Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: New scoring could help credit-shy millennials. Also in the news: Giving yourself the gift of a $0 credit card balance, 5 key steps to joining the 401(k) Millionaires Club, and why you should only share your credit card info at a hotel at the front desk.

New Scoring Could Help Credit-Shy Millennials
Introducing UltraFICO.

Give Yourself the Gift of a $0 Credit Card Balance
A gift with long lasting impact.

5 Key Steps to Join the 401(k) Millionaires Club
Starting early is crucial.

Only Share Your Credit Card Info at a Hotel at the Front Desk
Protecting your info during your stay.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: With money goals, multitasking pays off. Also in the news: Snagging hotel loyalty perks, what to know about high yield reward checking accounts, and how to not let debt ruin your holiday.

With Money Goals, Multitasking Pays Off
There needs to be more than just paying off debt.

Snag These Hotel Loyalty Perks, Even if You’re Disloyal
It all depends on the right card.

What to Know About High Yield Reward Checking Accounts
Some accounts offer interest as high as 5%.

Don’t Let Debt Ruin Your Holiday
Some people are still paying off last year’s gifts.

With money goals, multitasking pays off

Tackling money goals one at a time cost financial literacy expert Barbara O’Neill at least $1 million.

That’s how much O’Neill, a distinguished professor at Rutgers University, figures she lost by starting saving for retirement only after she had created an emergency fund, bought a car with cash and purchased a home.

“I tell students that eventually, 30 years later, I hit the million-dollar mark, but I could’ve had $2 million,” O’Neill says.

Too often, financial experts say, people want to attack their money goals one at a time: “As soon as I pay off my credit card debt, then I’ll start saving for a home,” or, “As soon as I pay off my student loan debt, then I’ll start saving for retirement.”

These folks don’t realize how costly the words “as soon as” can be. In my latest for the Associated Press, paying off debt is a worthy goal, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of other goals, particularly saving for retirement.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Don’t leave credit card rewards on the table when dining out. Also in the news: How to move forward after a financial setback, the best Black Friday TV deals, and when to opt out of the target-date funds in your 401(k).

Dining Out? Don’t Leave Credit Card Rewards on the Table
Earning money back for every meal.

How to Move Forward After a Financial Setback
Getting back on track.

Best Black Friday TV Deals, 2018
The most screen for your money.

When to Opt Out of the Target-Date Funds in Your 401(k)
It depends on your goals.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Should you pay off your mortgage before you retire? Also in the news: New UltraFICO score could boost credit access for consumers, a cheapskate’s guide to shopping for credit cards, and 7 year-end tax planning strategies for small business owners.

Should You Pay Off Your Mortgage Before You Retire?
Or is it better to wait?

New UltraFICO Score Could Boost Credit Access for Consumers
Big changes are coming.

A Cheapskate’s Guide to Shopping for Credit Cards
Finding a card to match your careful spending.

7 year-end tax planning strategies for small business owners
Tax season is right around the corner.

Q&A: A surviving spouse gets a pension surprise

Dear Liz: I have a question about my late husband’s pension. He was with a company for 25 years and retired early with a defined benefit pension of about $3,700 per month. When he died four years ago, the pension stopped. The company said it was a “single life” pension, but when I tried to get records proving that, they said they had no records. Do you think I have any recourse to petition for some kind of pension? Should I find a lawyer and if so, what kind of lawyer handles this type of thing?

Answer: Traditional pensions typically give workers two options: a single life annuity, whose payments are higher but cease when the recipient dies, or a joint-and-survivor annuity that continues for a surviving spouse’s lifetime. When someone is married, the default option is supposed to be the joint-and-survivor annuity unless the spouse signs a waiver giving up rights to lifetime income. If the company can’t or won’t provide proof of such a waiver, then you’d be smart to get legal help to pursue the issue.

You may be able to get free legal assistance through the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Pension Counseling and Information Program, which currently serves 30 states. If you live in one of the states that isn’t served, you may be able to get help by visiting PensionHelp America, a site run by the nonprofit Pension Rights Center.

Should you pay off mortgage before you retire?

Most people would be better off not having mortgages in retirement. Relatively few will get any tax benefit from this debt, and the payments can get more difficult to manage on fixed incomes.

But retiring a mortgage before you retire isn’t always possible. Financial planners recommend creating a Plan B to ensure you don’t wind up house rich and cash poor.

In my latest for the Associated Press, why a mortgage-free retirement is usually best.

