Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Who should consider a Roth conversion now? Also in the news: Morgan Stanley’s new cash account, how to make a savings plan, and an important student loan deadline.

Who Should Consider a Roth Conversion Now?
The Secure Act brings new options.

Should You Check Out Morgan Stanley’s New Cash Account?
A look at the benefits.

How to Make a Savings Plan
A roadmap to a better financial life.

Don’t get caught by surprise by this deadline if you’re paying off student loans
Time to re-certify your income.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to have a ‘no regrets’ retirement. Also in the news: How to sell your car to family and friends, the debt payoff method that can also help your credit, and your last chance to file an Equifax breach settlement claim.

How to Have a ‘No Regrets’ Retirement
Putting off travel, buying a retirement home too hastily and not discussing expectations are common mistakes.

How to Sell Your Car to Tough Customers: Friends and Family

The Debt Payoff Method That Can Help Your Credit, Too

Today (Wednesday) is Your Last Chance to File an Equifax Breach Settlement Claim
A few more hours to submit your claim.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 4 things to know if you’ve never budgeted before. Also in the news: Equifax breach – claims cutoff and more scammers ahead, how auto insurers use your nondriving habits to raise prices, and the benefits of filing taxes early.

4 Things to Know if You’ve Never Budgeted Before
Breaking down the basics.

Equifax Breach: Claims Cutoff and More Scammers Ahead
The fallout continues.

How Auto Insurers Use Your Nondriving Habits to Raise Prices
Your grocery shopping could raise your auto insurance.

The Benefits of Filing Taxes Early
There are good reasons to file early.

Who should consider a Roth conversion now?

If you’ve saved a lot for retirement, or your parents have, you could be affected by recent changes in the rules about retirement distributions.

The recently enacted Secure Act eliminated the “stretch IRA,” a strategy used by affluent investors to pass tax-advantaged money to their heirs. The stretch IRA allowed nonspouse beneficiaries — typically children and grandchildren — to take money out of an inherited IRA gradually over their lifetimes. The new law requires most IRAs inherited by people other than spouses to be drained within 10 years, which can lead to much higher tax bills for heirs. (Spouses still have the option of treating an inherited IRA as their own and taking money out over their lifetimes.)

At the same time, the Secure Act delayed when required minimum distributions have to begin for most retirement account owners, increasing the age for mandatory distributions from 70 1/2 to 72. In my latest for the Associated Press, why financial planners say the changes make a Roth conversion attractive for big savers.

Q&A: New Secure Act changes some retirement rules

Dear Liz: At age 70½, when I must withdraw money from my IRA, may I donate those dollars to a charitable organization without paying tax on the withdrawn funds?

Answer: The short answer is yes, but you should know there have been some recent changes to retirement plan rules.

Required minimum distributions now start at 72, thanks to the recently enacted Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (Secure) Act. If you turned age 70½ in 2019 and started your required minimum distributions, you should generally continue, but talk to a tax pro.

Also, you can now make contributions to your IRA after age 70½, as long as you’re still working. You must have earned income at least equal to the amount you contribute.

The law didn’t change when you can begin making qualified charitable distributions from your IRAs. Once you reach 70½, you can donate up to $100,000 each year directly from your IRA and the donated amount will not be included in your income.

If you make IRA contributions after age 70½, though, those contributions are deducted from the amount you can donate.

Q&A: A tricky Social Security plan

Dear Liz: In a recent column, you described the difference between withdrawal and suspension of Social Security benefits. I am 64 and want to take Social Security for two months to get out from under a few one-time bills. I’ll then withdraw my application and pay back the money. Do I understand that I’d have 12 months to pay back the funds? Is this something that can be done every 12 months? I see it as an interest-free short-term loan. Of course this only works if the money is paid back.

Answer: The answer to both your questions is no. You’re allowed to withdraw an application only once, and it must be in the 12 months after you start benefits. Once you submit your withdrawal request, you have 60 days to change your mind. If you decide to proceed, you must pay back all the money you’ve received from the Social Security Administration, including any other benefits based on your work record such as spousal or child benefits, plus any money that was withheld to pay Medicare premiums or taxes. In other words, you have a two-month window to pay back the funds, not 12 months.

If you can’t come up with the cash, you’d be stuck with a permanently reduced benefit. You could later opt to suspend your benefit once you’ve reached your full retirement age, which is between 66 and 67. (If you were born in 1956, it’s 66 years and four months.) At that point, your reduced benefit could earn delayed retirement credits that could increase your checks by 8% for each year until the amount maxes out at age 70.

There are a few situations in which starting early and then suspending can make sound financial sense, but a short-term cash need is not typically one of them.

Q&A: How to keep tax benefits when renting out your primary residence

Dear Liz: If my wife and I sell our primary residence of 12 years, I understand we can exclude up to $500,000 in home sale profits from taxes. But if we rent it for a year or two, then sell, have we lost that tax break by converting it to income property?

Answer: As long as you lived in the property at least two of the five years before the sale, you can use the home sale exclusion that allows each owner to protect $250,000 of profits from taxation.

You would pay capital gains rates on profits above that amount, but a big home sale profit could have other tax implications.

If you’re covered by Medicare, for example, profits above the exclusion amounts could temporarily increase your monthly premiums. This is because the income-related monthly adjustment amount, which is added to premiums when modified adjusted gross income exceeds $87,000 for singles or $174,000 for married couples.

If you might be affected, you’d be smart to consult a tax professional to see if there’s a way to structure the sale to reduce these effects.

Also, renting property has its own set of tax rules, making it even more important to have a tax pro who can assist you.

Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Alter your buying habits in 2020 and keep the change. Also in the news: When the gift of giving brings a tax on receiving, student loan forgiveness and taxes, and 7 alternatives to costly payday loans.

Alter Your Buying Habits in 2020, and Keep the Change
Cutting back on impulse buying.

When the Gift of Giving Brings a Tax on Receiving
Understanding the gift tax.

Should You Worry About a ‘Student Loan Forgiveness Tax Bomb’?
Forgiveness comes at a price.

7 Alternatives to Costly Payday Loans
Avoiding astronomical interest rates.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to get traction paying off your credit cards in 2020. Also in the news: 8 moves to consider for IRAs and 401(k)s under the new Secure Act, using points and miles for wedding travel, and the 5 best states for retirees in 2020.

How to Get Traction on Paying Off Your Credit Cards in 2020
Finding the right strategy for your situation.

8 Moves to Consider for IRAs, 401(k)s Under New Secure Act
Looking at the major changes to retirement savings plans.

Ask a Points Nerd: Should I Use Points and Miles to Book Wedding Travel?
To pay or not to pay?

Here are the 5 best states for retirees in 2020
Which one sounds good to you?