Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Financial lessons we’ve learned while staying at home. Also in the news: 6 ways your investments can fund racial justice, how to organize important documents simply and safely, and see if you qualify for public service loan forgiveness with this tool.

Financial Lessons We’ve Learned While Staying at Home
Emergency funds are critical.

6 Ways Your Investments Can Fund Racial Justice
Putting your portfolio to work.

How to organize important documents simply and safely
What to keep and for how long.

See if You Qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness With This Tool
The criteria is strict.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Today’s definition of financial adulthood is more flexible than ever. Also in the news: Which airlines have handled COVID-19 the best, 3 ways to say no at a car dealership, and a beginner’s guide to filling out your W-4.

Today’s Definition of Financial Adulthood Is More Flexible Than Ever
Young adults are rethinking their financial plans.

Which Airlines Have Handled COVID-19 the Best?
Where does your favorite rank?

3 Ways to Say No at a Car Dealership
Staanding firm in the finance office.

A Beginner’s Guide to Filling Out Your W-4
The IRS makes it confusing.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Why missing college this fall is a bad idea. Also in the news: Why you should get your finances in top shape now to refi your student loans, choosing the Medigap plan that’s right for you, and how to apply for a $1,000 grant if you’re a freelancer or gig economy worker.

Why Missing College This Fall Is a Bad Idea
You could be wasting time and money.

Get your finances in top shape now to refi your student loans
Get the best deal possible when the grace period ends.

‘Medigap’ insurance covers some Medicare costs. How to choose a plan that’s right for you
Covering some of your Medicare costs.

How to Apply for a $1,000 Grant if You’re a Freelancer or Gig Economy Worker
Apply for an EIDL.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: People with COVID-19 payment accommodations are finding mistakes in their credit files. Also in the news: 6 tips to teach your kids lifelong money lessons during the pandemic, Americans lost $77 million to Covid-19 fraud, and what to do if you can’t pay your taxes next week.

People with COVID-19 payment accommodations are finding mistakes in their credit files
One mistake could lower your credit score by nearly one hundred points.

Use these 6 tips to teach your kids lifelong money lessons during the pandemic
A unique opportunity.

Americans lost $77 million to Covid-19 fraud — and that’s just the ‘tip of the iceberg’
Scammers never rest.

What to do if you can’t pay your taxes next week
You have a few options.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 4 expert tips to get hired from home. Also in the news: A new episode of the SmartMoney podcast looks at the wealth gap, an artist shares her business story, and how to repay your coronavirus retirement distribution.

4 Expert Tips to Get Hired From Home
Hunting in the pandemic.

Smart Money Podcast: The Wealth Gap, and How to Cope With Variable-Rate Student Loans
Inequality in the United States.

Money/Makers Q&A: Hollis Wong-Wear Builds a Business to Fuel Her Art
One artist’s story.

How to Repay Your Coronavirus Retirement Distribution
Prepare for end-of-the-year taxes.

Q&A: Arizona mom doesn’t want a trust

Dear Liz: My mom is 93 and lives in Arizona. I’m in California. She refuses to complete a revocable living trust, and after several years, I have given up with the request. She states she has added my name to the deed to the house and her bank account. She believes she has done enough. She states she completed a will that she got at Office Max. What would be my first steps if she precedes me in death?

Answer: She may be stubborn, but she’s making mistakes that could impair her quality of life and saddle you with a big, unnecessary tax bill. Consider trying to persuade her to fix these errors before it’s too late.

Not having a living trust isn’t necessarily a crisis. Yes, a living trust would allow your mother’s estate to avoid probate, the court process that typically follows death. But probate in Arizona typically isn’t as long or expensive as it is in California.

What’s more important is having documents in place that allow you (or someone else) to handle her finances and make healthcare decisions should she become incapacitated. Without that, you might have to go to court, which could be a long and expensive process (especially now, with the backlog created by COVID-19-related shutdowns).