Q&A: When to keep a mortgage into retirement years and reasons you might want to pay it off

Dear Liz: My husband and I have no debt other than the mortgage on our home. My husband will retire in three years while I will continue to work. (I will have to pay for healthcare at that time, as I currently receive my benefits through his employer.) My husband insists that we pay our mortgage off before he retires. The mortgage balance is $59,000 now. We are able to do this, however, I am concerned that we will have no tax deduction whatsoever if we do. Who is correct?

Answer: You may have received some tax benefit in the past for your mortgage. After last year’s tax reform, it’s unlikely you’ll get any tax break going forward.

You have to be able to itemize your deductions to write off your mortgage interest. Now that Congress has nearly doubled the standard deduction, few taxpayers will have enough deductions to make itemizing worthwhile.

Even before tax reform, though, many homeowners got little or no tax benefit from their mortgages. They didn’t pay enough mortgage interest to make itemizing worthwhile, or their itemized deductions barely exceeded the standard deduction. The homeowners who got the biggest benefit were the ones with the largest mortgages. Even people with big mortgages tend to pay less interest over time as they pay down their loans.

Keeping a mortgage just for the tax break is kind of shortsighted, in any case, since you’re only getting back a fraction of what you pay out. For example, if you were in the 25% tax bracket, each dollar you paid in interest reduced your taxes by just 25 cents.

The best arguments for keeping a mortgage have to do with liquidity and investment returns. You shouldn’t pay off a mortgage if it means most of your money is tied up in your home, and if you don’t have enough other assets to cover emergencies and to generate future income. Also, some wealthier people opt to keep a mortgage because the loan is cheap, and they can make better returns on their money elsewhere.

Most people are better off without debts in retirement, though, so if you can pay off your home loan without compromising the rest of your financial life, you probably should.

Q&A: Pension annuity beats lump sum

Dear Liz: I am 63, recently retired and have a choice. I can take a lump sum from my pension at age 65 or a monthly annuity. I am strongly leaning toward the lump sum. I know the pitfalls (I won’t be an aggressive investor, I don’t gamble, I won’t loan to family or friends, etc). My reasoning is that if my spouse and I both die before our early 80s, “they win.”

I do have relatives who live a long time, however. I am financially very careful and believe interest rates in five years will be several points higher and I can invest the lump sum conservatively and get a 5% to 7% return, and that will work for me.

Finally, I could take the monthly annuity now with no survivor benefit and at the same time buy term life insurance to cover my wife if I go. Am I missing anything significant in my favoring the lump sum?

Answer: Yes. Quite a bit.

Calculating break-even points can be an interesting math exercise, but you’re making assumptions about inflation rates and market returns, as well as life expectancies, that you can’t actually know in advance. A better approach might be to consider what could possibly go wrong. The answer: a lot.

Technically, you might do better investing the money than collecting the annuity, but there are so many ways you could wind up losing. You could pick the wrong investments, or the markets could turn south for an extended period. You could be defrauded or become the victim of an unethical advisor.

(Sure, you’ve got all your marbles now, but who says you’ll keep them? Even the smartest people can get fleeced, and any cognitive decline over the years could make you a sitting duck.)

The fact that you have longevity in your family is another big factor in favor of taking the annuity, because you can’t outlive the money. That should be a concern, in any case, because according to the Society of Actuaries there’s a 72% chance that one member of a couple will live to age 85 and a 45% chance that one will live to age 90.

If your spouse is a woman and not several years older than you, she’s likely to outlive you. Does she want to inherit the responsibility of managing this money?
Speaking of your spouse, get an independent, fee-only advisor’s opinion before you consider waiving the survivor’s benefit on any annuity.

A term life insurance policy may not last as long as you need it to, and will be expensive at your age. It will be vastly more expensive if you try to renew it down the road.
If you don’t or can’t renew it, your spouse could face a drastic drop in income at your death as one of your two Social Security checks goes away and the pension income stops. Surely, your partner deserves better than that.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Don’t let magical thinking jinx retirement. Also in the news: How to live with your first credit card’s low limit, legal complaint puts student debt relief companies in the crosshairs, and a decade after the housing crisis, foreclosures still haunt homeowners.

Don’t Let Magical Thinking Jinx Retirement Planning
Money won’t suddenly begin growing on trees.

How to Live With Your First Credit Card’s Low Limit
No, your limit isn’t missing a zero.

Legal Complaint Puts Student ‘Debt Relief’ Companies in Crosshairs, and Borrowers Can Help Make the Case
Borrowers have a way to fight back.

A decade after the housing crisis, foreclosures still haunt homeowners
Long lasting repercussions.