Q&A: How to get results when you complain to your mortgage company

Dear Liz: Last year my mortgage was sold to another company. I didn’t know that I had a new loan number, so my automatic payments weren’t posted properly. With the help of my bank, I was able to sort this out but not before the new company reported me as delinquent to the credit bureaus. I have never been late with a payment in 15 years.

I pleaded with the company to remove the delinquency from my credit report, but they declined, saying their records show that they fulfilled their obligation by notifying me that they are my new lender. Do I have any recourse and what are my options in getting this delinquency removed from my credit report?

Answer: You can try disputing the delinquency with the credit bureaus, but that is a highly automated process. The company may check its records and respond to the bureaus as it did to you, refusing to remove the black mark. It’s worth a shot, but far from guaranteed.

You most likely will need to get to the right human being to help you. Sometimes when you run into a brick wall with customer service, you can turn things around by appealing to someone’s expertise. Asking the customer service rep, “If this happened to you, what would you do to fix it?” may get you pointed in the right direction.

Of course, you may have been talking to a call center worker with little training and even less authority. If that’s the case, ask to speak to the manager. You might also write a letter to the company’s chief executive, asking directly for help.

Another option is to involve regulators. Filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or your state attorney general may get results.

A single missed payment can knock more than 100 points off good credit scores, plunging you into the “average” category and causing you to pay more for such things as credit card interest, insurance and cellphone coverage. It may take considerable effort, but it’s worth fighting back.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 7 tactics to help car-buying newbies bargain like a boss. Also in the news: 5 ways to save energy during the dog days of summer, what you need to know about buying a house in 2018, and how a freelancer turned dog sitting into a successful side gig.

7 Tactics to Help Car-Buying Newbies Bargain Like a Boss
Don’t be intimidated.

5 Ways to Save Energy During the Dog Days of Summer
Staying cool.

Buying a House in 2018: What You Need to Know
Things have changed a bit.

How a Freelancer Turned Dog Sitting Into a Successful Side Gig
Getting your side hustle on.

Q&A: Figuring the tax toll for an inherited house

Dear Liz: I inherited my home when my husband died. If I sell this house now at a current market value of around $900,000, what will be the basis of the capital gains tax? I think at the time of my husband’s death, the house’s market value was $400,000.

Answer: Based on your phrasing, we’ll assume your husband was the home’s sole owner when he died. In that case, the home got a new value for tax purposes of $400,000. That tax basis would be increased by the cost of any improvements you made while you owned it. When you sell, you subtract your basis from the sale price, minus the costs to sell the home, such as the real estate agent’s commission, to determine your gain. You can exempt up to $250,000 of the gain from taxation if it’s your primary residence and you’ve lived in the house at least two of the previous five years. You would owe capital gains taxes on the remaining profit.

Here’s how the math might work. Let’s say you made $50,000 in improvements to the home, raising your tax basis to $450,000. You pay your real estate agent a 6% commission on the $900,000 sale, or $54,000. The net sale price is then $846,000, from which you subtract $450,000 to get a gain of $396,000. If you meet the requirements for the home sale exclusion, you can subtract $250,000 from that amount, leaving $146,000 as the taxable gain.

If your husband was not the sole owner — if you owned the home together when he died — the tax treatment essentially would be the same if you lived in a community property state such as California. In other states, only his share of the home would receive the step-up in tax basis and you would retain the original tax basis for your share.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to protect your money from criminals. Also in the news: How to fight about money and stay madly in love, how to have “the talk” about finances with your parents, and deciding to reroute some of your retirement savings to pay for a house.

Banking Has Changed, but Criminals Haven’t — Here’s How to Protect Your Money
Staying on guard.

How to Fight About Money and Stay Madly in Love
Don’t let money get in the way.

Have ‘The Talk’ About Finances With Your Parents Already
Having the tough conversations.

Should You Reroute Some of Your Retirement Savings to Pay for a House?
One of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make.

Q&A: Reverse mortgages have improved but still require caution

Dear Liz: You’ve written about the potential financial flexibility and options for preserving quality of life for seniors by using a reverse mortgage line of credit. I believe there is a great need for much more cautionary advice regarding reverse mortgages.

Someone I know entered into a reverse mortgage and the consequences have been disastrous. She was barely past the minimum age of 62 when she got the loan and took the lump sum option, only to spend it hastily on various purchases and debts.

Having no income other than Social Security, and almost nonexistent savings, she faces many years of figuring out how to pay property taxes and ongoing maintenance costs to avoid foreclosure. So although she has her home, it’s a precarious situation from year to year. She also no longer has an asset that could be used for long-term care or other expenses because the reverse mortgage makes it unlikely the owner will receive any leftover proceeds after paying off the lender.

