Friday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: AARP credit card holders endure bumpy move to Barclays from Chase. Also in the news: 5 steps to level up your side hustle, how much it really costs to drive a new car, and one couple’s journey to tame their debt.

AARP Credit Card Holders Endure Bumpy Move to Barclays From Chase
Barclays apologizes for long call hold times, card transition woes. Issuer beefs up call support.

5 Steps to Level Up Your Side Hustle
Growing your side gig into a legit business requires research, planning and organization.

How Much Does It Really Cost to Drive a New Car?
A 5% increase in car ownership costs means your budget should include more than the monthly payment.

How I Ditched Debt: Pandemic After Payoff Tests Couple’s Resilience
One couple’s journey to tame their debt.

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Don’t let Social Security steer you wrong. Also in the news: 3 times to think twice about paying for your kid’s college, a new episode of the Smart Money podcast on investing, and how to spot the signs of a better market for homebuyers.

Don’t Let Social Security Steer You Wrong
When to claim benefits is a complex decision. Don’t rely on the help line staff, and consider getting a pro’s help.

Pay for Your Kid’s College? 3 Times to Think Twice
Don’t take on college debt for your child if your financial health will suffer when your kid doesn’t pay the bill.

Smart Money Podcast: Nerdy Deep Dives: Investing, Part 1
Exploring your personal money background and how it can affect your investing choices.

The Property Line: Watch for Signs of a Better Market for Buyers
Home buyers can track the number of offers, days on market and inventory to see whether the market is becoming more favorable.

Wednesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to bounce back from a credit card mistake. Also in the news: Why you should pack a travel guidebook even in 2021, 4 traits that helped small businesses survive the pandemic, and how charitable donations can earn you an added tax deduction this year.

How to Bounce Back From a Credit Card Mistake
Errors happen to even the most seasoned credit card users. They can be costly, but they’re not irreversible.

Why You Should Pack a Travel Guidebook, Even in 2021
The pages of an actual guidebook often offer a level of quality and convenience that the internet can’t.

4 Traits That Have Helped Small Businesses Survive the Pandemic
Expanded delivery and online services, among other features, have been attractive to consumers during the pandemic.

How Charitable Donations Can Earn You an Added Tax Deduction This Year
Hold on to those donation receipts.

Don’t let Social Security steer you wrong

Few retirement decisions are as critical, or as easy to get wrong, as when and how to take your Social Security benefits. The rules can be so convoluted that many people rely on what they’re told by Social Security employees, but that could prove to be an expensive mistake.

In my latest for the Associated Press, how to protect your Social Security and learn the facts.

Tuesday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: 5 options for your money before student loan payments resume. Also in the news: Why the freelancing boom may change how you buy life insurance, 4 signs we’re in a housing market primed for regret, and how to invest in real estate with your IRA.

5 Options for Your Money Before Student Loan Payments Resume
February will be here before you know it.

The Freelancing Boom May Change How You Buy Life Insurance
How life insurance planning differs for freelancers.

4 Signs We’re in a Housing Market Primed for Regret
Looking out for buyer’s remorse.

How to Invest in Real Estate With Your IRA
You can buy it, but you can’t live in it.

Monday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: Charged an overdraft fee? Ask for a refund. Also in the news: A new episode of the Smart Money podcast on DIY investing, beating your summer revenge shopping debt, and what every homeowner should know about trampolines.

Charged an Overdraft Fee? Ask for a Refund
It never hurts to ask.

Smart Money Podcast: DIY Investing and Lightning Round Questions
What it is, how to do it and any potential risks.

Beat Your Summer ‘Revenge Shopping’ Debt
Paying for your return to society.

What Every Homeowner Should Know About Trampolines
If you’re not covered, it may be hard to bounce back from a big liability claim.

Q&A: Credit reports vs. credit scores

Dear Liz: I recently downloaded both my wife’s and my own credit reports. I noticed that, for a number of reasons, her report has much less information than mine. The probability is that I will die before her, so my question is whether you can suggest any ways to be sure she has a good credit rating after I’m gone. Do the credit reporting agencies give any weight to a spouse’s score?

Answer: They do not, unless the spouse is alive and a co-applicant.

