Should you rent in retirement?

Some people rent in retirement because they don’t have much choice; they can’t afford to own homes. But financial planners say renting can make more sense than owning in some circumstances, even for retirees who can afford the costs of homeownership.

Renting offers flexibility as well as freedom from all the chores and expenses of maintaining a home. Renting also may provide built-in communities for socializing, as well as accessible housing features such as one-floor living, which can help people age in place. People who are “house rich and cash poor” can sell their homes and use the equity to fund a more comfortable lifestyle.

In my latest for the Associated Press, learn how rent in retirement can be a smarter decision.

This week’s money news

This week’s top story: Smart Money podcast on CDs and managing a life-changing windfall. In other news: How to minimize the impact to your business from a bank failure, how Silicon Valley Bank failed, and the hurdles on the road to Medicare coverage of cannabis.

Smart Money Podcast: Are CDs Worth It, and Managing a Life-Changing Windfall
This week’s episode starts with a discussion about certificates of deposit, or CDs.

Spooked by Bank Failures? Minimize the Impact to Your Business
Keep an emergency fund at a separate business bank to help insulate your company from a bank failure.

How Silicon Valley Bank Failed (and Why That Probably Won’t Happen to Your Bank)
Silicon Valley Bank failed after a series of events that aren’t likely to happen at your bank.

When Will Medicare Cover Medical Marijuana?
From regulatory to more practical issues, here are the hurdles on the road to Medicare coverage of cannabis.

Q&A: How an unexpected credit score drop could signal a serious problem

Dear Liz: I pay off each of my credit card purchases online, usually within a few days. My monthly statement balance is usually $0 even though I use the card frequently. The card is my only open credit account. I saw my credit score recently and it has dipped below 650. It used to be over 800 several years ago. Is my diligence hurting my score? Should I wait to pay off my card until the statement posts? Is there another way to improve my credit?

Answer: A drop that drastic may indicate a more serious problem, such as a late payment or a collection account. Please check your credit reports at all three credit bureaus at (Enter the exact name in your browser as there are many look-alike sites that will try to charge you for what should be free access to your reports. If you’re asked for a credit card number, you’re on the wrong site.) Unexpected credit score drops can be an indication of fraud, so do this as soon as possible.

If you don’t see anything suspicious, then you probably can blame your habit of leaving a zero balance and having only one card. You don’t have to carry credit card debt to have good scores, but a small balance on the statement closing date helps indicate to credit scoring formulas that you are actively using your account. You can and should pay the balance off in full before the due date to avoid interest charges. Adding another credit account or two should further strengthen your scores.

You didn’t mention which score you saw (you have many) or where you got it, but consider monitoring at least one of your scores so you can gauge your progress. Banks and credit card companies often offer free scores. If yours don’t, consider signing up for another service that offers free scores. Discover, for example, offers free FICO scores to everyone, not just its own customers.

Q&A: Living trust setup costs

Dear Liz: A friend of mine contacted an estate planning attorney to do a living trust. The attorney gave her an estimate of $5,900 for this job. My friend is single, never married, no children, does not own property or a business. She has no complex financial situations. She does have a financial planner, who she works with on her investments and retirement funds. I am also thinking of doing a living trust with an attorney, and my situation is similar to my friend’s — very simple. However, I can’t afford $6,000 to do a trust or will. Is this a reasonable cost for a simple estate? It seems high to me; should it be more in the range of $2,500?

Answer: Your friend’s experience is why many people put off estate planning or opt for do-it-yourself solutions when they would really benefit from an experienced attorney’s advice.

Let’s start with this: Not everyone needs a living trust. Living trusts are designed to avoid probate, the court process used to settle estates. But probate isn’t a huge hassle in many states. Even in states where probate is notoriously slow and expensive, such as California, there are simplified processes for smaller estates. Plus, there are a number of ways other than a living trust to avoid probate, including pay-on-death designations for financial accounts and, in many states, transfer-on-death options for vehicles and real estate.

