old As Your Car
Time to review your policy.

Budgeting Software Showdown: Mint vs. You Need a Budget
Selecting the right software for your needs.

6 Tax Traps to Avoid
Traps are lurking everywhere.

Q&A: Shopping for insurance

Dear Liz: I pay about $670 per month for insurance for four cars, our home and a $1-million umbrella policy. We’ve been with the same well-known national insurance company for over 30 years. About five years ago, I checked with another well-known national insurance company about the estimated total premium, which was not significantly different from what I paid.
We filed a claim for a very minor accident about two years ago. My 21-year-old son, 17-year-old daughter, my wife and I drive these cars.

Should I have my coverage reviewed by another company?

Answer: Of course you should. And you should check with more than one.

Premiums can differ dramatically, particularly for younger drivers. A recent Consumer Reports investigation found that although some companies doubled or even tripled auto insurance rates for a teen driver, others barely budged.

Premiums also can change over time as insurers try to build or protect their profits. Insurers will lower premiums to attract more business and raise them to cut losses.

Price isn’t the only thing you should consider. Customer service is important too, so review your state’s complaint survey to see which insurers tend to draw customer ire.

Shopping for insurance isn’t fun, but saving hundreds or even thousands of dollars is. You should make the effort at least every few years.

Q&A: Co-pays and collections

Dear Liz: My primary care physician referred me to a gynecologist for a medical issue. I called the office three times and asked that the appointment be made as an annual exam.
During the appointment, the doctor was rude and critical of my body and lifestyle. (I am obese.) I left the appointment in tears before it was over.

Five months later, I got a $160 bill for the appointment. My insurance denied the claim twice, saying the doctor was double charging, but the office fought back, saying the charge was for the referral, not the annual exam.

I have tried to work with the doctor’s office and my insurance, but now the bill has gone to collections. It’s knocked my FICO score from 780 to 680 in a matter of months.

Part of me does not want to pay the bill because of the abuse I received from the doctor. However, this is affecting my finances. Would it help my FICO score if I negotiated with the bill collector and then repaid a part of the bill? What are my options?

Answer: Your best option is to ask the doctor’s office, politely, to take back the collection account in exchange for your paying the bill in full.

The doctor should not have been rude to you. But you shouldn’t have tried to get a referral for a medical issue treated as an annual exam. You were probably trying to avoid a co-pay, because health plans typically cover this type of preventive care, but that’s not why you were there.

You could ask whether the bill collector will delete the account from your credit reports. You would almost certainly have to pay the bill in full to win this concession, and even then the odds are against it.

That’s why it’s better to ask the medical provider to take back the account. In many cases, medical providers place accounts with collectors on assignment and have the ability to pull them back if they want.

The latest version of the FICO credit scoring formula ignores paid collections and treats unpaid medical collections less harshly than other collections. But that formula is just starting to be adopted, and the more commonly used previous version, FICO 8, ignores only collections worth less than $100.

As you’ve seen, even one dispute can lead to a big drop in your scores. If you feel an issue is worth pursuing, it often makes sense to pay the disputed bill and then seek justice in Small Claims court.