Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 surprising factors that can inflate your car insurance rate. Also in the news: The best banks and credit unions for 2018, 3 housing trends to pay attention to, and documents you need if your kid is 18.

5 Surprising Factors That Inflate Your Car Insurance Rate
Not just accidents.

The Best Banks and Credit Unions for 2018
Where to do your banking.

3 Months, 3 Housing Trends: Buyer Prep, Loan Rates, Taxes
Planning to buy or sell? You’ll want to pay attention to these trends.

If Your Kid Is 18, You Need These Documents
Crucial papers to have handy.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 6 reasons there aren’t enough homes for sale. Also in the news: 3 day trading tax tricks, a major tax hike could be waiting for grad students, and giving up your rights when getting a credit card.

6 Reasons There Aren’t Enough Homes for Sale
It’s getting tougher to find a house.

3 Day-Trading Tax Tricks
You could qualify for tax breaks.

Grad Students, Expect a Major Tax Hike If House Tax Plan Passes
College is about to get even more expensive.

Does your credit card force you to give up your rights?
All about arbitration.

Q&A: How to sort out the taxes when you sell your house

Dear Liz: I am trying to understand the capital gains tax exemption as it applies to the sale of a house. If I have no mortgage and I sell my house before I have lived in it for two of the previous five years that are now required for the exemption, is it based on the total selling price of the house or on the amount over what I paid for it? And what is the tax rate based on?

Answer: The home sale exemption can shelter from taxes up to $250,000 per owner ($500,000 for a couple) of capital gains from a home sale. If you don’t live in the home for at least two of the previous five years, you typically can’t use the exemption unless the sale was because of a change in employment, health problems that require you to move or an unforeseen circumstance that forced the sale.

The rules on these exceptions can get pretty tricky, so you’d need to discuss your situation with a tax pro. If you qualify, the amount of the exemption usually would be proportionate to the percentage of the two years that you actually lived in the home. If you sold after one year, for example, you might exempt up to $125,000 per owner.

Whether you have a mortgage does not affect the capital gains calculation. What matters is the difference between the price you get when you sell the house and the price you paid when you bought it.

From the sale price, you get to subtract any selling costs such as real estate commissions. From the purchase price, you can add in certain costs, such as home improvement expenses. What results after these adjustments is your capital gain for tax purposes.

If you have capital gains in excess of the exemption, you would pay long-term capital gains rates on that profit. Long-term capital gains are typically taxed at a 15% federal rate, although the highest-income taxpayers (those in the 39.6% bracket) may pay 20% and the lowest-income taxpayers (those in the 10% and 15% brackets, including taxable capital gains) pay a 0% rate.

States typically have additional taxes.

Q&A: More reasons why adding an adult child to a deed is a bad idea

Dear Liz: I’m an estate planning attorney and I agree with your warning to the couple who wanted to add their daughter to their house deed to avoid probate.

The daughter’s share of the home would lose the step-up in tax basis she would get if she inherited instead, plus there are several other issues. What if the daughter gets sued or has creditor problems? The house could be at risk.

The parents also may not have thought through what might happen if the daughter marries, divorces or dies before they do. A living trust would cost some money to set up but would avoid these problems.

Answer: A revocable transfer-on-death deed is another option for avoiding probate, but a living trust is a more all-encompassing solution that also can help the daughter or another trusted person take over in case of incapacity.

In any case, they should consult an estate planning attorney, who has a far better understanding of what can go wrong after a death and how to prevent those worst-case scenarios.

How to buy the last house you’ll ever buy

My husband and I bought what we thought was a starter home 20 years ago. Now we think of it as our “forever” home, where we plan to retire and live out the rest of our days.

We got lucky, because most of the features that make our place good for “aging in place” — the single-story layout, open design, wide doorways — weren’t on our must-have list when we were newlyweds.

We’re not the only people who didn’t think far enough into our future. The vast majority of homebuyers and remodelers don’t consider what it might be like to grow old in their homes, says Richard Duncan, executive director of the Ronald L. Mace Universal Design Institute, a nonprofit in Asheville, North Carolina, that promotes accessible design for housing, public buildings and parks. In my latest for the Associated Press, what you should take into consideration for the future when buying a home.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How 3 people conquered credit trouble and bought homes. Also in the news: Top 10 apps for buying the right car at the right time, biting on Whole Foods new prices, and 6 Equifax hack rumors fact-checked.

