Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Beat the retiree crowds to these 5 places abroad. Also in the news: Better options for student loan repayments, the pros and cons of travel loans, and why millennials are piling up debt to keep up with their friends.

Beat the Retiree Crowds to These 5 Places Abroad
Before they become popular.

Student Loans: Are You Making Repayment Harder?
Finding better options.

Fly Now, Pay Later: Are Travel Loans a Good Deal?
Convenience comes at a cost.

Millennials Pile Up Debt To Keep Up With Their Friends, Survey Finds
FOMO.

Beat the retiree crowds to these 5 places abroad

Coronado in Panama once had pristine beaches and not much else. Today the resort town is a haven for U.S. and Canadian retirees, with strip malls, fast-food joints and a lot of people speaking English.

“For all the world, it’s like you’re in a U.S. beach town,” says Kathleen Peddicord, publisher of Live and Invest Overseas, a site and newsletter for people who want to work, invest or retire abroad.

That kind of retirement destination appeals to many who are looking for an established expatriate community where they may not have to learn another language, says Dan Prescher, a senior editor at International Living, another site for people interested in life abroad. Places like Coronado or Boquete in Panama, Puerto Vallarta or Ajijic in Mexico and Ambergris Caye island in Belize have been welcoming North American retirees for years.

If you’re looking for places before they become popular, however, you may need to be even more adventurous than the typical expat. In my latest for the Associated Press, the next hot retirement destinations abroad, where couples can live comfortably on less than $2,000 a month.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How not to run out of money in retirement. Also in the news: How bountiful is tax-loss harvesting, what the (almost) end of credit card signatures means for you, and how your spouse’s student loans affect you.

How Not to Run Out of Money in Retirement
Making it through the long haul.

How Bountiful Is Tax-Loss Harvesting?
A gimmick or an advantage?

What the (Almost) End of Credit Card Signatures Means for You
Less time at the register.

How Your Spouse’s Student Loans Affect You
Everything from taxes to mortgages.

Q&A: What’s better, collecting Social Security early or blowing through retirement savings?

Dear Liz: I am married and six months away from my full retirement age, which is 66. I have not filed yet. My wife started collecting Social Security at 62 but does not get very much. We are both in excellent health and have longevity in the genes. We don’t own a home. I have around $960,000 in diversified investments. I take out around $7,000 to $8,000 a month to meet my monthly expenses. Fortunately, the markets have been good, helping my portfolio, but I am not counting on that to continue at the same pace.

Doesn’t it make more sense to be taking less money out each month by starting Social Security now? I know I would receive less money than waiting until 66 or later, but between my check and the spousal benefit my wife could get, I would reduce my annual living expense withdrawals from my account by close to 50%. This would give my portfolio more opportunity to grow, since I will not be taking out so much every month.

I wish I could cut my expenses or could earn more income but cannot at this point. I am shooting for not taking more than 5% a year out of the portfolio going forward.

Answer: You’re right that something needs to change, because your withdrawal rate is way too high.

You’re currently consuming between 8.75% and 10% of your portfolio annually. Financial planners traditionally considered 4% to be a sustainable withdrawal rate. Any higher and you run significant risks of running out of money.

Some financial planning researchers now think the optimum withdrawal rate should be closer to 3%, especially for people like you with longevity in their genes. Chances are good that one or both of you will make it into your 90s, which means your portfolio may need to last three decades or more.

So even if you start Social Security now, you’ll need to reduce your expenses or earn more money to get your withdrawals down to a sustainable level.

Generally, it’s a good idea for the higher earner in a couple to put off filing as long as possible. The surviving spouse will have to get by on one Social Security check, instead of two, and it will be the larger of the two checks the couple received. Maximizing that check is important as longevity insurance, since the longer people live, the more likely they are to run through their other assets. Your check will grow 8% each year you can delay past 66, and that’s a guaranteed return you can’t match anywhere else. In many cases, financial planners will suggest tapping retirement funds if necessary to delay filing.

But every situation is unique. Your smartest move would be to consult a fee-only financial planner who can review your individual situation and give you personalized advice.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 4 ways to curb your online shopping enthusiasm. Also in the news: 13 last-ditch ways to avoid the poorhouse in retirement, why you should freeze your child’s credit, and 8 inspirational stories of people who overcame debt.

4 Ways to Curb Your Online Shopping Enthusiasm
Back away from the mouse.

13 Last-Ditch Ways to Avoid the Poorhouse in Retirement
There’s still time.

Why You Should Freeze Your Child’s Credit
Identity theft starts early.

8 inspirational stories of people who overcame debt
Learning from those who have been there.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How bad credit can increase your car costs. Also in the news: Owning Bitcoin creates a complex tax situation, 13 last-ditch ways to avoid the poorhouse in retirement, and the top 7 tax deductions and credits people forget.

Good Driver, Bad Credit: What Makes Your Car Costs So High
It’s not just the monthly payment.

Owning Bitcoin Creates a Complex Tax Situation
Taxing cryptocurrency.

13 Last-Ditch Ways to Avoid the Poorhouse in Retirement
Before it’s too late.

Top 7 Tax Deductions And Credits That People Forget
Leave no deduction behind.

How not to run out of money in retirement

Americans aren’t terrific at saving for retirement. Many are even worse when it comes to figuring out how much to spend once they get there.