A living trust also would make it relatively easy for a trusted person to step in and handle her affairs if necessary. In the absence of a living trust, you should insist she fill out an advanced care directive that would allow a trusted person to make healthcare decisions for her. There are free versions for each state at PrepareForYourCare.org, along with instructions about how to make it valid. If she doesn’t have a computer, you can print out Arizona’s version and send it to her.

She also needs to create a power of attorney for finances. Offer to hire an estate planning attorney to do this, since it’s a relatively simple form and not likely to be expensive. There are online forms and software that can do this if she absolutely refuses to consult an attorney.

An estate planning attorney might also be able to help you get off the deed. When she added you to the deed, your mom signed you up to pay capital gains taxes you wouldn’t owe otherwise. All the appreciation in the home that happened during her lifetime would be taxable, when it doesn’t need to be.

Let’s say she bought the home for $25,000 and it was worth $250,000 when she died. If you inherited the home and sold it for $250,000, you would owe no capital gains taxes.

If she gives you the home before her death — which she essentially did by adding you to the deed — you don’t get the valuable step-up in tax basis that keeps you from having to pay capital gains taxes on the appreciation that happened during her lifetime. Instead, you would owe capital gains taxes on the $225,000 appreciation. (This is a simplified example meant to help you and her understand the magnitude of the blunder.)

Arizona is one of the many states that has “transfer on death” deeds for real estate. These deeds would allow the house to avoid probate and come directly to you. That’s almost certainly a better solution than the one she chose.

Q&A: Still no coronavirus stimulus check? You’re not alone

Dear Liz: Both my wife and I are on Social Security retirement benefits. We were told we had to do nothing to get our stimulus payment even though we don’t file tax returns. We’ve made two calls to the IRS and gotten no suggestions from them.

Answer: If your Social Security payments are direct deposited, your relief payments should have been sent to that bank account. If you don’t have direct deposit, your payments should have been mailed. You (or a computer-savvy friend) can check to see the status of your payment at the “Get My Payment” section of the IRS.gov website.

If your payment isn’t on the way or there’s another problem, you should reach out to the IRS. It’s not clear from your statement — “no suggestions from them” — if in your previous attempts you actually reached a human being or just a recording. Please make sure you’re calling the right number because the stimulus payment number — (800) 919-9835 — is different from the general taxpayer hotline. You may have to be patient because hold times can be long.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Some taxpayers face a desperate wait for refunds. Also in the news: Are variable rate student loans worth the risk, 6 ways your investments can fund racial justice, and why your federal student loan servicer may be changing.

Some taxpayers face a desperate wait for refunds
IRS delays are hurting struggling families.

Even Near 1%, Are Variable Rate Student Loans Worth the Risk?
Your rate could change dramatically in the future.

6 Ways Your Investments Can Fund Racial Justice
Money makes change sustainable.

Your Federal Student Loan Servicer May Be Changing
Say goodbye to NelNet.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: It’s now cheaper than ever to borrow money for college. Also in the news: What you need to know about Disney’s reopening, bankrolling your adult kid in a crisis, and 8 ways to save for your child’s college education.

It’s Now Cheaper Than Ever to Borrow Money for College
Feds have dropped interest rates to historic lows.

Disney Is Reopening: What You Need to Know
Safely returning to the happiest place on earth.

Are you bankrolling your adult kids in a crisis?
You are not an emergency plan.

8 Ways to Save for Your Child’s College Education
Start as soon as possible.

Some taxpayers face a desperate wait for refunds

As a 58-year-old woman on disability, Robin Short of Wallingford, Connecticut, relies on her tax refund to catch up on bills. She filed her return electronically in February, opting for direct deposit so she could get her $773 refund quickly.

She’s still waiting, as are millions of others. In my latest for the Associated Press, how the IRS is slowly resuming operations after pandemic-related lockdowns, but delayed refunds are devastating some people’s finances.