Friday’s need-to-know money news

money-saving-militaryToday’s top story: Controlling your finances by ignoring short-term frenzies. Also in the news: A new definition of affordable auto insurance, how military members can save money while moving, and how to estimate the value of your travel rewards.

Control Your Finances by Ignoring the Short-Term Frenzy
Resist being reactionary.

What’s ‘Affordable’ Auto Insurance? Now There’s an Answer
Defining the parameters.

7 Ways Military Members Can Save Money When Moving
Making the costs more bearable.

A Rule of Thumb to Estimate the Value of Your Travel Rewards Miles
What are your miles worth?

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Financial-PlanningToday’s top story: How life insurance companies learn all of your secrets. Also in the news: How to avoid overwhelming student loan debt, questions parents should answer before paying for a wedding, and financial tips to ease the transition from military to civilian life.

How Life Insurance Companies Learn Your Best-Kept Secrets
It’s all in the data.

8 College Planning Tips to Avoid Overwhelming Student Loan Debt
Starting off on the right foot.

Paying for a Wedding: 5 Questions Parents Should Answer Now
Forget about any fancy purchases for a while.

8 Financial Tips To Ease The Transition From Military To Civilian Life
Coping with big changes.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Hand with money and toy car isolated on white background

Hand with money and toy car isolated on white background

Today’s top story: Why you need to pay close attention to your car insurance. Also in the news: Supreme Court ruling makes finances easier for same-sex couples, financial resources for active military, and when it’s okay to take a hit on your credit score.

4 Ways Being Forgetful Can Raise Your Car Insurance Rates
Set reminders.

Marriage Ruling Ends Personal-Finance Confusion for Gay Couples
Taxes just became a lot less complicated.

4 Financial Resources for Active Military
Managing your money while away from home.

3 Times It’s OK to Let Your Credit Score Take a Hit
A credit score hit isn’t always a bad thing.

Are vets getting what they deserve?

Soldier saluting Yesterday on Bob McCormick’s KFWB show Money 101 we talked about veterans’ benefits that are often overlooked. If you’re a vet or have a vet in your life, you should know about:

Aid & Attendance: This benefit helps pay for nursing home, assisted living and home health care for low-income vets. The benefit can be $1,700 a month for the veteran, $2,000 a month for a couple and $1,000 a month for a veteran’s widow. Yet few people take advantage or even know about this benefit, and the VA isn’t always forthcoming. A New York Times article last year said only about 38,000 of the 1.7 million World War II vets alive in 2011 were receiving it. The site VeteranAid.org has details on how to apply.

Family Caregiver Program: Eligible Post-9/11 veterans can opt to receive home health care from a family member, and that family member may be eligible for a stipend, mental health services, respite care and access to health care insurance. Family Caregiver program application are available at www.caregiver.va.gov and Caregiver Support Coordinators are stationed at every VA medical center and via phone at 1-877-222 VETS (8387) to help with the application process.

VA Mortgages: These mortgages aren’t exactly unknown, but Terry Savage wrote in a recent Huffington Post column that 70% of younger veterans had yet to take advantage of this program which offers zero down payment home loans at attractive rates. Find out more from the VA mortgage loans help desk at 800-983-0937.

Post 9/11 GI Bill: Again, not a hidden benefit, but one that’s probably underused. This version of the GI bill has paid college expenses for nearly 1 million veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, but there are nearly 6 million vets from those conflicts. At a time when college educations are all but essential for staying in the middle class, more vets should be looking into this program, which provides up to 36 months of benefit, including full tuition and fees for in-state schools plus possible help with housing and books. You’ll find details here.

Even military careerists need a Plan B

Dear Liz: I’m about to marry an active-duty military man. We’re in the process of marrying our finances, and I have several questions.

First, what is a good emergency fund for us? We run our household on his salary because I’m recently unemployed. I’ve always had a six-month emergency fund for myself, but because he’ll theoretically always be employed, should we have less savings in emergency funds and more in retirement and investments?

Second, along with my unemployment, I’m bringing about $15,000 in savings and $9,000 in student loan debt (at 4.5%). He has about $5,000 in savings and no debt at all. Neither of us has a retirement account or any other investments. I’m leaning toward paying off my debt so that we start on even ground, but I have a feeling that you’re going to tell me not to do that. What should I be considering at this time?

Answer: The military offers good benefits and generous pensions to people who make the armed services their career. But the pension probably won’t cover all your expenses in retirement. (Remember, if he retires after 20 years of service, he’ll get only 50% of his base pay.) Besides, there’s really no such thing as “guaranteed” employment, even in the armed services, so it’s smart to have a Plan B.

Your husband-to-be should be taking advantage of the federal Thrift Savings Plan, which works like a 401(k) for civilians, although there’s no employer match for service members. He can contribute up to $17,000 a year ($17,500 in 2013), his contributions are excluded from his taxable income, and the money grows tax-deferred until it’s withdrawn in retirement, at which point it’s taxed as regular income.

The Thrift Savings Plan also has a Roth option. Withdrawals from a Roth in retirement are tax-free, although contributions usually are included in taxable income. The exception: If your fiance is deployed, most or all of his income would be tax-free, so he would be able to make contributions to the Roth with tax-exempt income, said Joseph Montanaro, a certified financial planner with USAA. That’s a pretty great deal: no tax on the contributions going in, and no tax on the withdrawals coming out.

If your man isn’t deployed, he still might want to divide his contributions between the regular and Roth plans so that he would have different savings “buckets” to tap in retirement and thus more control over his tax bill.

He probably wouldn’t get a full military pension if he leaves or is forced out of the military before he has served 20 years. But he would be able to take his Thrift Savings Plan balance with him.

When you return to work, you also should start contributing to a retirement fund. If you don’t have access to a 401(k) or 403(b), you might contribute to an IRA or a Roth IRA.

Although you would be smart to pay off any high-rate debt, such as credit card balances, you need not be in a rush to pay off low-rate, tax-deductible debt such as student loans, especially if the rate you’re paying is fixed. Instead, focus on building up that emergency fund. The exact amount you need is more art than science, but a six-month fund would be prudent.