Q&A: There’s a big difference in various kinds of bonds

Dear Liz: My mutual funds and IRA are mostly in stocks with very little in bonds. I’m thinking I should have more in bonds, but just don’t know how much I should transfer from the stock funds and which bond fund to pick. Are they all the same?

Answer: Just as with stock funds, bond funds have different compositions, fees and investment philosophies. There’s a fairly big difference, for example, between a rock-solid U.S. Treasury bond and a “junk” or low-rated bond.

There’s also a difference in fees between funds that are trying to beat the market (active management, which is more expensive) versus merely matching the market (passive management, which is less expensive and typically offers better results).

The ideal asset allocation, or mix of stocks, bonds and cash, also varies depending on your age and risk tolerance. There are a variety of asset allocation calculators on the web you can try, or you can consult a fee-only planner.

Another option is turn the task over to a target date retirement fund, which manages the mix for you, or a robo-advisor, which invests according to computer algorithms.

Whatever you do, keep a sharp eye on the fees you’re charged. The average bond fund had an expense ratio of 0.51% in 2016, according to the Investment Company Institute. There’s little reason to pay much more than that, and ideally you’d try to pay less.

Q&A: Saving for retirement can’t wait

Dear Liz: I have a family member who at 57 has no savings, a house whose value is 58% mortgaged and debt from a family member of $180,000.

This person is just starting a new job that will cover expenses with about $1,000 left over each month. The job offers a 401(k) but doesn’t allow contributions until employees have been with the company for eight months.

This person has paid into Social Security so that will be there (hopefully!) at retirement. What would be the best way for this person to start saving toward retirement?

Answer: Your relative shouldn’t wait to be eligible for the 401(k). People 50 and older can contribute up to $6,500 annually to a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, which is $1,000 more than the usual limit.

If your relative didn’t have a previous job that offered a workplace plan in 2017, then this year’s contributions to a traditional IRA should be deductible.

Next year, when your relative is eligible for the 401(k), the deductibility of contributions will depend on that person’s income. In 2018, deductibility begins to phase out when modified adjusted gross income reaches $63,000 for singles. If IRA contributions aren’t deductible, after-tax Roth contributions typically are a better deal, but the ability to contribute to a Roth begins to phase out for singles at $120,000 in 2018.

Encourage your relative to save and to delay starting Social Security for as long as possible. When Social Security makes up the majority of one’s income in retirement — as it will for your relative — it’s important to maximize that check.

It’s not clear why your relative has been saddled with a family member’s debt, but any retirement plan needs to include options for paying off, settling or even erasing (through bankruptcy) such a substantial amount. Your relative should talk to a credit counselor and a bankruptcy attorney to better understand the options.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 Halloween hazards and how insurance can help. Also in the news: The secret to optimizing credit card rewards, how to make money driving for Amazon Flex, and why Millennials may end up saving more for retirement than their parents’ generation.

5 Halloween Hazards and How Insurance Can Help
Don’t get tricked.

The Secret to Optimizing Credit Card Rewards? Be Disloyal
Loyalty is overrated with credit card rewards.

Make Money Driving for Amazon Flex: What to Expect
Make money driving for Amazon that you can then spend on Amazon.

Millennials May End Up Saving More For Retirement Than Their Parents’ Generation
What has changed.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 7 signs you’ve gone from frugal to cheap. Also in the news: 7 ways to avoid becoming a scary student loan statistic, following the lead of Millennials to save more for retirement, and retirement community fees that can be deducted as medical expenses.

7 Signs You’ve Gone From Frugal to Cheap
A slippery slope.

7 Ways to Avoid Becoming a Scary Student Loan Stat
Don’t become a statistic.

To Save More for Retirement, Follow These Millennials’ Lead

You can deduct these retirement community fees as medical expenses
Unexpected savings.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How a public adjuster can help with hurricane insurance claims. Also in the news: How to choose a student credit card, how millennials got a 6-figure start on retirement saving, and Equifax is waiving their credit-freeze fees.

How to Choose a Student Credit Card
Finding the right card for you.

