Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to build your ‘Oh, Crap!’ fund. Also in the news: A strategy that could help new grads retire sooner, United Airlines sets a new pet transport policy, and what happens to your debts when you die.

How to Build Your ‘Oh, Crap!’ Fund
Don’t get caught empty-handed.

New Grads, This Strategy Could Mean Retiring Sooner
Doesn’t that sound nice?

United Airlines Sets New Pet Transport Policy
The policy will ban dozens of dog breeds from being transported in cargo.

What Happens to Your Debts When You Die
They don’t disappear.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Money advice for new graduates – and some old-school wisdom. Also in the news: Should you fix or break up with your car, types of stocks to look at if you’re getting back into the market, and how to determine if you need life insurance in retirement.

Money Advice for New Grads — and Some Old-School Wisdom
Advice from personal finance experts.

Should You Fix Up or Break Up With Your Car?
Separating emotion from reality.

Buying the Dip? Give These Types of Stocks a Look
Time to get back in the market?

How to determine if you need life insurance in retirement
Assessing your circumstances.

Q&A: If you’re putting money in a 401(k) and an IRA at the same time, be ready for the taxes

Dear Liz: I recently returned to a regular 9-to-5 job after freelancing for several years. I contributed the maximum amount to an IRA while self-employed and continued to do so after starting my new job. I was surprised to learn when doing my taxes this year that I could not deduct my IRA contributions because I was also contributing to my company’s 401(k) plan.

Other than increase my 401(k) contributions at the expense of future IRA funding, are there any actions I can take?

Answer: The ability to deduct IRA contributions when contributing to a workplace retirement plan phases out once your modified adjusted gross income reaches certain limits. For single filers, the deduction starts to phase out at $63,000 and disappears at $73,000. For married couples filing jointly, the phase-out is from $101,000 to $121,000.

Your next move depends on your goals and situation. If you’re primarily concerned with reducing your current tax bill and you’re likely to be in a lower tax bracket in retirement, as most people will, then you should funnel more money into your 401(k) rather than funding your IRA.

If, however, you expect to be in the same or higher bracket in retirement, or if you want more flexibility to control your tax bill in your later years, consider contributing to a Roth IRA in addition to your 401(k). Roths don’t offer an up-front deduction, but withdrawals in retirement are tax free. Also, unlike 401(k)s and traditional IRAs, there are no minimum required withdrawals in retirement.

There are income limits on the ability to contribute to a Roth IRA. For single people, the ability to contribute phases out between modified adjusted gross incomes of $120,000 to $135,000 in 2018. For married couples filing jointly, the phase-out is between $189,000 and $199,000.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: When to ignore credit card advice. Also in the news: More Wells Fargo refunds are coming after $1 billion fine, how SunTrust customers can protect themselves after data breach, and how to live it up without going broke before you die.

When to Ignore Credit Card Advice
Conventional wisdom doesn’t always apply.

More Wells Fargo Refunds Coming After $1 Billion Fine
Auto and home loan customers could have money coming to them.

How SunTrust Customers Can Protect Themselves After Data Breach
Another day, another data breach.

How to live it up without going broke before you die
You deserve to have some fun.

Q&A: Don’t run out of money in retirement: Here’s how much to use per year, and why

Dear Liz: I am confused about “safe withdrawal rates” from retirement accounts. I’ve read that withdrawing 4% of savings each year is the gold standard that financial planners utilize to ensure that life savings are preserved in retirement.

However, if the Standard & Poor’s 500 index returns on average 8% a year, and if the life savings are locked down in a mutual fund that is indexed to the S&P 500, then shouldn’t the annual withdrawal amount, to preserve those savings, be 8%? Limiting my withdrawals to 4% means my retirement would be pushed several years down the road. Can you clarify?

Answer: It’s good you asked this question before you retired, rather than afterward when it might have been too late.

You’re right that on average, the S&P 500 has returned at least 8% annualized returns in every rolling 30-year period since 1926. (“Rolling” means each 30-year period starting in 1926, then 1927, then 1928, and so on.)

But the market doesn’t return 8% each and every year. Some years are up a lot more. And some are down — way down. In 2008, for example, the S&P 500 lost about 37% of its value in a single year.

Such big downturns are especially risky for retirees, because retirees are drawing money from a shrinking pool of assets. The money they withdraw doesn’t have the chance to benefit from the inevitable rebound when stock prices recover. Bad markets, particularly at the beginning of someone’s retirement, can dramatically increase the odds of running out of money.

Inflation also can vary, as can returns on cash and bonds. All these factors play a role in how long a pot of money can be expected to last. The “4% rule” resulted from research by financial planner William Bengen, who in the 1990s examined historical returns from 1926 to 1976. Bengen found there was no period when an initial 4% withdrawal, adjusted each year afterward for inflation, would have exhausted a diversified investment portfolio of stocks and bonds in less than 33 years.

Some subsequent research has suggested a 3% initial withdrawal rate might be better, especially for early retirees or those with more conservative, bond-heavy portfolios.

Free online calculators can give you some idea of whether you’re on track to retire. A good one to check out is T. Rowe Price’s retirement income calculator. But you’d be smart to run your findings past a fee-only financial planner as well. The decisions you make in the years around retirement are often irreversible, and what you don’t know can hurt you.

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.