An actuary who’s studied the issue for three decades recently proposed a relatively straightforward strategy that can help. In my latest for the Associated Press, how to use this strategy to make your retirement savings last.

Q&A: Here are some tips for getting more retirement money into accounts with tax advantages

Dear Liz: My wife and I are about 35. I’m self-employed and contribute to a SEP IRA. My wife contributes to a workplace retirement plan. We don’t qualify to contribute to Roth IRAs. In order to get more money into retirement accounts, would you recommend doing back-door Roth contributions? What else is there to do to get retirement money into accounts that will have a tax benefit now or later?

Answer: Roth IRAs don’t provide an upfront deduction, but withdrawals are tax-free in retirement. That makes them especially enticing to people who expect to be in the same or higher tax bracket in retirement — mostly higher-income people and good savers.

People who earn more than certain limits, however, are prohibited from contributing directly to a Roth IRA. For 2018, direct Roth contributions aren’t allowed for people whose modified adjusted gross incomes exceed $199,000 for married couples filing jointly or $135,000 for single filers.

Several years ago, however, Congress eliminated income limits on who was allowed to convert a regular IRA to a Roth IRA. That change created the back-door Roth strategy, in which a high-income taxpayer contributes to a regular IRA and then converts the money to a Roth.

The strategy works best for people who don’t already have a large IRA filled with pre-tax contributions and earnings. When you convert all or some of an IRA to a Roth, you have to pay a proportionate amount of income taxes on the conversion based on all of your IRA holdings. If you don’t have an existing IRA and don’t deduct the IRA contribution, you’ll owe little if any taxes on the conversion.

The IRS hasn’t specifically blessed or banned the back-door Roth strategy, so it remains somewhat controversial. Many investing and brokerage sites promote it. Some proponents, however, recommend letting several months pass between the contribution and the conversion. The idea is to avoid IRS scrutiny by making the transactions appear to be separate decisions rather than one clearly meant to get around the contribution limits.

If you want to stay out of gray areas and potentially contribute more cash to your retirement, consider setting up a solo 401(k). This version of the popular workplace plan is meant for self-employed business owners with no full-time employees other than themselves and their spouses. Plan participants under age 50 can contribute up to $18,500 a year. Those 50 and older can contribute up to $24,500. The plan can have a Roth and an after-tax contribution option in addition to a pre-tax option. In addition, the business can make a 25% annual profit-sharing contribution (or 20% if the business is a sole proprietorship or single member LLC). The combined maximum of participant and business contribution is $55,000 for those under 50 and $61,000 for those 50 and older.

If you’re able to contribute more than these amounts each year, consider a traditional defined-benefit pension. Those involve considerable set-up and ongoing costs, so consult a tax pro to see if it’s a good fit.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to maximize your Priority Pass Select. Also in the news: Tap your credit cards for spring break savings, how to avoid a spring break money hangover, and why the death of the fiduciary rule is bad news for your retirement.

How to Maximize Your Priority Pass Select Membership
Getting the most from your membership.

Tap Your Credit Cards for Spring Break Savings
Save on foreign transaction fees and more.

Ask Brianna: How to Avoid a Spring Break Money Hangover
Not the souvenir you want to bring home.

The Death of the Fiduciary Rule Is Bad News for Your Retirement
Less protection means more scams.

Q&A: At retirement, should you roll your 401(k) into your IRA? Think about these factors

Dear Liz: I turned 70 last week and therefore I am leaving my part-time job after about 13 years. No big deal, but now that I am retiring I have a 401(k) worth about $60,000 and an IRA that is somewhere around $50,000. Should I roll my 401(k) account into my IRA or just let it sit there collecting dust? I do understand that at age 70½ I am supposed to start withdrawing some of the funds, but am not sure how much. It seems 70 years creeped up on me.

Answer: Years have a nasty habit of doing that.

You mentioned that you’re retiring because you’ve achieved a certain age. Few jobs have mandatory retirement ages, though. If you don’t retire, you can continue putting off required minimum distributions from your 401(k). You would still have to take minimum distributions from your IRA, unless your employer allows you to roll that money into your 401(k) plan.

But we’ll assume you’re happy with your decision. Rolling your 401(k) into your IRA isn’t necessarily the best option. What you should do next depends on the details of both accounts.

Most large-company 401(k)s allow retirees to take regular distributions, including required minimum distributions, from the plans. These plans also tend to offer low-cost institutional funds that may be a much better deal than those you can access as a retail investor with an IRA. If you’ve got a good 401(k) that allows retirement distributions, there may be no need to move your money.

If your employer’s plan doesn’t allow such distributions, don’t automatically assume your current IRA provider is the best choice, especially if it’s a full-service brokerage or insurance company. Compare the fees of the investment options with what’s available from a discount brokerage. Transferring all your retirement money to a lower-cost provider can help you keep more money in your pocket.

Calculating your required minimum distributions isn’t difficult. The IRS has tables on its website, and in Publication 590, to help you figure out how much money to withdraw. Various sites have calculators as well.

One caveat: If you keep your IRA and 401(k) separate, you’ll have to calculate required minimum distribution separately for each account and withdraw those amounts from each account, says Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for taxes and accounting at Wolters Kluwer. That’s different from the rules when you have multiple IRAs. When you have more than one IRA, you calculate the required minimum distribution based on the total of all your IRAs but are allowed to take the distribution itself from any one of them.