The amount of information in a credit report doesn’t dictate someone’s scores, however. People can have good scores with only a few credit accounts, or bad scores with lots of accounts. Your wife should find out what some of her scores are to decide next steps. Her bank or credit card issuer may supply her with scores, or she could get free scores from one of the many sites that offer those. (FICO is the formula most often used by lenders, but VantageScore can give her a good idea how lenders view her, as well.)

If her scores are less than excellent (generally 740 and up), she could look for ways to improve them such as making all credit payments on time, using only a small fraction of her available credit and perhaps adding an account or two. Credit builder loans from credit unions can be a good way to build or rebuild credit.

Q&A: Financial aid and 529 plans

Dear Liz: As a grandparent who has established 529 accounts for each of my grandchildren, I was particularly interested in your advice to the writer who asked you how to use money that’s left in the 529 account to pay off a loan debt. Although it seems that “the horse had already left the barn,” why didn’t the niece use all the funds in the 529 account before accruing student loan debt? Am I missing something?

Answer: It’s possible the withdrawals could have reduced the niece’s financial aid, so she opted to take out loans instead.

In the past, the federal financial aid formula heavily penalized withdrawals from 529 college savings accounts held by people other than the beneficiary’s parents. The accounts themselves weren’t counted by the formula, but any withdrawals were treated as untaxed income to the student. The standard advice was to wait until the last financial aid form had been filed to begin taking withdrawals.

That’s going to change, although not as soon as originally expected.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 required the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, form to be simplified, removing several questions including one about whether the student got money from people other than parents.

The new FAFSA form was supposed to be released next year, but the Department of Education announced in June that the proposed changes would be delayed but implemented in time for the 2024-25 award year. Until the form has been updated, you’d be smart to hold off on tapping the 529s if your grandchildren will need financial aid.

Q&A: Medicare is complicated. Here’s how it works

Dear Liz: My husband and I are in our 50s and have widowed moms in their 80s. We always understood that when you begin taking Medicare, you are required to choose a plan such as SCAN or Blue Shield and to follow that plan’s benefits and limits. However, my friend who works in a hospital told me that you can elect to have straight Medicare and have no plan limits. Can you explain this?

Answer: What you’re asking about is known as traditional or original Medicare, which consists of two parts. Part A is usually premium-free and covers hospitalization. Part B covers doctor visits and has a standard monthly premium of $148.50.

Traditional Medicare is administered by the federal government and is accepted by the vast majority of medical providers but doesn’t cover everything. For example, beneficiaries must pay deductibles, 20% of Part B services and a portion of hospital stays. For that reason, many people with traditional Medicare also buy supplemental or “Medigap” policies from private insurers to cover these costs. Most Medigap plans, like traditional Medicare itself, don’t have out-of-pocket limits.

By contract, Medicare Advantage plans, also known as Medicare Part C, do have out-of-pocket limits. Medicare Advantage plans are “all in one” coverage provided by a private insurer rather than the government. These plans provide everything covered by Parts A and B of traditional Medicare, and may cover other costs such as vision, hearing and dental that traditional Medicare doesn’t. The plans typically have networks of doctors and other medical providers. If you get care outside that network, you would pay more and sometimes all of the cost.

The final part of Medicare is Part D, prescription drug coverage. That’s purchased from private insurers and may be included in Medicare Advantage plans.

Obviously, Medicare can be complicated, but you can educate yourself at Medicare.gov and download or request the handbook “Medicare & You.”

Thursday’s need-to-know money news

Today’s top story: How to negotiate your way to a richer life. Also in the news: 4 signs we’re in a housing market primed for regret, Medicare and CPAP supplies, and could your health or life insurance rates increase if you’re not vaccinated?

How to Negotiate Your Way to a Richer Life
Learning best practices can help you earn more, get better deals and avoid strife over household finances.

4 Signs We’re in a Housing Market Primed for Regret
It’s a tough time to be a homebuyer.

Does Medicare Pay for CPAP Machines and Supplies?
Medicare Part B covers CPAP, but it requires a sleep test and a trial period.

Will Your Health or Life Insurance Rates Increase If You’re Not Vaccinated?
Insurers have yet to decide.