How 3 People Conquered Credit Trouble and Bought Homes
How to come back from credit trouble.

Top 10 Apps for Buying the Right Car at the Right Price
Get the car you want at the price you want.

Should You Bite On Whole Foods’ New Prices? Maybe Not
Are you really saving?

6 Equifax hack rumors fact-checked
Fact from fiction.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: The average American saves less than 5%. Also in the news: Strategies for lowering your closing costs, how to make money with YouTube, and should credit card perks coax you to go steady with a bank?

Average American Saves Less Than 5%
See how you stack up.

Strategies for Lowering Your Closing Costs
Saving as much as you can.

How to Make Money With YouTube
Monetizing your cat videos.

Should credit card perks coax you to go steady with a bank?
A one-sided love affair?

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Online banks give consumers more options. Also in the news: How to end your car lease without getting dinged, how money-managing robots will know if you’re mad or glad, and for millennials, there’s no place like home when it’s time to save for one.

Online Banks Give Consumers More Options
The benefits of banking online.

End Your Car Lease Without Getting Dinged
It can be done.

Money-Managing Robots Will Know If You’re Mad or Glad
Reading your emotions.

For Millennials, there’s no place like home when it’s time to save for one
The bank of Mom and Dad.

Q&A: The road to homeownership should be paved with skepticism

Dear Liz: My husband is 46 and I am 43. We have been living in Las Vegas for six years. We are aware that we missed out on buying a home a few years ago. Are we chasing a dream or do you think that we might have another chance to buy a house in the next few years? I am also very concerned about another recession. Some websites forecast one in 2018.

Answer: Some websites forecast the end of the world in 2016. And 2015. And 2014. And so on.

Recessions, by contrast, are pretty much inevitable but they’re not really predictable. You shouldn’t try to time your real estate purchases hoping to avoid, or take advantage, of the lower prices they might bring.

In general, you need to be a lot more skeptical about what you read and what you’re told if you want to be a homeowner and not get fleeced.

Everyone involved in real estate transactions — as well as in most other financial transactions — may have an incentive to mislead you or at least not tell you the whole truth. That’s why it’s so important to do your own research and make your own decisions.

Here’s just one example. A lender will tell you how large a mortgage it will give you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can really handle that loan. You may have other goals, such as retirement, that you won’t be able to achieve if you take on a too-large payment.

The best time to buy a home is when you want to be a homeowner, you’re financially ready to do so and you can afford to stay put for several years, because it can take a few years’ worth of appreciation to offset the costs of buying and selling a home (not to mention moving costs).

You also should make sure you have a healthy emergency fund — three months’ worth of expenses is a good start — to handle the inevitable unexpected expenses that arise when you own a home.

Q&A: Figuring out capital gains when an inherited house is sold

Dear Liz: I’ve have been following your responses related to the tax exemption on home sales. I understand that up to $250,000 per person of home sale profit is exempt from capital gains taxes and that married couples are entitled to exempt up to $500,000.

My spouse and her two siblings inherited a home from their parents. My father-in-law passed away four years ago, and my mother-in-law died last year. My wife was assigned as executor of their living trust. Who is entitled to take the tax exemption of the proceeds from the sale of the house? My wife? All three siblings? All of the above and their spouses?

Answer: None of the above, but don’t despair because the house will incur little if any capital gains when it’s sold.

We’ll assume your mother-in-law inherited the house outright from her husband, since that’s usually the case. When your mother-in-law died, the house received a “step up” in tax basis to reflect its current market value. If the house was worth $2 million when she died, for example, that’s the new value for tax purposes — even if she and your father-in-law paid only $25,000 decades ago for the house. All the gain that occurred in between their purchase and her death won’t be taxed.

If your wife sells the house for $2.2 million, there potentially would be some taxable capital gain. But the costs of marketing and selling the home would be deducted from its sale price. If those costs are 6% of the sale price — which is a pretty conservative assumption — the taxable gain would be about $68,000. (Six percent of $2.2 million is $132,000. Subtract the $2 million value at death and the $132,000 of sales costs, and you’re left with $68,000.) If your wife as executor sells the house and distributes the proceeds to the beneficiaries, the estate would pay the tax. If siblings inherit the house and then sell it, they would pay any tax.

Every year, millions of dollars of potential capital gain vanish this way as people inherit appreciated property. It’s a huge benefit of the estate tax system that many people don’t understand until they’re the beneficiaries of it.