Answer: You didn’t say when your friend got her reverse mortgage, but the rules for lump-sum payouts have been tightened under the Federal Housing Administration’s Home Equity Conversion Mortgage program.

In the past, borrowers could take 100% of the loan proceeds upfront. Today, only 60% is typically available in the first year. The total amounts that can be borrowed overall have been reduced as well. These changes were meant to shore up the program’s finances, but they also could lead to fewer situations like your friend’s.

That said, people should be extremely careful about encumbering their homes in retirement. Prospective borrowers have to meet with HECM counselors to discuss a reverse mortgage’s financial implications and potential alternatives, but they would be smart to also meet with a fee-only financial planner.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: What 3 Big Brother winners did with their $500K payday. Also in the news: Financial wisdom for young adults, 3 ways to avoid a bad student loan, and when to hire a mortgage broker.

What 3 ‘Big Brother’ Winners Did After Their $500K Payday
What happened when the cameras were turned off.

It’s Not All About Money: Financial Wisdom for Young Adults
How to think about money as you begin adulthood.

3 Ways to Avoid a Bad Student Loan
Take a close look at the fine print.

When to Hire a Mortgage Broker
When to bring in the middleman.

Q&A: Wife should get her name on deed

Dear Liz: My daughter, who is a stay-at-home mother of two, recently bought a home with her husband. They have been married seven years. I recently discovered that her name isn’t on the deed to the home. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t sound good to me. What are her potential issues?

Answer: The issues depend on where she lives. Community property states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

If your daughter lives in one of those, assets acquired during marriage, including a home, are generally considered community property owned equally by both spouses. Her husband, ideally, should place her on title via a deed to reflect true ownership or place it in a trust to provide for his wife. However, if her husband should die without bequeathing her the property, the home could go to probate proceeding, and the wife would have to provide proof that it was community property to receive all of it, says estate planning attorney Jennifer Sawday of Long Beach.

In other states, different rules apply. Typically assets held in one person’s name are that person’s property. If the husband has a will, he could leave the house to your daughter — or not. Should he die without a will, she could wind up sharing ownership of the house with others, such as children from a previous marriage.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How 1% savings hikes can spice up retired life by $1 million. Also in the news: 7 ways to save at Disneyland, why you shouldn’t let a down payment scare you from buying a home, and how Millennial men and women invest differently.

1% Savings Hikes Can Spice Up Retired Life by $1 Million
The earlier start, the better the boost.

7 Ways to Save at Disneyland — No Magic Required
Keeping your money away from the Mouse.

Don’t Let a Down Payment Scare You Off
Help is available for first-time buyers.

401(k) investing: How Millennial men and women invest differently
It goes back to childhood.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Amazon Prime hits $119. You’ll probably pay it. Also in the news: Understanding a bear market, 5 money mistakes 20-somethings make, and the 3 best reasons to rent your home instead of buying.

Amazon Prime Hits $119. You’ll Probably Pay It.
It’s about more than just free shipping.

What Is a Bear Market?
Investment prices are dropping.

Ask Brianna: 5 Money Mistakes 20-Somethings Make
How to side step them.

The 3 best reasons to rent your home instead of buying
Not every reason is financial.

Q&A: Selling a home you’ve shared with tenants

Dear Liz: I am 53 and own a home in which I live and rent out rooms. Every year I pay my taxes on the rental income and get to deduct depreciation.

How does this affect the taxes I will pay on the home when I sell it? Will I be able to claim the $250,000 exemption? I may live in this home until my death and leave it to my children. How would the rental depreciation affect their stepped-up basis and any taxes they might have to pay?

Answer: Renting rooms is similar to taking the home office deduction in the Internal Revenue Service’s eyes. In both cases, you have to recapture any depreciation, but the business use doesn’t affect your ability to take the home sale exclusion.

The home sale exclusion allows you to exempt from capital gains taxes up to $250,000 of home sale profit. (The exclusion is per owner, so a married couple potentially could exempt up to $500,000.) You’re eligible for the exclusion if you have owned and used your home as your primary residence for at least two years out of the five years before the sale. You will have to pay income taxes on the amount of depreciation you deducted over the years. That depreciation amount is added back as income on your tax return.

If the space you rented out had not been within your living area — if it were a separate apartment or retail space — then different rules would apply.

If you decide to bequeath the home at your death rather than selling it, your heirs won’t have to pay the depreciation recapture tax — or capital gains taxes on any appreciation that took place while you owned it. Instead, the home’s tax basis will be “stepped up” to its current market value.

If they sell it soon after inheriting it, they won’t owe much if any tax on the sale. If they hang on to it before selling, they’ll owe taxes only on the appreciation that took place while they owned it. If they move in and make it their primary residence, they too could qualify for the $250,000-per-person home sale exclusion once they have owned the home, and used it as their primary residence, for at least two of the five years before they sell it.