Living trusts have other advantages: They’re typically private, whereas wills must be made public after death. And living trusts usually include a relatively easy way to have someone else make decisions for you if you’re incapacitated. But you can set up something similar by creating powers of attorney for healthcare and finances. Those documents, plus a will, typically cost less than $1,000.

There are self-help legal options online that allow you to create estate plans yourself, and some give you access to attorneys for help. Ideally, though, you would find a lawyer who would charge a reasonable fee to review your situation, offer you personalized advice and draft the necessary documents for you. If you’re having trouble finding someone, ask a tax pro or financial planner for recommendations. If finances are a consideration, avoid law firms with big fancy offices in expensive urban centers and look for those with more modest overhead in outlying areas.

All that said, the amount your friend was quoted could make sense if she has a lot of money. Even without real estate investments, substantial wealth will require substantial estate planning, and that comes with a substantial price tag.

How to fight the ‘pink tax’ amid inflation

Trae Bodge, a shopping expert who lives in the New York City area, sees higher prices for products and services marketed to women everywhere: Socks, razors, shampoo and apparel are a few of the product types aimed at women that tend to cost more.

“I don’t know why brands think this is acceptable,” Bodge says. “It’s another punch to the gut as we’re trying to manage our budgets right now,” she adds, referring to rising prices across consumer goods categories due to inflation.

The phenomenon known as the “pink tax,” when products and services aimed at women cost more than their counterparts aimed at men, is well-documented across many goods and services. A 2021 paper co-authored by Stephanie Gonzalez Guittar, assistant professor in the sociology department at Rollins College in Florida, found that women pay more for deodorants and lotions, and that personal care products are increasingly differentiated by gender. For example, lotion for women cost an average of $2.97 per ounce compared to $1.86 for men.

While Equal Pay Day on March 14 focuses on the pay gap between men and women, it can also be a reminder to consider why being a woman so often comes with a higher price tag — and what to do about it. In Kimberly Palmer’s latest for the Associated Press, learn how to avoid paying the pink tax.

This week’s money news

This week’s top story: Smart Money podcast on how COVID-19 changed our finances — and our advice. In other news: Ride out fed rate hikes at a credit union, tax tips for crowdfunding, and credit or debit card for kids.

Smart Money Podcast: How COVID-19 Changed Our Finances — and Our Advice
This week’s episode features a roundtable discussion of Nerds reflecting on the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ride Out Fed Rate Hikes at a Credit Union
Credit unions return profits to their members through low fees, better rates on loans and higher rates on savings.

Are GoFundMe Donations Taxable? Tax Tips for Crowdfunding
If you set up a GoFundMe or another crowdfunded campaign in 2022, the money you earned could be considered a nontaxable gift — if you were mindful of the rules.

Credit or Debit Card For Kids: Which Is Best?
Choosing to give a child a credit or debit card depends on age, maturity and the goals for the child.

Q&A: How to get started managing your retirement assets

Dear Liz: I’m 72 and still employed with a salary of $80,000. My wife and I have a home with about $1.6 million in equity. We have almost $4 million in real estate investments, $200,000 in stocks, IRAs worth about $250,000 and about $175,000 in cash. Although it may seem like we have a lot, I really have no clue what to do at this time. I worry about the need for long-term care in future for me or my wife, or what would happen if I stopped working and lost that income. I don’t know how to manage the stocks and cash I do have or how to plan for the future. I tried contacting quite a few fee-only financial planners and they all told me they wouldn’t work with me unless I had $500,000 to give them to invest. Any suggestions on where I can get some real advice without giving someone complete control of money that I don’t have anyway?

Answer: You’re describing the “assets under management” model, in which advisors charge a percentage of the assets they manage for clients and often require the clients to have a minimum level of investable assets such as stocks, bonds and cash. This model evolved in part because many people balked at paying directly for comprehensive financial planning, which is time- and labor-intensive.

But this model often isn’t a great fit for people who are just starting out, who don’t want asset management or who, like you, have most of their money in less liquid investments.

Fortunately there are other ways fee-only planners get paid. Some, including those represented by the Garrett Planning Network, charge by the hour. Others, represented by the XY Planning Network and the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners, use the retainer model, in which clients pay monthly or quarterly fees. Interview a few planners from these organizations to find a good fit.