How a Public Adjuster Can Help With Hurricane Insurance Claims
You don’t have to go it alone.

How Millennials Got a 6-Figure Start on Retirement Saving
Already ahead of the game.

Equifax Is Waiving Their Credit-Freeze Fees for 30 Days
How kind.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Don’t get taken by government grant scams. Also in the news: When you should and shouldn’t tap your Roth IRA, using your credit cards to pay for child care, and a report that finds many American teens lack basic financial skills.

Don’t Get Taken by Government Grant Scams
The government doesn’t want to give you money.

When You Should — and Shouldn’t — Tap Your Roth IRA
Let your interest rate be your guide.

Should You Use Credit Cards to Pay for Child Care?
Depends on the card.

Report finds many American teens lack basic financial skills
Not a good sign.

Q&A: Start saving early for retirement in case that last day of work sneaks up on you

Dear Liz: What advice would you give to a Silicon Valley professional who hasn’t done a good job planning for retirement? I’m 53 and maxing out my 401(k), saving $24,000 a year with my employer matching my contributions dollar for dollar up to 6% of salary. In addition, I’m saving $50,000 to $60,000 of my $240,000 annual salary. I’m debt free.

I wish I had started saving like this early in my career. Looks like I’ll probably have to work until I’m at least 65 or 70. Any advice on retirement planning would be greatly appreciated.

Answer: Your current savings rate is impressive, but you probably should plan to work at least until your full retirement age for Social Security, which is age 67.

Retiring earlier would require you to cut back even more on your spending or increase the odds your funds won’t last you through a long retirement.

Early retirement may be involuntary, of course.

Many people retire sooner than they expect thanks to a layoff, a health crisis or the need to take care of a family member. That is yet another reason why people should get started saving for retirement as early as possible — they may not have as many years to save as they think, and making up for lost time gets increasingly difficult the longer they wait.

Most people aren’t in the fortunate position to be able to save 30% or more of their incomes in their 50s, which means catching up is close to impossible.

You may still have options if your career and your savings sprint are cut short.

If you own a home, you can tap the equity either by downsizing (selling and moving to a smaller place) or using a reverse mortgage. You can reduce your expenses, possibly by moving to an area with a lower cost of living. You can supplement your retirement income by working part-time.

You also should consider maximizing your Social Security check by delaying benefits until age 70, even if you wind up retiring earlier. Social Security benefits grow by 8% a year between full retirement age and age 70, which is a guaranteed rate of return you can’t find anywhere else.

Delaying Social Security is a way to insure against longevity — if you live longer than you think and run out of other money, that larger check can help protect you from poverty at the end of your life.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 3 money tools to save you from yourself. Also in the news: Why paying off debt with retirement money can be dangerous, how to make money selling stuff online, and why you should think twice before giving up financial control at the altar.

3 Money Tools to Save You From Yourself
We could all use a little help.

A High-Wire Act: Paying Off Debt With Retirement Money
A dicey proposition.

How to Make Money Selling Stuff Online
Putting money in your pockets by creating room in your closet.

Think twice before giving up financial control at the altar
Create a balance instead.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to read the fine print on credit card offers. Also in the news: Mistakes to avoid if you want your student loans forgiven, how to switch brokers and move your investments, and three retirement savings strategiess to use if you plan to retire early.

How to Read the Fine Print of Credit Card Offers
Paying close attention.

Want Your Student Loans Forgiven? Avoid These 4 Mistakes
Forgiveness is possible.

How to Switch Brokers and Move Your Investments
Big banking moves.

Three retirement savings strategies to use if you plan to retire early
Getting out as soon as you can.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to dodge scams and time-wasters in the online job market. Also in the news: Credit card bonuses are drifting further away, how job hopping can hurt Millennials in retirement, and how to fraud-proof your retirement savings.

Online Jobs: How to Dodge Scams and Time-Wasters
Don’t get taken for a ride.

As Credit Card Bonuses Balloon, They Drift Further Away
Bigger isn’t necessarily better in this case.

Job Hopping Can Hurt Millennials in Retirement
The 401(k) game.

6 ways to fraud-proof your retirement savings
Protecting your savings.