Q&A: Giving a gift without strings

Dear Liz: My brother and his wife are living modestly on Social Security and delivering for a food service. Occasionally, I send him some money when I can. I have some money put aside and am able to send him about $5,000 now instead of leaving it to him in my will. (He is six years older.) I am afraid that he and his wife may spend it on a trip or frivolity and will not put it aside for home health or nursing care when they need it. Your thoughts?

Answer: Please make the gift and hope that they do spend it on a trip or something else fun.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, someone turning 65 today has about a 70% chance of needing long-term care services. Women typically need care for 3.7 years on average while men need 2.2 years of care.

Medicare, the government healthcare program for people 65 and older, typically doesn’t pay for nursing home and other custodial care expenses. However, Medicaid — the government health insurance program for the poor — does. If your brother and his wife do need custodial care, chances are good they will quickly run through their assets and wind up poor enough that Medicaid will pick up the bills.

The amount you can give them wouldn’t make much of a dent in the bill if they need potentially expensive custodial care someday. Your $5,000 gift would pay for about a month of an in-home health aid, and a couple of weeks in a typical nursing home.

But $5,000 could go a long way in delivering a memorable experience while they still have the health and energy to enjoy it.

Q&A: Social Security survivor benefits can be confusing. Here’s how they work

Dear Liz: My husband passed away, and I am 59 years old and no longer working. Social Security’s site says that once I turn 60, I can get 71.5% to 99% of what he would have received at his full retirement age. What determines whether I get 71.5% or 99% or something in between?

Answer: The range you mention applies when you start survivor benefits before your own full retirement age for such benefits. For people born in 1962 and later, the full retirement age for survivor benefits is 67.

(This is different from the full retirement age for retirement benefits, which is 67 for people born in 1960 and later. Just in case you thought Social Security benefits weren’t quite complicated enough.)

It also matters if your husband was receiving Social Security benefits when he died. If so, the survivor benefit would be based on that check. If not, the survivor benefit would be based on the amount he would have gotten at his full retirement age (if he died at or before that age) or the benefit he earned (if he died after full retirement age).

In general, though, the earlier you start Social Security benefits, the less you get. If you start survivor benefits at 60, then you’d get 71.5% of your husband’s benefit. If you wait until right before you turn 67, you could get 99%. If you wait until you turn 67, you get 100%.

Your check also could be reduced if you start survivor benefits early and then go back to work. The earnings test would reduce your check by $1 for every $2 you earned over a certain limit, which in 2023 is $21,240. The earnings test would apply until you turned 67.

Something else you should consider is the Social Security benefit you’ve earned based on your own work record. This benefit can continue to grow if you put off claiming it until the amount maxes out at age 70.

You’re also allowed to switch between survivor benefits and your own, or vice versa. (Switching is something that’s not typically allowed with other benefits, such as spousal benefits.)

You could start receiving reduced survivor benefits at 60 and switch to your own maxed-out benefit at 70 — or start your own reduced benefit at 62 and switch to the unreduced survivor benefit at 67, for example. The right course will depend on the amounts involved and the math can be complicated, so consider consulting a financial planner or Social Security claiming strategy sites such as Social Security Solutions or Maximize My Social Security.

How your ex could boost your Social Security

Katja Rivera, 64, is a massage therapist and theater director in Berkeley, California, who says she’s never earned more than about $30,000 a year. When her two daughters were small, she sometimes earned much less.

But Rivera was married for 10 years to a man who has consistently earned much more than she has. When Rivera retires in a few years, she expects to receive a Social Security check based on her ex’s greater earnings.

Many divorced people don’t realize they can get Social Security benefits derived from their ex-spouse’s work history, says William Meyer, founder of Social Security Solutions, a website that helps people determine when and how to claim Social Security. Those who are aware of the benefits often misunderstand crucial details and can make decisions that cost them tens of thousands of dollars over their lifetimes, he says.

In my latest for the Associated Press, learn how your ex could boost your Social Security.